Tag Archives | sensory

How Autism symptoms may make the TSA think you’re a terrorist

airport securityI’m not really a fan of using sensationalist headlines to grab a reader but in this case, I think it’s warranted because the sad fact of the matter is.. it’s true.

A news article was brought to my attention called “Passengers Face Israeli-Style Behavior Screening at Boston’s Logan Airport” which didn’t mention Autism at all yet has a very real and very large impact on autistics.

The sentence of particular interest is:

Those who exhibit suspicious behavior like avoiding eye contact and struggling with answers will be pulled aside for more screening.

Does that sound familiar to you?

From the perspective of the TSA

Let’s look at this from their perspective. They need to be aware of anyone that looks suspicious, meaning anyone that looks like they could be hiding something.

I haven’t taken the training myself but it’s not a stretch to imagine these behaviors as indicators of deceit:

  • lack of eye contact
  • fidgeting
  • lack of confidence
  • anxiety
  • inability to give strong, well worded answers
  • inability to understand metaphors, innuendo, slang, sarcasm, etc from the interrogator
  • unable to tolerate being touched

There’s more but you get the idea. The TSA would witness this from a person and have reason to suspect something…. prompting them to take the person in for further questioning.

Small rooms, very intense atmosphere, very imposing people… if you’ve ever been pulled in for more questions, you know that it’s maddening for the most confident of people.

From the other perspective

You and I recognize that list of “behaviors” as symptoms or signs of Autism. You and I also know that taking that person into a small room for further questioning will not go well.

How often have we read about police having issues with autistics where they simply did not know what to expect? The police, thinking they’re protecting themselves, react to actions they don’t understand from the person with Autism.

This can range from those considered “low functioning” (dependent) autistics to even those that live an independent life but simply aren’t ready to cope with such strenuous situations.

By the way, I’m talking about adults here. It’s not just children with Autism but teens and adults as well. Many people believe, and some studies have backed it up, that Autism is just as prevalent in adults (1 in 100’ish) as it is in children.

So if 1 out of every 100 people that walk through customs at the airport has Autism and a good percentage of those people have symptoms that could resemble “suspicious behaviors” according to the TSA’s training… this could get messy.

We can only hope

Let’s pray that someone there has a bit of foresight to recognize that some people with disabilities need to be addressed. They need to be aware that not everyone that refuses to look you in the eye has something to hide.

They need to understand that someone with Autism, having to get there an hour or two ahead of time and wait, with all that sensory overload all around them, having to be in line for what could be hours just to get to the security…. put it this way, the airport experience can elevate an autistics symptoms long before they ever get to the security personnel.

That will only make things worse.

I understand the need for safety, I understand the need to be certain… but disrupting people’s lives can be disastrous to them. Disrupting the lives of people with Autism or other special needs can be even worse.

A trip through customs, the way the TSA handle things, could leave a very negative, life long impression that can never be undone.

Is there a way to avoid this?

Well, if you have Autism or are with someone that has Autism, you could tell them right away so that they know.

However, this isn’t a guarantee. I mean, let’s face it… what’s to stop a terrorist from realizing the correlation between terrorist behaviors and Autism symptoms (maybe they read this post!!) and then use that as an excuse themselves.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone faked having Autism.

So yes, do your best to make them aware and avoid the headaches in advance but don’t be too surprised if all of your attempts fall on deaf ears sometimes.


Let’s hope they’ve done their homework.

Only their awareness and ability to differentiate can avoid unnecessary altercations with special needs people. And ultimately, I’d think that they want that to avoid negative media attention.

Let’s hope that they can recognize the difference between an autistic and a terrorist.

I can’t believe I just said that.


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He eats solid food!

Cameron is just about to turn 6, in 15 more sleeps (as he calls it), but has only just started to actually eat solid food.

Well, that’s a bit misleading.. the truth is, he’s eaten pasta and potatoes and rice and such for a very long time but his potatoes were always mashed, pasta always soft… it’s been a constant ordeal at meal time.

For over 5 years

Any time we tried to get meat into him, we had to blend it or pick it apart into tiny little pieces that could be hidden in his potatoes. Like, tiny tiny.

