Monday, 25 October 2010

Dealing with the difficult days

I'm anxious that my blog doesn't come across as an unrealistic portrayal of life with autistic children! Some things are really tough and we have really difficult things to deal with at times.

I hate the phrase 'Challenging Behaviour' (although I do use it to get my point across to professionals!).  I worked for nearly 10 years as a residential carer with children and adults with learning disabilities and this phrase was always bounced about without much thought for the 'why?'  To me, challenging behaviour is what happens when someone can't communicate to others what they need or feel.  When you have a baby and they cry, you tend to work through a mental checklist of 'hungry?', 'nappy change?', 'teething?' etc.  Sometimes there is no explanation that you can identify and those are usually the hardest times.  Its much the same with the behaviours we deal with.  We have to try and work out what the problem is because our lads usually can't get that kind of message across.

So how do we deal with the days when something is wrong but we just can't get to the bottom of it?  I don't have a magic wand to make it all better, wish I did! I do get stressed out by it at times but I've learnt to keep a few things in the back of my mind that sometimes can work.  They are usually distractions into 'loved' activities.  Simple things like a car ride, a walk, blowing bubbles all work for us on occassions but I guess the 2 main players here are music and our trampoline.

A jump on the trampoline with mum often does the trick and I just do not know where we would be without the love of music in this house.  We had the most horrendous visit to the dentist the other day (there is, I think, something that Charlie really does not like about the new waiting room) and managed to calm the situation with some Patti Smith on my mobile phone! At home, putting some music on loud and having a crazy dance around usually does the trick. Both boys really do like music but I think the deeper significance of how it calms them is that we love music too.  It relaxes us at times when they are wound up and a relaxed parent is more likely to equal a relaxed child I think.  We are lucky to have something so wonderful we can share with our children.

This morning, I was woken before 5 a.m. and have spent the last hour switching a flashing pumpkin light on and off for a very tired and grumpy boy.  I'm keeping this toy in the cupboard to bring out for such occassions and I guess it's what made me think about writing this post!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Water and Ice Play

As part of our 'water' theme we have made a variety of icy 'stuff'.  There's lots of sensory interest at all stages of the process of making ice, touching water, feeling the coldness, exploring the ice as it melts, crunching and licking ice cubes.  There's also fun stuff like pouring the water into the trays and banging the cubes out again -all part of it.

We started off with some basic ice cubes.  I put them in this silver mixing bowl which added extra visual stimulation from the reflections and made great noises when shaking the cubes around the bowl! (This bowl was bought with the intention of play rather than cooking.  It is well loved and used as a mirror and a hat on a regular basis).

We went to the local Bowling alley where they do really nasty slush puppy drinks and got one of each colour to try.  That went down like a lead balloon but we did try them!!  We talked a bit about colours at least...

Next we looked at turning water different colours with food colouring.  Both boys really enjoyed this.  We used the 'Go Talk' alongside to encourage colour identification.

Then we used the coloured water to make coloured ice cubes.  I didn't realise that I only had one ice cube tray so when it came to doing this activity with James, I had to improvise. I tried making some in a mini doughnut mould I have and luckily it worked really well.....

Unfortunately, Charlie had to go to his riding lesson with blue hands!

We've also got some alphabet ice trays so we made names and played with those.

The other thing which has gone down really well is water/ice balloons.  The whole process of making them was quite a lot of fun.  Charlie must have played with his water balloon for at least half an hour when we first made them and has gone back to playing with them again and again.

We froze some too and few days later took them out to play with.  We played with them, watched them melt gradually and one we melted quickly under the tap.

I don't think we are finished with ice yet.  The boys find it quite stimulating so I expect its something we will keep returning to.  I just found some pumpkin cake moulds so we might do some ice pumpkins next week with Halloween coming up.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Autumn Jar

This is so simple I'm wondering if it's even worth writing about!  We go on lots of walks and over the last week or so we've been collecting a few fallen leaves and conkers etc.

