Challenging Stereotypes: Autism and emotion

23 February 2018

Dear Friend,

Why are autistic people characterised as robotic and unfeeling, emotionless?

The idea that people with autism don't have feelings is completely wrong. Emotions are often described as the things that make us human, so isn't it time we stop dehumanising autistic people and challenge this unhelpful stereotype?

Far from failing to feel, our son appears to feel too much. He is the polar opposite of the stereotypical robotic autistic person.

Our lives are mostly conducted according to big lad's emotions. As soon as he walks through the door (or even past the window) I know how he is feeling.

He appears to have a kaleidoscope of emotions.

There are over 600 words in English to describe the basic emotions and apparently we use over 42 muscles in our faces to express them. It is no surprise then that many autistic people who don't like to look at people's faces/eyes when talking, can struggle to identify emotions.

Through therapy and time the big lad became better at identifying feelings. We have played recognising emotions games, on the ipad, made crazy emotion photographs of the big lad and we perfected the sentence; I understand you are feeling sad/cross/frustrated/etc so that he could identify these emotions himself.

I believe that it is not the feeling of the emotion that is missing in my son, rather the ability to reason with or explain it.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy established the concept of the "wise mind," It is having the ability to step back from our emotion and reason with it. The wise mind uses reason to calm emotion down.

In an argument many neurotypical adults loose the ability to reason. Emotional outbursts are triggered by our stress response. Who hasn't wished they could take back a comment made in the heat of an argument?

I am a mum not a psychologist but I am certain that there is a link between stress levels and confusing emotions. The big lad describes it as; 'My head is full...' and at these times he either over reacts or shuts down and then can not recognise or explain his feelings.

It is like the depth of feeling  overwhelms him.

During 'meltdowns' our big lad can not think logically. We have learned not to try and reason with him at this point but to give him time to calm, to allow his feelings to fade before we talk things through. We provide him with a safe space to step back from his emotions in the hope that he can reason with them better.

Autistic people may express their emotion in a different way and can have problems identifying feelings but anyone who lives with an autistic person will tell you that they do feel, passionately!

Our son can not always explain his feelings but he feels, deeply!

Helping my son with autism get organised with Chalkwild

21 February 2018

Dear Friend,

School mornings as a busy mum can be fraught. I have to plan my mornings in military style and attempt to set everything out the night before so we are ready to roll. This is especially true when I have to work. I like to think I am well organised but sometimes I get caught out!

Like the morning when my son announced, Oh yes I have a Sports Day today and need a packed lunch and the time it was dress up day at school and I knew nothing about it. Just last week I missed helping out on a school trip. Why did I miss these events? He had forgotten to give me the letters. I found the trip letter lying in a crumpled mess in the bottom of his bag!

My son has ASD and has problems with executive functioning, he has difficulties organising, planning and remembering the steps to complete a task. He also tends to compartmentalise his day so when he gets home he doesn't want to talk or think about school, that is over now. We are always keen to find ways to help him organise himself so when Charlie at Chalkwild got in touch and asked if we would like to take a look at the back pack he created with his son I jumped at the chance.

ChalkWild erasable backpack aims to give kids, especially kids on the Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, & Sensory Processing Disorder the freedom to create art on the go for therapy, for customizing it into a one-of-a-kind backpack, & for thinking & communicating visually; to donate a portion of proceed to charity.

What a great idea! A backpack and a portable art gallery rolled into one. Children can customize & personalize the back back in any way they want using their own art. It can also serve as calming tool for when stress or anxiety makes children feel overwhelmed when they are out and about.

Here is the Chalkwild story...

My favourite feature is that the bag can be used to write notes. I will definitely be writing reminders on this so my son doesn't forget what he needs. But you could also use it as a method of communication between home and school for nonsensitive information e.g. slept badly last night or going to be picked up by dad today. 

The bag we received was a large doodle laptop backpack. The size is great (45 x 33 x 20cm) it easily fits in all the things my son needs for school; Homework folder, gym bag and lunch box. The material is tough and good quality, essential for my active boys. I like the bottle holders on the side too. Maybe they will help him to remember to bring his water bottle home?

Another great feature is the plastic cover on the front, which has a zip pocket. This is the perfect place to keep any school notes. The answer to my problems is here! Now there will be no more crumpled notes in the bottom of his bag because I will see them.

My Big Lad is saving the Chalkwild backpack for when he starts high school in September. I am sure it will be a great tool for helping him to learn to plan and organise more things for himself and become more independent. 

But for now little man has appropriated the bag. It appealed to his creativity and he couldn't wait to get drawing! 

