ASC, ASD, Autism, Dental Health, parenting

Autism Survival Tip: Brushing teeth struggles and one quick way to solve them.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that brushing teeth is a real sticky point with our son Bear. He doesn’t brush himself as he is too busy trying to read the Beano or the Phoenix comics or just daydreaming. He finds the brush moving around his molars overwhelming and always puts his tongue on the brush and pushes it away making it a daily struggle.

Tonight I remembered how we had previously used a timer on my phone and a special comedy song to encourage him to brush his own teeth. At least a little. No idea why that stopped because it was very helpful. If you haven’t yet tried the old timer routine I would try that first. We need all the tricks we can muster up to re encourage our kids to learn to do self care solo. The timer doesn’t have to be a phone timer. We’ve used those sand timers before and I even use the cooker timer when I need to as it beeps so loudly. Be creative.

We were creative tonight. OK so I was going for the try the timer routine Bear and he didn’t do a thing. Then I switched over to stop watch mode and that is when the MIRACLE took place. He brushed his own teeth and kept his forefinger up close to the screen. I couldn’t work it out until he pressed lap. He timed each area of his mouth in laps. Back left bottoms, Back left tops, Back right bottoms, Back right tops and fronts. He brushed them all. It took 3 minutes in 6 laps.

Nothing short of miraculous.

I’d love to hear your success or epic fail stories.

Sharing our top tips and experiences is the way to lighten our load as parents.

Go one tell us…

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ASC, ASD, Autism, Dental Health, Health, Recipes, Sensory

Recipe to support Oral Hygiene and Halt Teeth Decay

I have struggled to keep Bears teeth healthy since he began eating food voraciously. One place he has always struggled to have any touch is within his mouth. Every night he would lie on the floor and I would torture him by attempting to brush his teeth. At some point he could stand up and I would brush his teeth and even more recently he has been slightly more independent in terms of doing a little brushing himself. You might have thought he would prefer to brush his own teeth if it is such a sensory overwhelm for him but the routine of me pinning him down lives on. It was that bad I guess. He even sometimes lies on the floor before we start.

His teeth have suffered. Mainly his back teeth. I kept taking him to the dentist but none of them helped as they were more concerned about him in their room than helping him. I did get to tell one of them off recently. Which I have to admit gave me pleasure. He had metal caps put over his decaying back teeth age 4 and 5. He nearly had 4 teeth out age 4 but I managed to get him to see a Specialist Dentist. A dentist who could manage him immediately and he because of that he now sees the family dentist locally.

So we went to see the local Childrens Dentist because one of the metal caps was damaged. We had to see her and not the Specialist because they have changed the whole system of referrals….sigh. She started saying how she doesn’t recommend the caps herself. And I was very quick to point out that I knew that because she had sent my son age 4 to have 4 teeth removed. The same teeth he still has inside his mouth thanks to the metal caps. That shut her up. Anyway I have drifted off the point. I just wanted to explain how big a deal tooth health is to our family. To explain how it can relate to sensory issues and that often you need to fight for better health care. In case I haven’t made that last point clear I believe I took Bear to see the dentist 4 or 5 times in a year and a half, some appointments he didn’t even manage to sit in the chair before we left, before I managed to get a Specialist Dentist appointment because I refused to let him have his teeth taken out that easily. Age 5 he had four metal caps put on and we could finally start brushing his back teeth. Because the pain had reduced.

I have always used Aloe Dent Sensitive Toothpaste believing it to be the healthiest option available. I never even considered making my own. But I changed my mind when researching dental products for George (this is my pseudonym for Bears Dad. I don’t know why but today that’s the one I choose). He had terrible gum pain and taste in his mouth. After researching everything natural on the market I found an oil product, called Glacial Blue, that I couldn’t buy in the UK, but that had the best reviews of all the products I found. When I discovered it’s ingredients were just a carrier oil and peppermint and spearmint essential oils I decided to make our own. Wow. It is brilliant. Georges pain has receded, he has had some amalgam fillings replaced with ceramic so that could also be a major factor but I have recently read that some ingredients in any shop bought natural toothpastes are really bad for our dental health.

Take glycerin one of the main ingredients in many natural toothpastes. It apparently contributes to de-mineralisation and can prevent re-mineralisation. Glycerin coats the teeth which can lead to decay over time as the teeth need to be able to absorb the minerals in our saliva to strengthen them.

So here it is. The simplest tooth oil recipe that not only cleans our teeth and leaves them feeling fabulous, but is also safe, natural and supports our dental hygiene.

