The Virtual Reality Video That Helped Me Understand My Children's Sensory Overload

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Have you ever seen something that truly changes the way you treat others?

This week I watched a video that has changed everything about how I treat and support my two children on the autism spectrum.

For a few minutes I had the privilege of seeing the world as they see it. I can never forget how that video made me feel.

I felt sick.

I felt dizzy.

I felt overwhelmed.

I felt trapped.

I felt lost.

I felt scared.

By the end of that video I was exhausted.

I was crying.

I have two children who experience the world at that level. I cannot stop their sensory overload.

Their world is so different than mine.

I have a huge respect for them now just for being able to get out of the car in a busy lot, or make it through a day at school, or walk into a shop.

I have promised myself to look out more for their stress signs and listen to them when they say, “I want to go home now.” I have promised to protect them more and understand them.

I feel bad for the many times I have told them to simply ignore the clock ticking when they said it was hurting their ears. I feel guilty for the time my daughter said the shop was making her feel sick, and not realizing the smell, the colors and the noise were overwhelming. I truly had no idea.

But that has all changed.

That video makes me see my children in a whole new way. They are stronger than I give them credit for, and they are braver than I knew.

To anyone who has seen a child on the spectrum upset and passed judgment, to anyone who has watched an adult panicking buying a bus ticket… I urge you; take five minutes to watch this.

It changed my viewpoint. I hope it changes yours too.

Follow this journey on Faith Mummy.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a meme, image or sign you’ve seen shared online that struck a chord with you, for good or for bad. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When I Was Nonverbal: A Poem

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Being nonverbal for years

I often tried to have conversations with my peers

Using body language to bring on communication.

My mind was looking for the right way to tell my parents I loved them

When the doctors said I had regressed.

I knew in my heart I was there.

People sometimes didn’t understand.

While I often didn’t understand the world around me.

When I first started speaking, I found new possibilities

While supports gave me new opportunities.

Getting good grades in school became my motivation.

Being accepted for who I was became an objective.

Because bullying became a difficulty.

Years later even more things I wanted to do became a reality.

And I realized I wanted to become a role model —

That with hard work and determination we can all achieve amazing things.

And for our loved ones we could help them along the way.

With your help we will bring change.

Because with my parents help that nonverbal 2.5 year old boy today is now a national speaker, best-selling author, movie consultant, nonprofit founder, television host and full-time employee at Autism Speaks.

We will make a difference.

And when it happens you will be there with us.

It will be because we know all our loved ones, with or without special needs, just want to progress and be the best they can be every day.

Believe every day in our community.

Believe in hope.

We are learning more about finding the right supports for our loved ones.

Believe in the beauty in our community.

And finally…

Believe our loved ones will do anything they set their minds too. My parents always believed in me, and we always need someone to believe in us.

For every accomplishment, no matter how small. We will give them the supports.

Believe in them…

Always.

I shared this poem while speaking about my journey on the autism spectrum at the Autism Speaks Southern New Jersey Walk. If you ever need someone to talk too, to help you believe, you can contact me anytime via my Facebook Page.

This post originally appeared on KerryMagro.com.

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Autismally Beautiful

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Today I choose to stand before you

and be completely vulnerable, totally see through.

Not for sympathy, not for applause,

but to bring something more than awareness

to a misunderstood, puzzle of a cause,

in which I am a piece.

I am one in 66.

But I am not someone that needs a cure or a fix.

Or for someone to explain to me that I’m different.

No, I’m saying this to be a reference.

To be a voice for those that cannot speak,

and not because they are in any way incompetent or weak.

Because that assumption is the furthest from fact.

And I’m tired and done with being the punchline in someone’s jokes or acts

of those that have been duped

into believing “stupid”

and “autistic” are somehow synonymous.

I mean how thick can you get?

Here, let me throw out some names for you.

Dickinson, Einstein, Newton, Mozart.

All were undeniably smart. 

And they were believed to be autistic too.

So remember when you look at me, when you look at us

with a vision of optimism and choose to see through a different lens.

you will find grace and ingenuity amongst the breaks and the bends.

So for the last time let it be heard

that the belief that autism means a “lack of intelligence” is absurd.

When you next think of autism and how hard it can be,

remember the rainbow comes with rain as a fee,

and life may never be

a wish granting factory.

