Small steps lead to big steps.

I gave a student a maths task, I noticed he had not started his task after about 5 minutes but looked at a particular direction in the room, in-between trying to get his task done. I approached him, asked if he needed any help, he shook his head and looked unease. In the direction the student was looking at, there was an air conditioner unit. I asked if he was cold, he answered no but told me to “listen”. I sat beside him and tried to tune in to what was happening. After few seconds, I heard a very faint tick, tick sound from the air conditioning unit, which I would not have noticed but because the occasion demanded me to pay attention, it was noticed.

I said to the student ” the tick, tick sound”, he nodded, I told him I will switch off the unit, he replied “yes” and smiled. That was another learning curve for me. We want children on the autism spectrum to understand our world, for that to be achievable. We need to be willing to understand their world first and support them to understand our world. After switching of the air conditioning unit, he immediately started his task and completed within is usual expected time.

For many children on the autism spectrum, processing sensory information can be challenging, especially when the brain is overwhelmed, without the right support. For neurotypical individuals, we are able to regulate our senses, sometimes without thinking about it. For autistics, who can either have low or high sensory challenges or both depending on the situation, need support to deal with such challenges appropriately without triggering a fight or flight response. The example above, joining him in the situation, made a world of difference to him, it helped him learn what to do. Ever since that experience, before he starts a task, if the unit was on, he would request for it to be turned off.

When a baby starts to take their first small steps, as parents or the significant adults around the child during the moment, we ensure the environment is safe. We move stuff around that could be a sort of danger or barrier to the baby. We become the guard, guide and encourager of the baby, just to support their progress. Even the smile of a total stranger in the community, if the baby attempts to walk outside their home, encourages the baby.

Children living with autism, will thrive in the environment that is tailored to meet the needs of each individual child. This why it is vital for parents, teachers and significant adults around child, to work in collaboration to change, put in place or take away details/strategies in order to help the children manage situations in small steps which gradually leads to a better outcome.

Every small step can lead to a better outcome when we, pay attention on the small details before the big details.

Connection is the key to Change.

One important fact, I observed as a mainstream secondary school SEN Educator, teaching and supporting students on the autism spectrum condition, was all my students sought for attention from adults in their learning environment. They sought for the attention in unconventional manners because social skills for many of my students had to be taught. It is for the adults, to read in between the lines, which is not often the case.

They will seek the attention hoping it will result in a connection, which will be an onset of their teacher or teaching assistant to know and understand them as an unique individual, student and not through the behaviour casued by the underlining condition. They seek adults, who understand their behaviour, is a means of communicating an unmeet need and adults who are empathic towards them in their moment of challenge.

For some of my SEN students, the way they sought my attention was very unusual because of the challenges with theory of the mind, the inability to see things from other people’s perspective. Without my prior understanding of autism and the struggles associated with the condition, I would have labelled the behaviour as inappropriate and punished an expression for connection.

I vividly remember one of my students. She would say hurtful words, just to get attention or see my reactions. Unknown to me, my animative reaction was meeting a sensory input.  For example, after completing a task, especially if I have had to cajole her to complete the task because she is not self motivated. Once she finishes, she might say ‘I hate you Miss!’ My response and reaction( thrumbs up and a smile) ‘ well done for completing your task, I knew you could do’ and reward her efforts. She continued use the words and other colourful words for a while, until one day she walked up to me with a smile and gave me a beautiful picture she had drawn. I asked why she drew the picture, she just smile, turned and walked away. Since then she stopped the use of negative words and became quite pleasant towards me and eager to start and finish her task with little cajole.

My lack of response and the empathy she felt through my words and reactions,  revealed I was in the same environment with her to support her progress. Once the huddle of uncertainty was crossed, her anxiety reduced, she became more settled in school to learn and continue to develop holistic.

In the words of Rita Pierson, ” Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will not give up on them and understands the power of connection and insist they become the best they can possibly be.” For many children with autism because of their sensory integration dysfunction, which makes them anxious of the unknown. They need reassurance in every situation, hence, the importance of routine in their day to day to structure their day. This helps to reduce their level of stress and anxiety throughout the day.

The connection between the students and adults who understand the students, will help to reduce the anxiety and break down the protective barrier the students might build around themselves. Especially once they step into school because of the uncertainty of the school day, which  students often experience in school. Through the relationship, children learn how to develop, understand and control their emotions, by using the strategies that has been put in place in school by collaborating with the parents.

