logistics of a short break

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Sunny weather, beautiful home-cooked food, the sea, sand and sky – what more could we need! We managed to get away for a few days during the school break to spend some time with family.

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It was beautiful to get to the sea. As T commented it is a place which can make you feel ‘free’; on the beach she had space; to talk, sing, collect, dance, watch, notice, feel. (Of course, sensory overload is never far away so short doses required!)

Getting away for a break is tiring though (Oh the irony).

Routines are very different. As a guest you don’t want to call the shots about what and when meals will be, and the unknowing brings its own anxieties when you already live with anxieties about eating. Our animals and familiar surroundings are missed terribly even for a few days. New surroundings means unfamiliar smells, textures, sounds all of which can be tiring to adjust to and difficult to relax around. Family time inevitably includes trying to balance different needs, some needing and wanting to see new places and explore new experiences while others need and want to do the same outings or watch the same movies as last time we visited.

Getting away involves major transitions; leaving and arriving and travelling in-between – twice! And it’s logistically challenging. Choosing outfits in advance, trying to wisely pack the right extras (toys, books, sensory fiddles etc) to keep things calm in all the little gaps, medications (forgot my own this time which didn’t help anything) and those essentials without which the challenge of the new cannot be faced. Making sure things back at base are ready enough for the return.

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Here are my tips for keeping short breaks as smooth sailing as possible in the midst of all the challenges ASC, PDA & SPD throw up…

  • Don’t give in to the embarrassment of taking too much luggage. I struggle with this one even when we are staying with family. Even a few days requires a lot of stuff for us. But the times we have tried to cut things out we have regretted it. If the dolls need suitcases too so be it!
  • Screens come too. If no internet access then favourite programmes must be downloaded in advance. Check favourite games/apps to see if they need internet access, and if so find one that doesn’t and try and introduce it well in advance of the trip.
  • pack some snacks and nibbles (or even a tin or 2) that will almost always be eaten to have on standby. Just knowing they are there can help reduce anxiety.
  • Do some things that you always do at that place so that not everything is new every visit.
  • We are National Trust members which has been so helpful for us over the years. Each new place has a very similar feel to it, and a similar set of components – a house to look round, a garden to ramble through, a play area, a cafe/picnic areas and toilets. So new places can be explored whilst still feeling manageable. Also being members (paying a yearly fee) means we don’t stress if an outing only lasts a short time. There is no pressure to make the day last if it’s not working for whatever reason.
  • Try not to forget essential medication (note to self!!).
  • Take timers/visual timetables etc if you are using them regularly at home. Don’t expect it all to feel easier.
  • Pack sensory toys and fidgets.
  • Anything that makes bedtime feel familiar in a new place needs to come too. Is it a particular blanket, their own pillowcase, a cuddly toy that’s always there, their own clock to hear the same ticking as usual, using the very same devotions or prayer – whatever it is, work it out, pack it and still prepare for some even more sleepless nights than usual.
  • Don’t forget to take lots of pics; stop and take a breath every now and then to remind yourself to enjoy it all and notice all the good bits (after all dancing on the beach is not to be missed!).
  • And when you get home, take a moment to be aware of the many things that happen much more smoothly because of the home and family routine you help put in place – you might need to remind yourself in a few days time!

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What is Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)?

‘Autism Spectrum Condition’ (ASC, previously ASD (disorder)) is an umbrella term in the UK gathering within it other particular autism profiles, or presentations of autism with their own nuances and quirks. Pathological Demand Avoidance is one of these profiles. I’ve been reading up about it, and about other’s experience of it because although I’m well aware every single child is unique there is something about this particular profile that resonates. It makes sense of some of the dynamics we see at home.

‘PDA is now widely understood to be part of the autism spectrum. Children who present with this particular diagnostic profile are driven to avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent. This is rooted in an anxiety-based need to be in control. Aspects of the profile may be variable at different times and in different places.’ PDA Society

It is not yet used as a diagnostic profile in every part of the country, it depends on the NHS district you fall into. So over the last few years I have been keen to find out what I can about it because I have found it’s the most insightful and helpful profile for us to gain better understanding of behaviours we see, and to learn strategies that support. As well as the social and communication differences, and the sensory differences common to autism spectrum conditions PDA’s particular characteristics are:

The distinctive features of a demand avoidant profile include:

‘Individuals with PDA can be controlling and dominating, especially when they feel anxious and are not in control of their environment. They can also be very affectionate, charming, sociable and chatty, when they are calm and feel safe.’ PDA Society, about PDA 

I see many unique strengths…

  • fascinated by people, and quite passionate about getting to know what makes them tick.
  • observant and detailed
  • thinking outside the box and problem solving (seen in the many amazing strategies used to avoid demands!)
  • creative
  • feels deeply
  • desire to get things right

I also see such extreme anxiety about almost every aspect of living life in a world that seems confusing and relentlessly, overwhelmingly demanding. I see a need for  understanding, and loving support.

