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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ASD, Autism, parenting, Resilience, strategies

The Disappearing Child; What is sensory overload and strategies to cope?

Bear is prone to running off or totally disappearing. It left me in tears, scared I’d lost him forever, often five times a day until I started putting in some simple strategies to help us all. He still does disappear but not only has it reduced to one off occasions but I can manage my anxiety better.

One of the many shared traits of autism is sensory overload. During a overload your child can become violent, refuse to move, stand still and not respond to you, run off, scream and stim. Having a child doing any of these behaviours while you are out is one of the most distressing, difficult, painful experiences we as parents of children with autism go through, often daily. So what is going on for the child?

Here’s one of Bears disappearing stories.

When I used to go into town shopping with Bear and his younger brother I would lose him. Every single time.

We were in a supermarket on the main street. Bear was around 4 years old. We were standing at the checkout and I was packing the bags. I had a double buggy and my younger son Max was in the buggy. Bear was unusually right next to me. I asked him “You OK Bear?”  as I put my card into the machine. He even replied “Yes”. I typed my pin, looked to where he was but he wasn’t. I looked all around us. There’s a good view of the aisles and area around was open. But I couldn’t see him anywhere. Panic rose inside me. Where had he gone?

In the space it had taken me to type 4 numbers on the keypad he had vanished. I ran outside leaving my card in the machine, Max and buggy, and said something probably incoherently to the cashier about needing to find my son. My strategy at this point was always to check exits first.

I went out of the supermarket and looked up and down the main street. No Bear. There was a large lorry in front of me and the road was full of traffic. I walked up the street to the see round the corner but I couldn’t see him. I came back believing I’d need to call the police this time. I was about to go back into to the shop and search the aisles when I suddenly I asked the lorry driver if he had seen a small boy leave the supermarket moments before.

“Yes, he went up that way.” He told me. So I retraced my steps right round the corner and up to the very top of the street. I found him standing by the crosswalk.

I asked him what he was doing.

“Arrows.” He said, and I looked to see a sign post with arrows on them. As we returned to the shop, me shaking inside, I saw the other arrow pointing up the street.

Happily Max was still in his buggy, I apologised to the cashier and the queue, retrieved my card from the machine, gathered my shopping and left.

Do you recognise any of your own child’s behaviour in this story?

What factors are influencing and affecting our children to behave in such ways that are either dangerous or difficult to manage?

I believe Bear runs when he can no longer handle the input of information. Supermarkets are full of overwhelming  colours, sounds, people, smells, bright lights. It makes sense that it becomes too much and the need to get away is overpowering.

Bear gets out of these situations by just leaving. Fast. But there are many ways a child or even adult might deal with this and it’s rare to find a child with autism who will use words to tell us they can’t cope anymore.

The connection between behaviour meltdowns in a child (and adult) with Autism and sensory processing difficulties is now recognised as a major contributing factor. Many of the meltdown scenarios come on because of sensory overload. The classic child screaming in the supermarket that may appear to the untrained (overly judgemental) mind to be spoilt and over reacting can actually be a child in pain from the masses of sensory information flooding their brain. Strip lighting, bright colours everywhere, lots of unknown people moving around them, being bumped by people not paying attention, different smells, which is all too much for a child who can not filter information.

The Autistic brain does not respond to sensory stimuli in the same way as a Neuro Typical (NT) brain. Each autistic brain responds in its own unique way. To understand why a child is having a meltdown every time you enter a supermarket, friend’s house, school, train, car, public bathroom and complete the activity without a major meltdown there are several strategies you can use to improve the experience for you all.

First of all, remember meltdowns are generally caused by sensory overload. Your child isn’t running off because they are naughty. They aren’t screaming because they want to make a fuss. This is about them not being able to cope and as their parents we need to step in gently and take care of the situation.

If you reduce your expectations of what and how much your child is capable of doing in a visit or outing. Don’t be tempted to look at similar aged children and use them as a guideline for your own child. Go by what works for your child and yourself. I won’t take my son shopping and then go and visit a friend. One of these activities is enough. Both together will possibly produce a meltdown.

You can also try using positive distractions to reduce the sensory stimulus. Many parents use ear defenders to block sounds while out. I often keep my child focused on a task he really enjoys while we shop, like finding the ingredients for our next baking experiment. Bear loves food so I use the incentive of a snack to keep him moving.

If there are some things you can keep the same I recommend doing them the same way each trip. Maybe even go round the shop in the same way each time. Keeping things the same is reassuring for children with autism. I often go to 3 different shops and go to them in the same order or at least always finish shopping in the same shop. Normally where I can buy the boys a snack. This is big progress for us as when he was younger it was a one shop only policy for us.

The most important strategy I use is to reduce the sensory stimulus as quickly as is possible. I used to talk and talk to try to calm him down. Now I say almost nothing. Maybe I just tell him what is happening. Something like, “We are leaving now”.  Or even I just say “Hand” for him to hold my hand and we leave.

When in sensory overload less really is more.

By using a combination of these strategies I have managed to reduce how much he disappears when we go to the shops. I know that all the bright lights, colours, smells, sounds, people get too much for him and that he can’t filter any of it out.

How does your child respond when you go out shopping?

Have you found any similar strategies work to reduce the overload?

Comment below and share your story.

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