You may face stares and judgmental glances,

but these are your chances 

to educate the thoughtless, the clueless, even the cruelest.

And when you do, make sure they see

that autism is beautiful… and please don’t forget you heard this from me.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Virtual Reality Video Shows What Sensory Overload Feels Like for People on the Autism Spectrum

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“Imagine feeling so overloaded that you just couldn’t cope.” That’s the situation the U.K.’s  National Autistic Society is exploring in a new virtual reality film that lets viewers experience what sensory overload feels like for people with autism spectrum disorder.

“Imagine the difference it would make if someone showed you a little kindness,” the Society writes on their website. “Rather than judging you as a naughty kid having a meltdown, or a ‘weirdo’ flapping their hands.”

Fostering kindness and understanding is the goal of the two-minute clip, released by the Society. The clip is shot in a shopping mall, from the perspective of 10-year-old Alex Marshall, who is on the autism spectrum. The video shows triggering stimuli such as flashing fluorescent lights, clicking high heels, a woman scuffing her shoes on the floor after spilling a drink, a colorful bunch of balloons and a flashing store security alarm. By its end, Marshall is breathing heavily behind the camera.

Viewers can look around the scene in 360 degrees on their computers or phones, or use Google’s cardboard goggles for the full virtual reality experience.

(Warning: The video below contains flashing lights, bright colors and loud, sudden noises, which may be triggering for individuals who experience sensory overload.)

Part of the National Autistic Society’s ongoing “Too Much Information” (TMI) campaign, the video is a follow-up to its first “Can you make it to the end?” film, which garnered nearly 60 million views. The TMI campaign also includes a research report, tips on how to help people with sensory overload and a map that allows users to pledge their support for autism awareness.

“To help the public understand a little more about autism, we’re really excited to be the first charity using virtual reality to demonstrate what this aspect of autism can feel, see and sound like,” Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said in a press release.

Marshall, who starred in both films, said he hopes the campaign will help others understand his perspective.

“It really helps when people understand things, and this is a really cool way to do it – you can just show someone inside your head!” Marshall said in the release. “When someone’s seen what it’s like, I think they’ll know why I get overwhelmed, and then they’ll understand that I’m not being naughty.”

The video will be screened at malls around the UK, and given to members of the U.K. Parliament. A package for schools is also available and includes virtual reality headsets as well as lesson plans.

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Wearable Band Aims to Help Kids on the Autism Spectrum Track Anxiety Stressors

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A team of Canadian developers is turning to crowdfunding website Indiegogo to fund a wearable device for children on the autism spectrum.

“We realized that there would be huge value if we could measure and track anxiety in order to better understand behavior and even predict behavior meltdowns,” Awake Labs‘ CEO, Andrea Palmer, says in a video on the company’s Indiegogo page.

With this goal in mind, Palmer and her team created Reveal, a wearable band that records physiological responses to anxiety in real time.

The band works by measuring three major indicators of anxiety — heart rate, temperature and electrodermal activity (also known as “emotional sweat”) — through a pair of electrodes embedded in the band. Those signals are transmitted to the Reveal smartphone app, notifying parents and caretakers of impending “behavior meltdowns,” so preventative measures can be taken. Caregivers can also add contextual data to help the app develop a complete profile of the child.

“One of our earliest mentors suggested we look at how stress affected nonverbal populations,” Reveal’s lead biomechanical engineer, Paul Fijal, told The Mighty. “This led us to engage with people in the autistic community, who saw huge value in gaining a deeper understanding of stress and anxiety. When we heard that understanding anxiety to predict behavior meltdowns could have a life-changing effect on individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families, we knew that was the space we had to be in.”

“The neat thing about Reveal is not only is it helpful for caregivers, helpful for therapists, but it’s helpful for the individual, the child,” Andrea Kennedy, whose child is on the spectrum, says in the video.

Reveal, Kennedy said, is unique in its ability to grow with a child. “As they grow into adulthood, it helps them self-manage,” she added.

“Reveal is empowered care — it is a tool that promotes understanding between individuals on the spectrum and the people who care for them,” Palmer told The Mighty. “Every person is different; every person has their own strengths, weaknesses, stressors, talents, likes and dislikes.”

A diagram provided by Awake Labs shows features of the Reveal band.

For Palmer, the technology has broad implications that could help conditions beyond the autism spectrum — including general anxiety, dementia, cerebral palsy and borderline personality disorder.

