Children With Autism – What You Need To Understand.

Children With Autism – What You Need To Understand.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a vast spectrum and presents itself in many ways. What can you learn when working with children with autism?

Children With Autism Are Complex

After entering the childcare industry over 6 years ago with very little knowledge or understanding the autism spectrum, it felt wrong that I had reached adulthood without possessing any concrete information about the very complex condition.

Six years later, I have gained a real awareness of how many children and their families are affected by Autism.

My first role involved caring for children and young people who were diagnosed to be on the ‘severe’ end of the spectrum. It was very hard to gain a perspective on what to expect. It was a real eye opener.  There I was, on day one – having my first real experience of seeing children who were rocking back and forth; flicking their fingers vigorously in front of their face; who would make strange noises at random moments; who would repeat words back to me.  It was a little unsettling at first, because I did not know how to communicate with these wonderful people, and they did not know how to communicate with me. If it was puzzling for me, it was 100 times more puzzling for them.

Understanding & Communication Is Key

To be able to communicate with children on the spectrum, you first need to be able to understand them. I needed to figure out why they covered their eyes with a blanket; or why they touched every object they passed. Imagine standing back-to-back with someone you know, and then getting them to draw an every-day object without saying what it is. This will give you perspective of how crucial it is to be able to communicate. There are other ways to communicate of course: Finding alternative words to use and using other senses.

To the uninformed person, covering your eyes could be portrayed as rude. For children with autism they may cover their eyes because there is too much going on around them to be able to process or cope with. They may be close to breaking point, therefore an ability to shut out their often-extreme senses is a necessity, and a coping mechanism in avoiding potentially challenging behaviour.

Be Realistic

When a child or young person reached a tipping point in being unable to control their emotions, it was hard for me to witness because I had never been in a position to see it before. Their behaviour can be manifested in many ways – and were usually random and totally out of the blue. Why? I often questioned whether I had caused it. They were fine a minute previously. Yes, they may have been seemingly fine, but children with autism have a proverbial jug inside their heads. Everyday occurrences we all take for granted can take longer to process – which can consume huge inner effort and resources. If this jug fills up and spills out – their ability to function decreases. Jugs could spill at any time. And I needed to understand this.

Nothing Beats Experience

Workshops and reading books on the subject are great, but I learnt 90% about autism by being with the children daily. It is about observing, playing, chatting and laughing together.  This approach has been invaluable in increasing my understanding.  In-turn, it helped me provide the children with the best possible care and attention they needed. With the combination of ‘on-the-job’ experience, self-research and professional development, it became a lot easier to understand children with autism and the challenges they, and their families face.

Its The Simple Things That Count

For children with autism, it is important to remember the small things because this is what they may need for their ‘jug’ to reduce. Simple things, like remembering they may need extra time to process everyday events we all take for granted – such as a request to tidy up the toys. This may take 30 extra seconds to process and therefore action, than somebody not on the spectrum. It may even take an hour. The important thing is to not bombard them with too many instructions all at once. They require patience from others for an effective two-way communication channel to exist.

Children With Autism Can Provide You With Priceless Moments

Entering their world is joyous and challenging at the same time. The awareness of the spectrum disorder as a whole is slowly gaining the attention it deserves thanks to the great work that charities such as Child Autism UK does. Just being able to connect with children with autism and having a little say in developing the lives is priceless.

Sleep Deprivation – The Curse of New Parenthood

Sleep Deprivation – The Curse of New Parenthood

Becoming parents means getting used to sleepless nights and an overwhelming sense of tiredness. Putting in place some sleep deprivation strategies can help.


Sleep Deprivation With One Misplaced Footstep

The floorboards creaked, and I could have cried. Rookie error on my part and I was about to pay – big time. The room, which had been silent for around 45 minutes, was suddenly filled with wracking sobs. They weren’t mine.

My 2-year-old daughter went from a sleeping, angelic vision to a howling, whaling banshee with my one misplaced footstep. Game over! I picked her up and started the whole routine again. It took another 30 minutes for me to get my sorry self out of the room and downstairs. Of course, by that point, I felt exhausted. I stared at the pile of washing, my newborn baby in his moses basket, the dirty baby bottles that needed washing and sterilising and tears began rolling down my face. I felt a little bit broken, and I hadn’t even started my inevitable sleepless night with the baby.

A ‘Sixth Sense’ And The Sleep Deprivation Continues

She had given up drinking milk from the bottle at 6-months-old, so we had to make up baby porridge with formula – hardly as comforting as a bottle and not as conducive to dropping off to sleep quickly. I’d gotten into the habit of holding her hand as she laid in her cot and I don’t know how she knew, but every time I made for the door, she would wake up. It’s ok when you’ve only got one. It’s horrendous when you’ve got two and not comfortable doing it while sitting on the floor with a newborn in your arms either! However, when she finally slept through me creeping out of her room, she slept through the night and for that I was grateful.

