Single Moms Raising Autistic Sons

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Monday, December 02, 2013


Just the other day I was having my car worked on and Griffin was with me, as we were waiting we decided to walk over to the local Subway sandwich shop and have lunch. Griffin was his merry self going about his business on his own getting a drink from the soda fountain and suddenly from my right I noticed that someone was laughing. I glanced over and found that there were two teenaged boys and two adult men laughing at Griffin. Abruptly I shouted in their direction, "Are you laughing at my son?" and silence fell and the boys were trying to stifle their laughter with their heads bowed.

Then I was so upset I was steaming but I tried not to let Griffin notice because I didn't want to embarrass him in front of anyone. I couldn't let it go though because a terrible misjustice had just occurred and I felt the instinctual urge to stand up for my son. I have never had anyone stand up for me but I was not about to have my son bullied by a pack of wolves masquerading as "normal" people with social graces enough to treat my child with compassion and understanding. Imagine.....2 grown men laughing at a child!!!!

So, I starred down the man laughing the loudest and making a big deal about me and he asked me, "Do you have a problem?" and I answered, "Yes, I do because you guys are bullies!!!!".  He stopped starring at me and they quickly finished their food and left with their heads held low and hopefully it was in shame.

Thank goodness Griffin was totally unaware of what was going on and he didn't realize that those men and boys were being evil to him.

Monday, November 04, 2013

A New IEP, A New Classroom, And A New Start For Griffin

WOW!!!!! A lot has happened since June! We had the best summer of our lives, I guess that is why I didn't write in the blog because I was having so much fun with Griffin that I didn't really even spend time at the computer even when he was with Zach his new respite provider. Oh yea, he has a respite provider now! And he is awesome! He comes most weekends and he is from the Autism Society, he has many years of experience with autistic kids and still works with them in a school setting.

Over the summer we went swimming, to the lake to feed the ducks/geese of course, to have picnics and cookouts, we liked to just go exploring driving around in the car, he likes looking around and feeling the wind in his face. Sometimes we go for ice cream or a burger as a treat if he has had really good behavior and done all his chores showing me that he can be responsible at home.

For awhile after school started in the fall, there were problems and I couldn't figure out what they were because the teachers wouldn't communicate with me. Then little by little I started getting them to loosen up and talk to me through e-mail about his behavior but then they still wouldn't tell me what was triggering it. Griffin was hitting again but not at home this time only at school. Things at home were perfectly fine but at school he had a communication problem and the teachers were not picking up on it because they said that they had too many students and I am sure that they did, they were overwhelmed and couldn't give him the attention that he needed. Griffin even came home and told me that he hit a little boy because he wanted his attention. I told Griffin that he needed to use his words and that if he felt like hitting someone to sit on his hands but Griffin said that he had "tics" and that his hands were out of control. To me that meant that he was feeling impulsive.....perhaps his ADHD or his Bipolar feelings aggravating him.

Anyhow, the mainstream teachers didn't understand him and in the meeting that we FINALLY had after I had asked for one over a month before, they wanted him in the smaller self-contained classroom and said that he was not learning in their room. I kind of felt that they just wanted him out of there because of his behaviors. The other half of the teachers wanted him in the LRE (least restrictive environment) which means mainstream with accommodations. I was torn because I had asked Griffin the night before and he had told me that he wanted the smaller classroom but two of his therapists had recommended that I go with the LRE if I can.

I was in there alone in the IEP meeting because I had forgotten to remind the Autism Society advocate the day and time of the meeting so I felt a bit overwhelmed. Everyone was hands down for the self-contained classroom and we worked up the schedule and everything and I went through the paces but I knew the whole time that I wasn't going to sign the papers until I talked to a few people outside that room, I had to think it over and talk to Griffin again as well. They came up with a schedule that was not just special needs classroom but he also had time with his typical peers in P.E, lunch, Spanish, reading, and science. So, it ended up being about a day that was half and half and hopefully moving around that much won't be too overwhelming for him.

I just hope that I am making the right decision for him just as I do every day as I strive to be the best mom that I can possibly be. I know that I can't be perfect but I want him to see that when I make mistakes that I make up for them, I try hard to improve upon them and succeed in spite of my flaws. I don't want him to think that I am supposed to be perfect and put me on a pedestal because that might cause him to have a low opinion of himself thinking that he couldn't live up to too high standards. I just tell Griffin that in God's eyes we are perfect but that we all make mistakes and that's okay.....we just keep trying over and over and one day you will succeed. I tell him that he is doing an awesome job everyday at home and at school especially since he stopped hitting and I give him positive reinforcements. We still use the Level System that we adopted from Copestone that has worked like a charm. All I have to do is ask Griffin if he wants to lose a level and immediately he will say "NO!" and he will automatically begin to behave on the spot!

Griffin and I have come a long way and in the last year we have bonded a great deal. He has grown tremendously just in the past 6 months since he started puberty. I have started thinking about what it is going to be like when he turns 18 yrs. old. whether or not he will go to a group home or not, whether I will even be alive or not. He is growing so fast and wanting his independence and I am having to let go but at least he does still like to snuggle!

Monday, June 03, 2013

June 3, 2013. Two More Days Til Summer Break

Well, school is almost out (Wed.) and then comes the dread of what to do all day, all week, all avoid that inevitable whining that he is bored and that he expects me to provide entertainment for him as long as he is not busy with the computer, TV, or playing with his stuffed animals, sometimes he draws too. But 3/4 of the day he is restless and I don`t blame him, after all he is a healthy young pre-teen boy with plenty of energy to go around the only problem is that I run out of ideas of what to do for free or little money and that is not far away (because my car is old and I don`t know if I can trust it on a long trip).

