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 is having a bit of a miserable time just now. Once again it appears that his sensory processing differences and the bright weather we are experiencing are combining badly for him.
For nearly a fortnight he has been largely confined to the perceived safety of his bedroom, eyes crinkled against the light, wrapped in a duvet. The few times we have been out it has been like smuggling a hostage out, with hoods up and blankets over his head.
Of course Andy cannot tell us , so as always we are making educated guesses, while monitoring him closely. He has not been eating much though has been drinking, but even making his way to the bathroom in his own home, is appearing to be a challenge for him. This ‘ micro transitioning ‘ from one environment to another makes life very difficult. Getting in and out of the car or buildings or into the garden can all prove highly challenging. The unpredictability of it all makes plans virtually impossible.
I love my precious boy with every ounce of my being, but seeing him like this is awful. It’s also why I would take this aspect of his autism away in a heartbeat if I could.
My precious boy has spent so much time in and around water this week we think he might dissolve! His sensory seeking behaviour has been on overdrive and the desire to play with or immerse himself in water has been overwhelming for him. My understanding of this is that the water is providing both tactile and visual stimulation. Sensory integration issues are very much a part of Andy’s autism. For those who are not sure about this let me explain it the way it was best explained to me – simply! If you think of the brain as a processing system for sensory stimulus like visual, tactile or from any of the other sensory systems then these signals are interpreted and sorted to allow our body to produce the correct response e.g. Scratching an itch. If the signals or stimuli are poorly or weakly received this affects how they are interpreted leading to the body failing to produce an action or response e.g. keeping your hand under a hot tap. This is referred to as a hypo sensitivity. The opposite of this is hypersensitivity. e.g. Andy struggles with bright lights at times and I believe this arises from a hypersensitivity to this stimuli. His brain processing system causes him to experience a light that most of us can cope with, in an extreme way, causing distress and difficulties for him. These hypo and hyper sensitivities can be unpredictable and have a very debilitating affect on an individual’s ability to function. Ok end of amateur lecture on sensory integration!
Andy has been drawn to all sources of water almost continuously over the last week or more. This has involved bath after bath and shower after shower. In between times he has been playing with water from taps, washing up bowels and drinking bottles. He soaks floors, clothes, towels and carpets. He loves to spray water by putting his hand over taps and to pour water from bottles, cups and jugs. He clearly enjoys the feel of water on his body, tactile stimulation, and watching water moving and shimmering, visual stimulation. This sensory seeking behaviour is at times completely overwhelming for Andy and makes it so difficult for him to process any other information like verbal instructions. If he cannot get what he desperately needs and craves we can experience tantrums and difficult behaviour. An example of this just now is getting him out of the bath or shower. Many behavioural problems experienced by people with autism are poorly understood and cause disappointing responses often from people who should perhaps know better. Understanding the behaviour promotes tolerance and helps find solutions or coping strategies. A good example of this is the ” tornado tubes” we have used to help with Andy’s water fascination. This is simply a plastic double sided screw top that allows two bottles to be joined. With water inside the device Andy is able to turn the bottles over and watch the water flow inside.
Many unusual behaviours displayed by people on the autistic spectrum can have a very logical reason behind them if properly understood. Perhaps we all need to learn more about autism before we judge or comment.