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Category Archives: autism

Autism Awareness in 2017: How Much Progress Has Been Made?

Child sitting on the floor with headphones on to represent autism and spread autism awareness

Sensory overload is a major concern for parents of autistic children. Thanks to greater autistic awareness, more public spaces than ever before are accommodating autistic visitors.

Autism awareness is growing year on year, but 2017 has involved a wide range of coverage in the media, on the curriculum and in science. Here are the most impressive facts and figures from autism-related news stories in the last 12 months.

Autism Education

Schools are becoming more aware of additional needs for autistic pupils, but there is still work to be done. In September, the Department for Education revealed that 9,040 children with autistic spectrum disorder were excluded for a fixed term from their school between 2015-2016 – an increase of 25% since the previous year.

Last month, teacher Gemma Corby wrote a SENDCO column in the TES (Times Education Supplement) about the autism misconceptions many teachers have. She reminded readers that autism is a developmental condition, and that the National Autistic Society believes many autistic children don’t have difficulty learning. Autism awareness is vital for teachers, as they then pass it onto pupils in the classroom.

Autism and Scientific Advances

Research into treatment for autism, and research into its wider impact, continues to make the headlines. A new drug called NitroSynapsin showed promising results in early tests by scientists, suggesting it can correct many behavioural and electrical imbalances in the brain, which are found in patients with autism spectrum disorder. The findings were reported in Nature Communications. NitroSynapsin may also help sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease, by improving synapse function.

This month, the Southwestern Medical Centre in Utah announced that its preliminary research had found applying brain stimulation to autistic patients could correct some social behaviours. Using neuromodulation on the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex wouldn’t change the genetic cause of autism, but findings suggest it would improve social interaction and behaviour for those with autism. Read more about the study here.

Autism-Friendly Spaces

On 2nd October, a nationwide quiet hour was instigated by the National Autistic Society. This raised awareness of the number of people on the autistic spectrum (thought to be 11 in every 1,000 people), and the problems that public spaces – particularly shopping centres – can cause for autism sufferers, who struggle with the sensory overload of queues, crowds, displays, lighting and music.

Over the Christmas season, autism-friendly Santa’s grottoes aim to minimise sensory stimulation, by reducing distractions such as strong lighting, decorations and noise, and training Santa to understand which questions and comments could upset an autistic child during their visit. Meanwhile, cinemas up and down the country now offer special film screenings for children with learning disabilities, including autism, all year round. These screenings happen in a safe and non-judgemental space, where autism awareness is a given.

Autism in the Media

A new children’s animated series, called Pablo, gently shows young children what it’s like to live with autism. Co-created by the BBC and RTEjr, it covers the different triggers that might distress someone with autism, such as going to brightly-lit, busy places like the supermarket, or being around strong smells and sounds. The programme was warmly received by parents and children – those with lived experience of autism and without – and the programme makers were praised for helping to raise autism awareness whilst being sensitive to the needs of ASD children.

Series Two of The A Word, an autism-focused BBC drama, was broadcast this autumn and winter and was a hit with viewers. The programme portrays one family’s journey through an autism diagnosis for their son, Joe, and his life after being diagnosed. It’s actually based on an Israeli drama, The Yellow Peppers. The A Word shows how Joe has certain needs that aren’t being met locally; despite his mother wanting him to remain in mainstream school with a learning support assistant, the family has to travel for miles to reach the nearest specialist school. For more information on how The A Word writer Peter Bowker worked with the National Autistic Society, click here.

If you’re seeking an assessment for autism, ASD or Asperger’s Syndrome, please get in touch to find out more about our work in this area.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

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Autism at Christmas – Top Tips for Reducing Sensory Overload

Silver bauble in hands of woman wearing winter jumper, representing Christmas and sensory stimulation - a worry for children with Autism

Christmas is special, but it’s also full of overwhelming sensory stimulation for autistic children. Credit: Bridget Tohm.

Christmas can be great fun: it’s a time for good old-fashioned family time, when the usual routines follow Santa back up the chimney and melt in the snow.

Yet this is not usually the case if you have a son or daughter with a diagnosis of Asperger’s or Autism. You’ll know managing Asperger’s or Autism at Christmas can be a challenge for the whole extended family.

The change of routine – the carefree get-up-when-you-feel-like-it, and eat-when-you’re-hungry policies – usually cause havoc. That havoc leads to a visit from the Autism bad elves: Anxiety, Meltdown and Sensory Overload.

Kids with Asperger’s and Autism can have a great Christmas, too, but it takes a little preparation. The first consideration is to start planning early; this allows the child to take on board the necessary information that he or she needs to prevent a spike in anxiety as Christmas draws nearer.