We go to the lake,swimming, picnicing, and always to the park with Abby then of course to the playground when he can be enticed but....those things only hold his attention for so long just like everything else, then we are back home because I can only do so much...besides, we are usually tired and ready for home by then.

I am sitting at the lake enjoying the cool breeze in the morning, the beautiful songbirds, andI I am amused by the antics of the clever squirrels bouncing about and traversing the trees with such ease.

Please pray for my Aunt Patty who has stage 4 lung cancer and she is very sick right now.
She needs hope, faith, & to move to SC to be with loved ones.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Field Trip to the Aquarium in Tenn.

We have been going to the lake and to the YMCA each weekend to spend time together and probably that is what we will be doing this summer too not only because it is his favorite but because it is cheap and close by not to mention.....lots of FUN!!!! I absolutely adore going to the lake and watching all the birds and water fowl, I am becoming a bird watcher myself trying to learn all the bird songs and how they appear. Griffin has shown quite a bit of interest in it as well as a matter of fact, he is the one who started it especially because of his love of penguins.

 This adorable little baby penguin came from the aquarium in Gatlingburg, TN where Griffin went with his 5th grade classroom and his sweet friend Emily bought it for him. I thought that was so wonderful, I wonder if she had arranged it with her mother beforehand because this toy was not cheap, by its size it looks as if it was at least $30.00 from a place like the gift shop at the aquarium. Griffin's classmates are all so nice to him, when I went to drop him off for the trip that morning they greeted him and gleefully reminded him of how he was going to get to see the penguins at the aquarium. When he returned from the trip he didn't have very much to say except that there were penguins, sharks, and a restaurant that he wanted to eat at....LOL!!!! That's my growin' boy, always eating!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

April 14, 2013

 Griffin dressed as Snoopy's "The Flying Ace" he told me as he was on the computer playing the music and watching the video.
 Saturday we went to the next city over where there was a YMCA festival for the whole family celebrating fitness and health. Griffin actually got on this bungy (I don't know how to spell it) jumper and had a blast. He wanted to go again but the line was so very long and my feet were hurting so badly because we had been there so long already, it was all I could handle. I had hoped that he would interact with the children there but he wasn't interested. He did say that he had a lot of fun though.
This is Griffin's M&M's masterpiece on his scribble pad. He is so amazing that he can literally scribble out his creations in seconds and I know that if he took just a few more minutes of time that they would not look any different than those of professional commercial artist. I think that he just has a hard time focusing for longer than a few seconds and he gets bored easily.
This is Griffin's Godmother, Vicky, she is a beautiful soul and loves Griffin dearly. Her dear husband Wayne has kidney cancer and we were at a benefit at Etowah Volunteer Fire Station to help raise money to pay for his medical expenses 2 weeks ago. Griffin loves Vicky and always enjoys seeing her and being around her, he really responds well to her because she works with special needs individuals and she was just born with that special something that someone needs in their heart to communicate love and understanding to a special needs child/adult. We don't get to see her very often because she lives about 30 miles away and she has her own family to cope with and work but it just makes our time together that much more extraordinary. We are truly blessed to have her in our lives, I have no reservations that if something happened to me that Griffin would be in very safe and happy hands with her...she would see to it that he would thrive to the best of his ability.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Recovery and Healing

Since leaving Copestone Griffin and I have been getting along so much better, and I attribute that to the "Level System".  I have stuck to it and since that is what he learned in Copestone along with the methods for calming down it has proved to be a great combination. Now when he begins to get upset I ask him if he wishes to lose his rank in the level system and of course he does not because that would mean losing privileges and having consequences so he calms himself down immediately and moves on....and I am so proud of him. He shows much more control over himself now and much more maturity than ever before.

I do brag but he is not perfect as none of us are because he has slipped a few times and dropped from Level 2 down to Level 1 again but to him that is a big deal and he doesn't take it lightly anymore. He is beginning to learn what respect means even though it is an abstract term because it can have tangible outcomes. Also Griffin has learned that money has more value since getting out of Copestone and that food is more valuable and is not to be wasted, lessons that we have been working on with him with RHA for quite some time now not to mention lessons in life that I have been working on in life that I have tried for years.

He just seems so much happier and calmer....and I am working on it too. We just get along so much better! We snuggle and smile now instead of shout and worry about hitting. I just know that since he is on the new meds he has got to feel better at least if his behavior is any indicator he is. He seems to seek any opportunity to laugh and play now. We went swimming yesterday and he had a blast! I had a blast playing with him!

Tomorrow is his appointment with the psychiatrist Dr. Coopey 1st time. Then school starts back and I have an appointment with Jill for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Griffin Is In The Hospital/Copestone

My heart has truly broken this time because my son had to be hospitalized because his hitting and temper was beyond out of control. The intensive-in-home team and I have tried everything for months now and he has not made any improvement, in fact, he has gotten worse...he even tried to hit me in front of the nurse in the ER while we were waiting to get into Copestone (the child psychiatric unit at the hospital).

I don't know if the fact that Griffin had been seeing people was significant to his hitting me and acting out but it would seem so to me and they took it very seriously too. The intensive-in-home team from RHA believes that it is significant and that he is probably hearing voices too because with visual hallucinations audio hallucinations usually happen as well. As an individual with Bipolar Disorder I have had times when I have had side effects from my medications that caused psychosis with audio hallucinations and let me tell you that it is very scary!!!! I feel so bad for Griffin, he doesn't have the words to describe what he sees and how it makes him feel exactly, other than "bad", he just says that they are real and that they walk around and that they ignore him.