Well today I was trying to get James to touch and explore them but he didn't really want to, so I was just going to let it go when it occurred to me that he would probably like to put them back in the jar I had been storing them in.  He likes to put things 'in' or 'away' so that's what we did.....

He got to touch it all without thinking he was and made a nice autumn jar that he can look at in the process! 

I expect we will add to it as the next few weeks go by.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Wheat, Wool and Waterwheels

We started our week (which ended up stretching to a fortnight) by visiting Dunster Mill which is just gorgeous. 

James and Charlie were really interested in the waterwheel and mesmerised by the waterfall at the side of it. They weren't so fond of the creaky machinery inside the mill but I guess to them it was all pretty dull and dusty.

We bought some of the mill's own flour and then had a walk along the river a bit and into the gardens which are attached to the castle where there was also lots of flowing water to look at and lovely trees.  We (the grown ups) learnt that the river that the mill is on is called the River Avill and are beginning to realise how little we know about certain things in our own area!

So what did we do with the flour? Well, we did the obvious things first.  Baked some bread and cakes...

 ....but this really led onto a much more basic sensory experience of the flour as Charlie just wanted to put his hands in so we went with that,

then expanded it to add water and play with it wet.

We also made some papier mache, which both boys really got into at the beginning stage being actually allowed to rip up paper for once!

We made glue with our flour and made papier mache shapes by filling cookie cutters and pressing them out.  We may get around to painting them next week...

We also visited Coldharbour Mill which is a much bigger, industrial waterwheel where they spin yarns.  This has led to some interesting sensory experiences for the boys.  The lady kindly gave us some wool tops for them to hold but they were almost fearful of the feel to start with. Over the course of the visit they got used to it though and quite enjoyed the feel...for a while! 

They seemed to really enjoy looking at the waterwheel and machinery in action here.  There was also a felting exhibition going on which we thought they would like as it was big, bright coloured textures, but they didn't - we can never predict these things!

The other thing which really caught Charlie's eye was the chimney.  He loved looking up at it.  I think we may have to do some work on tall towers as he's shown an interest in this sort of thing previously.

I though I would buy some different bits of unspun wool and yarns in the shop to fill their sensory box but Granny already had a collection of different types to give us!  I couldn't resist buying this though - for myself. I've just learnt to knit socks!!

 I made up the sensory box with Granny's stash and it's been really hit and miss.  Sometimes we DO NOT want to touch it at all,

 other times, we don't just want to play with the sensory box, we want to BE the sensory box!!

I guess this tells us a lot about how sensory preferences don't have to be fixed.

I'm feeling slightly (only very slightly!) obliged to attempt some sort of literacy with the boys at the moment, so we made these woolly 'w's with the wool. I just used the back of a cereal box to draw a 'w' on and got them to spread the glue on and choose some bits out of the sensory box to stick on.

We also tried some bubble wrap felting.  I 'felt' they would be happy enough with this activity as it involves a lot of banging.  James did not like touching the wool but joined in with the banging and rolling happily.  Charlie was entranced by the whole process. It was impossible to take photos and do this at the same time as hands were everywhere, but here are the end results....

The greatest success of learning about waterwheels though has been after me suddenly noticing the night before we started this (I can be a bit slow off the mark sometimes!) that one of our 'Bob the Builder' books was about an old water mill, both James and Charlie have been willing to sit down and look at it with us and in fact have repeatedly asked for it to be read again and again.  Result!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Confetti Cards and Sensory Box

These couple of ideas were inspired by my dad's wedding back in September.  We made some cards with coloured rice, plain rice and confetti.  I sprayed the cards with spray craft adhesive and then the boys just sprinkled the decorations where they wanted. (The rice is made by mixing dried rice with either food colouring or poster paints and leaving to dry.  Some colours WILL come off on hands!!!)

They seemed to really like the sprinkling so I thought I'd just put the rest in their sensory box for a week or so to play with.  They've enjoyed the coloured rice for a long time but the confetti added an extra dimension and it led to some really good communication with lots of requests for more dramatic sprinkling!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Our Little Horse-Man

I've read "The Horse Boy" by Rupert Isaacson this year.  It made me think.  About a lot of things.  Besides the amazing things the family did to help their son and the great stuff relating to horses and autism, its also touches on some interesting bits about how disability is viewed in different societies and some fascinating stuff about how Shamanism fits in with that.