Tooth Oil Recipe

50ml Almond Oil

15 drops of Peppermint oil

15 drops of Myrrh Oil

Dropper Bottle

Add all of the ingredients to the bottle and shake. It’s ready to go.

Here is where I chose to buy my oils. NHR are organic and food grade which is essential when using essential oils that are likely to be ingested.

I chose to use Myrrh oil instead of the spearmint in our recipe because the qualities of spearmint are very similar to peppermint.

Peppermint oil is freshens your breathe and whitens your teeth as well as removing any film coverings to the surface of your teeth. It has anti bacterial properties.

Myrrh oil can help aid gum health by promoting the flow of blood to tissue. Myrrh oil has some amazing healing properties that are perfect for dental health including relieving toothache, gingivitis, and mouth ulcers, and also freshens your breath.

I just created a new version of the above recipe where I supplemented the almond oil (which is runny so does drip from the brush) with coconut oil (which is solid+ no drip) and trialling it on Bear tonight he said,

“Tastes exactly like Coconut. I’ll have the rest.”

So he did. I didn’t initially use coconut because the other 2 (as Bear would call his brothers) don’t like the taste of it. Boo. But Bear does and I do so it can be our special paste. No more drips for us!

Our boys have adjusted really well to our homemade tooth oil. I even use it after brushing as a final conditioning rinse.

I am keen to see how our dental health adjusts over the course of the next year. It seems to be positive so far.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on dental health and any DIY recipes you’ve tried and tested. Please comment below.

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ASC, ASD, Autism, Getting dressed, Getting ready for school, Mornings, parenting, Siblings

The day my son got up at 7am without a wake up call from me.

I noticed something significant today. In fact I noticed two important things about Bear that hadn’t been clear until this morning.

One of the most obvious signs of my son Bear’s autism is that he is often in his own world. He is very happy there. He talks to himself and laughs. He seems so happy it doesn’t worry me that he has somewhere of his own to go. It only interrupts our lives when we need to get on with something in particular. Like getting ready in the morning.

When Bear is in his own world he doesn’t respond to us. Which means he doesn’t follow our instructions. Which means it takes a long time getting him ready.

I remember one time in particular when Bear was four and I had asked him to get his jumper from the chair. He gazed around the room but didn’t get the jumper even though he looked at it. I know he understood I had asked him to do something. He just didn’t know what it was.

His inability to follow verbal instructions was one of the main reasons that we knew he needed support and looked for his autism diagnosis. He has gradually improved and we needed to improve our own communication and expectations of him to achieve these improvements.

Last night I told Bear that he should stop reading  now (9pm), sleep and get up at 7am to read the comic. He said he would need a loud alarm clock to wake him up. Which is fair enough Bear is someone who struggles to get to sleep every night then struggles to wake up.

When he was younger he would get out of bed constantly and walk around the house. He’s only stopped doing this in the last year or so. Although we still have episodes of late night walking. Now we hear him talking to himself in bed until quite late. Often when we go to bed at 11pm he is still talking. Last night he settled easily. It was little something I had said went into his consciousness.

It has been a slow drawn out process to see changes. But sometimes they do appear to happen over night.

We have had to change our way of giving instructions to see improvement. I will give one specific command at a time. Instead of this vague and unspecific instruction, as he sits at the table after breakfast,

“Bear, go and get ready for school, we have to go soon.” I say,

“Bear, upstairs.” Then we go upstairs together.

I might then say, “Time to get dressed” or something similarly short and precise.

Once we are in his room I name each item of clothing he needs to put on and count down from ten for him to actually put the item on. Sometimes I have to pass him the socks or other items for him to respond.

Recently he has been getting dressed on his own without being asked on non school days. He puts on clean pants every morning because he has always takes off his pants after his first morning wee. He used to take his pants and trousers off after every wee. His getting dressed by himself at weekends involves him pulling on trousers and a hoody over his clean pants. This is progress but it was only happening at the weekend.

So the first amazing thing that happened this morning was that Bear woke up at exactly 7am. No alarm clock. No whispering sweet good mornings in his ear from me. No delivery of fizzy C (my current favourite method to getting him to wake up in a gentle but effective way) from me either. This is a first.

The next amazing thing that happened was when I asked him to put his pants and socks on he just did it. He went off and found the pants and socks I’d laid out and put them on. Without me in the room.

When he arrived in just pants and socks I tried this,

“Put your shirt and trousers on.”

Again, he came in wearing his trousers and shirts.

Something has changed inside Bear.

He is able to get up early on a school day and he is able to follow an instruction containing two items.

These two things are nothing short of a miracle in our getting dressed and ready for school routine.

