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When My Son’s Special Interest Affects His Mental Health

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Sometimes being a mum to a child with additional needs can feel like being at the funfair. There are moment of immense joy and excitement, thrills and laughter. Those are moments behind the memories we treasure forever, the moments that give us strength. But then there are also moments of fear and anxiety, self-doubt and even worry.

Some days I am the smiling mum waving proudly as my kids ride the carousel. Some days I am the driver in the bumper cars, knocking obstacles out of their way. And some days, like today, I am sat behind them on a rollercoaster with no control over what’s happening, wondering how we are going to get through this. This is the situation I have found myself in.

You see, my son’s special interest has decided to take us on an unexpected rollercoaster ride into the unknown. No one talks about this. It’s become all-consuming and life-changing.

I have always encouraged and celebrated my son’s special interests. They are what makes him unique, and they are very much a part of who he is. I have never seen them as a threat before. They have always been a way into his world for me. They have allowed me to share precious moments of connection with him, and they have always been a way of engaging him with the world around him.

But over the last few weeks, his all-consuming love for animals has opened the doors to obsession. It has quickly seeped into every aspect of his life, filling him with fear and anxiety.

Why do humans eat animals? Why is there such cruelty in the world? How can we let this happen?

His obsession and anxieties have stopped him interacting with people, made him confused and angry and taken away his ability to function in school.

How could I let this happen? How did I not see the warning signs?

I feel like I am the top of that rollercoaster, useless and scared. How can I help him see that his obsession is making him feel so sad? His love for animals has become something I now fear. He won’t eat, he can’t talk about anything else, and I feel like he is losing himself. The special interest I respected and admired has become an obsession that has affected his mental health drastically.

Services around mental health and autism are chronically underfunded and not often talked about openly, which often leaves families like mine feeling helpless and alone. I know there are many parents like us in the same position — scared, overwhelmed and worried for the future.

I know I have to ride this rollercoaster with him. And I know that I somehow have to find the strength to fight for services to help him feel better. I will do all that because I love my son. My children are my world, and I will never give up no matter how insecure and alone I may feel.

My son’s mental health is important, and it should be taken by seriously by the government and policy makers. Because there are thousands of families like mine who are put on waiting lists and are left struggling to do the best for their child. Struggling to help them with their mental health, feeling alone and isolated and often battling with their own mental health issues as well.

And I know deep down that I can’t beat myself up for not seeing this coming. All I can do is my best.

So for now, I will hold on tight and keep going. As scared as I may be, I will never give up, I will never leave him to face any of this alone. Because I am his mum, his safe place, his home.

We’re on this rollercoaster ride together, my darling boy. Hold on tight, buddy. I’ve got you.

Follow this journey on A Slice Of Autism.

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Making Friends as Someone With Hearing Loss Who’s on the Autism Spectrum

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I have learned over the years there are different kinds of friendships. There are people who say they are your friends, but they might not talk to you or get along with you. And there are others who contact you to get together. I am not saying I don’t have friends, but making and maintaining friends is really difficult for me. With hearing loss and being on the autism spectrum, listening to conversations and reading body language can be difficult.

I missed out on learning communication and social skills when I was young. This was supposed to help me understand the social environment and improve my ability to communicate. Though everyone is different, people tend to have a lack of empathy toward those who are perceived as more different than others. They tend to get uncomfortable quickly because of the assumptions they make. Unfortunately, I experienced this my whole life. I struggled to make and keep friends because I the people I met didn’t understand me. It’s mostly the times I would ask people to hang out, and I expected them to say hello and ask me to hang out or chat with me. I waited and waited. Then I realized they were too busy with something else. I may be appear standoffish in conversations, but I find it offensive when people say I do. It feels like it’s criticizing the way I am.

Because of hearing loss challenges, I tend to miss out on a lot of verbal parts of conversations. And being on the autism spectrum, I can miss out on nonverbal signals. They conflict with each other. It makes it confusing for my friends and the people I meet because my language is different. I learned to live in a different way, but sometimes people expect everyone to be the same.

If I learn how to communicate and read social situations with people who aren’t autistic, they should be available and accepting of me. Working with counselors and psychologists has not improved my situation. I have been doing this for seven years, soon to be eight years. Learning theories does not make life easier for me on the practical side. I want to learn the skills from friends and people who get along with me and try to understand me, not from professionals.

After I spoke to several people who have autism spectrum disorder, they agreed with me that making friends can be so difficult. We have needs and should be able to find friends and have relationships. I want to have friends and a relationship. Unfortunately, autistics can struggle with this opportunity in a society where there is a lack of empathy toward those of us who want to have friends and relationships. We won’t have this opportunity unless our differences are accepted.

