Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘sensory overload

The Airport

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Own photo

Image via Wikipedia

I think I established in yesterday’s  post that our flight has the potential to go pretty badly.  Pudding has actually flown quite a lot, though not at all since her diagnosis.  She used to love it, and I developed a few tricks for occupying toddlers on a plane.  In fact, when we flew from Europe back to the US, people actually congratulated us on how well Pudding (aged 2 1/2) had behaved on the 10 hour flight.  We know it could just as easily have gone the other way though!

We’re not the first spectrummy family to take a long flight, nor will we be the last.  So rather than continuing to dwell in panic and fear, I’ve decided to take a more proactive approach.

I thought it would be great if we could all share our knowledge about traveling to make it easier.  I’m going to create a little series of posts where I ask you to share your tips.  We can all benefit from one another’s advice.  If you are a blogger, just add your link.  Otherwise, write a comment.  You don’t have to have children on the spectrum to chip in.  Our kids are all pretty different, something that appeals to one can be repellent to another, but you just might have the trick to help a family get through this challenge.  And if your tip helps our family, I will lavish you with gratitude.

Travel is a really huge area to talk about, so why don’t we start with just the airport?  The lovely DQ sent me this link which is a guide to Manchester Airport (UK) for children with ASD.  It is really useful, I would LOVE it if every airport produced something similar, but this would be pretty useful as a guide anyway.  We live less than 30 minutes away from the airport, so we plan on taking a drive out there one weekend to watch the planes, and take photos for a social story.  We also have a Fisher-Price airport playset to role play.  Cubby was only 4 months old on his last flight, so he really doesn’t have the concept down yet.  Playing helps him to prepare for what will happen.

After our last flight, we purchased a trunki ride-on rolling suitcase for Pudding at the airport.  We haven’t flown since, so I can’t vouch for how well it works, but it might alleviate boredom, and is cute enough for kids to want to pull themselves.  My plan is to put her weighted blanket in there, so she could get some good proprioceptive input as she walked around the airport.

Alright, there you have a couple of tips from me about airports, but I’d love to hear some more.  Does anyone have any sage advice for dealing with airport security?  How do you make waiting in queues more bearable?  What helps prevent sensory overload in airports?  Anything you can suggest to help pass the time at the airport?

I’d love your help.  So would Pudding and a lot of kids like her.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 8, 2011 at 7:19 am


with 19 comments

I am trying to prepare for a huge move with my spectrummy kid.  I’m trying to find a school on another continent which will:

  1. accept her.
  2. accept her when we arrive and not 6 – 18 (!) months later.
  3. have adequate support for her needs.
  4. have classmates who will be able to verbally communicate with her.
  5. not be too far from our home to commute (even though we don’t know where that is, or where anything else is in relation to the school).
  6. have teachers and therapists who are aware and knowledgeable about autism spectrum disorders.
  7. offer an adequately challenging and developmentally appropriate curriculum.

It is not proving easy.  When you add in regular day-to-day running of the house, managing therapy appointments, illness, dog bites, and evaluations for your nearlytypical (yes, that is what I’m calling it) son, it gets a bit tricky.  And then…Wednesday, snow day.  Thursday, snow day.  Friday, snow day.  I have sensory-seeking Pudding who is desperate to get outside in the snow and ice, and defensive Cubby who screams if it touches his skin.  And me.  Ragged, worn out, had enough, can’t take any more, me.

By Friday afternoon, even my indoorsy self was cabin feverish.  I learned that both Monday and Tuesday were student holidays from school too, with more snow due on Tuesday night.  I believe it is called a Godsmack over here.  I hatched a plan.  I would take the kids to the small indoor play/party venue close to our home.  Pudding used to go to a music and movement class there when we were living here temporarily, pre-diagnosis.  Though she hasn’t been there for over a year, she was excited by the suggestion.  We bundled up, and though I struggled to find parking, we eventually got there.  Turns out, the reason for no parking was that every family in the vicinity had the same idea.  It was packed, hot, and claustrophobic.

Pudding had already begun to remove her boots, gloves, hat and coat, so I helped Cubby to do the same thing.  Cubby was ready to play.  Initially Pudding ran in the enclosed area too, then she froze.  It was as though it suddenly hit her: the bright lights, noisy kids, crying babies, spinning fans, heat, people.  She turned to me with a look of anguish on her face and screamed.  I picked her up and moved to a corner and dropped to the ground.  She cried and screamed.  Her breathing came too fast.  She alternately clung to me and tried to run away.  I held on tight, stroked her hair, and repeated my mantra: Mummy’s here, Mummy’s here.  She was unable to speak to tell me what was wrong, but I’d already figured out that everything was wrong, all at once.

