Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘senses

Wordless Wednesday 26 Mar 14

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 26, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Dancing Teapots

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I decided to take the kids out for an early dinner.  Today is one of those perfect Jozi spring days.  The Jacarandas are blossoming, but they’re not quite at their vibrant peak yet.  On a Friday afternoon sitting outdoors at a cafe in Sandton, you could be in Europe, only with better weather.  This is an unexpected treat for us all.  I was supposed to be having dental treatment, but the water was out- sometimes water and power outages are the only sign that this is still a developing country.  Developing being the right word, for all its economic slump, there is a lot of construction going on here, and sometimes the wrong pipe gets hit.

I sipped at my capuccino with cream, and enjoyed the moment of perfection, knowing it couldn’t last for long.

Pudding was content.  She’d had the Halloween Parade at school, which she’d loved.  She ordered herself a bacon and avocado sandwich and apple juice by herself.  Yes, it is the same thing she always ordered, but I’m pretty sure it is exactly what she feels like eating.  She isn’t just doing okay, she is doing really, really well lately.  She seems more comfortable in her own skin than I’ve ever seen.  The wind picked up and she turned her face to it, enjoying the caress to her skin.

Cubby was out of sorts.  I knew he hadn’t napped, and was too hungry and too tired to know what was wrong.  Normally very expressive, he was down to grunts and shouts.  He couldn’t decide what to eat, even if he wanted to eat.  A siren in the distance hurt his ears.  He was in and out of his chair.  Putting his hands in his drink and smearing it over the table.  Then he began playing with his spit when the drink was confiscated.  Finally he turned to tormenting his sister for entertainment.  The wind picked up, and he shrieked in pain as it whipped at his skin.

Watching the two of them was a study in contrasts.  Pudding, at peace; Cubby intent on disturbing it.  This was her two or three years ago.  This disorder and chaos.  Feeling something was wrong, and not knowing how to put it right.  How far she has come.

Then I let my mind wander further back.  I remember holding infant Pudding.  Apart from when she was nursing, (which I naturally did a LOT) she was screaming.  Arching her back, red-faced, furious at me for not fixing what was wrong.  And I’d go through everything I thought I knew about babies, wondering what I must have missed to make her thrash around like this.  She pulled at my hair in her rage.  The screaming made my head throb, and I wanted to run away from this tiny creature who put all her trust in me.  And though I wanted to shout and scream, I pulled her in closer, and kissed her downy head, and held her until we breathed together, just rocking and kissing, until the screaming was done.

I picked up Cubby and cradled him.  He resisted at first- pushed away, then caved in.  His floppy body curled into mine and I kissed his face.  “I’m a baby.”  He said, like he does so often.  I didn’t correct him this time.  I kissed his fingers and his arms.  He twirled his hands through my hair, just like his sister always had.  I kiss the soft nape, and when I close my eyes, I forget where I am, or when I am.  It doesn’t matter- I am mothering instinctively.

Three year-olds can only be held for so long, so I release him, and he dances for a while- trying to catch the eye of the waiting staff.  I turn back to Pudding, with her wry, contented smile.  I see what’s catching her eye: some paper teapots attached to the ceiling are fluttering in the breeze.  “Dancing teapots”, I say out loud.  “Dancing teapots”, she echoes.  We watch them together, and her hand creeps up into my hair, but in comfort, not in rage.

In that moment of calm, I feel all the many joys she has brought me.  All the dancing tea cups that I would otherwise have missed.  I know, if I have to, I can do it all over again.  Even if I still feel more rookie than veteran.  We’ll grow, and develop, and get there together.

N is for Nearlytypical

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N is also for neurotypical, normal, and non-autistic.

I’m the mother of two children.  They are both verbal, affectionate, sensitive, intelligent, funny, devious, and have occasional problems interacting with others.  My daughter is diagnosed with an ASD (and ADHD), and my son isn’t.

When he was a baby, and Pudding had recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s, I enrolled Cubby in a sibling study.  From the first session (at 10 months old) they found some small concerns about his development, but he never met the criteria for autism.  He was found, at various times, to have difficulties with joint attention, anxiety, fine and gross motor delays, sensory issues, and low muscle tone.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen some additional behavioral problems thrown into the mix.  He is becoming more aggressive, both at school and at home.  He isn’t responding well to discipline, and is explosively emotional.  In many ways, he is more challenging than his sister was at this age, and 3 was a tough year for her too.