How to Reduce Autism Sensory Overload at Christmas

  1. If you visit  friends or family, take food you know your child will like. This also makes you a great house guest, as it minimises effort for your hosts, who will understand the need for you to give your child reliable favourite foods.
  2. Don’t present your child with new clothes during the holiday: only use clothes that are well-worn and comfy. If necessary, bribe grandparents not to buy clothes as presents. Your son or daughter needs familiarity, but a new fabric or pattern will only increase sensory overload at an already stressful time.
  3. Make a mind map of the Christmas celebrations with your child. Design the main days with him or her. Pens, coloring pencils and Post It notes are a must! Explain in full how things will work.  It’s a good idea to devise a strategy for the lack of structure which other family members need. You do this by describing the kind of things that might happen: Grandpa might fall asleep after Christmas dinner. Everyone might plan to go for a walk, but be too tired in the end. Mention that family members may get involved in a range of activities. This allows a mental map to be made in your child’s brain, and reduces anxiety.
  4. Provide a safe space, free of sensory overload. Allow your child to take ‘time out’ there, especially when you notice their stress levels rising. There should be no decorations or trees in this place at all. It is fine to allow him or her to eat cheese straws or jam sandwiches in this den on Christmas Day. 25th December is not the day to press your child to eat different items.
  5. Have a few of your child’s favourite activities ready. This is just as important as chopping the veg in advance. You might think this is boring at such a fun time, but the child will appreciate the familiarity and the routine.
  6. Take your sensory kit wherever you go. This will reduce the chance of overload, whether you’re in a traffic jam on the way to see relatives, or you’re walking in the park.
  7. Scale down expectations. Think: ‘It’s a normal day, with injections of joy’. Christmas can be magical, but it may not be the best day ever, and that’s perfectly okay.

Each of these little things will reduce sensory overload and help you all to enjoy the festive season. Have a very merry Christmas.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

We  are providers of  independent autism assessments throughout southern England, via Treetops.

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Sleep Problems and ASD: Can CBT Help?

sleep and ASD

Sleep, or lack of it, can really affect people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Sleep problems are an all too common headache for parents of a child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).  A lack of sleep in any child usually cause distress, but when a child has a diagnosis of ASD, the impact of poor sleep is usually much more of a problem.

If your child has autism, you may have noticed that when they go through a period of sleep difficulty, their symptoms often get worse. During these times, you may have also found that the trusted strategies which usually work well to manage ASD are much reduced. Sometimes, they don’t seem to work at all.

Could CBT help improve sleep in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Experts from the University of Missouri believe that a simple course of CBT may be really helpful in breaking free from the horror of sleepless nights.  They want to ease the misery of the ramped up behavioural issues that usually appear the next day.

Christina McCrae, the lead researcher in the study, maintains that CBT is the most effective way of improving sleep patterns in children with ASD.  Normally this involves keeping a sleep diary and working with the therapist to root out the issues that are interfering with sleep.

Despite this knowledge, the researchers feel there is still some uncertainty about how exactly to achieve more benefits for autistic people through the use of CBT.  They are eager to maximise results.

To better understand this process, McCrae and her colleagues are conducting a research study through the research core at the MU Thompson Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopmental disorders with children aged between 6 and 12 years old.

This is an exciting project and one that holds much promise. We eagerly look forward to reviewing their publicised findings, and hopefully incorportating them into our existing CBT protocol.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

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Back to School Tips for Children with Autism

back to school

Autism matters – Back to school tips

Autism can cause stress to parents. The return to school after the Summer holidays is difficult for most.  Many pupils experience varying amounts of anxiety as do their parents. Children with autism often find change unmanageable. The return to school is no exception.

These simple tips shared with parents over many years really do help ease autism symptoms.

1. Re-establish a connection with school

Try to set up a meeting with staff where you can build on and develop the existing relationship. Your relationship with the school team is crucial to your child’s wellbeing.

See if you are able to visit school with your child before the official start day.  The purpose is to learn about new things. These might be locker combinations, the timetable, the dining hall, etc.  New ‘things’ and ‘places’ are usually overwhelming to a child with autism.

Buy uniform early and wash many times. Many children with a diagnosis of autism are very sensitive to new fabrics and prefer the feel of worn fabric. Reducing sensory overload reduces the likelihood of meltdowns.

Once you have the ‘knowledge’, you can practice new skills at home with your child. Social stories are a really useful tool.

2.  Start the switch from holiday routine to school routine early

Write the date of the new school term on your child’s calendar, (a visual aid really helps adjustment).  Practice the journey in the car, on the bus or train.   This includes finding a regular parking spot and even an alternative for the days when you are unable to park in the usual place. Make a chart for these patterns/activities and involve your child in the making of the chart. These tips may seem annoying but it is worth it. Once a routine is established and becomes familiar, the stress will reduce.  Attention to the finer details makes for a smoother transition back to school.   The trick is to make the new routine familiar.   This will lessen the possibility of meltdowns on the first day of term.

It is important to allow roughly 10 days to get your child into the school day ‘wake up’ routine.  On the first day of preparation, set the alarm clock for a little earlier in the morning. Get your child into uniform and to eat breakfast. It’s fine for him or her to go back to bed afterwards.   Over several days move the wake up time gradually closer to ‘school morning wake up time’.   A positive reward like a glass of fresh orange juice or his/her favourite cereal will help during this practice period.

3. Help your child’s friendships

Many children with autism have very restricted interests.   Despite this, they are likely to have an interest that is shared by some of the other children.   Do your homework.   Make sure that you send your child into school equipped with something that will draw the interest of other children. If this seems too difficult, it’s worth asking your child’s form teacher for help. Work at maintaining these relationships.

4. Stay upbeat when living with autism

Living with autism often feels overwhelming. It is very easy to dwell on past events and worry about ‘another’ school year. The beginning of term is an adjustment for everyone in the house, especially caregivers. Remaining positive really helps. Spoil yourself a little!

5. Acknowledge reality might not be as rehearsed

Remember that sometimes even rehearsed events don’t go to plan. Talk to your child about this possibility. Develop a strategy with your child which may be used at such times. Share this strategy with your child’s teacher or support worker.  This will provide a sense of base to your child when he or she feels most unsafe.

For more information on autism in school, see the National Autistic Society.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist. To find out about autism assessments and psychological support through Christine Tizzard Psychology, see our Treetops Autism page.

 

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