I sat there on the floor as kids ran around us, wondering what to do next.  Cubby was gone, climbing on some apparatus at the other side of the room.  If I suggested we leave, he’d have this same reaction.  And she was so worked up, how would I ever get her dressed warmly enough to go back out into the snow?  She stopped screaming, but the sobbing continued.  My so-tall girl, as big as some kids twice her age, and I still comforted her like I did when she was first born.  Mummy’s here.  Mummy doesn’t have a clue what to do, but Mummy’s here.  Little has changed in four years, except her size.

Then I had the thought.  The least useful thought that could possibly enter my head at that juncture.  What do people think? I know, I know.  But it was in my head.  The thought that makes me tilt my chin down and look to the ground, lest I see what people think.  But not on Friday.  Not after this week, not after this day.  I raised my head, and looked around.  Some people were looking, most people weren’t.  Some kids staring, some mothers gazing.  I looked right back at every one of them.  Then one woman smiled at me.  I smiled back.  She looked over at Cubby and nodded to me.  Kind nonverbal code for don’t worry about the other kid, I’ve got your back.

I carried on my comforting litany: Mummy’s here, Mummy’s here.  I really am here, I thought.  We’re in it together kid.  Her sobs quieted, and her breathing slowed, her body loosened and relaxed.  Our foreheads touching so I didn’t know which one of us was sweating, couldn’t tell if they were her tears or mine.  She got her words back:  “I want to sit up there,” looking up at the wall that surrounded the play area.  I lifted her up, and she surveyed the scene from up high.  She took in every inch of the room, floor to ceiling, side to side.  From this perspective, she assessed that the place wasn’t a threat.  From ground level she was overwhelmed by the perceived danger.  After a few minutes, she got down and tentatively joined her brother.  We stayed until she’d had enough.

I’m trying to remind myself that I too need to get a little perspective.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed at times with so much chaos going on.  So many things out of my control.  I might just need to sit this out for a little while until I’m ready to get back into play.  If she can do it, so can I.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

February 1, 2011 at 6:39 am

My cup of tea

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A picture of Tea and a Biscuit.

Image via Wikipedia

I recently discovered that Pudding has developed a new ritual of talking me through her day as I put her to bed.   She instructs me to get in bed for a cuddle, and then she talks.  And talks.  Sometimes she sings.   She shares.   I love it.  We aren’t yet at the point where she is really talking about her day, but she tells me what happened.  I’m going to introduce talking about my day, the parts I liked and didn’t, and my feelings about it.  We’ll see if she is ready to do the same.

The word “ritual” can have negative connotations, but that isn’t always the case.  Some rituals can offer comfort, create a routine, and mark transitions throughout the day.

In the comments from my post the other day, Courtney referred to her ritual as the glass of wine when she returns from work. Once her ritual takes place, she relaxes and can chat about the day. Pudding’s metaphorical glass of wine is to bounce on her trampoline, or swing. Getting that sensory input is important for her to transition from a day at school. I never realized how necessary this was until I interrupted it.  I think, though I could well be wrong, that this bedtime chat is another way she transitions.  Instead of getting out her excess energy, she is getting out her excess words, or thoughts.  Maybe one day she’ll release her feelings, and feel more peaceful for sleep.

My ritual is in a morning.  I am less human, and more cranky swamp creature in the morning.  My husband dutifully brings me a cup of tea, and that is my transition from slumber to reality.  I punctuate the day with a cup of tea: the morning one, the breakfast one, the evening one.  I know, English ex-pat drinking tea is too much of a cliche to dwell on.  I can manage fine without the others, but that morning one is essential.  I just feel “off” all day without it.  It isn’t a caffeine issue; I’ve been drinking decaf for over a decade.  It has nothing to do with the children; that morning cup has been part of my ritual since I was a child.  There is comfort in beginning my day the same way.  I’ll carry on as long as I continue not to be a morning person.  Just because I regularly wake at 5 these days, it doesn’t follow that I’m any better at it.  My husband will vouch for that!

So just as rituals are important to the rest of us, so they are to Pudding too.  Probably more so, as she starts to learn what her body needs to take away the many stresses of the day.  I just hadn’t realized that she had them until I disturbed them, this discovery was a happy accident for me.  Now that I know, I’ll do my best to ensure I don’t pour away her metaphorical glass of wine, or cup of tea.  I think we all need a little comfort in our day.

How about you?  Do you or the people you love have a ritual that brings comfort?  What is your cup of tea?

