Tag Archives | sensory

Going Out For Dinner With Autism

If you’ve ever wanted a challenge in your life, try bringing an Autistic child out for dinner some time. I’m not saying that it’s so difficult that we’ll never do it again, because we do still go out from time to time… but it can be a bigger challenge than you might imagine.

First of all, you have the sensory issues to deal with… restaurants can have a lot of noises going on, especially if busy, they don’t have the best lighting most of the time, smells all around you and then… there’s the food. 99% of everything I find on every menu… my son simply will not eat. It’s not a matter of whether or not he can, he just won’t. Taste and texture issues prevent him from eating any meats (including fish and chicken), most veggies, most fruits and so on.

Now that we have 99% of all foods excluded from his diet, let’s talk about… his diet. My son is on a gluten free diet because when he eats it… he becomes a monster for the next 3 days. That sounds harsh but quite literally, eating some gluten will result in him becoming totally violent, completely uncoordinated, very difficult to communicate with and completely unwilling to listen or do what we ask of him. So, the few things that he would be willing to eat at the restaurant such as pasta or a grilled cheese sandwich are completely off limits. There’s no way we’ll put him through it or go through it ourselves.

Finally, there’s the tantrums… all of the sensory issues and food issues put together on top of a general uneasy/uncomfortable feeling that comes with being Autistic in public can add up to a complete and total meltdown right there in front of everyone. We’ve been there and had the glares from the people around us as we try to reel in our child back to a volume that’s a little less disruptive.

Then there are the hidden secrets, which is what we’ve been learning to deal with… recently we took my son out to a chinese all you can eat buffet where we figured that they would have at least something that he could eat, maybe rice?

Well, it turns out that they didn’t even have white rice, it all was fried rice… and all of it, fried in soya sauce. Well, as it turns out, half of the soya sauces out there are made with the primary ingredient being wheat, which is gluten. Some are not but many are. So giving him rice becomes a crap shoot… who knows what the outcome will be.

And sure enough, there was nothing else that he would or could eat. He ended up having watermelon, jello and ice cream for dinner. Even the ice cream is not really recommended as ‘casein’ is often included in the ‘gluten free/casein free diet’. But he has less of a reaction to it and a small scoop of ice cream wouldn’t affect him to any noticeable degree.

Imagine, your child is forced to have dessert for dinner because he/she can’t eat anything on the menu in a place where he’s too loud and prone to having a temper tantrum at any moment. Sound like a nice quiet dinner out with the family?

That’s what it’s like when your child has Autism.

I’m not going to offer up solutions for those of you that are looking for ways to make those dinners go more smoothly because I’m neither a professional nor do I think that any of my solutions will be solutions that will work for you… all children are different as are parenting styles.

What I will tell you is that you’re not alone. I will tell you that simply not going out is not much of a solution at all but understandable if you go that route. But I think that the only way a child will be a normal part of society is to get out there and be a normal part of society.  Like with all things, practice makes perfect… your child will get better as will your ability to handle those situations.

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The Secret To A Successful Hair Cut? Bribery!

We took Cameron to get his hair cut yesterday, his 5th birthday is coming up in less than 2 weeks so we want him to look his best. Now, if you have little ones with Autism, you know just how much of a huge shock to the sensory system a hair cut can be to them. It has never gone well* but has been getting better with each hair cut so we knew it was just a matter of time before he finally became accustomed to it.

This time, we took him to the local Walmart for his hair cut. It’s not our first choice for a good hair cut but this time, there was a very good reason for picking it. You see, we went in, and went straight for the toy section where Cameron and his little brother found a lot of things they’d love to walk back out of the store with.

We told them both, and made it very very clear, that if they did well for their hair cuts, we would come back and they could pick something. Now, don’t think I’m crazy here, they had a limit of about $10 each so nothing too extravagant.

Anyway, Tyler found some bouncy balls and Cameron found Mario toys and Toy Story toys. He couldn’t decide which he wanted but he knew he wanted them.

So we returned to get his hair cut where he was very nervous, very shy and very anxious. We continued to assure him that it would be just fine and that he had toys waiting for him if he did well.

To our complete amazement, not only did he do well… he did exceptionally!! He put his head down, he didn’t squirm when the lady held his head, he didn’t shake his feet or hands when he was uncomfortable… he was perfect!!  Well, next to perfect because you could see the obvious discomfort/uneasy feeling by the expressions on his face, it truly was bothering him.. but other than that look in his eye, you’d never have known.

He’s almost 5, which is to say, he’s still only 4… and to be able to deal with such a massive overload of the senses and an obviously very uncomfortable situation… let’s just say that I couldn’t be prouder. It takes a pretty big person to be able to do that at any age, much less 4!

As a reward, he got his Buzz and Woody, we also got him a Mario tshirt and an ice cream sunday… he earned it. Although he doesn’t get the tshirt until his birthday.

Anyway, bribery isn’t exactly endorsed by ‘the experts’, but it got him toilet trained and now it’s getting him through hair cuts. These are exceptionally difficult things to do for children with Autism. It’s hard enough for children that don’t have Autism! So like I’ve said a million times before… do what you know will work for your child, not what an expert says you should do.  I know Cameron won’t become dependant on rewards, he never needs them the second time. I know his next hair cut will go just as well despite not being promised a toy.

But that’s because I now my son better than the experts do.

The moral of the story? My boy is all cute and has new toys so he’s happy too and therefore… I’m happy too! We all win!