I went to visit him the first day and I was so excited to see him and I thought that he would be excited to see me but the poor guy was perseverating on the fact that he was going to miss school and I was sad because I wanted him to miss me instead. So now I know better that when I go to visit to not have expectations of him and to let him be himself and accept whatever it is he has to say with unconditional love and to not take it personally. I think that with school he misses the consistency of it and his friends and that he still can't help but to take me for granted, that is just how kids are with their moms......because they know that we'll always be around with a fountain of unconditional love and acceptance, that no matter what happens we'll be around to catch them when they fall.....unless it is something that like this when he needs to learn a lesson and mom has to break her own heart for awhile in order to do the right thing for her son's future. One day Griffin you will thank me for this one short week that you spent in the hospital to learn a hard lesson that will make an impression on you for the rest of your life.

Not only are they working with Griffin in therapy but they have changed his medications: They stopped the Melatonin and started Seroquel. Stopped Abilify and started Risperdal. They are both used for anxiety and to stabilize mood swings.

I went to see my psychiatrist today and he doubled my anti-depressant for reasons that I do not wish to disclose but for one really obvious reason....I am really depressed! I have been for quite some time and I hope this helps because he said that it could make me worse since I am Bipolar. I go back to see him in a week, he said that I should notice a difference in a couple of days. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jennifer Lingle M.Ed. / Griffin's Current Hallucinations & Health

How to Improve Social Interactions with Your Child in Three Simple Steps. 

I recently spoke to Jennifer and told her of how I have difficulty playing with Griffin, how we are in our own little worlds when are in at home, and it is as though she put together this article for me in particular because it really helped me . I am implementing the approach now and so far Griffin is really responding to it...thank you Jennifer, Griffin is slowly letting me play with him and allowing me in his room.

I have got to let all my readers know that Jennifer Lingle M. Ed. Director of and also of  has been STELLAR in her field of autism training and and consulting as far as helping with the issues that I have had with Griffin. Jennifer can be reached at 828-505-0248. She also has a free e-book  Visual Tools for Homes and School. Some time ago I ordered her DVD and social skills workbook set, after hearing her speak at an Autism Society meeting and have been using it ever since. I started watching the DVDs right away and took notes but found myself needing to go back to watch them again for refreshers as I have learned something new each time I have watched them.

 The social skills book has been helpful over and over because Griffin completes it in a new way each time he does it and admittedly, with his patience he and understanding there are parts that he is yet to complete still. So I think that it will do us good for a year or two longer until he is a teenager and perhaps he is not playing with Big Bird, Calliou, Teletubbies, Spongebob, and Disney figurines anymore. I only pray that by middle school the kids are as kind to him as they are now, at least he has one more year at the school where he is now before he moves on. On a really positive note, we got a great report from his teachers in the IEP meeting, he is really showing a lot of desire to be around his peers and to have conversations with them. His speech teacher is teaching him how to take turns speaking and to share interests too, not just talk about what he is interested in. His peers are very interested in him and treat him like a little brother in fact, the teachers have to tell them to stop doing things for Griffin that he has to do things for himself. Even with this encouraging news, Griffin does spend time alone during P.E. and recess according to Griffin because the other kids don't play with him....or maybe it is just because they both don't know how to play together. It's too bad that there wasn't a coach there who could interact with them and help them.

The team from RHA is still doing a tremendous job with him at home, he is learning to trust them and go places with them and talk to them about his feelings. I believe this is a big step for him and for me too, for both of us to trust other people in our lives and to talk to them about what we do with each other but I do think that it will be awhile longer before we make headway into getting to the root of the problem other than just my lack of good parenting skills. Still waiting for the eval on Aspergers. 6 more weeks. She is sick and then I have to get on the wait list. For now I am getting the Tony Attwood book, "Aspergers, A Guide For Parents and Professionals".

Griffin has been having hallucinations, he let me know that he is seeing people after taking his medications (Abilify, Clonidine, Melatonin) at night and that his eyes "look funny".  I took this very seriously and called all the doctors I could and the prescribing nurse practitioner told me that as long as he is not scared then he had to wait for the appointment with the psychiatrist on April 1st, the first appointment that we could get with a psychiatrist on a waiting list no less! So Griffin is seeing things that he doesn't understand, I did explain to him that they weren't real and that they couldn't hurt him, but still....I would imagine that to a certain degree that some of it might be scary especially if he has blurry eyes or he might have vertigo. He is having a hard time describing what he is seeing to me. He was having sleep problems but I think that I might have that straightened out for now but his mood certainly isn't. The NP decreased his Abilify from 10 mg. daily for mood swings down to 7 1/2 daily at dinner in order to decrease his appetite.