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 13, 2011 at 7:28 am

Man in comfy shoes disturbs mama bear

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Out to dinner the other night with my mother, we had a conversation where I claimed that the general public crticizes my parenting on occasion, and she refuted this, saying it was mainly in my mind.  She does make a valid point, for the most part other people have more to concern themselves with than how I raise my children.  Also, for the most part, my kids reserve their most challenging behaviors for at home, and are generally well-behaved while outdoors.  Very occasionally though, we have an almighty meltdown with gawping witnesses, and I maintain that their snide looks and hushed comments are not imaginary on my part.  Sadly, I only had to wait until the next day to be proven correct.

On Friday we went to the Magic Kingdom.  Some of you may gasp in horror at the thought of taking spectrummy children there, but it provides just the right level of stimulation for my sensory-seeking girl.  Throw in princesses galore, and no fewer than eight places where she can eat, and I declare it Pudding Heaven.  On a good day.  She started out fine, but as the day wore on, it became too much for her.  She is in a strange environment, with unfamiliar social demands, and a ruptured schedule.  Throw in constipation, and all the fronts converge.

At Disney they have a playground which I hoped might offer a little respite from potential sensory overload. It looked just like one of those soft play areas at the mall, so Pudding dutifully took her shoes off.  I made her put them back on, because the outdoor surface would have hurt her feet, and the crying began.  She ran away (my major don’t at a theme park) and began kicking at me when I tried to get near the shoes.  Daddy had no luck either, and she began screaming and spitting in protest.   By this point she was beyond words, and beyond reason.  We took her to the safety of the stroller to get calmed down.

I sat down in front of her, meeting her flying fists and kicking legs with soothing words.  It takes all I have to remain calm in such situations, but past experience dictates it is the only way to deal with these outbursts when she gets too far.  She eventually stopped, and began asking to go back to the play area again.  I whispered that she would have to wear her shoes, and she began screaming.  When Pudding was first born, the midwife at the hospital in Luxembourg told me she had never in her 32 years as a midwife heard a child scream as loud as Pudding.  She continues to get louder with age.  Perhaps she has a future as a warbler of the Mariah Carey/Celine Dion variety, but right now it is just ear-piercing shrieks.  It is unpleasant, painful even for those with sound sensitivities (sorry Cubby) and I never feel more conspicuous than at such times.

I sat on the kerb in front of her, waiting for the storm to pass.  Next to me was a girl, with her father on the other side.  He gave a sideways look, and then told his daughter that this was not how she was to behave on time out, and she would be punished for behaving like this, with another glance at me.  Now, I’m okay with you using my kid as a cautionary tale, but he wasn’t saying it to educate his daughter, he was talking deliberately loud enough to let me know what he thought of my techniques.  He was talking loud enough for others to hear several feet away.  He was challenging me, and like most animals under assault, I was primed to fight back.

Had there not been my ever-observant daughter and this man’s own child to watch, I might have unleashed my fury at the man.  But I can’t require my overwhelmed child to gather herself together, and then display the same reaction myself.  And I’m not going to criticize somebody else’s parenting in front of their child, unless that child is being threatened or hurt.

Man in the street: I’m not asking for your compassion, I’m not even asking you to stop judging, I’m just asking that you keep it to yourself when I’m in the middle of dealing with something.  Even if you think I’m dealing with it very badly.  It is my kid, my parenting, my problem.    She needs my focus, you don’t deserve it.

As it was, I concentrated on what my kid needed, and a couple of minutes later she felt better.  We had a fantastic time the rest of the day.  It probably deserves a whole other post.

You don’t have to walk in my shoes.  I’m very glad about that, you aren’t cut out for it.  The compassion, understanding and sensitivity would be beyond you.  Besides, your feet wouldn’t look as pretty as mine in sandals.

But man, you disturbed a mama bear.  Your lucky I was in cub protection mode, because if you’d got me on attack, there wouldn’t be anything left of you now.  Or your comfortable shoes that you are so fortunate to be wearing, but aren’t half as awesome as mine.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 5, 2010 at 9:14 am

An Ongoing Dialogue

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I struggled to keep up with the flow of conversation.  Everything was moving too fast for me to understand.  I longed for those nonverbal cues I instinctively pick up on.  When is it my turn to say something?  Do I introduce myself, or should someone else do that?  Do I direct my conversation at one person, or talk to the whole room, at anyone who will listen?  The buzz of conversation was going on around me, and I needed to take part in it, but I was thrown by how alien it seemed to me.  Too frenzied, with constant repetitions, butting in where I thought I would interject.  A whole new way of framing questions.  Some people were conversing before I got there, was it acceptable to put my words across?  What do I even talk about?  When I figured out something too say, it was too long, and the words could not come out.  Symbols to decipher that everyone else had already figured out.  I was confused.  I didn’t know the rules.   Where are the rules written down that everyone else seems to get?  It was too hard, on top of a long day.  My brain is just not wired for this, I thought.

