friends

2016-05-16 16.38.00

“She can’t be autistic, she has friends”…. (anon)

I must have heard this a hundred times! The truth is autistic people do have friends, want friendship and really value their friends. It’s also true that some of what makes up being a good friend and enjoying & understanding a friendship doesn’t come easily – in a sense that’s not different than it is for anyone, but the things that are difficult if you are autistic are there in every element of friendship everyday so it can get a bit complicated, exhausting and overwhelming at times it seems to me.

‘Once you have made friends, you have to work on your friendship. This is because you’re only going to benefit from a friendship .. if you continue to be friends with that person. Therefore, you need to use some friendship maintenance skills to keep the friendship going.

An analogy that might be helpful for this is learning to play a musical instrument … once you have mastered a skill such as playing a particular piece of music, you have to practice regularly to keep being  able to play that piece of music so that you maintain the skill in your memory’  (The independent woman’s handbook for super safe living on the autistic spectrum, Robyn Steward. p69)

A lot of the basic maintenance skills are things most people take for granted, most of us don’t remember having to consciously learn them, we are sometimes not even aware of them – they just happen when we are around our friends. Things like reading body language, hearing tone of voice changes, keeping up with the conversation, turn taking in conversation, noticing and understanding other people’s boundaries, likes and dislikes. These are all things that most autistic people have to consciously learn, and because most people aren’t aware how they learnt these skills it can be a very tough job to find someone to teach them!

Ongoing, ordinary friendship relies on these skills. For example, friends respond to each other’s feelings to be quick to comfort, say sorry or to share in their excitement, but people don’t express their feelings clearly and directly very often – more often through tone of voice, and body language alongside behaviour, and of course a reliance on a common understanding of how feelings are expressed in our culture, so there are a lot of different skills needed to be able to ‘see and hear’ a friends feelings in order to be able to be a good friend in response. If these skills have to be consciously learnt (and they’re not an exact science!) then this process takes more time, and is something that can go wrong quite quickly – and then be difficult to unravel and mend.

2016-04-04 12.15.51

Conversation is another ordinary part of friendship. But it is made more difficult if most people in a conversation seem to just know when it’s their turn to join in but to you it seems impossible to work out. The average way of learning turn taking in conversation is by noticing those raised eyebrow moments from parents or aunties when we were very small and just starting out; hearing the clearing of the throat of a grandparent and noticing the intent of it towards you, inferring it’s meaning as a reprimand or warning to wait. If you are autistic your brain just doesn’t learn by inference, and of course we’re also back to the not hearing tone of voice changes, not looking at people’s faces in the same way, not reading body language instinctively. These differences in learning mean that sometimes autistic people can dominate conversations unaware of other’s lack of interest or annoyance which can appear unfeeling or selfish, other autistic people sometimes never join in conversations in a group but wait to speak to just one person at a time which can appear very shy, withdrawn or uninterested.

‘Many people struggle to pick up on subtle social cues such as someone not sounding interested.For people on the autistic spectrum, this could be because you are monotropic (able to concentrate on only one thing at a time). Also, your sensory system may be mono-channel (concentrating on one sense at a time).’

(The independent woman’s handbook for super safe living on the autistic spectrum, Robyn Steward. p71)

It’s also very true that the context of any conversation makes a huge difference to how well these skills can be used even when they have been thought about and learnt. Many people who are autistic also have SPD (sensory processing disorder – or difference) which can mean they are vulnerable to being more quickly overwhelmed and so distracted by the environment around them – hearing all sounds equally rather than filtering out the ones not needed right now for example, or being in pain from the light that doesn’t seem too bright for anyone but you. Dealing with sensory overload (literally an overload of neuro-pathways) is not at all easy to do and still navigate a conversation well.

20170517_051602

One of the other different thing I’m noticing is just how difficult it can be in friendships when you are a very focused thinker. Many autistic people have very specific areas of intense interest which can hold their attention for an age, and at times can dominate their conversations, their choices in play, their imaginary world – at times pretty much everything. This can sometimes be difficult to bring into a friendship group, where other people have other interests and it is cultural for good friends to spend time enjoying and taking an interest in each other’s hobbies or interests. Again, a skill to learn. Sometimes it is even that the friendship itself is the intense interest and then it can get difficult when things change, or when new friends are also included, or when the friend’s boundaries over how often they feel comfortable about getting together don’t match. It can also be difficult in these moment to accept and understand that some people want lots of close friends.