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Snowdrop moments: unexpected breakthroughs

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Love, love, love snowdrops don’t you. Little nuggets of resilience and pioneering spirit. Humble simple beauty when it’s least expected and looked for, when everything is cold & hard, and just when it’s needed to lift the spirits and urge us forward. I carefully divided and replanted some clumps of bulbs last autumn, and am enjoying watching them fight their way into flower in their new homes around the garden. For me they are a reminder of the fact that God is in the business of making everything new – and that begins now, in the unexpected; against the odds; tenacious; fragile and simple yet miraculously powerful breakthroughs that God allows to spring up ready to be found and rejoiced in. They remind me to rejoice with God in the small significant ‘newnesses’ that happen in our family life.

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A sewing birthday party attended despite huge anxiety and thoroughly enjoyed. Huge sense of achievement. The photo shows fluffy the bear, designed and sewed by T alongside a great group of girls from her class.

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T had homework this week to cook a healthy tea for her family!

Andrew helped, I provided emotional support! And T cooked chicken pasta. Exhausting.

Hidden in this amazing event was an equally amazing moment as T sat with B & A and a friend at the kitchen table and all ate some – a new recipe tried by everyone – don’t try & tell me God doesn’t break into our everyday, that’s definitely miraculous.

 

This morning A allowed T to sit in his room, and they peacefully ate breakfast alongside each other. (I know!!!)

College work, a very new way of presenting and handing in, is being completed.

We have had a visit from a good friend, who helps us in ways she probably doesn’t realize. And, in the same few days another friend came round so that Andrew & I could go out for a meal. I know, sounds so ordinary yet never ever taken for granted.

img_20190122_102331_045I am pressing on with the editing of another book – the one that sparked all the others – about time I focused on it again and got it ready to share with you, think you’re going to love it.

Last week I also travelled (not far, but even so, out of my little comfort zone) to help deliver a disability (or diffability as I like to think of it) awareness training session for the diocese and had the chance to share a bit about ‘sense of space’, our accessible worship at church and our experience. And we juggled school pick ups successfully between us.

All of these small, significant, moments – snowdrop moments if you like – can be moments to recognize God is at work in our midst. He is drawing us forward, revealing his faithfulness, his humour, his joy in who he has created each of us to be; leading us into his life – his overflowing, never ending aliveness that he pours into our lives. Tough circumstances, worries, lack of sleep, diffability; none of it stops God in his busyness of recreating. His aliveness is powerful enough to break through the hardest, coldest places of our lives in ways unexpected; against the odds; tenacious; fragile yet powerful.

 

 

How can it be nearly December?? what happened in November

I’m not sure what happened to November this year!

It’s been fast and furious in our family this year. After the settling down into new patterns of school and college at the beginning of term, November has seen homework and assessments… and the planning and organizing of work experience placements which is daunting. This term A has been involved in the school musical again, ‘Legally Blonde’ so he’s been busy with rehearsals and this week with the shows. We went to see it together, really fun. (Came away with plenty to unravel and talk about with T afterwards though, maybe more of that in another blog.)

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Little Jaffsie enjoying a secret hideout in the garden

The kittens have reached the age to begin exploring the garden – though I am nervous, and closely supervise still. My worries not at all calmed by Jaffa discovering how to get up on the garage roof already. Padfoot is still being kept inside, his health has not been good since we’ve had him and there are ongoing investigations and tests with the vets. So for now it’s easier to monitor him in the house. It’s easy to make sure he gets tonnes of cuddles and fuss – he just laps it up. They are becoming a wonderful part of family life, Padfoot particularly seems to sense when to curl up near someone who needs calming, and Jaffa is a bundle of energy and curiosity which is a great motivator.

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helping with bathtime

All the usual stuff of course is still being shoehorned into each week – although sadly the washing Himalayas is actually a mountain range of epic proportions as I write despite my best efforts! And no matter how often I hoover, it always needs doing. And best not to even comment on the lack of tidiness – it’s overrated I reckon.