Despite my utter conviction to shout out, my first few minutes co-moderating for The Coffee Klatch‘s 24 hour event were all too silent.  I’d meant to go to a “Tweet Room” before the event, but life just got too busy.  I tried several times during the day to show my support, but with Pudding home from school, and Cubby ill, there was just no time yesterday.  Finally in frustration I tweeted that my autism parenting was getting in the way of my Autism Shout Out.  There was no let up for the rest of the day, finally Spectrummy Daddy came home, we ate, and it was time.  No preparation, no time to figure things out.

Then I thought about my Pudding, how she must feel like this all the time.  How she keeps struggling in the face of all her challenges, but she does it anyway.  I took a deep breath, expressed some not-so-meaningful thoughts, and tried to include people in the conversation.  Or conversations.  I don’t know, like I said, I was confused.  I’m not cut out to be a Twitter chat room moderator, that is for sure.  But then again, a few months I didn’t think I was cut out to be a blogger.  And just over a year ago, I really didn’t think I was cut out to be an autism mother.  Sometimes you just have to do things anyway.  Kudos to the gang at The Coffee Klatch who make this look so easy.  I have a deep appreciation for all who brought about yesterday’s amazing event, it was incredible.  Well done everybody!

I’m still in awe of the incredible feeling of support and solidarity amongst strangers.  You can never underestimate the feeling of being amongst those who get it.  I’m humbled by the efforts of adults on the spectrum to ensure that my children have an easier passage through life.  I’m inspired by parents who encourage me to keep going through the difficult times.  When our community comes together, it is worth shouting about.  I lost my voice for a while after Pudding’s diagnosis.  At times I was silent when I should have spoken out.  I’ll make every effort to be part of this ongoing dialogue, even if I can’t always figure out how best to do that.  Though the day is over, some people are just starting to talk, others only beginning to listen.  We’ll have to keep talking until we have understanding and acceptance, and those who need to break the silence know who they can talk to.

Enough of the silence of shame and stigma.  I’m talking about my children, and this wonderful community we all belong to.  I just feel honored to be part of this conversation.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

November 2, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Great Expectations

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You know it wasn't a good day when this is the best photo I took of the whole experience.

Friday was Pudding’s school field trip to the pumpkin patch.  For those who aren’t familiar, a pumpkin patch is where a farm dedicates itself to Halloween and becomes a huge playground with hay rides (being pulled on a tractor), corn mazes, pony rides etc.  For me, a big way of alleviating homesickness is by indulging in experiences that are unique to  the place I’m living in.  We went to one last year, and she had a great time.  It was sensory heaven for my little seeker, and she got to ride a pony for the first time.  Back then we were still learning a lot about her needs and the way she reacted to certain experiences, so it was nice to put a tick in the “likes pumpkin patches” box.

Sadly, the field trip went less well.  Right before we set off, Cubby fell down the steps outside our house and cut his face.  We arrived before the school bus got there, and she skipped about in delight from attraction to attraction.  Of course, Cubby wanted to do the same, and without a second adult, it became a not-so-fun game of kid-herding.  We had the first meltdown when she didn’t want to leave something to find her classmates.  I think the real problem was that she was perplexed by the mix of people from school and home.  As soon as she saw the aides, she hid behind me and refused to speak.  Her teacher took her away, spent some time calming her down, and then had one-on-one time with her.  Unfortunately, this was a small pumpkin patch, so when I took Cubby to see the animals, she saw us and got upset all over again.  We joined back up, but she continued to be miserable unless left to do her own thing.  Her own thing was to wander to the exit, so that became the end of doing her own thing for that day.

Lesson learned- I won’t attend any more field trips for the time being.  She would have had a much better time without me there, much as I don’t like to admit it.  I really don’t like to admit it.

At least we got stickers!


I did keep expectations low in the afternoon.  We had a play date with her friend E., and hearing that the Disney Store was having a Halloween dress rehearsal, we decided to let the girls dress up in their princess dresses.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, so really I should have anticipated an overwhelming and unstructured frenzy of sensory overload.  Pudding couldn’t do any of the games, and kept pulling out of the throng of kids to touch all the shiny things that Disney has to offer a princess-obsessed girl.  I think we can safely say we won’t be trying that again, although I did get the phone number to see if they’d consider doing a sensory-friendly or special needs event some time.