Friendship is something I assume every parent worries over, and prays about for their children. For me it is also something I am constantly trying to dissect and understand better so I can anticipate hazards ahead and get teaching, showing and supporting the use of friendship maintenance skills. Because friends really matter, and we really value them.

it takes a long time to grow an old friend

 

 

Advertisements

Review: ‘Indescribable 100 devotions about God and science’

‘Indescribable 100 devotions about God and science’ by Louie Giglio is a new book of devotions all with a scientific focus. When I saw it advertised I pre-ordered I was so excited at the thought of devotions that would overlap with a special interest, and I hoped that being focused on science it might also be full of facts and details which would also appeal.

20180101_225100

We began reading, B & I, on New Years’ Day, and I have not been disappointed! Each day has been packed with interest grabbing facts and insights about our world – the main topics focused in on are space, earth, animals, and people (they are spread about through the devotions if you follow day by day but at the front is a contents which also groups them into these categories so you could read by topic if preferred). There is so much detail in each thought that we have even come across facts B didn’t already know (no point in me adding that there are lots & lots I don’t know, take that as read! – but I have been able to follow).

Each devotion must take about 2 or 3 minutes to read and include the Bible verse, and there are drawn pictures and photographs (next to bonus facts to think more about) on each page, and a prayer you can use together. I think it would be accessible for confident readers to use alone, but we are enjoying them together and mostly finishing with our own prayers – because we have a set way that has evolved over time.

Although I have started reading with B I think it will also appeal to T (now 7) so when the moment is right I may tentatively see if I can build it into my bedtime routine with her & see what she thinks. But I love it!

20170929_231015

Other devotions we have loved:

‘Thoughts to make your heart sing’ by Sally Lloyd Jones

‘God and me’ by Penny Boshoff was great when B & A were little, and still dipped into by T as she loves the pictures (all photos of real children doing interesting things!)

‘Children can you hear me’ by Brad Jersak (I talk about this book here)

‘Comfort in the darkness’ by Rachel Turner (read our review here)

And not forgetting ‘Our family GodVenture’ by Victoria Beech which we are still enjoying on Fridays when we have a ‘sabbath’ meal together.

And ‘Topz’ books (produced by CWR) have also been enjoyed over the years – we’re not there with T yet, they were great when A wanted something to get stuck into on his own.

Would love to know your recommendations, are you enjoying any particular Bible devotions/thoughts for the day at the moment? .. leave suggestions in the comments..

 

 

bedtime

Sorry it’s been SO long since I last wrote – how are you all?

I can hardly believe we are now back in school routine, first week of the new term has been navigated – with Andrew away into the mix, a supply teacher for T at the end of the week, and a friend for tea after school today. Of course it seemed the perfect week (in a moment of madness, or desperation…not sure which to be honest) to throw in changing T’s bed from a loft bed to a low cabin bed and while we’re at it why not repaint too! what was I thinking??!

The desperation began in the run up to the new term, with bedtimes becoming as always much more of a battle, full of anxiety and adrenaline. Meltdowns happen so quickly and frequently when anxieties are high, and the aggressive, unpredictable behaviour that comes with them feels very unsafe in a loft bed. We got the loft bed when she was growing out of the toddler bed, to give her more space and under it to be able to create a hideaway – both of which has worked brilliantly. But for me the risks are increasing as she gets bigger and stronger, and the end of last week as school began to loom intensely it began to feel quite unmanageable.

So, we have dismantled the bottom layer of the high bed (thankfully it came in sections) and removed the ladder. I say we because I thought I’d managed that far on my own but when our lovely staff lunch had finished praying yesterday and were willing to help me lift the top section down off it’s lowest section it became quite clear all I had managed on my own was to get in a muddle – an allen key and others’ help found the right bolts to undo and put others back that were still needed and then we could lift down the bed!

As I was scheming and working out how possible it would be to do all this I also got to thinking about the colour of the room – one of T’s favourites, yellow. We had chosen a warm soft, almost apricot yellow before we moved in – and the decorators came in and painted – but somehow in translation the yellow had changed into a rather sour lemon if you can imagine that. Zingy rather than gentle. So I got to thinking that maybe this was my chance to tone it down a bit and bring a bit more calm to the room – every little helps. And knowing that even tidying the bedrooms can be an upheaval for the girls I was going to be causing an emotional earthquake by changing the bed, so why not slip in some new paint at the same time rather than creating another earthquake later on in the year? So far T seems to be mostly accepting the changes, and is coping relatively well.

20180111_115800

So I rummaged in the garage to see what we had enough of and found a dark creamy colour for interior walls and a small rather unreliable paint roller and tray and the painting has begun – 2 walls done, 2 to go! Feeling a bit like supermum! (that won’t last, I’ll be utterly exhausted when I finish it and the adrenaline rush subsides!)