It did decrease his appetite somewhat, somewhat mind you, he still eats plenty but his moods are more aggressive again. He had stopped hitting me and now he is doing it again. I also found out from his physical that because of his limited choice in foods ie...his restricted eating or some call it picky eater but it is more than that because I have tried everything under the sun to get this child to eat veggies! HE GAGS! He sees it, he gags! Sometimes he will touch it to his tongue barely one time but never again except he tried broccoli 3 times but still hates it. He will eat baby carrots, strawberries, apples, and bananas. We even tried with his occupational therapist but no luck, all she could get him to eat was snack foods. Now we are going to get him to go to a registered dietician for children. He has to go to a cardiologist too because his lipids and cholesterol was high not because he eats fried or junk foods but cheese and pasta. And because it runs on both sides of the family...probably his dad's side too because they were so large.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Aspergers and Me....Help Us Feel Part of The Real World

I sure hate that we don't have photos like we used to, I miss my camera so much one never realizes what a passion something is until it is totally gone. It should mean that I am writing more and more which is also my passion but there seems to be this void in my life that is a black hole absent of fulfillment and it has seemed that over the years no matter what I have done only the fact that I have a beautiful child has filled my days with contentment. I try to live as an example to enjoy doing things but there is this term that I discovered "anhedonia" which means one's inability to experience pleasure from activities once found enjoyable such as hobbies and personal interactions. This is usually due to depression which I do not currently have but I do feel numb and as if in a sensory/emotional vacuum. I think that I mostly feel lonely.

I do believe that when I thought that I was on the spectrum about a year or more ago and nobody believed me, so I just stopped pursuing it, I found myself becoming more introspective and that is when I began to have such a difficult time coping with Griffin's autism diagnosis all of a sudden. I became angry and confused and had no one to talk to about it who understood me, everyone was qualified to talk to Griffin but not to an far as I knew.

Now that someone has told me recently that he believes that I have Aspergers, and he is someone who has a daughter with Aspergers (a high functioning form of autism, more so than Griffin) he is also someone who is an autism therapist specialist. But he still wants me to go a woman named Laurie who is an expert psychologist who can do an evaluation and give me counseling especially since this has been such a struggle for me. Believe is no piece of cake being on the spectrum as a single parent and raising a child on the spectrum with behavior issues.....not only that I am also Bipolar with PTSD and have Fibromyalgia/CFS, and severe arthritis in my feet. I hate to let any of that stop me but some days are so hard and the worst part is when people don't call me. I am hardly on the computer anymore because my Fibromyalgia has been so bad and I am so weak that it is hard to take care of my chores, errands, doctor's appointments, so then by the time I am home all I can do is rest as much as I can until I have to take care of Griffin and I fall asleep on the couch before bedtime.

Even if I do have Aspergers and like to be alone just like many autistic individuals it doesn't mean that I don't get lonely and wish that my friends would call me or write a letter or e-mail. I reach out to them but I guess that their busy lives just keep them from making frequent calls...I guess. It still hurts my feelings and I can't talk to Laurie until the 28th. Now I have an idea of what Griffin feels like when he wants to socialize but doesn't know how, when the other kids won't play with him. When he wants to say something but can't get the words out and the ideas and frustrations are trapped in his head/heart. That is why I am trying to talk more to Griffin and if he doesn't want to talk I just ask him if I can be in the room with him because I know what it is like to feel empty and to feel as if nobody is thinking of you. He relies on me to help him feel loved and wanted for his self-esteem and self worth, it is a huge responsibility and even when I feel weak and exhausted from my CFS I have still got to be there for him.

That is part of what we are working on with RHA. We are working on communication to make life easier for both of us but especially for Griffin so that he can let me know what he is thinking and feeling before he breaks something or hits me. I am so impressed with RHA, they have really brought us together, we are spending more quality time together drawing each other out of our isolation because we know how. That is something that my friends and Griffin's peers don't know how to do. They don't know that with autism we are in our own little world, in our comfort zone as much as possible but if you have the inclination and the love and the can draw us out of it and bring us joy beyond contentment and help us feel like we are part of the real world.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I Am So Proud Of My Young Man

Griffin had a first yesterday and I am so happy to brag about how proud I am of him and how much he has progressed and grown in just the past year alone...he is about to turn 11 on Thursday and he has certainly earned it! Yesterday he went into Subway to order his favorite sandwich, a 6" pizza sub on his favorite bread, with his favorite kind of orange cheese he likes to call it, a peanut butter cookie, a small drink, I handed him my wallet and he counted out the money himself change and all completely by if that doesn't make a mom proud of her son who is learning to be independent what does? I was careful to not say too much to him about it because he doesn't like too much verbal praise but I gave him as much as he would allow, telling him that his mom was proud of what a young man he has become and that he is so smart to be able to do something like that all by himself. Tessa, the RHA consultant or provider ( I really don't know the proper term to refer to them ), she told me that when she takes Griffin out that she likes to get him to do things independently too.

 Craig, also from RHA, told me that Griffin went into the pizza restaurant, the kind  where the customer can sit in the car and someone can run in and get the pizza in 5 minutes for $5.00. Craig sat in the car and Griffin 
said that he wanted to go in to get the pizza by himself because I was paying for it and he had the exact change, so he went in there totally unafraid and ordered the pizza and paid for it....he is growing up so fast!

I tried out an aqua movement class yesterday and it was nice, the people were very welcoming and non-judmental it seemed. They were all elderly and because it was a class for those of us suffering from chronic pain it was gentle movement and exercise/stretching. I hope to attend every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It is a good way to get out of the house even though I am uncomfortable talking to them in a social manner maybe I can get through it and enjoy it anyhow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Our Latest Progress

We have been working with the RHA team and I must say that they are wonderful, I am really impressed with them and how well they work with Griffin. He has come a long way since they started working with him about 3 weeks ago, Griffin is not hitting me everyday like he was and our home is much calmer and quieter. Neither of us feel the same frustration that we had before and hopefully the computer will last longer because I just moved it and posted the rules and plan to reinforce them. He knows that if he breaks the computer that he is not getting another one, I am hoping that I can get a laptop for me if this happens so that I can use it while he is in school.