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Padfoot (aka paddington!) investigating our latest creation – a gingerbread house

We have had some together time of Friday evening – one week even a film we all watched together (quite often we divide into two groups for Friday chillin out) – and we made our kittens a gingerbread house at the same time, partly inspired by the film choice: ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. Little projects to occupy while we wait for the start help such a lot, and I’m on high alert all the time I find it near impossible these days to relax with a film so it kept me busy too! We’ve also ‘enjoyed’ some Friday family times shaped by meltdowns and struggle – so it’s good for me to sit and remember a good one.

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It’s been difficult to say goodbye to one of our lovely loyal guinea pigs this month. Custard Cream died very unexpectedly. And we miss him. We have planted a beautiful Hebe where he is buried. And the other half of the duo – Bourbon Biscuit – has been brought inside for the winter and is getting a lot of looking after from T. The two hamsters are fine – rather cheeky around the kittens, always popping out to stare at them, and trying to have a little nip if the kittens get too close. And the chickens, bless them, have been malting so look a bit scruffy and sorry for themselves but are fine.

Church life is gearing up for Christmas on top of all the usual busyness – I have yet to begin everything that needs doing for family Christmas of course, but somehow it seems to always come together in time (and what doesn’t, doesn’t matter). And schools have a lot of extras, Christmas Fairs, services, concerts, mufti days, discos… most weeks I struggle to keep up with what’s happening when and for whom!! I’ve also finally got round to filling in yet more forms to apply for carers allowance with the encouragement of a good friend. These things take such a lot of energy! Really thankful Andrew is a detail person, November has been a month and a half!

 

 

selective (not selected) mutism

It’s a very unhelpful name, selective mutism I think. If we were in the middle of a game of word association it might be followed by ‘choice’, ‘choose’, ‘select’. I can understand how it can so easily be misunderstood as ‘shyness’, ‘manipulative’, ‘oppositional behaviour’, ‘stubbornness’. We hear the phrase and immediately jump to the misunderstanding that the child is selecting when to speak and when not to. It’s more accurate to understand it as the mutism is selective, not the child. It gets it’s name from the way that the mutism is only seen in certain contexts and not in others not because it is implying choice.

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The most helpful way I’ve found of thinking of selective mutism is to focus on the physiological. It is known that in moments of extreme anxiety or panic the body’s fight/flight/freeze mode affects us physically. Our body’s hormone balances for example are completely upturned, in order to get ready to run or fight. One of the physical affects can be the seizing up of the muscles needed for speech – including the vocal chords. So in that situation of panic speech is simply not physically possible. And that is selective mutism. An outworking of extreme anxiety. For some this anxiety is seen in group contexts (even of familiar people); for others with strangers; for others it is in particular places; for some when under the pressure of a direct question; or simply in front of others. It stems from social anxiety, social phobia and anxiety about demands. Responding to selective mutism as if it is ‘stubbornness’ or ‘manipulative behaviour’, or ‘a shy phase’ ignores and adds to the anxiety.

Selective mutism can affect autistics as well as others. And it can make life very challenging, and scary – imagine needing something and being completely unable to ask for help and get support. It makes being in new situations and places especially difficult when you know you cannot stop and ask for directions or check something with the teacher or your classmates. It can make learning hard work when you are unable to ask for help or clarification. It can make friendships and social times, like lunch breaks, really challenging.

There is really helpful advice and explanations at SMIRA.

I especially like way the article ends:

 Celebrate your child’s unique qualities
We cannot change the personality of SM children – and wouldn’t want to! They are naturally sensitive individuals who take life seriously and set themselves impossibly high standards. The downside is a tendency to be overwhelmed by novelty, change and criticism; the upside is an empathetic, loyal and conscientious nature.

How to support?

  • be kind – patience not pressure
  • surprises add to anxiety
  • give more time than you think for an answer
  • praise achievements
  • disappointment and disapproval are definitely not wanted
  • support the anxiety
  • help find safe ways and places to calm and regulate
  • enable coping strategies for anxiety
  • remember it is selective but not selected

It is not easy to truly understand or appreciate another person’s experience of anxiety – we all get worried about things from time to time, and it’s all to easy to assume other’s worries feel and affect them the same way that ours affect us. Our expectations are too often shaped by our own experiences. But to be able to support we need to put those expectations to one side and take on board the extreme level of anxiety being experienced by someone with selective mutism. It is not a choice. It will not be easily and quickly ‘got over’ or ‘snapped out of’. It is quite paralyzing. And can be so very isolating.

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