20180112_232243

And that completes the first week of term. Kids were fed, hugged, played with and prayed with. Schools were attended, homework has been done (though still more to tackle), instruments have been heard, and swimming lessons, brownies, youth group were remembered on the right days – and chocolate was eaten! Hoping next week is a bit more run of the mill to be honest, but they rarely are!

 

 

 

 

welcome the new year

2016-02-22 16.23.51

Apparently it’s 2018!

Happy New Year!!

Today has been filled with precious last conversations and laughter with family who have been staying, before we all get back to our work & school routines. Followed by hoovering and getting our three back and settled in their own rooms again after a full house and camping beds in every possible place you could imagine.

We all went to church together yesterday in the morning, crammed into 2 rows (there were 15 of us at that point). T was particularly restless, so excited to have all her cousins with her. So one by one all the fidget toys came out of my bag, and the usual pen & paper. I was a little discouraged – the service was of course being led brilliantly by two of our team. It was interactive, accessible, fun – there was nothing T couldn’t join in with, on paper – I find it hard some weeks when she appears to be so distracted. She did enjoy the singing though & it’s always a delight to worship alongside her in song.

A new year seems incredibly daunting don’t you think. All the unknowns and some known challenges on the horizon; GCSE exams at school for B, music grades for A, post 16 choices for B, move up to juniors for T…  Somehow sitting being reminded of trusting God and listening for his voice in every challenge ahead – with a restless, squirming T on & off (& on & off!) on my knee I was deeply aware of just how uphill a year can feel.

But I just wanted to share with you what wriggly T drew in the notebook during the service, because it encouraged me to trust:

She was taking it all in. She was listening for God’s voice in the midst of the busy wriggling, the excitement, the joy, and the frustrations of that service.

We learnt a very apt memory verse during the service, and T jotted down the prompts on the next page of the notebook:

proverbs 3 v 5 6 msg20180101_225922

 

 

 

calm woodland corner

Well, schools have finally broken up for the Christmas holidays, and we have our first visitors arriving tomorrow. So in preparation I spent some of today creating a calm corner for the girls (and anyone else of course!) to use when they need some space or need to work at calming down.

We have a little gap behind the sofa in the sitting room. It’s very small but maybe that is in its favour – it’s definitely a ‘one at a time’ kind of space!

20171222_103127

I have made a mobile above the space with paper snowflakes which moves and spins slowly as the air moves in the room. I have collected together some pine cones and wood, some laminated autumn leaves and brought a natural woodland feel right into the corner. T has a mood colour night light hedgehog so he’s moved in too.

Our scottie dog doorstop is soft and happily brings some weight onto a little one’s knees to ground them and bring a sense of safety. And our soft cuddly snowman sits ready for a squeeze.

To make use of the radiator that I can’t move out of the way, I have laminated some clip art woodland animals, and cut out some basic silhouette trees – added some magnets onto the backs and created a quick ‘make your own woodland scene’ which can be fiddled with, can inspire stories and become absorbing. As I cut the shapes out I tried to make sure there were no sharp corners or edges so it’s all smooth to touch.

Next I have made a lap size light box from a small household opaque plastic tub with a lid and some LED lights. I will put some tissue paper shapes and some coloured plastic counters that can be arranged on the lid and played around with enjoying the light.

Then I have collected some fidget toys, puzzles and sensory activities into a basket the other side of some cosy cushions. There are a lot of DIY ideas to try. We liked these…

20171222_143231

  • ‘our best bites’ have instructions for homemade snow globes
  • ‘red ted art’ has printable mesmerizing flextangles
  • ‘Views from a step stool’ has instructions for a Christmas themed sensory bag
  • DIY light box instructions from ‘the imagination tree’.
  • fabric marble maze instructions from Yvonne Reynolds (I’m making mine from felt, and tree shaped for my woodland calm corner).

But we also added a sand timer, a Christmas I spy jar we made last year using rice and little pictures and sequins, a tactile snowflake made from fluffy pipe cleaners and hair bobbles with big beads on, a couple of simple puzzles, a Christmas stencil with pens and a pad of paper for doodling, and a create your own story game that we have.

I like the printables for the calm down kit from ‘the chaos and the clutter’ which give suggestions for how to calm down. If I have time I will put something together on a woodland theme. Maybe ‘curl into a tight ball like a hedgehog’ or ‘take a deep breath like the owl flying’, ‘warm up the snowman with a tight cuddle’ ? Any suggestions welcome! …