I am just so grateful that we are on the right path...the path of peace of mind, of love and affection, and now that he is about to turn 11 years old I am hoping that he will grow closer to me instead of away from me. I know how teenagers can be.

Lately I have been going through my own issues realizing that I have to cope with them in order to be a better mom to Griffin. I must love myself first and give to myself, and let go of fear in order to truly love anyone especially the most precious one of all.....Griffin Blaise. I've never been good at having relationships with anyone, I always seem to screw them up by saying all the wrong things or doing the wrong things if I do have Aspergers then it would be no surprise because I just cannot figure people out! I plan to get an evaluation soon because I think that it is important that I know and get help. I live in a shell hardly going out anywhere due to social phobias and it would be good to know the reason.

I signed Griffin up for swim classes and I am so excited for him, he is going to have so much fun because he loves the water. I have tried him in so many different sports but the only thing that he really likes is swimming. Got to go, Griffin is hungry yet again and Huge is about to come over for Intensive In Home.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Sensory Needs for Autistic Individuals

Isn't this a beautiful castle? Griffin made it in class last week by hand. It is so imaginative and creative, I am so proud of him he is such a talented artist! Look how much he has grown too! He weighs 115 lbs and is about 5 feet tall....unbelievable!

 It is always important to understand that simply loving your autistic child is not enough, one needs skills and tools to work with, an education to teach them how to cope with situations that arise that are challenging because they begin before you are ready for it and one day they may taper off but they will always be around. So be prepared! Give your child tender loving care, words of praise as often as you can, seek professional help and guidance, never stop having faith in what your child can achieve and his potential or how you can increase the love and compassion in your life through words and actions one small change at a time. Patience is the key, calm, breathing deeply, and living in the moment is something that we all forget about. Oh yes, and seek out support in your community.

Here is something that I found that is not comprehensive but somewhat covers sensory issues with autism and some things that can cause them, and some things that can be done about them. By no means is this professional information, it does not come from a doctor or an Occupational Therapist but it does fit with a lot of the information that I have learned over time with Griffin. 

I did have a post of meltdown vs. tantrum but took it down because after reviewing it again I found some issues with it that I disagreed with and found to be untrue, apparently I did not read it well enough the first time....not a good idea if I am going to post something and claim to be a writer.

Utililized information from

This page covers some of the challenging behaviors that children with autism often display. It also gives possible reasons for these behaviors, and suggestions for different ways of dealing with them.
Coping with a child who has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be very difficult; particularly when they display challenging behaviour. It can be even more difficult to cope if your child is non-verbal. Challenging behaviour includes what would typically be considered physically aggressive behaviour, but can also include behaviours like pica (putting inedible items in the mouth) and hand flapping if they are having a negative impact on your child or your family. This information sheet focuses on coping with challenging behaviour and can be used alongside our information sheets on ‘Understanding behaviours’ and ‘Behaviour guidelines.’
It is important to bear in mind that behaviour has a function and that there could be a number of reasons for it. These may include difficulty in processing information, unstructured time, over-sensitivity (hyper) or under-sensitivity (hypo) to something, a change in routine or physical reasons like feeling unwell, tired or hungry. Not being able to communicate these difficulties can lead to anxiety, anger and frustration, and then to an outburst of challenging behaviour.

Dear diary…

Some parents have found it very useful to set up a diary to identify behaviour triggers and to see if a pattern emerges. This involves writing down what was happening before the behaviour, the behaviour itself and what happened immediately after it. It is important to note the environment around your child before, during and after the behaviour, including who was there, any change in the environment and how your child was feeling. That way, you will be able to find the cause or the function of the behaviour and try to prevent it from happening in future.
The next section looks at some typically challenging behaviour, the possible reasons for it and some suggested strategies for addressing it.

Pinching, kicking, slapping

Possible reasons:

  • frustration at not being able to communicate
  • difficulty waiting for something, because of difficulty with concept of time and abstract thinking
  • an unfamiliar person
  • a change in routine
  • over-sensitivity to noise, crowds, smells, touch, sight (see our information sheet ‘The sensory world of the autism spectrum’)
  • under-sensitivity – seeking out sensory input from pinching or slapping
  • feeling unwell, tired, hungry, thirsty, uncomfortable
  • not wanting to do something.

Suggested strategies:

  • use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and/or visual supports to help with communication and show your child the sequence of events and routine for the day
  • prepare for meeting unfamiliar people by showing photographs of them and introducing them in small stages. Tell your child when they will see them, using visual support
  • prepare for any changes in routine
  • use ear defenders to block out noise and sunglasses to reduce light, and reduce strong smells, replacing them with smells that your child prefers
  • create opportunities for sensory stimulation, eg pinching play-dough, clapping hands, singing a clapping song/rhyme, kicking a football or punch bag
  • reward your child for doing something they don’t want to do, straight after the desirable behaviour
  • say in a calm, monotone voice, without showing emotion: “(Child’s name) hands down/feet down. No pinching, slapping, kicking” and then redirect them.


Possible reasons:

  • feeling unwell or in pain
  • reluctant to wipe because toilet paper may be too harsh
  • seeking out sensation from texture, smell or movement of arms during smearing action
  • attention seeking/wanting a reaction
  • not knowing where faeces needs to go
  • fear of toilets.