He had a great evening filling his bag full of Pokemon. The pens were easy to use and worked really well. He was very happy with the effect they made. The chalk paint dries quickly so you can layer colours. Little man did miss a black and brown but you can easily buy more chalk pens. He couldn't wait to head out to school the next day and show his friends. 

Little man's masterpiece has been on the bag a week and is standing up well to the wear. I imagine it won't be a match for the Dutch rain but then he can have more fun creating a new design. He loves the bag, I think big lad may have a problem getting it back! 

This Chalkwild bag is not only practical but creative and unique. I love it too! But most of all I love the idea that it was thought of by Hein, a young inventor and that he is using some of the proceeds of sales to go on and help others. What an inspiring story and a brilliant young man!

The bag was gifted to us for the purpose of this review but all thoughts are our own. 

15 Half Term Activities that won't break the bank

16 February 2018

Dear Friend,

Is your bank balance a little low after the expense of Christmas, half term holidays are coming up fast and now you need to find some activities that won't break the bank?

Keeping everyone entertained without breaking out the credit card doesn't have to be too difficult! There are plenty of ways to keep the kids happy that can cost next to nothing.

15 Half Term Activities that won't break the bank

  1. Visit Galleries and museums: many museums have special programs for children during the holidays. Some are free but others have a fee. Check out their websites for information. 
  2. Family movie afternoon/night: we like to snuggle up together with snacks and homemade milkshakes and watch a classic kids movie
  3. Day at the park/beach: even if the weather is bad, throw on your wellies and raincoat and get outside
  4. Sleepover: We love a family sleepover, the boys regularly like to crash in our bed or sleep together. You can make it extra special by camping out indoors
  5. Get crafty: go Pinterest crazy and find a craft project that can use up all your household junk
  6. Indoor obstacle course: throw bean bags into the laundry basket, balance a book on your head, skip or do jumping jacks
  7. Stage a bake off: you can rope in the grandparents as judges
  8. Family project: write a report on their favourite animal or football team
  9. Write an adventure story
  10. Games afternoon: Get the board games out and have a mammoth competition afternoon with prizes
  11. Treasure Hunt/Scavenger hunt: some local parks or play areas may organise treasure hunts for the half term holiday but you can also set up your own
  12. Learn a new skill: always wanted to be able to juggle, yo-yo or diablo. Now you can practice.
  13. Visit the library: most libraries organise readings during the holidays 
  14. Go on a picnic: ok I know we cannot predict the weather but we love carpet picnics too, lay a throw on the floor and eat lunch together
  15. Take Photos: go for a walk and take photos of your environment together. Make a collage or a photo diary.

One Moment In Time With Hungry Harriet

9 February 2018

Welcome to one moment in time, a guest posts series, where bloggers share the stories behind special or significant photographs. This week's featured blogger is the lovely Steph who blogs at Hungry Harriet. Thank you so much for joining me!

I got my flair for photography from my Dad. In fact, my Mum has always been a dab hand at snapping those special Kodak moments too so it was no wonder that we returned from our trip to America with an album full of picture perfect images. The kind of images you could print onto a postcard or a canvas and sell to giddy tourists in Central Park.

My other half (and talented videographer/editor), Abby came with us as an honorary member of the family so I took all of my shots on her super expensive, super whizzy camera. The Statue of Liberty in perfect focus against a sunny Staten Island backdrop, skyscrapers glistening perfectly against happy-accident lens flares. The photograph I love most of them all though is this one - the totally imperfect and off-guard snap of my Mum, my Dad, my brother Jake and I, taken by Abby: 

My parents, Abby and I had made the trip across the pond, from our home in the North West of England earlier this year in honour of Jake’s graduation. He had been studying business and kicking ass on a tennis scholarship at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey for the past four years and it was finally time to celebrate all of his hard work and incredible achievements.

The sun was cracking the flags, we finally got to meet all of Jake’s fabulous friends (his American ‘family’), we got to see the MetLife Stadium in real life and Bon Jovi even performed at the ceremony. I mean, it was an unforgettable day, it really was but the best part about the entire trip was having all of my favourite people in one place, brimming with pride and bursting with love for each other.

America has claimed my little bro for the time being (and who could blame him really) so we don’t get to spend much time together, face-to-face anymore. It’s all dodgy Skype signals and WhatsApp calls when the time zones collide. Moments like the one in this picture are something I had previously taken for granted and something I treasure more fiercely than ever before these days.

Of course the version of the image that came afterwards when Abby laughed and told us all to look her way and smile at the shutter was ‘better’ but this one shows us how we really are. A bit daft, definitely different and as close knit as can be. All with such a special addition to our family behind the lens too. If I could live this moment on a loop forever, I would.

That reminds me, I really must buy a new frame…

Photography @My_Dutch_Angle

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