Here we had his 3 year old brother eating pieces of pork chops, steaks, chicken… his potatoes were in pieces…. and yet his older brother was still getting a bowl of slop.

If you’ve ever questioned if autistic people could have texture issues with their food, we had living proof.

How did we change it?

Supper TimeTruth is, we didn’t. He did.

He decided when he was ready. We started slow at first, gave him pieces of potatoes instead of mashed… and for a long time, he wouldn’t touch it. Finally one day, he did.

After that, we started giving him small pieces of chicken… like, very little cubes. To our surprise, he tried them. He didn’t eat them, but he tried them.

We never stopped giving him those pieces though. We always presented him with the options, never being upset if he didn’t eat it. Eventually, he did!

Looking forward

It’s been a couple of months now, we no longer blend or mash his food for him. He now eats a few pieces of meat with his dinner, he now eats potatoes in pieces when the rest of us do.

We don’t have to boil his pasta to the point that it turns to mush.

He still doesn’t eat a very large variety of foods, it’s still mostly pasta, potatoes and rice… and he’s still on a rather strict gluten free diet, but now we can add in a few things here and there that he’s at least willing to try.

He’s almost 6… and it’s going to be a very adventurous year, because along with a whole new year of new discoveries and experiences, he’ll have a whole new diet. It’s very exciting!

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Let me tell you a little about celebrating Autism

When I tell the average person that my son has Autism, they feel really bad for me. The fact is that there is a lot to celebrate.

Milestones are an achievement, not just an item on a list

When you have a child with Autism, you learn to appreciate the milestones, both big and small. Some would say that we celebrate a little too much for such little accomplishments but I’d argue that we celebrate accordingly, it’s other parents who take them for granted.

First words, learning to walk, swimming, riding a bike, reading, writing… all these things that make parents proud are far more than just steps along the way when your child has Autism… they’re cause for celebration.

Take nothing for granted

Along the same lines, but very different from milestones, is taking nothing for granted. Unless you have a child with Autism (or another disability like it), you’ll probably never know what it’s like to be lucky enough to be hugged one time a year.

Does your child look you in the eye? If your child has Autism, maybe not. Does your child give you a hug or kiss sometimes? If your child has Autism, maybe not.

You will never ever realize just how much the tiniest little things can be so extremely important until they’re not there.

Patience, more than you ever thought possible

The biggest problem with milestones is that everyone knows what they are and when they should happen so when your child is missing them, everyone says something. It’s hard, it’s oh so very hard.

After a while though, you develop a thicker skin… not just the patience required to take their “advice” a little better but also to have the patience and self confidence in knowing that if you never give up on your children, the milestones will come.

The beauty that is around us

The world around us moves pretty fast and can be so filled with sights and sounds that it turns into a bit of a blurry mess. Our mind makes it that way to keep us from becoming overwhelmed, crazy and tired. We filter through a lot of everything that goes on in our daily lives without really realizing it.

Many people, especially the children, with Autism don’t have the same filtering capabilities and often times do get overwhelmed by it all. This often results in meltdowns or even violence.

You, as the parent, become increasingly aware of the world around you because you have to, because you need to know what you are getting your child into. Loud restaurants, carnivals, movie theaters… many many places can be far too difficult for your child to be able to process and you need to be aware of that before the fact.

As you develop this ability over time, it forces you to slow down and truly appreciate the sights and smells and sounds that surround us every single day.

You go outside and there isn’t a car in the neighborhood… it’s so very peaceful. Before you likely never would have noticed, much less enjoyed that feeling of peace, because your mind builds that filter in place before you ever go out and so you don’t notice if there are cars or not.

Your child is perfect because of who they are

It isn’t until others see your child as flawed, and worse, until you start to see your own child as flawed, that you can learn what is truly important… not a disability, not a disorder, not even a gift… a child is who they are inside and who they are inside is exactly who they are supposed to be… your child.

It’s ok if no one will ever look at your child the same way you do, they’re not supposed to. Our children are amazing human beings with unlimited potential.

The difference

Celebrate the differences, not just in your child, but in yourself. For better or worse, you’ve become a better person for it, you’ve become a better parent.  Your child isn’t like other children… and that seems hard to take but honestly, before your child was born, and you saw how “other children” are on the news or in movies… is that really what you wished for when you imagined having a child? For them to be like all the others?

