Monthly Archives: January 2015

Directives from the Spectrum: Stuck in theVortex

Do you live in a vortex? All aspects of your life spin around you at an ever increasing rate? The To Do list sprouts six new tasks as soon as you cross one off the list. Four people need you – NOW. The errands multiply like rabbits? A day turns into a whirlwind and we struggle to keep our feet on the ground?

In the midst of the storm, a nagging little voice says, you must take care of yourself, you need to slow down and learn to relax. Like me, do you might feel like slapping that little voice into oblivion because it is OBVIOUSLY not in touch with the real world!

One thing that I know for sure is that children with autism have a lot to teach us.  We may be able to ignore the little voice in our heads but I am pretty sure you have figured out that we cannot ignore the voice of autism!

Given the autistic brain’s challenges and differences with language, sensory systems, cognition and social thinking, it is really no wonder that anxiety and emotional overload play a leading role in the life of many individuals with autism. While we might feel like we spin out of control most days, in reality, our anxiety levels are buffered by positive social interactions, self- awareness and the ability to know when and how to use coping strategies. All of these safeguards are often underdeveloped or non -existent in folks with autism.

To make matters worse, the brain of an individual with autism does not filter incoming stimuli well. In fact, the amygdala is ultra-quick to speed dial emotions (without conscious approval) to alert the body of immediate danger. This is normally a good thing. But, in a brain with autism, the frontal cortex (reasoning area) of the brain fails to do its job of determining whether the emergency is really a threat. The result is that an individual is emotionally hijacked by things that would normally not be deemed, by the thinking brain, as real danger: an unintentional push by someone in line, the sound of a hand dryer, a touch on the arm or a teacher’s instruction to write a paragraph!

The result: FIGHT or FLIGHT. Either way, it’s usually not pretty.

The mental health needs of a child  with autism tend to scream for attention; to ignore these needs would be ridiculous and cruel. Kids with autism have taught me that we MUST listen to the voice that tells us to take care of our physical, mental and emotional health.

Choosing to ignore high levels of anxiety may be less dramatic in those without autism – we can usually hold our “cool” for a while. But let’s face it, eventually we all crack! To be honest, I tend to ‘derail’ at home!

This month, let’s take a really good look at what we can learn from those who struggle to while we teach we learnself-regulate. Individuals with autism need our help to learn new skills, create safe and productive learning environments and develop habits that will build their resilience and happiness. Isn’t it true that it is in teaching a skill that we stand to learn the most?

We have some outstanding teachers in our students and children with autism – let’s learn from them.

Stay tuned for Directives from the Spectrum – Learning to Chill…Living Now…and more


Copyright©2015 AutismAspirations

But I Don’t WANT to Go Back to Work!

The holidays are over and the first Monday back to work was an enormous transition for me – and probably many others! I seriously considered heaving the alarm clock into oblivion when it rudely jerked me awake at 6 a.m. and annoyingly reminded me that work awaited. I tried to pretend it was a dream. Next, I convinced myself that 5 more minutes in bed was not going to throw off my day.

It did. From the moment my feet hit the floor, I felt like a hamster on a wheel spinning out of control with no way to slow the damn thing down.

The switch from holidays to work made me consider how I actually cope with the unpleasant shift.  A few things occurred to me:

Firstly, from the moment I heard my alarm till the moment my head hit the pillow that night, I had done a whole lot of chatting with myself! In the first hour of the day I made deals with myself: first shower then a giant mug of coffee; first work then I can watch The Bachelor in the evening; first work out at the gym, then eat chips while watching my show…and so on. Yes, my very own self -initiated “first/then schedule.”

I also noticed that since leaving my bed, I had sub -conciously reviewed the positive benefits of going to work: I would get to reconnect with my colleagues; I would get caught up on the latest news; and I would get to see my students who make me smile. I was trying desperately to motivate myself!

Lastly, before I actually left the house, I made sure that I had the things that make my day go well: my snacks, lunch, water bottle, the right shoes, my purse, and my computer. Leaving one of these items behind could throw me off quite easily.

So why am I divulging the fact that I talk to myself – a lot?

The students I work with have autism and they require me to put a lot of thinking into planning their transitions. It occurred to me that children with autism often have not developed the mechanisms for self -talk that help most of us regulate our emotions and stay in control. Believe me, there were many times during the course of Monday that I really wanted to throw my hands in the air and scream, or find a dark space to crawl into and cry – or sleep.

It was my ability to talk to myself, encourage myself, reason with myself and my ability to have some choices throughout the day that kept me together! The structure and familiarity with the day also helped to ease me back into the rhythm of the work world. I never realized how much I rely on the Monday Morning Minutes that my principal sends out on Sunday evenings. It is, in essence, a visual schedule of the things staff will need to know in the coming week, listed day by day, so that we have a big picture and some details of the upcoming week. It helps me to be efficient and effective.Goodness knows how things would have turned out if any of the above were not available to me. When the MMM doesn’t show up in my inbox, a sense of panic and chaos ensue.

As we return to life “post holidays” perhaps it would be wise and compassionate to consider what we do and what we need to cope with transitions. Most importantly, remember that those with autism are most likely missing or have not developed the very ingredients that hold us together in times of change: an understanding of the concept of time, the ability to talk to another person and/or oneself about our anxieties or feelings, a sensory system that is relatively stable and a sense of self agency and autonomy in the day’s events.

Please be patient with yourself and those you love who live with autism. Transitions reallyback to work are brutal and it’s okay to need help to cope with them.

Someone please, tell me it’s Friday…  🙄