Suggested strategies:

  • provide an alternative with the same texture, eg papier-mâché, gelibaf, gloop (cornflour and water), finger painting, play-dough, etc
  • make a structured timetable of the day, showing times when your child can do appropriate smearing activities
  • take your child to the GP to make sure that there are no physical reasons involved, like being in pain
  • if your child does not understand the wiping process, teach them ‘hand over hand’
  • if the toilet paper is too harsh for your child’s sensitive skin, wet wipes could be a gentler alternative
  • avoid asking your child to clear up after themselves, as they may interpret this as being a reward
  • avoid paying too much attention or showing too much reaction
  • do not tell them off, as this can be seen as reinforcement of the behaviour
  • use minimal interaction and alternative cleaning-up methods, like baby wipes or a tepid shower
  • set up a toileting routine (see our ‘Toilet training’ information sheet)
  • use ‘all-in-one’ suits (available from the Abena website:


Possible reasons:

  • enjoys the reaction from an adult or another child around them
  • is looking for attention/interaction
  • has difficulty swallowing and/or may be producing too much saliva
  • likes to play with the saliva and enjoys the way it feels
  • uses the behaviour to avoid doing something.

Suggested strategies:

  • take your child to the GP and/or dentist to rule out any medical reasons
  • avoid making eye contact with your child
  • play this behaviour down as much as possible
  • limit verbal communication
  • wipe away the saliva as soon as it happens
  • do not give your child attention
  • redirect them to a more appropriate activity
  • provide alternative sensory activites, eg water play, finger painting, etc
  • give your child lots of positive attention for doing a more appropriate activity
  • give them a sweet or something to suck to keep their mouth busy
  • make sure they understand what is expected and redirect them to a visual timetable.

Hair pulling

Possible reasons:

  • seeking out a reaction from an adult
  • looking for attention
  • having difficulty meeting new and unfamiliar people
  • seeking out or avoiding a sensory input, eg the smell of the person or the noises they make.

Suggested strategies:

  • tie long hair back
  • avoid giving your child a reaction
  • do not talk to them
  • do not make eye contact
  • distract them by, eg, tickling them or giving positive reinforcement
  • redirect them to a more appropriate activity
  • prepare your child when introducing them to unfamiliar people
  • give opportunities to satisfy the pulling sensation they may enjoy, eg ‘row your boat’ game, tug of war, climbing up a rope, etc.


Possible reasons:

  • looking for attention
  • seeking out sensory input to the mouth
  • frustration at not being able to communicate something that is causing distress and to get it to stop, or struggling to get needs met
  • reacting to something going on in the environment, eg too much noise
  • pain in the mouth or teeth.

Suggested strategies:

  • rule out any medical or dental reasons for the biting
  • improve communication: “(Child’s name), no biting”
  • use PECS and visual supports – use a ‘no biting’ symbol and a picture symbol showing what to do instead of biting
  • increase structured activities
  • reduce noise levels or other sensory stimuli that your child could find upsetting
  • provide alternative things to bite, eg chewy tubes (see our ‘Biting’ information sheet)
  • look at anger/emotions management and create opportunities for your child to relax
  • redirect them to a more appropriate activity
  • reward appropriate behaviour, eg “(Child’s name), that’s good sharing with your sister”, and give a reward as soon as you see appropriate behaviour, to encourage it to continue.


Possible reasons:

  • not understanding which items are edible and inedible
  • seeking out sensory input – the texture or the taste of the item
  • relieving anxiety or stress
  • seeking attention
  • getting out of doing something.

Suggested strategies:

  • replace the inappropriate item with an appropriate alternative of a similar texture, eg a crunchy carrot stick if your child chews on things like stones or sticks
  • provide other forms of stimulation for the mouth, eg chewy tubes, popcorn, chewing gum, etc
  • set up a sorting activity for your child to sort edible and inedible items
  • take your child to the GP to rule out any medical problems or pain in the mouth 
  • consider any vitamin or mineral deficiencies
  • reward your child for putting edible items in their mouth
  • use PECS to encourage your child to put appropriate items in their mouth and reward them
  • increase the amount of structured activities your child does and distract and divert their attention.

These are just a few examples of behaviours that can be challenging. You can find more examples in our list of frequently asked questions about behaviour.


Although these kinds of behaviours can be extremely challenging, it is really important to try and keep as calm as possible so that your child is unable to ‘feed’ off your reaction. It is also important to be consistent in your approach and for the other adults around to use the same consistent approach, so that your child does not get mixed messages and can be really clear about what is expected.


By reducing language, your child is less likely to feel overloaded by information and more likely to be able to process what you say. Children with an ASD are often strong visual learners and can have difficulties with short-term memory. It can be very effective to back up what you are saying to your child with visual supports, which consolidate what you say and to help your child really understand the information.


Using rewards and motivators can help to persuade your child finish a task that they do not want to do, or to encourage a particular behaviour. Even if the behaviour or task is very short, eg one minute, if it is followed by lots of praise and a reward, the child learns what behaviour is acceptable. But if the undesirable behaviour is met with a lack of attention and redirection, it is likely to stop.


It can be helpful to build in opportunities for children (and parents!) to relax each day. You can do this by, for example, looking at bubble lamps, smelling essential oils, listening to music, massages, swinging on a swing or whatever you can find that seems to help your child relax. Challenging behaviour can often be diffused by an activity that releases energy or pent-up anger or anxiety. This might be punching a punch bag, bouncing on a trampoline or running around the garden, which you can make into a chase game.

Support in the USA through the Autism Society  there you can ask questions and find out more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments of autism.

Many people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty processing everyday sensory information such as sounds, sights and smells. This is usually called having sensory integration difficulties, or sensory sensitivity. It can have a profound effect on a person's life.
Here, we look at:
  • how our senses work
  • the seven senses in detail
  • sensory difficulties that people with an ASD may experience
  • ways of dealing with sensory difficulties
  • professionals and resources that can help.

