Most children by the age of three to four are becoming more self-aware. Aware of who they are, that they are a separate being to their parents and they have a sense of where their body lies in relation to the world around them!
Imagine a world in which you don’t know where your hands and arms are? You can see them but you cannot connect with them and you cannot make them do what you wish them to do! Then imagine that you cannot find where your body is-you continuously bump in to things and people no matter how hard you try not to! Imagine running but not knowing where your legs are and trying to manipulate an object but the link is not there from brain to hand!
To Jay, and many children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder this is how life is and what they face every day! Their sensory systems are so scrambled that information required to basically manoeuvre correctly and, with balance and precision, is not processed correctly resulting in awkward, clumsy movements. Often, this leads to bumps and even hurting others as they fall or step over them to find their way back to stability!
When we are in public places such as Libraries or playparks this can be really tough! Jay will often stumble, trip over and bump in to other children by accident , as he tries his hardest to use his body in the right way. Spacial Awareness is developmentally something children learn by about three years old sometimes four, and it is something we, in Early Years, provide opportunities for children to do in order to help develop their awareness and how to move safely and with respect to others around them! No matter how hard I tried, I could not seem to help Jay with this battle and still he requires constant support to play safely around others. Hopefully he will succeed in time as he develops more, however, the problem with the Sensory system of a child with ASD, is that it will always be scrambled! All we can do as carers, is to continue to support them in developing the necessary skills to know how to move safely and to also promote body and Spacial Awareness. How do I do this for Jay?
As I said above, it is a constant challenge, however I am not one to quit!!
Every activity I plan for Jay , has some reference in it to the “moving and handling” section in the Early Years Foundation stage Curriculum found in “Physical Development.” I provide a Trampoline to help Jay jump in a safe way whilst learning where his limbs are on his body. It takes balance to manoeuvre around safely on a moving surface. I provided Jay with a Trike to help with coordination which he rides around each day in our garden. I bought Stickle Bricks so he could improve his Dexterity and Lego for the same thing as Jay has delays in his Fine Motor development too. When we go for walks we find tree logs to allow Jay to balance and walk across, with support he can now manage this. Playparks challenge children to further experiment on what their bodies can do and Jay will try very hard to push his body to do things that he finds difficult. I like to think that is due to encouragement from us and also his Carers who help us look after him and provide our Respite time! The key is to allow him the chance to “safely” try things and experiment but without compromising on safety and being too over-protective!
One of the ways in which Jay attempts to regulate his messed up Sensory System, is to “Stim” Stimming in Jay has always been there since he was two. Jay flaps and shakes his hands and arms and knees in a repetitive manner very quickly, whilst making noises alongside this and it happens whenever he is excited or anxious but also to regulate his system, when he is feeling out of his body. There are seven senses and the ones which relate to balance and movement are the ones which prevent Jay knowing fully where he is in relation to the space around him. He will Stim and also use his senses to feel his way back. He does this anywhere and anytime but I noticed a pattern when we are in the natural world. Anywhere there is water or soil or sand and sea or trees or grass he is especially “grounded.” He will immerse his hands in sand or soil or water and will make his way along the ground by crawling and slithering along and you can see how he is trying to find some connection to something since he cannot feel the connection we feel to our bodies, because of his sensory system and how scrambled it is!
Whenever parents are out and about with their children, they generally know their children can handle the places they are and will probably know what to do and how to make way for their peers whilst playing together! Yes we will always see examples where this does lead to conflict however, in the case of the child with Autism there will be, little, they actually understand about what actually went wrong and what they did as they have no comprehension of their bodies and therefore cannot help bumping in to children and objects! If only more people understood Autism parents and children and also adults with Autism, would lead much happier lives. I know it is awful if your child gets hurt at a playground or in a play area or library but for the parent of the child who has Autism who has made an error, it is truly mortifying and very upsetting to have to deal with! It has happened to me at a playpark where Jay did run and bump in to a much younger child and I am happy to say the parent was very understanding when I explained that he had Autism and therefore did not mean to , and that he has no Spacial Awareness yet. Jay has Global delay too so it is worse for us as he literally acts like a toddler. He cannot share and gets upset if he wants a toy or equipment other children have and this is something I support him with by saying the phrase “First and Then.” I say “First” this boy will play with the train and “then” Jay will. The key words being “First” and “Then.” I found that all toddlers respond to this well and I used it at my work in Early years too. It is lucky that with Jay’s developmental age being Two to Three years, I am able to use strategies I used at work in which to help him in his world, and to also relay some of the ideas that work for Jay with the children I worked with!
Inside Jay’s beautiful mind, somewhere he has the necessary skills to enable him to adapt to life in this world,. In the meantime to help keep him as “Grounded” as possible I place a Crystal Stone called “Tourmaline” in his room by his bed -I personally believe the relevance of this, some people will not, but I read they help with “grounding” so I will try anything to help my son. Lastly, I practice Tai Chi, and have began to teach Jay some simple breathing and movement to help him to stay in his body and be more body aware and I will continue to teach this as we go through these next few years with Jay. As he grows and develops more I pray he will move forward in his understanding of his self, and become aware of his body and mind connection! From now on, we will stay “grounded” like a tree, travelling on our journey together! It really is a beautiful place to go and I love each day with this incredible child whom I was blessed to love, comfort, treasure and defend!
Next Time. The World According to Jay!- The Beauty in Autism minds.