Thursday, 02 June 2011
Shopping, crowds, people, change, unexpected sights, loud sounds, balloons popping, trolleys hustling, keys cutting, hip hip hooray and happy birthday.
Heidi’s speech therapist once said to me that there is no background noise for Heidi, she can’t tune it out, it is in her face all the time and she does not have the communication skills to tell me when this is occurring.
Remembering that I walked around our local shopping centre listening to what I could hear. Children crying, the high pitched shriek of the machine that cuts keys, alarms beeping from cars, mobile phones ringing, conversations surrounding me like an ocean of voices.
Sit and listen some time at the shops, close your eyes and open your ears and hear the noise. It really is exceptionally overwhelming. I can’t imaging what it would be like not to be able to tune that out, not having the ability to classify things as in the background and therefore not requiring my attention.
Then add the sights, people moving in every direction, the colour of their clothing, shopping trolleys, strollers with dangling toys and little babies wiggling, advertising with its vibrant colours, flickering lights and the products on display. How do you work out what is relevant and what is background visuals when you don’t have a frame of reference in which to work.
No wonder that for years Heidi used to scream her head off when we walked into a shop, then fall asleep in self defense after half an hour. Her system simply couldn’t cope with the huge amount of sensory input it was receiving, she had no concept of how to filter out the background noise / sights.
Over the last few months I’ve built a little bag of tricks that we take with Heidi when she leaves the house. Her protection from the world of sensory overwhelm.
First we have our Moose Bag (above). Nana J brought this home with her from Canada a couple of years ago, it is starting to get a little tatty and a little torn but Heidi adores her Moose Bag. Tactile, it provides something soft and reassuring for little hands to hold, it can also be worn as a backpack to provide a comforting weight (proprioceptive input).
Inside our Moose Bag is the Chewy Tube, chewing provides a strong calming and organising influence. It provides Heidi with the ability to focus on a task, so at PreSchool (another high sensory stimulation environment) Heidi can sit on the mat for the entire story, all the while chewing on her tube. Her drink bottles are now far less damaged around the spout now we have the Chewy Tube. We threaded it on a hot pink shoelace so that Heidi can wear it as a necklace – a thick sturdy shoelace because we found that Heidi also likes to chewy on her necklaces.
Next is the Fluffy Hat also know as a pink snow hat. Not so practical now it is summer but in the cooler months a godsend. Walking along the footpath and a truck drives past, Heidi’s hands go straight to her ears, she falls to the ground or runs to hide. Not good when there is broken glass on the ground or the direction she is running in is a busy carpark. Going for a walk in the park and the wind blowing through the trees is rustling the leaves in a pleasant manner, but for Heidi it causes the same reaction as that loud truck roaring past. Hands on her ears, knees dropping onto the pebbles, screams of pain and distress. Our fluffy hat has saved us many times. Birthday parties with screaming, excited children, out comes the fluffy hat.
Sunglasses, for bright sunny days, we can all relate to that. But what about fluorescent lights in shopping centres? All those sparkling Christmas decorations reflecting lights off into thousands of different directions. Or just too many people rushing past and you need to hide. One pair of dark sunglasses coming right up.
And the Holy Grail, the ultimate weapon in our sensory arsenal, the equivalent of nuking them all from orbit – the iPod and headphones. Current choice of music Bindi Irwin and the Crocmen. This iPod was a gift from one of hubby’s co-workers. I have no idea where he got the headphones from but I think it is the most brilliant and compact, easy to use set up ever. We don’t pull this out all the time, or even every week. This is our uber weapon and its power is not to be diminished through over use. But by god when we need it, we need it.
Last Thursday we had our parent teacher interview with Heidis Early Intervention Teacher and she suggested a few extra tools we could add to our arsenal. These were more targeted to the Autism Spectrum Disorder needs.
First a necklace for Heidi with PECS cards so when she is overwhelmed she can still communicate her needs. Our cards include pictures of all the items from her Moose Bag and
- too noisy
- special blanket
It can be worn as a necklace (on a Barbie lanyard I found on special score!) or as is more usual it is hooked onto her Moose Bag.
Then there is the keyring with our daily schedule, this is hooked onto my belt loops or handbag. Particularly useful for days when we are doing something very out of our normal routine, such as last Sunday when we went to the German club. Once again I use the PECS images for each step in our schedule. As the item is completed I remove it from the front of the schedule and reattach it to the keyring behind the finished tag (checkered flag).
On the German Club day we had:
And the final thing Heidi’s teacher suggested is a little container filled with her current fixation, gems and jewels. When Heidi is playing with the objects of her current fixation she is so focused on the fixation object that she is essentially blind and deaf to all other sensory input, a way of getting some time out without leaving the environment. We needed some fine tuning on this as the jewels I got for Heidi were all the same size and texture. The little car and slinky toy were added by Heidi and her teacher suggested adding the extra container also for sorting the jewels and counting from one container to the other.
So that is how we go out and about with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. We might look a little different, we might not do the things that are expected of us but we have fun, we go out, we don’t meltdown and we get home not wound up and bouncing off the ceiling.
Here is Heidi and her Daddy at the German Club last Sunday, having fun outside and getting a little bit of a sensory break.