I had great expectations for Friday, and they weren’t met, but I’m okay with that.  There are some things she just isn’t ready for yet, but I wouldn’t have known that without trying.  I continue to set my expectations higher for tomorrow than yesterday.  If we don’t get there today, we adapt, we accommodate, but we keep trying.  One day it will happen.  Something else happened in between these two events on Friday which reminded me that Pudding has a confidence in herself that I can only aspire to, and whatever she expects for herself, she’ll get.

I’d tell you about it now, but I’d rather leave you with great expectations for tomorrow.


Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 26, 2010 at 9:19 am


with 5 comments


Bashful is back.  I don’t know if he just came for the evening, or if he is planning on staying for a while.  Yes, Bashful of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs fame.  He is a presence in our household.  He is sort of like Pudding’s imaginary friend.  When we went to Disney last year, we bought some Snow White little toy figurines.  We’d shipped them off to Bolivia as a surprise for when we arrived, but when they got returned to us, we just gave them to her while we unpacked.  Immediately, and without ever seeing the movie, she decided Bashful was her favourite.  Pudding would carry him around like a protective talisman.  Then one day she lost the figurine, but that didn’t change her attachment.

If I were a psychologist, I might delve into the Asperger child forming a connection with the socially awkward one, but I’m not.  I also won’t try to figure out why my blonde blue-eyed princess favours Sleeping Beauty, who also likes to sing and is dangerously attracted to spinning things.  I’m yet to read ‘The Princess and the Pea’ to her, which is a tale of sensory integration dysfunction if ever I heard one, but I’m sure she’d relate to her too.

Pudding loves art, but she has fine motor skill problems, and often the end result doesn’t appear like she wants it to in her mind.  She decided her favourite dwarf needed to be honoured in picture form.  Every time she drew Bashful, he wasn’t quite right, and she scribbled him out in anger.  Soon I was called on to capture his likeness, but I’m no artist, and he just looked like a skinny Santa.  Those got scribbled out too.  She would request other people to draw them too, but I never saw a Bashful that met with the approval of her discriminating eye.

She would give food to Bashful at mealtimes, and sometimes seemed to reply to something he said, “Ooh, Bashful!“, like a ‘Carry On’ character.  Most notable, though, were the appearances of Bashful when she got mad or upset.  If a noise was too loud, if she was disciplined, if she didn’t like the way something was going, she’d snarl “Bashful!” in an aggressive manner.  We knew that if Bashful appeared, we had to stop whatever was going on, and calm her down.  He was a useful warning system for meltdowns, but his very presence meant that Pudding was unhappy, so I never liked him being around.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Bashful hadn’t been mentioned in a while.  She was happier in her new school, we’d removed several allergic foods from her diet, and life was pretty settled.  I even found the missing figurine, and she was pleased to see it, but no overreaction.  Then yesterday was a bad day.

I decided to go to Target (a retail store something like a Tesco superstore, English readers) for some back-to-school supplies.  Pudding quite likes Target, as long as we aren’t in there for too long.  We were in there quite a while looking for certain things, and Pudding got restless.  We went to check out, looked outside and saw how ominously dark it had become.  There was a huge storm.  Luckily there was a Starbucks inside the Target (yes, that is why I shop there) where we could retreat and wait it out, with the aid of bribes in candy form.  Apart from sudden urges to show other patrons her Hello Kitty underwear, it worked.  It was stressful for her though, we’d been in there for over 90 minutes.

Driving home I saw lots of the traffic lights were out, and sure enough, when we got home our power was out too.  It continued to thunder, the noise bothered Pudding, but less than it used to thanks to The Listening Program.  She really didn’t like the dark, or the lightning, so we waited out our time singing songs until it was time to collect spectrummy daddy from the metro.  We went to a restaurant where Pudding can actually eat the food.  She is normally very well-behaved in restaurants, dare I say even better than her neurotypical peers, but not yesterday evening.

I want mummy to draw Bashful.

I tried.  It wasn’t good enough.  She requested him over and over.  No distractions helped, she barely touched her food.  Yes, Bashful was back.

Strangely enough, this was the first night this week she slept through the night.  I needed it- without enough sleep I turn into Grumpy.  Much as I don’t like that little dwarf dude, how he always signals Pudding’s pain, he appears to comfort my girl.  And on the occasions when we can’t do the same, we should be glad to have him around.  Next time she is hurting, little man, come back- don’t be bashful.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 6, 2010 at 8:40 am