Tonight, (Monday 6th October 2014)I was lucky enough to attend an excellent presentation about the sensory issues often faced by children on the Autistic Spectrum. It was delivered by Jo Dorasamy (whose blog can be found here: Family Life with ASD ) from The Avenue (whose website can be found here:The Avenue ). A massive congratulations to Jo for doing a great job.
I think that what I enjoyed most about the evening, was the feeling of recognition I experienced when meeting other parents who live within special needs families. (Non-muggles as my very dear friend Emma D would say). Us ‘non-muggle’ parents seem to share a sense of community that goes beyond words and joins us together at a more intuitive, compassionate level.
Just the thought that there other families out there whose houses are strewn with sensory toys, tools and activities is so comforting! I often try to imagine what the insides of other people’s houses must look like when they have children whose needs are not dissimilar to those of my own children. Well, now I know! Pretty much the same if the ‘props’ supplied by Jo and Sarah for the exhibition are anything to go by!
So, just to mention as few of the things that really stood out for me.
The sitting aids – see-saw chairs, fidget pads, weighted blankets, slanted lap tables and the spectacular spinning egg chair.But think about it, if a child needs this much assistance to simply be comfortable, how on Earth can we ever be anything other than in total awe at what they achieve? The things we take for granted as people with neurotypical senses (well, almost in my case) is astounding to me. Imagine if you could not regulate your spatial awareness? Imagine if simply not being able to sit in a chair ruined your ability to concentrate? The amount we ask from these children is massive and they all deserve a pat on the back for not going stark raving loopy more often!
The hearing aids and the visual aids for hyper sensitivities – ear defenders, sunglasses, hats, hoodies, lava lamps, kaleidoscopes and flashing, hand-held lights. Just brilliant! I know from experience that when the world is too loud and too bright and too fast-moving, the little people fall apart extremely quickly. The sensory overload is so massive that their brains simply cannot filter out the ‘small stuff’ as neurotypical brains can. The stress on the child (in all ways - emotional, sensory, psychological, mental) is overwhelming and more often than not a meltdown will follow this sensory overload. Knowing how to lessen the ‘small stuff’ is the key. Paying attention to how your child reacts to these issues will 100% guarantee a happier child and subsequently, a happier family life.
The importance of having a full sensory assessment by a trained Occupational Therapist was also a key theme to the evening. Like Jo, I too paid for a private, comprehensive assessment for Dominik (who has pretty much all of the sensory difficulties you could describe) and it was worth its weight in gold. Being able to understand why he was so very clumsy and why he did not get dizzy not matter how long he span around for and being able to finally understand why he could not tolerate a noisy shopping centre or swimming pool turned our lives around. I cannot recommend an assessment highly enough. Life will improve exponentially once the sensory issues are unravelled.
For us, having the OT assessment, (and now having a firm understanding of Sensory Processing Disorder), meant that my daughter, who is now 5, experienced a kinder, more understanding and far less demanding mother with much more realistic expectations of what she would be able to tolerate than Dominik ever did. Unlike her older brother, who was literally dragged kicking and screaming sometimes around a busy town centre or into a supermarket, she has never had to experience any of that. I saw the signs in her behaviour as soon as I understood what I was looking at. I was able to guide and explain to her what steps we could take to make things easier before we even attempted an outing somewhere that would be challenging. I had a hat. I had sunglasses. I had lots of juice and snacks. I was prepared for the fact that I may need to carry her so I never planned to buy much on any given trip! Her life was better because of my new found knowledge.
It is easy with hindsight, of course it is, but, once you have the knowledge you must use it and you must not beat yourself up because you didn't know about it before. I am a firm believer in the philosophy that everything happens at the right time and that life unfurls as it is meant to (even if does not feel that way). I apply that philosophy here too. I can wish I had known earlier what made Dominik so very hard to manage, but I didn't. Meh. There is nothing I can do about it now.
Except to say, that now I can rest easy because once I knew better, I did better. And so will you. J
I am certain that Jo, with her personal, touching and informative presentation tonight has helped many, many families to finally understand some of what is going with those they love and wish they could help so much. This month, Sensory Awareness Month, at The Avenue in Biggleswade, will change people’s lives for the better.
Kudos to you all (as Dominik would say)!