Andy’s sensory processing differences often cause difficulties for him but sometimes his reaction to sensory experiences produce great excitement and happiness. Here Andy is standing at our back door where he likes to feel the temperature difference on his bare arms and face. The snow that was falling in the light from our kitchen and his warm breath condensing in the cold air seemed to be adding to the moment for Andy causing him to stim, laugh and verbalise.
Andy continues to struggle at the moment. Agitated, pacing, withdrawn from interactions and activities. It’s heartbreaking to watch and incredibly tiring to keep supporting him. I would do anything, give everything to take away his troubles.
Accessing medical or psychiatric support is very, very difficult indeed nowadays, we are finding out. Put simply, already over stretched services are geared towards neuro -typical patients. Barriers are more than sensory, social or fear of the unknown however, as much as these are highly significant. No, the barriers are more structural and embedded in services where knowledge and understanding of autism is at best very patchy. Where understanding is limited medical staff are defensive and often dismissive. Finding pockets of autism friendly support is a lottery with poor odds.
Medical environments must be among the most challenging for autistic people and the process driven procedures leave little room for any flexibility in approach.
The Scottish Autism Strategy had among its initial 2 year goals the following statement.
“Access to services which understand and are able to meet the needs of people specifically related to their autism.”
This should have been in place around 2013/14 although how you would test this is anyone’s guess. These initial goals were of course conveniently ditched in favour of even broader outcomes, but surely no one could claim that this situation is even improving?
Medical care is a basic right under Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It categorically states “Every child has the right to the best possible health. Governments must provide good quality health care, “
If only this were true for autistic children. We live in hope.
I have rarely been able to find time for writing recently due to the volume of work at Inspired by Autism but really wanted to share a beautiful and insightful interaction from last night. As most will know Andy now has a constant companion in our Labrador Bailey. Like every other facet of his life however his interactions with Bailey had reduced during the spring / summer months when he experienced a catatonic sensory breakdown. Thankfully we seemed to have moved on as the days turn autumnal.
Andy has no conventional speech although his verbalisations certainly have meaning and emotion in them. His happy contented sounds are for Jen and I probably the most uplifting sounds in our lives. Andy tends to limit these to one or two outbursts with people and then he tends to move on or away. He is so often constantly on the move!
Last night as I was attempting to get some sleep, Andy’s happy sounds could be heard. They appeared to be ongoing. A continuous mmmm and occasional aaaahhhhh!
The pitch of the sound rising and ending in whooping as he ran out of breath before starting the next. Andy was in his bedroom with Bailey and enjoying the dogs full attention and close proximity due to the large lump of homemade bread they were sharing.
Now I realise this might all sound a bit strange to those not in our position but this is Andy’s voice, his happy, contented child voice. It is a sound that for us is simply the best sound in our world!
Well it’s been a long and eventful summer holidays but we have survived! After some difficult weeks when Andy struggled with sensory issues and mood swings that we think arise from hormonal changes, he has been much more like his old self – giggly and mischievous! This week routine should be returning and although Andy does not attend school a sense of normality will hopefully help him.
At Inspired by Autism things are starting to pick up too. Today I delivered my first autism training event of the new session to the wonderful classroom assistants at Dunoon Grammar School. My input was received very positively and I learned also about their role and challenges. I hope it is the start of a productive relationship with our local high school.
It was also nice to receive some recognition from our MP and I will most certainly be thinking how we can use Brendan’s kind offer of support in the near future!
What a week the first one of the school holidays turned out to be!
Given Andy’s recent difficulties with sensory processing we had already taken the decision not to risk him handling the planned family break to a caravan, and on balance this was probably the correct choice. It is always a case of balancing what we think he would enjoy versus the challenges a new environment will bring and we always give this much thought and consideration. It was however difficult to have to split up at what should be a family time. I went with Andy’s brother and sister for the first couple of days, leaving Jen at home with Andy. His hyperactivity through the night is continuing and it is definitely better managed at home.
On the Tuesday Jen and I had been invited to the Royal Garden Party in Edinburgh and with the help of Nuala, Andy’s Carer and my brother and his family, we were able to attend. It was great to have our role as Carers and the work of Inspired by Autism recognised in this way.
Jen then spent the remainder of the week at the caravan with our other two, while I went home and looked after Andy for a few days.
While Jen and the kids had a great time away, Andy and I had a happy and eventful couple of days. Among other things we went to the supermarket where Andy had a go on a mobility scooter before purchasing a rather large Birthday cake that he devoured with the help of our Labrador, Bailey! Again my sister and her husband visited to give me a few hours off and make sure I managed to cope with the lack of sleep.
It was great to all be united again at the weekend and despite all our travels and excitement of the week I felt most contented back in our garden , enjoying the sunshine with Andy and Bailey yesterday. We had all got through the practical and emotional challenges of the last week and that was a good feeling.
A year and a bit into our dog adventures as a family, I remain absolutely smitten with my love for our Labrador, Bailey. This weekend we have had my good friend Barry’s dog staying for a few nights. Skye is a beautiful wee Dalmatian cross and a sweeter wee dog you’d struggle to find.
As autism parents we have something of a stressful life and recently it has been particularly difficult for us all as Andy’s sensory processing differences continue to plague him.
For a while yesterday afternoon things really started to get to me. Like so many others, I too, am prone to bouts of anxiety and depression and yesterday the pressure and worry about Andy had me in a downward spiral. Experience teaches us though, that as George Harrison sang, all things must pass and this sentiment often helps me through this type of difficulty.
This morning I took Bailey and Skye for our usual walk in the woods behind our home. The sun streamed through the deep greens of the foliage and the woods and trails were quiet. I walked slowly but steadily and became engrossed in the surroundings and my canine companions, happily bounding around . My thoughts slowed and my anxieties dissipated as I stole an hour to myself with these beautiful dogs. My mood lifted and things seemed better as I returned to family life.
I don’t know how I managed without a dog for so long.
Andy’s period of hibernation from the world has largely continued this week. He has been mostly still confined to his room or on an odd occasion ventured downstairs.
The best it got was a late evening of hyperactivity where he made it into the garden. It was something of a false dawn ( or dusk !) however as he resorted to type the following day. It was a lovely sight though to see him burst into the garden and reconnect with the outside world with excited stims. (See pic!)
One of the problems seems to be the interaction between Andy’s various autistic traits. Like a domino effect the hyper sensitivity to bright light, that confines him to his darkened room, eventually becomes the routine. The need for repetition and rigidity then conspires to make this the ‘ norm’. The same way this rigidity can be utilised in a positive way to reinforce helpful routines around everyday activities e.g. Personal care, it can also trap Andy in less positive situations.
We will keep observing, supporting, loving and encouraging Andy, but it is taking time that the outside world often fails to understand and accept.