Interestingly, some of the techniques we used on Pudding, work well on Cubby, and others he rebels against entirely.  He loves a social story, and enjoys routine, as well as being “talked through” what is going to happen.  We’ve had no success whatsoever in trying to modify his behaviour through positive reinforcement.

Whenever I see a study comparing a group of autistic individuals against a control group of neurotypicals, I question if it is as simple as that.  Of course, autism is a spectrum, a diagnostic grouping of symptoms that describe a vast range of individuals.  I only have to collect Pudding from her preschool to witness how vast that range can be, and how severe some of those challenges can present.

But the similarities between these siblings seem to be more evident than their differences.  Cubby is a far more effective at communicating than his sister, both verbally and non-verbally, but she is more socially-motivated than he is.  While he isn’t autistic, it isn’t as simple as describing him as non-autistic, or neurotypical, or even (God forbid) normal.

I’m going to stick with nearlytypical for now.

All this was going over my mind as I couldn’t get to sleep last night.  The sheets were too scratchy, it was too hot for the heavy quilt, but there wasn’t enough weight with just a sheet and light blanket. It was too loud outside, and too light inside.  Maybe one day there’ll be a sensory spectrum.  Until then I might call myself nearlytypical too….though Spectrummy Mummy fits me just fine.

This post is a continuation of my A-Z series.  You can read the rest by clicking >here<.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

April 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm

The Mermaid Swims

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I’ve written many times about how alluring water is to Pudding, how she finds peace pouring and bathing in the stuff.  But the problem for my mermaid is safety.  We have a pool, as do many of the homes here.  The number of deaths of foreign service children by drowning used to far exceed those of the general population, and anti-climb fences have reduced those grim statistics in recent years, but for an impulsive child who doesn’t fear the water, and can move a chair to a different room and unlock doors, we can’t afford to take chances.  Every time I looked out at the pool and the potential for danger, my breath was caught as I thought about the potential danger.

This had to be our project over the summer holiday.  The problem is, I’m not the strongest of swimmers.  My own techniques aren’t so great, and it took me a really long time to learn how to swim.  I wasn’t going to be the best teacher.  And Pudding, with her attention problems and sensorimotor challenges, isn’t the easiest of people to teach.  Fortunately, I found a children’s swimming instructor nearby who is also a physiotherapist- a perfect match!  Unfortunately our schedules only permitted four one-on-one sessions.  Still, I hoped to pick up tips from her that we could use at home, now that it is hot enough to go swimming outdoors.

Pudding took to her new teacher instantly, but still had huge problems following her directions and resisting her impulses.  We agreed the most important (and most difficult) task, was to tackle these challenges, by playing to her strengths.  Pudding likes songs and has a great memory, so her teacher adapted rhymes like Humpty-Dumpty to promote safely getting into the water.  By the end of the first lesson, she could doggy paddle a very short distance unaided, and was learning to wait until told to enter the pool.  Okay, she wasn’t so good at that part.

On the second session, Pudding had no interest in repeating her efforts from the week before.  Somebody had found her buoyancy, to our delight!  She adored the feeling of floating on her back, but her vestibular issues kept her from leaning far enough back.  This time her teacher used Pop Goes the Weasel to flip from her front to her back, and then back again.  Things were starting to come together!

That same week we went on an overnight trip to a man-made beach resort/water-park called Valley of the Waves.  Apparently half the country had the same idea.  It was packed and crowded, so instead of relying on her developing water skills, I put Pudding back in her swim vest.  By the time we were all getting swept off our feet by six foot waves, I was glad I made that call.

However, when we returned for her next lesson, she couldn’t find her buoyancy.  The artificial support of the swim vest interfered with her ability to sense when she was floating.  But then, when were we ever discouraged by taking a step back?  (Don’t answer that one).  We moved on to the challenge of submerging her head under water, a task we were able to reproduce every evening when she took a bath.

Wednesday was her last one-on-one lesson.  We’ll move to a small group class with other children with disabilities from next week.  She’ll also be going back to school next week, and I’m not sure how she’ll cope with extra distractions at the end of a busy day.

I knew it was time for me to take that leap off the diving board and continue working on things at home.  That day, while Cubby was taking a nap, we went in our small pool at home.  Just like with her teacher, we practiced all the components, using the same rhymes and rules for safety.  She sat by the side of the pool until we sang the song together to enter.  We played Finding Nemo with the poor old bath toy who no longer floats.  I was more comfortable teaching her, as she was learning.

