Meltdowns in the middle of markets, tears at tea time, and stressful school runs – sound familiar? Parenting can be exhausting at the best of times and can bring additional joys and challenges for those of us raising children on the spectrum.
It’s easy to find ourselves fire -fighting the latest mini crisis as we juggle jobs, homes and childcare but taking time to play detective and consider the causes leading to challenging behaviour can help reduce the stress for everyone involved.
Updated diagnostic criteria places sensory sensitivity at the heart of spectrum conditions as the impact it can have on daily living is better understood. Much of that improved understanding has come from the personal accounts of those living with sensory difficulties.
For example, respected psychologist and author Dr. Wendy Lawson who has high functioning autism has this to say about sensory sensitivity:
“Most people take the routines of life and day to day connections for granted. The fact that they can see, hear, smell, touch and relate to other is ‘normal’. For me these things are often painfully overwhelming, non-existent or just confusing.” (2014).
So what if that meltdown in the supermarket was the result of an overload of the sights, sounds, smells and confusion of an overwhelming sensory experience? Could tears at tea time be due to the smell, texture, sounds of food being eaten and our well-intentioned words to ‘eat up’ be one demand too many?
Keeping shopping trips short and heading to the shops when they are quiet can help, along with useful distractions such as using music on headphones to block out other sounds, or offering sunglasses or a cap to reduce the effect of bright lighting. When it comes to tricky meal times we may have to adjust our expectations and, for instance, accept that eating the same limited range of foods on a repeat cycle might be what our young people can cope with for now.
As for stressful school runs – they are part and parcel of daily life for most parents, but a bit of extra planning for those caring for kids on the spectrum can go a long way to lightening the load and the household mood. Help with organising school bags, using visual timetables, allowing extra time, reducing language when giving prompts and staying calm can all help.
Useful information on coping with sensory sensitivity can be found on the website for the National Autistic Society, visit www.autism.org.uk. Look out for details of our own free parent training toolkit titles starting this month and which includes a session on understanding and responding to Sensory Differences.