I know why we’ve had such dramatic changes.

It’s all because of his younger brother Max.

Max has been up to all kinds of fun things early in the morning while his brother sleeps on innocently.

But Bear’s finally noticing what his younger brother is up to and he wants in. I guess he’s found a motivating force to get himself up in the mornings.

I wonder if you can guess what it is?

Max’s routine has always been markedly different to Bears.

Max goes to sleep easily in general. He consequently wakes up early (often very early but that’s another story). He hassles me for breakfast. He hassles me for whichever item of clothing he can’t find. He gets dressed. And then because there is time (usually an hour) he has been allowed to play his favourite game (usually Angry Birds) on his Papa’s mobile.

He has been doing this for over a year.

I’ve been wondering over the last few months how come Bear hasn’t noticed?

We have boundaries over computer/screen time because our boys would play from dawn to dawn without them. We would like them to have balanced lives. Get outside, ride their bicycles, walk, jump, play with sticks, the simple things. So they mostly only play for an hour or two in the evenings. Considering this I would have thought Bear might have noticed Max is getting to play Angry Birds games in the mornings.

Bear often comes into our room where Max is playing and watches him. This is where I need to add that Bear is completely obsessive about playing computer games (as is Max). He is so crazy for gaming on screens that not only do we have limited times when they can play on screens we also have to hide consoles, leads, put in passwords, and go to extreme lengths because he will find a way to play at any time of the day unless we outsmart him. All the gaming equipment has been disabled until we say it is time. So how come he hasn’t ever noticed or said anything about Max playing before school?

The answer is autism.

He doesn’t always have the awareness or consciousness to notice what others are doing. And in the morning if he is struggling to wake up, having been woken up before he has slept enough, then he isn’t really going to notice what Max is doing. Even if he is playing on a screen.

It makes me sad. But that’s how he is and it’s OK too.

The one thing I will not be doing is using playing on a screen as a method to motivate him to get up. We do that enough with the time he plays later in the day. But I’ll save that rant for another day.

Have you noticed differences between your children?

Please comment below.

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ASC, ASD, Autism, Senses, Sensory, Trampolines

A Day Without Shocks from the Trampoline

This is Bear back on the trampoline for the first time in well over a year. I had to positively reward him with an extra hour on the computer to get him there.

Just look how much he loves it?

Trampolines are brilliant for vestibular and proprioception stimulation which most autistic kids need to feel more relaxed. Vestibular is our balance and proprioception is the awareness of the movements between joints and of the position of our body. They are the two extra senses we have that you learn about once you have a child with autism.

We got the trampoline from a Family Fund grant. So it was very sad that Bear stopped getting his dose of bouncing.

Bear unfortunately got put off coming back on the trampoline when he got three too many electric shocks in a row when bouncing the summer before last. Once from my hand, once from Max, and then as he went to get off another one from the metal frame. Ouch! Ouch, triple OUCH!

It seemed we all gave each other shocks when we bounced. We thought it might be our socks. But without socks we still had shocks. It seemed to be us. Has anyone else ever experienced this in the summer?

I thought we would never, ever be able to convince him to get bounce again. But when Max and me were happily bouncing in the sunshine today we noticed that there were no electric shocks.

It must be a sunshine and heat phenomenon. Today was cold, freezing ground at 3 pm cold.

I told Bear there were no shocks today but he wasn’t having any of it until I asked him what would get him on it. At first he had claimed nothing could but then we came to an arrangement where he got to have another hour on a screen (his obsession and he’d run out of time for the day).

Totally the best thing and was worth the bribe.

Just look at how much fun he had.

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ASC, ASD, Autism, parenting, strategies

How to: 2 Simple Methods for Supporting our Children to Improve their Emotional Regulation.

The last time our Autism Support Worker came out I told her how Bear, our 9 year old autistic son, has been very physical recently when he gets upset. When I say physical I mean it really hurts. He uses pinching, punching, squeezing and ramming to express himself emotionally.

I can’t remember what it was about but the worst time he had me pinned against my bed and kept pushing his whole body against mine. I felt crushed bodily and emotionally. Bear is usually very loving and warm. So it is always distressing to me when he flips into aggressive mode. He was cross and he resorted to non verbal communication to express himself.  I remembered something I was told at an Autism Workshop last year, ‘If your child is doing something you don’t like or find uncomfortable at 8, if you don’t deal with it at 8 they will still be doing it at 18.’ It’s a powerful way to imagine what life might become with our children on the spectrum if we just let things happen to us and to them. Things will stay the same.