How our senses work

Our central nervous system (brain) processes all the sensory information we receive and helps us to organise, prioritise and understand the information. We then respond through thoughts, feelings, motor responses (behaviour) or a combination of these.
We have receptors all over our bodies that pick up sensory information, or 'stimuli'. Our hands and feet contain the most receptors. Most of the time, we process sensory information automatically, without needing to think about it much.
People with sensory integration difficulties - including many people with an ASD - have difficulty processing everyday sensory information.
People who struggle to deal with all this information are likely to become stressed or anxious, and possibly feel physical pain. This can result in challenging behaviour.
If I get sensory overload then I just shut down; you get what's known as's weird, like being tuned into 40 TV channels.

Our seven senses

We have seven senses: 
  • sight
  • sound
  • touch
  • taste
  • smell
  • balance ('vestibular')
  • body awareness ('proprioception').
People with an ASD can be over- or under-sensitive in any or all of these areas. You may hear this referred to as being 'hypersensitive' or 'hyposensitive'.

Sensory sensitivities


Situated in the retina of the eye and activated by light, our sight helps us to define objects, people, colours, contrast and spatial boundaries. People with an ASD may experience the following differences.
Hypo (under-sensitive)
  • Objects appear quite dark, or lose some of their features.
  • Central vision is blurred but peripheral vision quite sharp.
  • A central object is magnified but things on the periphery are blurred.
  • Poor depth perception – problems with throwing and catching; clumsiness.
Hyper (over-sensitive)
  • Distorted vision: objects and bright lights can appear to jump around.
  • Images may fragment.
  • Easier and more pleasurable to focus on a detail rather than the whole object.
She was Mrs Marek, a face upon which light danced maniacally, turning her into more of a cartoon than a human being. Welcome to Toon town…I'd like you to enter this torture chamber I call my kitchen and meet my wife who is a 3D cartoon. Gillingham, G. (1995), page 51


This is the most commonly recognised form of sensory impairment. Hearing impairments can affect someone's ability to communicate and possibly also their balance. People with an ASD may experience the following differences.
  • May only hear sounds in one ear, the other ear having only partial hearing or none at all.
  • May not acknowledge particular sounds.
  • Might enjoy crowded, noisy places or bang doors and objects.
  • Noise can be magnified and sounds become distorted and muddled.
  • Particularly sensitive to sound and can, for example hear conversations in the distance.
  • Inability to cut out sounds – notably background noise, which often leads to difficulties concentrating.
Do you hear noise in your head? It pounds and screeches. Like a train rumbling through your ears. Powell, J. (in Gillingham, G. 1995), page 41


Touch is important for social development. It helps us to assess the environment we are in (is an object hot or cold?) and react accordingly. It also allows us to feel pain. People with an ASD may experience the following differences.
  • Holds others tightly - needs to do so before there is a sensation of having applied any pressure.
  • Has a high pain threshold.
  • May self-harm.
  • Enjoys heavy objects (eg, weighted blankets) on top of them.
  • Touch can be painful and uncomfortable; people may not like to be touched and this can affect their relationships with others.
  • Dislikes having anything on hands or feet.
  • Difficulties brushing and washing hair because head is sensitive.
  • Only likes certain types of clothing or textures.
Every time I am touched it hurts; it feels like fire running through my body.  Gillingham, G. (1995), page 3


Chemical receptors in the tongue tell us about different tastes - sweet, sour, spicy and so on. People with an ASD may experience the following differences.
  • Likes very spicy foods.
  • Eats everything - soil, grass, Play-dough. This is known as pica.
  • Finds some flavours and foods too strong and overpowering because of very sensitive taste buds. Has a restricted diet.
  • Certain textures cause discomfort; some children will only eat smooth foods like mashed potatoes or ice-cream.


Chemical receptors in the nose tell us about smells in our immediate environment. Smell is the first sense we rely upon. People with an ASD may experience the following differences.
  • Some people have no sense of smell and fail to notice extreme odours (this can include their own body odour).
  • Some people may lick things to get a better sense of what they are.
  • Smells can be intense and overpowering. This can cause toileting problems.
  • Dislikes people with distinctive perfumes, shampoos, etc.
Smells like dogs, cats, deodorant and aftershave lotion are so strong to me I can't stand it, and perfume drives me nuts. Gillingham, G. (1995), page 60

Balance (vestibular)

Situated in the inner ear, our vestibular system helps us maintain our balance and posture, and understand where and how fast our bodies are moving. People with an ASD may experience the following differences.
  • A need to rock, swing or spin to get some sensory input.
  • Difficulties with activities like sport, where we need to control our movements. 
  • Difficulties stopping quickly or during an activity.
  • Car sickness.
  • Difficulties with activities where the head is not upright or feet are off the ground.

Body awareness (proprioception)

Situated in the muscles and joints, our body awareness system tells us where our bodies are in space, and how different body parts are moving. People with an ASD may experience the following differences.
  • Stands too close to others, because they cannot measure their proximity to other people and judge personal space.
  • Hard to navigate rooms and avoid obstructions.
  • May bump into people.
  • Difficulties with fine motor skills: manipulating small objects like buttons or shoe laces.
  • Moves whole body to look at something.


Synaesthesia is a rare condition which some people with an ASD experience. A sensory experience goes in through one system and out through another. So a person might hear a sound but experience it as a colour. In other words, they will 'hear' the colour blue.