No, none of us want our children to have it harder than anyone else, and no we don’t want our children to suffer… but many of us recognize that we can have these thoughts and these feelings while still being able to recognize and celebrate the differences.

Your child is amazing. You are amazing. Celebrate it… you’ve earned it.

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Touch Sensory Issues For Autism or Crashing

Most people that have even the slightest awareness of Autism or what it is, knows that many that have Autism have a tendency to hit themselves… sometimes even hurt themselves.

I’ve come to know it as the term ‘Crashing’ and this term encompasses a lot more than just hitting oneself, it also includes bouncing against the mattress (hard), tapping another person on the head often, climbing under the bedsheets or very heavy blanket(s), finding some way to squeeze themselves tightly, pushing off against something repeatedly… and so on and so forth.

For many parents, it can be so bad and so violent that they must resort to medications such as Ritalin to get them to stop or at least calm down enough to not hurt themselves or do damage to something.

For a lot of other parents though, it can often be mild enough that you can do something about it. In my case, my son Cameron does do a wide variety of the things I’ve listed but never really hurts anyone nor himself. What we’ve found is that the best approach is to take the same approach you would use on any other child… give them an outlet.

In Cameron’s case, we showed him how he can get his mattress off his bed, and onto the floor… where he can bounce on it and even sometimes goes completely under it so that the weight can squish him quite nicely. We’ve also become accustomed to the nightly bath routine such that him crawling under the sheets, onto the bare mattress won’t leave either too dirty… although we realize that the mattress isn’t the cleanest place to begin with. I’m toying with the idea of double sheets…  for him to get in between… just have to convince my wife to do more laundry.

Anyway, we have a rocking recliner in the living room, where he’s taken to sitting in it and pushing off something with his feet. Sometimes that ‘something’ includes his little brother. I have to keep on top of him but he recognizes that pushing off against the wall with his feet is not only ok but it works better since it doesn’t move when you push it.

Lycra is a miracle fabric that comes in a few product lines already including very tight and stretchable bed sheets (which is a great way to give them that ‘crashing’ feeling while sleeping) and as a body bag. I hate that name, but anyway… it’s a bag that has a velcro top to it and your child gets in it and can stretch out and push any which way.

Basically what it boils down to is finding something else to hit or push or squeeze. Teach your child to take out frustrations or desires for pressure in other ways. And keep in mind that it’s not a perfect science, Cameron still pushes off the rocking chair using his little brother sometimes but for the most part, he almost always uses other ways to heavy things on him, to bounce on or against things and stuff to hit.

Remember, touch (feeling) is just as much a sensory input as sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Smelling something over and over again, passing things back and forth in front of their eyes, putting things in their mouth that they shouldn’t or not putting food in their mouth that they should… these are all common with sensory processing problems.

Find a way to satisfy your child’s need to do these things in a different way than what they’ve been doing thus far. If you can find a way that feels better to them, they may just switch!

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Stimming: What Is It? Why Do Autistics Do It?

First, I’m not a doctor nor an expert, so if you want a detailed technical explanation, I suggest you talk to the doctors that diagnosed you or your children. However, if you would like my take on it and details as to what my son does and why, then please feel free to read on.

A recent discussion on Twitter about visual stimming really got a lot of people thinking and some people asked what it is. It’s a bit of a vague question for many reasons, for example, some people have witnessed it but don’t know why it happens, some people have never witnessed it and some people have witnessed it yet didn’t even realize that what they saw was actual stimming.

While there is no concrete definitive answer just like how there are no two people with Autism exactly the same, it can be broken down into a few distinct categories. And much like a newborn baby’s cries, it’s up to you to distinguish what each stimming event means.

In most cases, stimming comes as a form of meditation for the person, a way to narrow their focus down onto one thing so as to remove themselves from an overwhelming situation. In Cameron’s case, sometimes he has a friend come over to play and finds that every hour or so, he needs to remove himself to the kitchen where he’ll pass two toys back and forth in front of his face over and over and over again for a good 10 to 20 minutes. This eases his mind, allows him to wash away the anxiety and stress of being overwhelmed and then go back to join his friend and play some more.