Visuals are commonly used to help communicate and remind children with autism. I no longer use visuals with Bear because last year he started getting upset by them and throwing them at me. Rather obviously I decided that they were hindering rather than helping him and we stopped using them.

When the Autism Support Worker heard what was going on she suggested a twofold approach. Firstly bring back visuals and secondly to work on his emotional regulation.

Hearing our experience with Bear and his last set of visuals she could tell I was apprehensive about this part of her plan. She asked me if he liked words and if maybe the problem had been the pictorial element of those visuals he threw at me.

I realised that I used to write short lists on the back on an envelope to explain what is happening that day to Bear so he can process the information but I had stopped doing it. I had got waylaid by the terminology. Just because the word visuals sounds like pictures, and often seem to be pictorial, it doesn’t mean they have to be pictures. Or have to include pictures. So we are going to list instructions.

Bear really, really loves Dennis the Menace so I am using Dennis as a positive role model (!!! I know) to explain emotions. We were given a chart of emotions ranging from calm to out of control and I found our old laminated traffic light set. The list is colour coded and numbered with matching faces for each emotion. We came a bit unstuck over colours on the chart not matching the colours on our traffic lights. So I need to do more colour paper circles to include the other colours or only talk to him using one set at a time about emotions. I did talk to him about Dennis and how Dennis feels and he took this on board well. We are yet to see if it will have a positive effect on his daily outbursts.

Do you still find visuals helpful?

Or have you found they had a shelf life and your child stopped responding to them like Bear did?

To sum up the two simple and effective methods to support our children to regulate their own emotions are;

One; Use visuals, pictures or just lists, to show them what is coming that day and we can make a conscious effort to talk to them about recognising what they are feeling inside.

Two; Teaching them to use numbers or colour charts with a scale to help them recognise and communicate where they are at any given point in the day. Using a familiar character as a reference can really help children with autism to relate their own feelings inside them to how they are able to respond in stressful and challenging situations.

I am aware as I finish writing this that I also need to give Bear something he can use to regulation his emotions. Examples of this would be counting to ten, taking five deep breaths or leaving the room when he starts to feel different inside. I will revisit this subject in an upcoming post as it is very important and central theme with helping children be more comfortable and the whole family to have more fun together.

I am also aware that as parents we need to use these same techniques to keep our emotional responses in check at the same as supporting and teaching our children. Please comment below if you have found something here that resonates with your experiences parenting?

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ASC, ASD, Autism, parenting, relationship resilience, Resilience, self resilience, Words of Wisdom

My Resilience Journey Part 1

It was a succession of moments, realisations and my own mistrust of my knowledge of my sons development, and of myself as an overly pessimistic attention seeking human being, that knocked me down a few years ago. A succession of moments and realisations that then ultimately enabled me to nurture my own resilience and inner core strength. Resilience which I need every day as a person and as a mother, to continue, to get up, despite things being hard. Resilience which enables me to be capable of repeating the same challenging tasks every day.

Resilience is what we all need to continue onwards each day. It enables. It is an inner core of strength which we can use to get us through the really really tough times. As parents we need it ourselves to be there for our gorgeous children. As parents we need to be able to grow it inside our children so they too have an inner core of strength which they can turn to in their own dark nights of the soul. Without resilience we disappear into any number of negative spirals which only serve to feed fear, greed, envy, self pity and victimisation. With resilience we can take the hard times as challenges that can potentially feed our inner knowledge that we can. We are able. We are capable. We can get up each day and smile. We can get up in the morning and have the emotional strength to give to others. We can get up and help other humans and we can look out to our planet to build and create positive solutions.

My journey to having a resilient inner core has been fraught with challenges. To continue my story…

My second son was an easy baby. He slept well (at first). He put on weight, he put on a lot of weight. He really loves food. He was easy going (for a long time). I could even get out of a car with him go into a friends house and lay him in a comfortable place and he would stay asleep! I am sure all parents and anyone who has ever met a baby will recognise how amazing this simple act of moving a sleeping baby, from one environment to another, really is without him being too bothered. He was a star baby, no question about it.

What shocked my world was that despite his easy going nature it became increasingly obvious in his second year that he was not hitting many developmental milestones. In fact although he could recite ‘Each Peach Pear Plum’ the whole way through at bedtime he only actually used three phrases in response to us, they were “Yes”, “No” or “I don’t know.” He didn’t make any effort to walk. He liked to sit and stare into space. He often stopped walking through a room. He just stopped there. I would call to him from a few metres away and he wouldn’t flinch. Even when I said his name he didn’t look over to me.

