Making list of presents on wood background

My Christmas Wish as a Person With Autism

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As I sit in front of the crackling fireplace with my beloved husband, I think of all the millions of individuals with autism around the world. The vast majority of them are not as fortunate as I am to have someone in their life who loves them and to love back. Abraham and I were just reminiscing about Christmases past. We both shared how our one big wish was to find that special someone out there with which to love and share our life. We both got our Christmas wish, and there’s no gift greater than this. The overwhelming feeling of peace, comfort, and security brought us to tears.

But I do actually have another Christmas wish. And that is for every person on the autism spectrum to find a love like ours. For that to happen, we all must be accepted in this world. With all my years of wisdom, I still can’t figure out why all neurotypicals can’t seem to accept us. In fact, the way I see it, they truly have it all wrong. Some neurotypical people view us as the inferior ones. But we are the ones who have the ability to accept others who are different. We can accept neuro diversity. We are the ones who don’t bully, harass, nor discriminate others who are different.

Why are those with autism often so hard on themselves for even the slightest social blunder? My advice to my autistic community is to focus on feeling at peace with yourself and enjoying life. I wish the rest of the world would realize that indeed we do have emotions, dreams and desires. We do want to be included, respected, and understood. Have an open mind. Don’t be so judgmental of us just because we don’t act like you. Embrace our different way of being. Be happy that there are people like us in the world.

I’m wishing that 2017 is the year the world learns to accept and embrace those who are different from themselves. We have already done that. You can too.

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Thinkstock photo by a_namenko

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Dad’s Big Idea Helps Nonverbal Daughter in a Way No Other App Could

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This Dad created “TippyTalk,” a new app to help his nonverbal daughter find a way to communicate with them through pictures and texts.

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Boy putting toothpaste on toothbrush

15 Tips for Helping Children With Sensory Sensitivity Brush Their Teeth

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Most kids run away from the sight of the “terrible toothbrush.” However, for children on the autism spectrum with sensory issues, this can be even more of a challenge. There can be many different factors and reasons for a child’s aversion to toothbrushing. There may be some hypo- or hyper-sensitivity and oral defensiveness going on. With hypo-sensitivity, kids might have less awareness of what’s going on in their mouths, which can contribute to anxiety related to the mouth area (think of it as a type of oral “numbness”). On the flip side, kids who are hyper-sensitive might be overly conscious and sensitive to oral stimulation. The slightest touch can be overwhelming and be perceived as painful.

Although I am a licensed occupational therapist, the tips below are general suggestions and not an individualized therapy plan. If you have concerns, a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist trained in oral motor therapy can offer a complete an evaluation and put together an individualized therapy plan with recommendations that take all factors into consideration.

However, for some general ideas and helpful insights that can be used in a trial-and-error type of approach, read on! Below you will find my tips that might help your child be more independent with toothbrushing and keep those pearly whites squeaky clean.

1. Some children may find the sensation of the bristles uncomfortable. Try using a brush with extremely soft bristles or silicone bristles. A baby toothbrush could be a useful transition tool to help your kiddo eventually transition to a regular brush. For example, the Banana brush is a baby training toothbrush that has short bristles made of silicone that can help to desensitize.

2. A toothbrush that can get the job done faster. For example, a three-sided toothbrush such as DenTrust cleans faster and gets all three sides with just one brush motion. The bristles are super soft to gently clean the gum tissue.

3. Experiment with different toothpastes. Some kids don’t like the taste of the mint and can perceive it to be a painful, burning sensation. Try different flavors of toothpaste, such as bubblegum, strawberry, orange, etc.

GUM Crayola Squeeze-a-Color comes in toothpastes that are all different colors and flavors (melon blast, blueberry burst, and jazzy apple). You can let your child squeeze a little from each tube to mix and match the colors and flavors and have some fun with it. Also, Banilla Bling is a vanilla ice cream flavored toothpaste.

4. If your child is sensitive, maybe flavored toothpaste isn’t the best option. Also, the foaming of the toothpaste may be the culprit, causing unpleasant sensory sensations and discomfort. Oranurse is a flavorless and non-foaming toothpaste that was initially created for children on the autism spectrum who were were sensitive to strong flavors and taste. Overall, this toothpaste doesn’t foam and has zero flavor, which may help ease your child’s comfort.

5. Focus on finding the right toothbrush. Make sure the toothbrush is the right size for little hands and has soft bristles that don’t hurt gums. An electric Spinbrush can make toothbrushing more fun because some children love the feel of the vibrations. Another fun option is a flashing timer brush (Crayola makes one that lights up for two minutes, letting children know when brushing time is up.)