*** Why does a hair cut never go well for a child with Autism? Well, you have to imagine just how many senses are at play that you and I probably don’t even notice. First, Autistics don’t like to be held, hugs are definitely out of the question, so when the barber puts their hand on your head and holds you down or starts moving you around… you might as well be torturing the poor child. Then you have scissors rubbing across your skull over and over again, especially weird around the ears…. they’re very sensitive for even me. Next you have all that hair on your neck, it’s itchy enough as it is but when you’re extremely sensitive? You’re feeling it all. And finally, the electric razor… that thing sends chills down the spine of even the most hardened individuals so you can only imagine if you’re extremely sensitive to those sensations… it tickles, it is very loud, it rubs the skin, it…  well, let’s just say that there is so much at play during a hair cut that it can be easily overwhelming for the average child and may as well be war time torture techniques on an Autistic child.

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People Need to Realize that Autism Is Not Less, It’s More

I think that something that is lost in the translation to people who do not deal with Autism, is that yes, Autistic people have less communication skills, less social skills, less ability to understand non-literal speech and on and on…. but that does not mean that there is less to the person. In fact, it could be argued that there is so much more!

What most people fail to realize is that a person with Autism does not miss details, they get it all. All the sights, sounds, smells.. everything. When you walk into a grocery store, your mind filters out the white noise… the buzzing, humming, mumbling, background music, stuff being moved around, people walking, doors opening and closing… on and on. An Autistic person can’t. And that’s just sound.  Next you take the harsh lighting, things moving everywhere, glints of light off things, flashing lights, labels on everything, colours everywhere, people constantly doing something with something… there’s a lot to see. We say excuse me to the person in front of us and look for items on our list or that’s on sale. And Autistic person can’t do that.
And then there’s the smells… I’ll spare you the gory details on that one.

Now, on top of the sensory issues, you also have to take in the fact that the computers in their heads are working a mile a minute as they process every conversation, work out the math on all the numbers in the place, study the geometry of the fruit… all of this is happening faster than any science fiction computer you’ve ever seen.

What happens is, and is to be expected, a mental break down where even the best and brightest on the planet would agree that it’s simply too much to bare. We’ve all heard of that fun little torture technique where you poke someone in the forehead long enough it drives them crazy, or there’s a high pitched sound you can’t get out of your head?  That’s one… one thing that happens for a matter of minutes… and it drives you crazy. Now imagine a thousand things… for an hour… for a day… forever??

If you are not touched by Autism, then it’s hard to understand… even harder still to understand why we parents and friends are so vocal and fight so hard for our loved ones… and why we hate you oh so ever much more than you hate us while you stare at us because our child screams in line at the cashier.

And if you are touched by Autism, your child, relative, friend… always try to remember that if it seems like they’re behaving irrationally, there’s likely a very good reason for it. Have more patience than you thought you could as you take a deep breath, slow things down a bit and have a look and listen around. You may find that they’re dealing with a lot more than you ever thought someone should have to.

It’s not their fault… it does not make them less… it makes them different.

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Sensory Issues – How Do They Affect You or Your Child?

Sensory issues are often a bi-product of having Autism, an unfortunate little tag along issue that many Autistic people get to tack onto the rather large list of issues they already endure. They come in all shapes and sizes as well, much like the rest of Autisms little gems, some people can’t handle loud noise, bright lights, strong tastes… some simply can’t handle multiple sounds, flickering lights or any taste at all.

In our case, Cameron has a problem with loud noises and food textures. If we put on a movie too loud, or turn up the music, he’s the first to speak up about it being too loud. That’s not too much of a problem, we can keep it quiet… but it does mean things can be a challenge such as taking him to see a movie at the theatre.

The big issue comes from his food texture problem… there’s literally only a handful of foods that he will eat. He’s never eaten meat, except what we can grind up and hide in his food. He’s never eaten any fast food, refuses to even try french fries and doesn’t want to eat most vegetables. The only fruit he likes is bananas and won’t eat berries or nuts either.

Luckily, my wife is very creative and is very good at finding the foods that make up for these things, such as eggs, bananas, peanut butter and beans. These foods alone make up for almost all of what he’s missing and we can find ways to make up the rest… and we pad it with mashed potatoes and rice pasta, which he really likes.

But imagine, no gluten (wheat) and no casein (milk) and then take all meats (including fish and chicken) and almost all veggies… what’s left??

Quite literally, we find ourselves deciding on which of the 4 meals he’ll have for each meal… because that’s what it boils down to. We were quite concerned at first but after visiting a child nutrition expert and having all his blood levels tested, he’s doing just fine.

Sight and touch and other things seem to be right on par, or pretty close. It’s just the pesky food texture thing that drives us wild.

I’ve talked to a lot of other parents however that have other issues, such as having children that must wear special head phones to tone down the sound levels, or some that wear tinted glasses and even some where they virtually never touch their child.

On one hand, I curse this stupid Autism for already making life hard enough and then having to tack on something so dumb as this, just to make things more inconvenient… on the other hand, I kinda think it’s like having a super power, like Wolverine (xmen comics) where he has a heightened sense of smell, taste and hearing.. like an animal. Maybe my boy will grow up to be a super hero? taste texture man??  Uhmm… anyway…

If your child has not been diagnosed with Autism but has these types of sensory overloads that seem almost painful for them, definitely get them checked. It might not even be Autism as there are simply conditions dealing with sensory processing and sensory integration disorders.

Most importantly, I implore you, if your child can’t stand the lights, the sounds, the taste, the feel of something… it may seem trivial, or even stupid and you will likely feel compelled to just have your child deal with it… but it could be something so much more than that and you could be causing them real pain/discomfort. If you pushed them through something and found out later that it was a real issue, you’d probably feel pretty bad… it’s better to listen to your children and at least check and be sure.

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