The collection of straws which broke me piled on without me noticing. It was easy to explain why I was struggling. I’d got pregnant again so had less time to give my second son. He was spoken to in Spanish and English so his language development was probably slow due to learning words in two ways, I reasoned.  I over analysed and beat myself up that the warning signs in my beautiful child were signs not of his developmental slowness but of my own hideous pessimism. My sick desire to have a child with something wrong so I could blame someone else for my tiredness, my grief, my inability to cope. And of all of these things it was my inability to cope with him that struck me most deeply.

He did change. It was gradual. The hardest thing was that he didn’t sleep much at night. He crawled over our heads and bounced on us every night until desperate we put him in a cot. He was our only child to sleep/be in a cot at 15 months. We are attachment parents so this was not an easy decision. It did work for a time though. He slept better. Or rather we slept better. Which enabled our resilience.

His developmental delay only became ‘in my face’ obvious to me once his younger brother started speaking (I had better give them both names so this is readable. Our second son is Bear and our youngest is Max, You’ll meet our eldest son later). My husband had said, at very specific moments of not being able to get Bear’s attention, “If that boy wasn’t so intelligent I’d say he is autistic”.

So, Max started using pronouns at the usual time of 18+ months old. Bear still said about himself, “He wants his cheese”. Pretty cute to us all at the time until Max spoke. Using pronouns. Even though he was also bilingual Max spoke in full sentences. Bear did not. Max responded to his name. Bear did not. This difference between them aged 18 months and 3 and a half respectively was now blatant and unavoidably needing attention. The crunch moment, despite all these straws piling on top, came when I asked Bear if he knew the names of his teachers at Play School. I remember the moment vividly. I had no resilience and this was the final straw that broke me.

I was pushing the double buggy and we had just crossed the road and had entered our favourite tree lined pathway to school. I asked the question. Bear didn’t answer. But after a second came Max’s voice saying “Mrs Johns and Mrs Fields”. This still brings tears to my eyes. The younger child that didn’t even go to Play School knew the names of his brothers teachers but his older brother didn’t answer. I now know many reason why Bear might not have answered because I now know so much about his developmental delay Autism. He may have thought it an obvious question. Mama knows the name of my teachers so I don’t need to tell her too. Or he may have had no interest in the question. Or worse case scenario, the tear jerk scenario, is Bear at 3 and a half had no interest in other humans. He, very likely remembering him at that age, really wasn’t capable of knowing who his teachers were at Play School.

It took me a very long time to build my inner core of resilience to be able to help myself and help my sons. I did it out of necessity. I couldn’t break down and cry at any of the worst moments as the autism became more and more life changing to our family. If I did let my guard down and cry Bear usually did something that would make my immediate life doubly worse. Like run a burning hot bath. He was in it not able to recognise himself the temperature. I had to change to manage.

I will speak more in later essays about how I built my resilience to the point where I am now able and capable to manage daily. My 3 boys are also quite resilient to life. It is a journey however and I am fully aware now of the challenges lying ahead. I am taking count and preparing myself. Which enables me to be able to pass on these words of wisdom to you should you need support in your own dark night of the soul to build your own resilience.

Words of Wisdom 1) Do less. Do only the minimum to manage and get through the day.

Words of Wisdom 2) Ask for help. Please tell the people around you that you are finding life difficult. If like me you find this hard write it down. If you are struggling to think of who you could talk to then please go to the professionals. Be prepared to ask loudly. The further from your circle of friends and family the person is, ie. a GP or Health Visitor, the louder and more explicitly you need to say you need support. Or you may find you need to be loudly asking for help from family and friends too.

Words of Wisdom 3) Be kind to yourself. Recognise this is a hard time and you are doing your best. Be kind to others around you too. We need each other, we need family and friends support and kindness is the first way to build resilient relationships.

Words of Wisdom 4) Recognise the good things you have managed to do each day. Daily reminding yourself of your own capabilities builds your inner core of resilience. This is an essential tool, please be kind to yourself and use it and over use it. There is everything to gain by showing yourself that you have done many good things today. Small things are great. Today I got up, got dressed and made my children breakfast and I even got them to school, dressed. Simple recognition of achievement every day helps build strong resilient cores.

Words of Wisdom 5) Be grateful for every tiny aspect of good in your life. Start you day before you open your eyes with gratitude. Sounds cliched but it works. Today I am thankful for the food in my fridge, my 3 healthy, beautiful children, the roof over my head… Even I am grateful I can read this and I am grateful I have woken up to another day.

I would love to hear your own journey to resilience and your thoughts on what prevents you from feeling resilient in your own life. Please comment below.

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