This is why as an educator, I relate with the student as a unique individual. I believe, seeing the condition will create a blindspot, where the condition will overshadow the communication, abilities and progress of the student. 

When a child feels connected to an adult because they know the adult accept them for who they are, regardless their ability, the child would endeavour to do their best in all situations.



Images source: NVR Northampton and Autism From the Outside

Autism and Visual Schedule.

Support and Love makes a Difference.

I can only imagine how challenging this season could be for parents, especially those with children on the Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). In this period, there is need to set a daily routine to help the children cope during this season of Stay at Home. Children with autism thrive with visual schedule, it supports them to manage their day. Many children on the autism spectrum condition, struggle with not knowing what is going to happen next because of their challenge with executive functioning.

Executive function, has to do with our cognitive function, how individuals process information. It includes skills like planning, organising and priotising our day. For example, knowing the sequence to bath and dress up, preparing breakfast, undertaking self help skills, could be very tasking for some children with autism without a visual schedule. Hence the importance of having a visual routine/schedule at home, just like it is used in school to support the children’s learning and organise their day.

An example of what could be included in a visual schedule at home.
Putting pictures, writing activity or placing an object of reference in the box helps the know what is next.

The use of the visual schedule helps to develop structure and routine, promotes independence and improves understanding. It also reduces frustration, stress and anxiety because the child knows what is happening Now, Next and Then.

Types of Visual Schedules

• Picture

• Written

• Objects of reference ( use an object to represent an activity or task. For example, ball could represent play time in the garden).

There are other types VS, which can be used depending on the stage and the development of the individual child.

Please be reminded early intervention is key to a better outcome. The child would require time to adopt to the new routine once it is set in place.

Image by Twinkl.

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Different not Less!

About 10 minutes before end of school, John was taken to the reception to be picked up by his parents before the last bell for the day went. John finds it difficult to deal with the crowd in school, hence his been taken to the reception early. As he waited with his keyworker, John noticed he was still in school at 5 minutes before the last bell for the day, he became agitated. He saw students walking out of school, he started pacing, he tried to hide himself behind the desk, to avoid seeing the crowd.

Dad came in and apologised, John held onto his dad so tight, pulling him away from the exit door. John started screaming “the crowd is too much,” John exclaimed. His dad persuading John with sweet words but nothing seem to work. John became very anxious and went into crisis.

Individuals with autism view the world differently but that does not make them less in any way compared to a neurotypical individual. For John, there was a change in his daily routine that could have been avoided. Like many neurotypical individuals, we can easily adjust to our environment or situations with little effort. Individuals like John, will struggle depending on where they are on the autistic spectrum.

Autism is a neurological condition, which affects how the brain of an autistic process and integrate information. The condition will affect every child with autism differently. I came across this recently, ‘ my brain is wired differently than yours. I can’t change who I am, just to fit in with yours.’

While we cannot change the brain of an autistic, we can help the individual to understand and manage the condition and situations better.

Some strategies we can use to support children with autism.

  • Acknowledging the child as a unique individual and understanding the needs of the child is pivotal to the support and development.
  • Get the attention of the child before communicating, the child could be lost in his/her world, we all day dream. This will help prepare the child for what next.
  • Be very calm when interacting with an autistic child because most autistic are logical thinkers. Displaying excitement or enthusiasm before an autistic, could mean the autistic thinking you have eventually loss it because their thinking is different from yours.
  • Using visual while communicating in simple words, would support their understanding of next step during task or in a situation.
  • Children with ASC thrive with daily routine and structure. It is important to inform the child of any change prior to the changes. This will help reduce any anxiety or meltdown/crisis.
  • Most autistic children would have sensory issues. We need to understand and support each child’s specific area of sensory difficulties. For example, the little label on the clothing, could be a major seasory issue for some children.
  • Not all children on the autistic spectrum can make eye contact. This is often challenging for some children. These children will avoid making eye contact because it is uncomfortable and aversive. The fact that the child is not looking into your eyes while you are communicating, does not mean his not listen.

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Autism and my African community.

If you had asked me some years back what I understood of autism, my response would have been “hmmmm, I’ve never heard of that word before.” Although, I had a brother who had cerebral palsy and had some symptoms of autism. My family were just about supporting his physical needs, as Adebayo required 24/7 1 to 1 care. This was because we lacked the knowledge or understanding of autism and the medical team at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), did not indicate any other concerns either.