Anyway, it made me get my act together and sort out some riding lessons for Charlie.  I've been pretty sure he'd like it for some time but also pretty sure that it would be hard to get him to put on a riding hat! We've never been able to get him to keep a hood or winter/summer hat on for more than a few seconds so I thought this would be a barrier to him doing something which he would probably really enjoy.

I was really concerned about taking him and for it all to go wrong because of the hat issue and for that then to put him off for ever.  Luckily though, my mum and (very horsey!) uncle had also seen the film of Horse Boy and were keen for the boys to give it a go so we were able to take Charlie to try out riding at my uncle's place first. 

We let him go without a hat (naughty, but our risk) and he loved it.  He was signing for more straight away and didn't want to finish!

So now he's started his riding lessons and to begin with he wasn't happy about putting on the riding hat, but once he realised he could then get on a horse he accepted it.  After a few weeks he seems to have got the idea that riding hat = horse riding and I've put some visuals in place to reinforce it. 

He is loving it! 

So much so that the he doesn't want to get off so we have had to put some photos/symbols in place to assist with getting him down!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

An accidentally discovered communication aid?

Books don't last long in this house.  We tend to only bother with board books and even then, they haven't lasted.  Charlie, in particular does like them though, so we bring them out off and on, with an acceptance that they will probably not survive!  He particularly likes the type with the buttons down the sides that make a noise so we were letting him have a few to look through at bedtime for a while.  This particular one was a favourite but in the end got destroyed leaving only this....

I was going to bin it, but then wondered if we could use it?  Its not really a lot different to the electronic speech aids and its all recorded and ready to go. So, I've set it aside for future use and I'm looking out for similar books that could be used for communication about other things. Just got to find more storage space now.....

Monday, 4 October 2010

Snack Boxes

Our sons learnt to use PECS (picture exchange) by asking for food.  It was the biggest motivator for them and by about age 4 they were using photos very well to ask for snacks. When your child does not talk, this new found communication is wonderful. You feel compelled to respond to every request because they are actually communicating with you.......the trouble is that 4 years later, when you are still having breadstick photos put in your hand every five minutes by a child who really does not need anything else to eat, you realise that something will have to change! 

This is the point we've reached.  I think we were able to make some changes because we felt confident that the skill of using the PECS photos was very much ingrained in both boys.  If there were any doubts we couldn't have messed with it because of the risk of losing the communication.

This is what we've done.

Both boys have their own morning and afternoon 'snack boxes'. They have a variety of snacks in them that they would ask for anyway so they can still use the PECS photos but when the snacks are gone they are gone!  Each box has a named photo so can also be used for name/picture recognition.

It's working very well!  They accept that they can't have anymore because, visually, they can see that there is nothing left and they are doing brilliantly at getting the right box from the kitchen. Long may it last!

Friday, 1 October 2010

River Picture Activities

We've had lots of river walks recently to link in with our water theme so I made this as an activity to get the boys thinking about the things we had seen.

Its made from a cheap blue doormat which I cut into the shape of a river. I then printed off some photos of ducks and symbols of trees, plants etc, laminated them all and put velcro on the back so they would stick to the mat.

We've used it in conjunction with looking at the photos we've taken of the rivers we've visited on the laptop so its relevant to what we've actually seen and we can talk about it all.
We've also gone on to use it as a prop for singing "5 little ducks" which worked well too!

We've also been making river collages.

We are very lucky to have a generous Granny who has a room full of threads and fabrics for stuff like this.  If the boys are going to do this sort of thing, I like them to meaningfully participate otherwise its a pretty pointless exercise so I am trying to be very organised and prepared (it doesn't come naturally!) and think about how they can be involved in each stage. With this, I cut the lengths of wool up in advance and got them to put the glue down along the paper with an old paint roller so it would be quick!