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When a Boy Got Out of His Seat During an Autism-Friendly Performance of ‘The Lion King’

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Growing up, I was a huge fan of “The Lion King.” Now as an adult, I still love watching the film with my younger cousins and mentees. Then recently, I heard that an autism-friendly performance of “The Lion King” was happening on Broadway! I bought tickets right away and was ready for the nostalgia to begin.

Thanks to the Theatre Development Fund and the Autism Theatre Initiative, every season they have several of these autism-friendly performances for our families to enjoy.

The day of the performance came and I was ecstatic. As the performance began, all the families seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Right before the end of the first act, the actors were performing the classic song “Hakuna Matata” when I noticed a young boy stand up out of his chair and began to sing along.

There this boy was, flapping his arms and singing, and I was thinking the worst was about to happen. I instantly became concerned for the boy. That any minute, there would be a stranger making a comment in his direction.

But what happened next left me speechless…

Absolutely nothing.

No judgment. No criticism. Just a boy singing “Hakuna Matata” with a big smile on his face.

As the song concluded after the first act ended, and the lights came back on, I noticed a woman next to the boy with tears still running down her eyes. A smile just as big as the boy’s was on her face.

The audience understood that the boy was having an amazing time at the theater.

These are the types of moments that take my breath away.

This was a moment where there was no judgment from anyone around them, just people enjoying something together as a family.

When I was growing up on the autism spectrum, I often struggled with challenges in the theater due to my sensory issues. But even though the loud noises tended to bother me at times, one of my key interests was in theater. I was able to enjoy countless moments of pure joy with my family, and so was this mom with her son.

I cannot thank the Theatre Development Fund and the Autism Theatre Initiative for continuing to make these moments possible for our community. We need more people to lead by their example in their local communities to make all forms of entertainment possible for our loved ones in an autism-friendly setting.

The performance that day was incredible, but for me it was the audience that stole the show. Thank you to our community for making that moment possible.

A version of this blog originally appeared on Kerrymagro.com.

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Boy With Autism Kicked Out of Friendly's Restaurant After Having Meltdown

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When Teri Lyn Jensen-Sellers went to her local Friendly’s in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, she wasn’t anticipating the unfriendly way her son would be treated.

While waiting to be served, Lind, 5, who’s on the autism spectrum and is partially nonverbal, began having a meltdown. “Within five or seven minutes, the manager came over,” Jensen-Sellers told WFMZ, “and he says, ‘People are looking at you. Your child is crying excessively. You have to leave.’”

Hoping to stay at the restaurant, Jensen-Sellers tried explaining her son’s needs to the manager. “He was being very loud and he was crying for about seven minutes, and I understand that’s a long time, but when you are in transition with an autistic child, that may go on for 10 or 15 minutes,” Jensen-Sellers said. “Once they are calm, they could be good for three or four hours. I just needed more time.”

Unfortunately, she and her two sons were told they would be unable to stay at the restaurant, forcing them to leave. Jensen-Sellers says the incident was embarrassing and dehumanizing.

“First and foremost this was an unfortunate set of circumstances that took place in the Pottstown, Pennsylvania, restaurant,” Karen Burkholder, Friendly’s district manager, told The Mighty. “We have sincerely apologized to the family and have had a very important discussion regarding meeting the hospitality needs of children on the autistic spectrum.”

On Thursday, Burkholder spoke with Jensen-Sellers, promising additional sensitivity training for management teams so they are better equip to host families who have special needs. Friendly’s will also hold a fundraising event during World Autism Day in 2017, with funds benefitting the charity of Jensen-Seller’s choice.

“This experience for myself and my management teams, while difficult, will be one that we learn from, and become better at what we do, because of it,” Burkholder said.

Photo Credit: Billy Hathorn

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The Isolation of an Adult With Autism Who Grew Up Without Support

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At this time of the year I begin to feel a little sadness. In the summer I love being outside and talking to people, whether they want to talk to me or not. Now summer is over, and we have cooler weather and colder nights. This means people can use the weather as an excuse not to stop and hold a conversation with me. Colder weather means more time spent indoors, especially in the evening and at night, and when I’m inside for too long I feel a certain level of isolation.

I know a lot of people and I have friends, but I still feel isolated at times. I care about my friends, but many of them are busy with their kids. They have a deep love for their kids that I have never experienced. A lot of my friends have parents whom they care deeply about and brothers and sisters they have bonded with.

Those who have lost their parents or a family member will often feel sadness from time to time because they miss them. My friends care about me, but their family will always come first. They will make big sacrifices and do anything they can just to see their loved ones smile.