6. If your child is a music lover, consider a singing toothbrush. There are lots of varieties of musical toothbrushes on the market, from ones that sing songs to ones that make animal noises.

7. If a singing toothbrush with all the fancy bells and whistles doesn’t sound too appealing to you, simply sing a song your child loves while they brush. If the brushing stops, you stop singing. You can even play a favorite song on your phone and pause it if they stop brushing.

8. Brush when your child brushes. Brush your teeth at the same time as your little one. Be enthusiastic about it, making it look appealing.

9. Take turns brushing. Let your little one brush their own teeth first before you do it for them. You can also try and give your child your brush and let them brush your teeth while you brush theirs (it can be a good distraction!).

10. Try brushing teeth while in the bathtub. You can also give your child a cup and some bath toys while you brush his/her teeth at the sink. Water play at the sink is a simple distraction.

11. Brush in front of the mirror. This might help your child feel more control of the situation. Visually being able to see the toothbrushing process can help as opposed to a situation where you’re facing your child and they cannot see what’s going on.

12. Visual supports and schedules. A visual schedule can be created by taking photographs of the steps of toothbrushing. Option 1: You can cut and laminate the photos, putting velcro on the back of each one. Arrange in chronological order on a board and as each step is completed, the corresponding picture is removed. Option 2: Print photos of the toothbrushing process, laminate the pages, and a dry-erase marker can be use to check off each step (so that the page can be reused day after day). Option 3: Snap a picture of each step of the toothbrushing process, load the pictures on to a digital picture frame and program it so that each photo is displayed for 10-second intervals. This can be used in the bathroom as they are brushing their teeth so they have a visual prompt when it is time to move on to the next step.

13. Try a timer. Sand timers or using the stopwatch on your phone are great for making how long to brush more understandable. You can start with just a few seconds and work up to a full two minutes.

14. If brushing really is a battle, it’s completely OK to start small. If your child isn’t comfortable with a regular toothbrush, or the electric toothbrush, start with brushing only one or two teeth for a couple seconds, (maybe with the baby silicone bristle toothbrush?), then stopping. A couple days later, you can “up” the amount of teeth you attempt to brush and add on a few more seconds. It’s OK to try this method and go slow. Sometimes a desensitization process is needed.

15. Consider water temperature. Have you always brushed your teeth with cold water? Is cold water what you use when brushing your child’s teeth? If so, try switching it up and using warm water. You child may be sensitive to the cold water and tolerate a warmer temperature a lot better.

Christina is an OTR/L and owner of Sensory TheraPLAY Box, LLC, the monthly sensory toy box for children with autism and/or sensory needs.

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Image via Thinkstock Images

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My Struggle With Verbal Instruction

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If you ever feel a sense of panic when given verbal instructions, you’re not alone. Whenever I’m asked, “Will you please get whatever from the closet on the middle shelf to the right of whatever,” my immediate reaction is like a robot twirling around saying, “Panic alert!”

I started working as a substitute teacher’s aide two years ago. I often find myself frustrated when given verbal instructions by teachers or other aides, and I didn’t know why until I was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (AS).

This diagnosis prompted me to wonder if my long-held habit of asking someone to repeat what has been said to me, particularly instructions, is related to my syndrome. Since my diagnosis, I have been doing research on AS and learned verbal instruction can be one of the things people with AS might find challenging. I don’t think it is so much of a lack of hearing that I ask for a repeat, but a need to be given more seconds to process what I am hearing.

An example of my trouble with verbal instruction was when I was subbing for a kindergarten class. While doing circle time, the teacher asked me to “get the phone.” I interpreted that to mean to go over to her landline phone at her desk and answer it. I was bewildered since I hadn’t heard the phone ring, but I thought, “Oh, well, my hearing isn’t what it used to be.” All I got was a dial tone.

I looked back at the teacher, who pointed at her cell phone. I took that to mean it was her cell phone that needed answering. Again, I was puzzled since it wasn’t ringing either. I should have acted on my bewilderment and asked for clarity, but I was in panic mode. I picked it up and heard nothing. 

That’s when the teacher told me her instruction of “getting the phone” was to simply go over to her cell phone, pick it up and hand it to her. Now if she had said, “Hand me the cell phone,” I would have understood what she wanted.

I was humiliated! I wondered what the teacher, 30 years shy of me, must have thought. She probably would have received her cell phone sooner if she had asked one of them to “get the phone” since the children are probably more familiar with cell phones than landline phones.

My diagnosis has explained so much of how I think, feel and act. Now when I think of that moment in the kinder class, I don’t feel so bad.

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Lead photo via Thinkstock Images

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