My late brother ignited my passion for special needs children, especially children with autism. Hence my quest to know more about the condition and how to make a difference in the life of children with autism and their family in my circle of influence has brought me this far. Am still learning, to continue to make the difference, especially in my community.

I like to use the synonym condition, rather than disorder or disability when talking about autism. Autism is a condition which affects the mental development of an individual in three main areas namely, social, communication and cognitive. Autism is a lifelong developmental spectrum condition, which affects every individual differently. Hence the saying ” if you meet one autistic, you have met one autistic.” Early diagnosis and early intervention are keys to improvement in those forementioned areas of development. There is no known cure for autism.

In my African community, there is this stigma which has been associated with autism due to lack of understanding and knowledge of autism. This is causing families who have children with autism to withdraw from their own communities, which should have been their pillar of strength and support. Children are also often denied affection by their parent(s) as a result of the stigma.

The cause of autism is not known and is still under investigation. There is this myth in the African community and other communities that autism is as a result of sin, witchcraft or bad parenting due to cultural beliefs, this is far from the facts. These Cultural beliefs has resulted in parents seeking cure and deliverance from the condition in religious or herbalist environment. Which in some cases has resulted in child abuse or even fatalities.

According to research, Bankole (2016) agrees, arguing that in many African cultures autism is conceptualised as resulting from witchcraft and poor parenting. Similarly, Alqahtani (2012) has shown how Saudi Arabian parents tend to rely on cultural interventions involving religious healers, and attribute autism to the ‘evil eye’ which ascribes one’s misfortunes to ‘‘envy in the eye of the beholder’’ (Spooner 1970, p. 312).

As an experienced special needs educator, who has supported and work with children with autism over the years and have witnessed children taking baby step to manage different skills and improving as they made progress in those three main developmental areas. Early interventions and setting strategies is key to improving the abilities and the chances of these children to live a fulfilled life. A child with autism, who is supported with the right interventions and individuals, will become an adult who is able to manage the condition more and become a contributor to the economy. Some famous economy contributors of our modern days, who had/have traits of autism are Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. As earlier stated, autism is a spectrum, which means some children will need more support than others, even in their adulthood.

For those that are religious, being a Christian myself, it is written in the Holy Bible ” Faith without works is dead.” Let’s pray and seek understanding of the condition to better equip ourselves to support and connect with these children to have a better outcome in the future.

There is power and progress in connection.

©Autism from the Outside

SEN and transition to mainstream secondary school.

While transition meetings would have taken place before the school holidays. It is essential that preparing for the new school does not stop with the initial visits to the new school meetings. For most of us, we do not openly welcome change. There has to be a preparation in both our physical and mindset, before we ease in and eventually adapt to our new environment.

I remember when Mimi ( our daughter) was to start secondary school last year. She did a lot of research about the school online. She shared her finding with few of her friends moving to the new school with her through text. Apart from that, I spoke to her about the different changes, like not having one teacher all year through, changing classes for different lessons, having different teachers and being among giants (older students). We went on bus and train ride to her new school few times, to ensure she was familiar with the route to school. She took pictures of herself in front of the school, which she shared with her other friends. We also involved her in shopping for the uniform and school essentials. This was our way of supporting her stepping from a small island(primary school) she had owned for 8 years into an unknown continent, the new secondary school.

For most children with SEN, intense preparation is vital especially children on the autism spectrum condition (ASC), who routine is key to their functioning. Transition is important for children with SEN to support them to have a concept of change from now, during the holidays. It is about doing little but significant things to support them ease into the change ahead.

Some of the little but significant things could include:

[ ]Visit the new school website with the child. Show their child pictures of key places in the school. For example, the playground and canteen, library, assembly hall.

[ ]Visit the school few times during the holidays. To build a pictorial image of the school in their subconscious.

[ ]If the name of the new subject teachers are known, parents should talk to their children and where possible show them pictures of the teachers.

[ ]Involve the child in the school shopping trips. It helps them own and be part of their intended new environment.

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Autism as a spectrum.

Autism is a spectrum condition which means it would affects each individual differently but there are some particular similarities and symptoms, which are also known as co-existing conditions. Examples of these symptoms are epilepsy, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), sensory processing disorder, digestive disorders, sleeping disorders; to name a few. Individuals on the spectrum would experience learning difficulties and also display challenging behaviour. Through teaching and supporting children on the spectrum, I have come to understand, some of the display of challenging behaviours are their means of communicate.