Ways to help

Here are some ways you may be able to help a person with sensory sensitivity. Often, small changes to the environment can make a difference.
Three points to remember are:
  • be aware: look at the environment to see if it is creating difficulties for people with an ASD. Can you change anything?
  • be creative: think of some positive sensory experiences
  • be prepared: tell people with an ASD about possible sensory stimuli they may experience in different environments.

Ways to help: sight

Hypo (under-sensitive)
Hyper (over-sensitive)
  • Reduce fluorescent lighting - use deep-coloured light bulbs instead.
  • Wear sunglasses.
  • Create a workstation in the classroom: a space or desk with high walls or divides on both sides to block out visual distractions.
  • Use blackout curtains.

Ways to help: sound

  • Shut doors and windows to reduce external sounds.
  • Prepare a person before going to noisy or crowded places.
  • Wear ear plugs.
  • Listen to music.
  • Create a workstation.

Ways to help: touch

  • Use weighted blankets or sleeping bags.
  • Warn a person if you are about to touch him or her; always approach him or her from the front.
  • Remember that a hug may be painful rather than comforting.
  • Gradually introduce different textures - have a box of materials available.
  • Allow a person to complete activities themselves (eg, hair brushing and washing) so that they can do what is comfortable for them.

Ways to help: taste

Some people with an ASD are hyper- or hyposensitive to taste, and may limit themselves to bland foods or crave very strong-tasting food. We have not included any ways to help because as long as someone eats a bit of a varied diet, this isn't necessarily a problem. For more information about ASD and restricted diets however, visit

Ways to help: smell

  • Use strong-smelling products as rewards and to distract people from inappropriate strong-smelling stimuli (like faeces).
  • Use unscented detergents or shampoos, avoid wearing perfume, make the environment as fragrance-free as possible.

Ways to help: balance

  • Encourage activities that help to develop the vestibular system. For children this could include using rocking horses, swings, roundabouts and seesaws. For adults, try games like catching a ball or practise walking smoothly up steps or curbs.
  • Break down activities into small, more easily manageable steps; use visual cues such as a finish line.

Ways to help: body awareness

  • Position furniture around the edge of a room to make navigation easier.
  • Put coloured tape on the floor to indicate boundaries.
  • Use the 'arm's-length rule' to judge personal space. This means standing an arm's length away from other people.
  • Do 'fine motor' activities like lacing boards (available to buy online).

How sensory sensitivity affects behaviour

Sometimes, a person with an ASD may behave in a way that you wouldn't immediately link to sensory sensitivities - but they may be the underlying cause. Here are some examples of how a person’s behaviour may result from sensory sensitivities, and how you can help.
Problem: picky eater
  • Possible reasons: sensitive to taste or texture, or unable to feel food around the mouth.
  • Possible solutions: change the texture of food, for example purée it. Slowly introduce different textures around the person's mouth, such as a flannel, a toothbrush and some different foods. Encourage activities that involve the mouth, such as whistles or bubble wands.
Problem: chews on everything, including clothing and objects
  • Possible reasons: may find this relaxing, or enjoy the sensation of chewing on the item.
  • Possible solutions: offer latex-free tubes, straws or hard sweets (chill in the fridge).
Problem: smearing
  • Possible reasons: may like the texture of feces or not be very sensitive to smells.
  • Possible solutions: try and introduce things like jelly, or cornflour and water to handle instead; introduce alternative strong-smelling items.
Problem: refuses to wear certain clothes
  • Possible reasons: may dislike the texture or pressure of clothes on their skin.
  • Possible solutions: turn clothes inside out so there is no seam, remove any tags or labels, allow the person to wear clothes they're comfortable in.
Problem: difficulties getting to sleep
  • Possible reasons: may have difficulty shutting down their senses, in particular sight and hearing.
  • Possible solutions: use blackout curtains or weighted blankets; listen to music to cut out external sounds.
Problem: finds it difficult to concentrate in the classroom
  • Possible reasons: too many distractions like noise (talking, bells, chairs scraping the floor) or visual stimuli (people, pictures on the wall). May also find holding a pencil uncomfortable (it may feel hard or cold).
  • Possible solutions: position child away from doors and windows so there are fewer distractions. If possible use an individual workstation with some screens around it; or use classroom furniture to create a distraction-free area for the child. Try different textures to make the pencil more comfortable.

Professionals who can help

Occupational therapists design programmes and often make changes to the environment so that people with sensory difficulties can live as independently as possible.
Speech and language therapists often use sensory stimuli to encourage and support the development of language and interaction.
Music therapists use instruments and sounds to develop people's sensory systems, usually their auditory (hearing) systems.

Sensory rooms

Sensory rooms can help to stimulate, develop or balance people's sensory systems. Some specialist schools, local services and hospitals have them, as well as some nurseries. You may also come across sensory gardens. Some families create a sensory room in their house (or adapt a corner of a room, perhaps screening it off with a curtain).
Sensory rooms might include:
  • soothing music
  • vibrating cushions
  • fibre optics
  • mirror balls
  • bubble tubes
  • water beds
  • tactile walls
  • disco lights
  • projectors
  • equipment that is activated by switches, movement, sound or pressure so that people learn about cause and effect.
The reported benefits of sensory rooms come mainly from personal experiences and observations, as there is only a limited amount of research.

It is always best to consult a professional Occupational Therapist for help in these areas for advice and ongoing skills to use daily, there are great catalogs out there with equipment that is useful for sensory issues.
Griffin mostly uses the yoga ball for both calming and energizing himself in different positions and he jumps on the mini trampoline that my parents got for him years ago that he has really worn out, he loves to swim and dance when no one is looking. LOL!