I never got a chance to build a caring relationship with my parents. I was an only child so I didn’t have brothers or sisters to bond with. I was born with differences, and so it was hard for me to connect with my peers because we were not on the same level. All of this left me alone and isolated. When I made friends I started to care deeply about them because I was never allowed to deeply care about anyone else before.

Being around others and having intelligent conversations often takes my mind off my problems. It is not easy to live with the challenges of my autism spectrum disorder, and it is not always easy to live in an adult body while at times feeling like a kid. What is even harder is dealing with these things alone without a kind, caring and supportive loved one. The hardest part about my life is trying to heal my wounds from the years of abuse I dealt with, and dealing with it alone. Imagine going through life having no one to protect you, no one to defend you, no one to speak up for you and no one to comfort you. Imagine being trapped in your own little world and not having anyone take the time to enter your world just to make an attempt to try to see the world through your eyes.

When you are on the autism spectrum, you may live in an intense world, you may have intense feelings and you may have an excellent memory. When you have an autism spectrum disorder you may be a visual and direct person. You may need to see, feel and hear. You may need direct instructions because everything that is common sense to everyone else is not always common sense to you.

There are times my feelings get the best of me — times I lose control of my actions and times my brain gets overloaded to the point it shuts down.

As I watch TV and hear people talk, certain things trigger memories from my past or stir up questions or thoughts. As much as I would like to forget my past I can’t. I can remember everything good and bad as clear as the day it happened, even if it was 30 years ago.

When I hear people brag about their kids sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how they developed such a strong love. When I hear people talk about how great their parents are, I can’t help but wonder why that person is so special that they gained the love of their parents. In the end it leaves me wondering why my life had to be the way it is.

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Halloween Tips and Cool Costumes for Sensory-Sensitive Kids

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Each October since my kids were little, I have struggled with the desire to give my son the “typical” childhood experience of dressing up and asking for candy and the anxiety of asking myself questions like: Will he have a meltdown after visiting the first house? Walk into a stranger’s house for candy and not leave? Make a run for it down the block? Get along with his siblings?

Here are five Halloween hacks that have worked for me over the years and have made this holiday a treat for our family:

1. Find a sensory-friendly costume: No masks, no hats, nothing itchy or constricting, something that fits nicely over clothes — a cape or some butterfly wings can go a long way. (See my favorites below.)

2. Make realistic expectations: Plan to hit three to five houses instead of 20, or five apartments on your floor. Keep back-up candy at home if you feel badly that he didn’t get enough, but feel proud that he could ring a bell five times and walk away with one piece from each door.

3. Practice, practice, practice: Several times before the big day, trick-or-treat room to room in your house, at a friend’s or relatives or at your own door.

4. Bring reinforcements: A spouse, a babysitter, your best friend, your sibling, a para from school — don’t try to do it alone. Another adult can help keep the mood lighter if things don’t go as you planned and help divide and conquer if you are out with more than one child.

5. Listen to your child: Halloween and trick-or-treating are not for every child. If you know the experience will be sensory overload or extremely anxiety-provoking for your child, put aside your own desires for the “typical” experience, pop open a bag of candy corn and stay home. Always try your best to set up your child for success. If you know it might not be fun for your child, resist the urge to do it. Next year they may be ready.

Now, for the costume ideas. They can be their own superhero! Each cape comes personalized with your child’s name in their favorite color — it doesn’t get better than that.

The Land of Nod’s Butterfly Princess Dress Up costume features a pair of glittering wings and sparkling skirt. It’s the perfect combo for fluttering through their neighborhood.

Your little one can save the day in this cool Tiger Cape. It’s made from natural cotton and eco-friendly ink. They might want to wear it every day. 

Wild Wings Dress Up set features a pair of beautiful bird wings, so your child can spend their afternoon zipping to every house and scoring all the treats they can.

This Bat Costume set features a pair of bat wings, so your child can spend their afternoons zipping through the night and eating all the insects and candy they can. Well, maybe not the insects part.

The soft mesh layers and cotton voile lining make these ombré Tutus perfect for a ballerina costume. The stretchy, elastic waist makes them incredibly comfortable for sensory-sensitive kids.

Grab these handcrafted Butterfly Wings and let your little adventurer soar into the land of wild imaginations, where creativity and learning have no boundaries. Each wing set is handmade with super soft felt fabric!

In a Firebird costume your child will be ready to soar. A bright bird costume in fall vibrant colors is perfect for Halloween and imaginative play.

For your sweet angel, fly away in these Lovelane Wings and create endless stories and memories. 

Costumes are great for pretend play and for speech and language development. Follow WOLF + FRIENDS on Pinterest to see more of my favorites. 

Follow this journey on WOLF + FRIENDS.

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