Another example of this is in Temple Grandin’s movie where she invents a squeeze machine which holds her as tight as she wishes to be held and it calms her, focuses her and even prepares her for what she knows will be an overwhelming day.

Some people fear this stimming, they wish their child wouldn’t do it and so they try to make their child stop or they look for a cure. In these cases, I think the stimming is a cure (at least in the Autistic’s mind) to an overwhelming world. It’s their escape and so taking that away from them could be rather disastrous.

Some people believe that what a child with Autism might be seeing or tasting or hearing could be an after effect of the food they eat. Sounds strange but the premise of the GFCF diet is that the proteins affect the brain much like a powerful drug, which in turn makes it so that when they see an object pass before their eyes, it looks as if it’s leaving trails behind it. Or sounds echo more than before, or touching something can be almost painful. Most of us haven’t done heavy drugs like that but I’m sure we’ve all heard stories or seen enough movies to imagine what it could be like. If those gluten or casein proteins truly do react like that then it’s easy to see how and why an Autistic child would stand there waving their hands back and forth in front of their face for an hour.

In some cases stimming is sometimes not stimming at all! For some children, they may have visual impairments that no one but trained experts would recognize and the issues that it gives these children end up looking to us like stimming. If one eye is out of alignment, if the vision is clear but causes things to be jumbled, if the vision to brain link is not 100% causing the child to be unable to track a moving object without moving their head…. these things can result in a child doing repetitive motions over and over again trying to self correct a problem they don’t even realize they have and to us, and even most doctors, it would simply look like an Autism symptom. In these cases, a visit to the proper doctor that can recognize and treat these things could be all that’s required for a full recovery! Shocking, I know.

Take schizophrenia for example, where a child is imagining things as if they’re real, where they’re hearing voices talking to them as if they’re real… these children may do what the voices ask, they may refuse and end up hitting themselves trying to make the voices stop… again, results of what they don’t understand end up being diagnosed as Autism to us. If there is enough going on in the child’s mind, they may not even notice the real world… which may come across as ignoring, or violent, or again… stimming.

This brings us to the ‘violent’ stimming, which is often seen as children banging their head against the wall or hitting themselves in the head… but can sometimes be something more simple such as bouncing on their beds, hitting a toy over and over or even, as mentioned, a strong comforting hug from a blanket or device (almost never from a person). Most people think of it as a psychotic crazy thing, one of those things you only ever see in horror/thriller movies where the kid will eventually start ripping animals apart and family members go missing… but the truth of the matter is, this is just stimming.

There’s a lot of debate over this, whether it’s frustration of being locked in their own little world, or if it’s their need to simply feel something. It could even be that on their level of sensory input, it has the same effect as a visual stimmer having an object pass before their eyes repeatedly.

These are the more extreme cases that tend to come from internal factors such as Autism, sensory issues or other things like that but you have to realize that there doesn’t have to be something like that under the surface for stimming to occur. Have you ever chewed your pen or pencil? How about your nails? Ever tapped your fingers on a table or bounced your knee up and down? Ever rocked back and forth in a rocking chair? Yeah, you know where I’m going with this. These are all forms of stimming that you and I do every day and as you know, half the time, we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Cameron, luckily, is a visual stimmer mostly, in fact I have even an article written on his “thai chi” but he also does like the “banging” stimulation where he needs a heavy comforter to sleep, and likes to have his mattress on the floor… with him under it.

I think it’s really important that doctors figure out the differences and the causes. I don’t care if there are 1000 different causes, they need to be determined and a solution needs to be found where we, the parents, can differentiate between them.

Quite frankly, I’m happy that my child takes a 20 minute breather from social play to ease his mind. If that’s what it takes for him to be happy, have fun and have friends, then by all means, take your time! But if my child is hitting his little brother because it’s a voice in his head telling him to do it instead of just an Autistic need to fulfil a sensory input… I would kinda like to know!

The big deal about this is that doctors can only help us so much, and that’s usually after we, the parents, are able to break through the shell and figure things out ourselves. No one will ever know if a child hears voices unless we are able to get our child to respond to us and not just respond, but actually vocalize the issues.

And this is why stimming is still such a mystery. It comes in so many forms, most don’t even know they’re doing it and the reasons change with the seasons.

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