Then it happened: she swam, unaided, the width of our pool!  She did it again, and again.  We’ve been in that pool together every day since, and she grows stronger every time.  She is a long way from using breaststroke or front crawl, but believe me when I say she has her own grace.  She might have needed a little extra support, and I might have needed to learn how best to give it to her, but this is another huge thing crossed off that list of things she can’t do.  A list that grows shorter every day.

The mermaid swims, which means I can breathe a little easier.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm

In The Quiet (by Spectrummy Daddy)

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Spectrummy Daddy wrote this post for his personal blog, and I thought it belonged over here too…

 

Since the people reading this are probably friends of mine, I don’t have to tell you the my lovely daughter has Autism.  We’ve been very open about it, and luckily for us she is high functioning.  However, my daughter also has issues when it comes to loud noises.  On Saturday at a birthday party the magician popped balloons and she freaked out.  If there is a huge commotion she will become paralyzed with fear.  It’s one of the most heart-breaking things you’ll ever see.  This very tall 4 year old just crumbles into a pile and screams.  Because she also has Sensory Processing issues, she covers her eyes as well to try and make the noise stop.  It’s almost like she’s seeing sounds.

On a similar note, as most of you know, I listen to a lot of music.  Usually it’s pumping pretty loudly and it switches my brain off which allows me to stay calm as I suffer ocassionally from anxiety.  Different reactions to the same loud noise.  My lovely daughter does love music too, but usually when it’s not too loud and when she can sing very loudly, if not always on key.

The reason I’ve told you all this is because I’ve noticed something that maybe my daughter has correct.  Last night when I was sitting in my children’s room waiting for them to go to sleep, I had my music on.  It was tuned low so it wouldn’t disturb them, and I started to notice something.  Songs I had heard numerous times before sounded different.  There were added parts that made the sound richer and more full.  “Take Five” by Dave Brubek, only one of the greatest jazz songs ever recorded, sounded even better than usual as I could hear all the parts clearly and see how they all fit together.  “Panic Switch” by Silversun Pickups has a stick part from the drummer in the break I had never really heard fully before.  It’s pretty intricate.

It was amazing, and it made me think that maybe too loud is an issue for me too.  Maybe it’s an issue with everyone.  Maybe we have everything so loud we can’t listen to nuance.  Perhaps the problem with society is that we all have sensory issues, but we can chose to ignore them and we do.  Sadly my daughter can’t, so we’ll have to figure out how to turn the sound down on the world for her.  Maybe we all can do that, and listen to the intricate parts of life, and see how we all fit together.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Growing Calm

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Pudding was on the verge of a meltdown.  I seized the opportunity to guide her through a breathing technique for relaxation.

Come on, let’s blow out the candles!”

With exaggerated puffs of air, I demonstrate.  She giggles.

I try again.  And again.  Eventually she joins in with me.  We are exhaling together…this is actually working!  Then she stops.

Mummy…where is the cake?  I want cake.”

Cake, what cake?  Oh, of course.  Candles means birthday cake.  We have a short exchange about the fact that it isn’t her birthday, or my birthday, or anybody’s birthday that we know, for that matter.  And- even worse- there isn’t any cake.

So, inevitably, the meltdown comes anyway, and yet another relaxation technique has left us both more worked up than before.

Now, I know what you’re thinking- keep trying, right?  Calm wasn’t built in a day.  You’re right of course, wise reader.  But the difficulty I have with self-calming, is that the self part has to be involved.  I know exactly what works for me: a cup of tea here, a bar of chocolate there.  Perhaps a shower, or a glass of wine, or even (unlikely as it seems to me) some exercise.  I’m good.

But the thing about Pudding, in all her glory, is that she is fundamentally very different to me.  What is calming for the goose just ruffles the feathers of the gander, or the gosling, in this case.  I’m better than I used to be, but I still have a lot to figure out about my little hatchling.  We know that preparing her with picture social stories works well.  I could make a visual about breathing techniques, and that might work.  Or then again, I could just make a social story about whatever upset her in the first place.

