The best part about having a child with Autism, has got to be the interests and obsessions they have. In the nine years Jay has been in our lives, I have found out so much about so many different things he has been interested in. These interests are unique in a child with Autism, in that they take over every thing and the child becomes fixated and obsessed with that one special interest. Often to the exclusion of everything else. The child focuses and concentrates for often hours at a time, often forgetting to eat, sleep or go to the toliet, as they actively learn all they can about their chosen subject.
For Jay, at the moment, his special interest is Magnetism and Hydraulics. Diesel trains are high on the list of interest, with Jay finding out all he can on them and how they work. Jay was delighted to discover that there are magnetic trains out there called Maglevs and he incorporates all he discovers in his play. The type of Autism Jay has means he has significant delays yet he can learn as much as he can read about things that spark his interests. He reads up on these things, yet in his play he will play like a two year old or three year old would. He recently began to collect toy Diesel trains and would give them names and characters, and would ask me over and over again to tell him stories about each character. Jay watches online videos of Diesels and will talk at length about the parts of the trains. He loves to use the word Hydraulic and Magnetic and discusses it with me all day.
So, as I always do, I began to think of ways I could bring this interest to life for Jay and also teach him the Science behind these words. So, I asked my neighbour and friend, if he had a real magnet, which he did. We brought it to Jay to show him how it worked. We used a wooden board and put the magnet under it. We then asked Jay to put his Die cast metal train on the board and watch what happens. The train moved around the board as if by magic, as the magnet did its job and Jay was fascinated and thrilled. I explained that this was happening because the train is made of metal and the magnet was making it move because the of the metal it was made of. We then let Jay experiment with the Magnet keeping an eye on him for safety as his understanding is at three years old developmentally. I took some photos of Jay experimenting with the Magnet as he made the connection with the metal, and chose to put the Magnet on his crane and pick up a metal tin lid. I really believe in letting children use items that help them make connections and help them to engage in active learning, making discoveries and coming to conclusions themselves and not always guided by the Adult.
Here is Jay using his Magnet to further understand the properties of it and how it can be used.
I just love watching my boy make exciting discoveries and learning about his world, and I always have encouraged him to find things out that interest him. Last Winter, his life long interest in Space, was brought to life by making a Solar System for his room. There was not a lot i did not know about Space at that point. And who can forget his interest in all things Chicken?
Jay’s life long interests such as Trains and Spiders and Space never change, but it is always lovely when a new interest arrives. It can be triggered by a trip,or a book or something he sees online yet nether the less it always engulfs and enthralls him, so it is very easy as his Mum to get the same level of enjoyment out of these interests, and I am the type of person who loves to be always learning new things. I have shared my life long passion for Nature with Jay, showing him the natural world and encouraging him to learn the names of all the mini beasts, Birds, Animals and flowers, and so in return it is lovely to share his interests and obsessions too. They are definitely obsessive in Autism. But that’s okay -I understand Jay and I know the interest will always take over him, but as long as he is happy and learning Iam fine with that.
On a different note, something that Jay did a lot when he was in Pre-school, has come back to haunt me. Jay at three, indulged in a sensory experience called Pica. This is common in some children with Autism, and involves the eating of inappropriate things to fufill a Sensory need or behavioural need. It can also happen when the child has little or no understanding of what is edible and what is not, which we would expect a young toddler to do, as they do not understand when something they want to put in their mouth is not edible or safe. Because Autism at the low end of the Spectrum is often coupled with Development Delay, this means a child of nine can still not know if something is safe to put in their mouth and Jay certainly still does not. At three years old Jay ‘s favourite inappropriate item was leaves from a Buddleia. He was at Pre-school with a 1 to 1 yet he still managed to get hold of the leaves, and would put them straight to his mouth. Of course his 1 to 1 always intervened, but it was obvious that Jay was Sensory Seeking and would chose many things to put in his mouth, most of which were not food. Now , at Nine, he is beginning to seek sensory input from items that are not food again. Yesterday I came in to our lounge to see him with masking tape in his mouth. I said no lets take it out we don’t eat that Jay, but he did get very upset as if he thinks he has done wrong he gets so distressed he often cries. When Jay plays I have noticed he has begun to pick up items and put them on his lips and tongue. He has also started to lay on the floor and move back and forth on the soft rug. Our Care Manager believes it is time for Jay to have another Sensory Assessment as the last one he had at 5. Then, it was found that Jay is both a Sensory seeker and a Sensory Avoider. So, with Auditory and vVsual stimuli he avoids, by putting his hands over his ears and eyes to avoid some sound or sight he cannot cope with, he will scream and shout to make it go away and even with Ear defenders he does this. With touch and smell he avoids sensations too, but with other senses such as taste he is a Sensory Seeker, so he actively seeks these sensations out. It all goes back to people with Autism having a scrambled, messed up Sensory System. Our Care Manager thinks that all these issues we are having with Jay reacting to Weather and to Bees and Flies etc , is due to his Sensory System not being able to process information as a Neurotically developed person would. It has been suggested that a weighted vest worn over his clothes may help Jay regulate his Sensory System better and result in less Meltdowns and Sensory Overloads happening. We also were taught a ‘Brushing ‘technique where you use a surgical brush on the child’s arms and legs for 5 to 10 minutes twice a day, to again regulate their system and calm them. We did this for a year with Jay when he was in Year 1 and i believe it may be time to do it again, as Jay clearly is not coping and is having between 10 and 12 Meltdowns or Sensory Overloads a week at the moment, and so Iagree it is time for another Sensory Assessment with an Occupational therapist. This is set for the holiday in Half term so I hope we can help Jay cope better with his messed up Sensory System. In the meant time I have to watch Jay all the time and I never leave him unsupervised due to the Pica (inappropriate eating) and the sudden Sensory Meltdowns he has. It is quite basically like having a two year old and is a challenge, but we do it and this is one of the reasons we are not just Parents we are Carers. We must keep the child safe!
For now, I am enjoying learning all about Hydraulics and Magnets and that will do just well for the moment!