“Reveal is being designed to reflect every person’s uniqueness, to provide personalized care for the most impact,” Palmer said. “We hope it will help change the way the world sees autism, and help autistic people navigate and succeed in the world that we all share.”

Reveal will retail at $400 CAD (around $315 USD), with an optional app subscription of $10 per month (about $8 USD). Those who order through Indiegogo can get the device for approximately $275 USD and receive a free one-year subscription to the app. Awake Labs expects to ship orders worldwide in May 2017.

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10 Tips for Eating Out With a Child on the Autism Spectrum

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I grew up loving to eat. Several years ago there was a popular book entitled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” I would argue all I need to know I learned at the dinner table.

Family dinners at the kitchen table were always a special time at my house. We would inhale my mother’s brisket, chicken soup and salad. Sometimes my dad would overcook (again!) a steak on the grill or we would get takeout. Regardless of the food we were eating, it was the one time of the day when we were all together. Dad was home from work, sports practices were over and now the five of us were at the table recounting the day’s activities, joking and as you would expect with three boys in the family, engaging in a bit of arguing.

A close second to dinners at home were dinners at restaurants. We didn’t need much of an excuse to go out on a Saturday night. We would make plans with other families, and the adventure began. One favorite spot was a Chinese restaurant with a Lazy Susan at the center of the table. Once the food had been served and before our parents could stop us we would spin the Lazy Susan as fast as we could in to try and get some of the plates to fly off. Remembering the General Gau’s Chicken landing in my brother’s lap always brings a smile to my face. These were times to be social, relax with family and friends and be part of the community.

After Delphine and I married and started building our own family I expected these wonderful traditions to continue. But, as most new parents will tell you, taking young kids to dinner can be challenging. The kids can get bored, fidgety, tired, no longer like a favorite food or only want to eat dessert. And kids on the autism spectrum may have even more food sensitivities.

My son Adin was no exception, and going out was stressful until we mastered these techniques:

1. Advance work: Trying the hot new restaurant may not be the best idea without first thoroughly investigating it. Make sure the restaurant has the right layout for your family. If they don’t have booths and your kiddo needs one then don’t go. If sensory overload is a factor, check that background music, ambient noise and crowds are at acceptable levels. If TV is a concern and your kiddo will demand they change the channel from Sports Center to Elmo, then this may not be the right restaurant.

2. Reservations: When at all possible make a reservation or use call ahead seating. This will help your planning, and nobody wants to arrive for dinner to discover there is long wait.

3. Talk to the manager: Call ahead and tell the manager you will coming to dinner with your child on the autism spectrum. Restaurants are generally accommodating and will help ensure you have the type of table you need and in the location you need it. They can also help to expedite your food order when faced with a limited amount of time.

4. Menu: Look at the menu online before choosing or arriving at the restaurant, and make sure there is something on it your kiddo will eat. If your kiddo is fixated on pizza, as mine is, don’t go out for Japanese. Confirm the kitchen can accommodate special diets if necessary (gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), and if not, advise the manager you will bringing in some of your own food.

5. Family meeting: Share with your kiddo either in conversation or story board what to expect. “Later today we will be getting into the car and driving to this restaurant. Here is their website/picture. Look at the menu because they have some of your favorites. Grandma and Grandpa will be coming with us.”

6. Toys: Yes! Coloring books, iPads with headphones, squishy balls, silly putty, anything your kiddo enjoys. This will help keep your kiddo happy and occupied while you are at the restaurant.

7. Snacks: Adin likes apples and Goldfish crackers. These are his “appetizers.” If your kiddo has favorite snacks, bring them with you.

8. Restaurant bag: Have a special bag for your supplies: appetizers, charging cords, change of clothes, toys, etc. This will help prevent you from forgetting anything.

9. Two cars: When possible, take two cars to the restaurant. If your kiddo is having a bad experience then one of you can take your kiddo home early. Whoever stays must bring home a big dessert.

10. Sense of humor: Dinner out is meant to be enjoyable. But even with the best planning, things happen. It is not the end of the world. Have a sense of humor, and do your best to roll with the punches.

While every child with autism is different, we have found through much trial and error that with proper planning and a positive attitude we are able to go out and have an enjoyable dining experience, and we hope that you will also.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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