As always when I find myself up against the mighty force of Pudding’s brain, instead of looking at ways to change her, I try to change the environment around her.  I aim to create a little corner of the world where Pudding can retreat and relax.  In our new home, we’re very fortunate to have a wonderful garden.  I’m looking at ways to turn it into a sensory garden, to stimulate and nurture her erratic senses.  She has always liked the outdoors, and my tactile-seeking girl loves anything hands-on, so gardening might just be perfect for her.

It occurred to me as I was planting wonderfully fragrant herbs, feeling the silty texture of the soil, that plants present imagery that could be very useful as a relaxation guide.  As I introduce Pudding to roots and talk about how they dig deep into the soil, maybe one day I’ll be able to have her imagine being a tree with deep roots sinking down into the earth, and have her gently blow at the leaves on her tree.

Maybe.  One day.  That is the other thing about gardening- like it or not, nature forces us to be patient.  While we can cultivate and nurture, we can’t rush growth along.  With a little luck, and some glorious weather, patience might flourish for both of us.

It might just work.  And if not, at least we’ll get some tasty herbs and delicious tomatoes out of the deal- which is better than a load of hot air.  I’m growing calmer already.

This post was originally submitted for S.O.S Best of the Best, Edition 10: Calming Techniques for Stress and the Special Needs Child.

Scent of a Pudding

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As far as we know, Pudding wasn’t able to smell things for a long time.  As with many of her senses, she was hypo-reactive to smell.  I didn’t know this for a long time, because how do you know if a small child can smell or not if they aren’t able to tell you?  Also, Pudding would frequently call things “stinky”, so I assumed, as I was wont to do back then, that there was no problem with her olfactory sense.

Mr. Hindsight (that smug old detective who goes around solving problems too late to be of use to anyone ) informed me that Pudding was using visual or auditory clues to identify when to use the term stinky, it had nothing to do with actually smelling anything bad.  For instance, a foul diaper (nappy) hidden away in a trash can would go unnoticed by Pudding, but if she saw her brother being changed, she would correctly identify it as a stinky one.

When a child is hyper or overreacts to smell, it is pretty obvious.  They’ll be disturbed by strong odours, and can even become physically sick when in the presence of an odour that is too strong.  When the child’s sensory perception presents like Pudding’s, it is harder to tell.  Kids who are unable to smell may lick or taste objects, but then they could be doing that for other reasons too.  Sometimes those who are under-responsive to smell go around sniffing objects and people.  That wasn’t our girl, so we figured we’d got away with one of her senses behaving reasonably normally.

I got some flowers for Mother’s Day, and Pudding asked to smell them.  She pressed her nose deep into the petals and inhaled for several seconds.  She was starting to smell.  Every time I cooked I’d offer her a sniff of a fruit or vegetable.  She likes to smell hot drinks, maybe because the steam adds an extra sensation for our girl.  She has slowly begun to identify scents without visual cues, like stating that a restaurant smells like pizza.  Now she gives her own descriptions, like a product smells “like babies.”

I can only imagine how those flowers in the garden must smell to her!

She still isn’t able to identify many precise smells, even strong ones like lemon, but she is getting there.  For me it is almost tangible proof that connections are being made in her brain.  To simplify things to a point that I can understand them, it feels like her sense of smell has been turned on, and is slowly working its way up to full power.  I’m curious as to what will happen next.  Will her sense of smell begin to function properly, or will we see more problems with modulation: sometimes seeking smells, sometimes being overwhelmed by them?

Right now, of all her senses, this is the least problematic.  She asks to smell food items, and if she likes it, she’ll have a taste.  So far, so typical.  She isn’t going around smelling people (yet) and is able to go to places with strong odours.  When I was pregnant with her, I went through the classic phase of overreacting to certain smells.  I couldn’t go down the coffee aisle in a supermarket, and I’d feel sick at the burger smell as I walked past fast food restaurants.  So far, we aren’t seeing anything like that in Pudding.

But I would still say there is something out of the ordinary about her sense of smell.  One morning last week I woke up to Pudding….how shall I put this?  Making her own fragrant sounds and smells.  I asked her if she wanted to go to the bathroom, but she declined with a giggle.  She continued with her funky music-making.

Me: Please go to the bathroom, it is stinky.

Pudding: No Mummy, it’s not stinky.  My trumps smell like flowers!

Sometimes I’m envious of her sensory dysfunction.  No matter how much I breathed in the odor, my nose never could detect those floral notes that are the signature scent of a Pudding!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 6, 2011 at 3:16 am