For example, I was introduced to a twelve years old autistic student, I told because of his challenging behaviours, he was educated in the Additional Resource Provision (ARP) for over a year. During my sessions of observing this student, I noticed that he would always display the ‘challenging behaviours’ when he is given particular tasks.

While working with the student 1:1, I notice he was becoming unusually agitated, few minutes late, he grabbed his book and stationary, lunched it across the room. Afterwards, he scream “this is too easy and it’s too boring in here.” That was my first time hearing him utter words after being around him for weeks. I was able to discover that the task was too easy and he wanted more challenging task to march his ability. Working with the parents, he was slowly introduced to lessons in the mainstream with his teaching assistant. The change in his environment and task significantly saw a reduction in the challenging behaviours.

In the Afro- Caribbean community there needs to be more understanding of how the autism may affect each individual in the three areas of impairment:

Social Communication:

  • Many children on the spectrum have literal meaning of words, if I tell an autistic child ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’, the child would expect to see cats and dogs falling from the sky.
  • Most children do not understand body language or facial expression, gesture or tone of voice.
  • Repetition of spoken words (echolalia)
  • Often individuals do not have enough ‘emotional literacy’ to know how to express or explain their feelings.
  • May not initiate or sustain conversations

Social interaction:

  • Avoiding eye contact due to their inability to process the different information through the facial expression, speech, gestures and body language overload at the same time.
  • Lack of understanding of personal space.
  • Not showing interest in other people’s opinion or interest.
  • Have desire to initiate friendship but struggle with how to go about (even when supported.)

Social imagination:

  • Finds it challenging to cope with mistakes.
  • Prefers rigid daily routine.
  • Inability to predict what will happen next, or what could happen next.
  • Lack the concept of danger.

On this journey of awareness, let’s be reminded that children with autism become adults with autism. We need to look out and support the autistic adults in our communities too.

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Autism in the Afro-Caribbean community.

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As an African lady, who knew nothing about the word ‘Autism’ few years ago. I have learnt a lot about autism through educating and supporting children on the Autism Spectrum. This exposure has resulted in a total paradigm shift, in my thinking and seeing an autistic person from the outside, hence me creating this blog. I want to share my experience of working with people on Autism Spectrum in the Afro-Caribbean community. Please feel free to share your experience too, like the saying “Many hands makes the work light”. The community still needs more awareness of the AUTISM SPECTRUM CONDITION.

Autism is different things to some parents and individuals in the community. I have heard people say Autism is as a result of a child being possessed with an evil spirit or a child given to the parents as a punishment from God because of something they have done in the past. With the help of the internet and people in the community raising awareness, more people are becoming more aware of the condition. Thank God!

Autism is a Lifelong condition which affects individuals neurologically. There is no known CURE but the condition can be managed through early intervention( this is key to progress) and various strategies. The condition affects an individual in three main areas, namely, social communication, social interaction and social imagination. I must say here, Autism affects each individual differently in these three areas, hence the saying “If you meet one Autistic person, you have met ONE AUTISTIC PERSON”.

While there are still various researches ongoing about the cause(s) of the condition, there is no known Cause for Autism yet. Different factors could trigger the condition in an individual, these could include genetics and environmental factors. The genetics factors could be as a result of certain medical condition in the family, for example, Fragile X syndrome(a genetic condition that causes different kind of developmental problems including learning disabilities and cognitive impairment). Tuberous Sclerosis (a rare genetic condition that causes mainly non-cancerous tumours to develop in different parts of the body.) and Congenital Rubella (occurs when the virus that causes rubella disrupts the development of an unborn baby.) Some harmful substance indigested during pregnancy could also contribute to the risk of development of autism in the child. According to many studies, the age of the parents could also be a factor, especially the age of father.

How can we as a community come together to support each other. We need to understand what the condition is and not. We need to stop alienating families, there are many families who have lost friends and families because of lack of understanding of the condition. Support families in the state of denial, time is vital to progress. Stop children being mentally and physically abused for being themselves, Autistic.

Autism is not a taboo or a disease that is contagious. Let’s talk about Autism and bring support those children some family would rather not talk about.

With understanding, acceptance and love, progress is inevitable for an autistic child.

I would be back with more insight soon, we can make the DIFFERENCE!

Thank you! Please leave a comment.

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