Sleep Deprivation Is Tough And Unavoidable

We continued, and it was something that remained that way until she was well over 3-years-old. By the time the new baby was two, I had it nailed and was able to sleep through too. But those first four years were tough. Utterly exhausting. My carefree twenties seemed a million years behind me, and I often felt like a former version of myself. It’s well known that sleep deprivation is bad for your health, and typical effects include feeling bad-tempered, moody, sometimes depressed and unable to cope.

Ask any new parent how they are and within the first two minutes of conversation you will nearly always hear the words “I’m exhausted” (or a variant of, such as knackered, shattered, done-in, tired all the time etc.). New babies, toddlers and sleep do not go together, and thus, all parents have to find coping strategies and sleeping tips to deal with the total exhaustion that hits us all.

How To Cope With Sleep Deprivation 

Coping strategies that have helped many new mums and dads include:

  • Getting to bed as early as you can
  • Indulging in self-care where possible (hot baths, proper food)
  • Napping. Whenever possible
  • Drinking coffee to keep you going but also drinking loads of water if you’re breastfeeding
  • Exercising. General advice says to exercise, but I don’t know how anyone can realistically fit this in in the early days
  • Cutting out all non-essential tasks like cleaning the windows and sorting out the Tupperware drawer
  • Asking for help and accepting it when offered.

Always A Heated Debate, But I Decided To Co-Sleep

And the big question; do you let your baby sleep with you? The NHS advice is not to co-sleep, and they have some excellent tips here to help you find ways to get your baby to sleep. I have to admit that when I had my third and fourth babies (and only 16 months apart), I co-slept because otherwise none us would have slept and it was the only way we felt we could cope with the sleep deprivation. The plus side of co-sleeping is that everyone gets the rest they need, and the bonding is fantastic. The downside is they want milk much more often, you never have sex anymore, and they might well be in there for years! It is essential to research the facts about SIDS (Sudden Death Infant Syndrome) before you do make any co-sleeping decisions.

Ignore Opinions And Do What Feels Comfortable For You

Becoming new parents means getting used to sleepless nights and an overwhelming tiredness that is unlike any other.   Sleep deprivation needs proactive management, so take the best care of yourself you can and focus on the well-being of you and your baby. There’s nothing wrong with hand-holding your baby to sleep or letting them fall asleep on you if it means that you all get a great night’s sleep afterwards. Do what feels comfortable for you, for you know your needs and those of your baby the best.

Asking For Help, Is Not a Sign Of Weakness

If it all gets too much, ask for help. Family, friends, doctors and health visitors should all respond positively to help you. It is what they are there for.

Stay At Home Dads: How To Become Less Isolated

Stay At Home Dads: How To Become Less Isolated

Being a stay at home dad can be a lonely place. You may not interact with another adult all day – how can you begin to alleviate isolation?

Bonds Are Formed

Being at home and present for your children is hugely beneficial for both parent and child. For the children it increases their bond with their main caregiver; it gives them a sense of security, routine and familiarity to be able to flourish. For the parent it also aids in their bonding and re-enforces the importance of the responsibility you have in raising a child. After-all, the first few years of a child’s life can shape their future. It is where brain connections are formed, secure relationships are created, and their personality evolves.

Where Are All The Other Stay At Home Dads?

But being a stay at home dad can be a lonely place at times. Especially for a dad, as there are far fewer of them around. Most organised get-togethers and parent groups are attended predominantly by females. A dad can often feel out of place by this and may not even bother trying them out. And isolation can therefore increase.

Its Probably In Your Head, So Give It A Go

Female dominant groups should not be a threat as we are all parents. But there may be an underlying feeling amongst dad’s that these groups are a space for mums. And any dad who attends may be perceived by him as a token or a surprise. In my experience, this is not true. Yes, baby groups are very female orientated and clear cliques are formed amongst groups, but I never felt I was being watched or judged as a dad attending these fun-filled sessions with my daughter. You need to be brave and take the plunge in giving them a go.

Some Options For Stay At Home Dads

Getting involved in your community
This depends on your personality, but if you are an outgoing type of person, you may wish to get involved with your local church. Activities and events include breakfast mornings with your kids, fun-days and family events such as Messy Church – where families are welcome to attend church…to get messy! Give your local sing-a-long group a go. Once you get over the initial embarrassment of singing, ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ amongst strangers, you may be surprised at how much you (and your baby of course) enjoy it. You get out what you put in. If you don’t make the effort with other parents when attending, they will more than likely ignore you also. It is all about being confident in yourself and making that first move. Baby and toddler groups are not everyone’s cup of tea, granted, and some are soulless, but with the correct research you may be able to find the right one to suit you. (and your child).
Children and Family Centre
Find your local centre to research what they can offer you as a stay at home dad. All offer something uniquely different – if it is just a simple space to be amongst adults chatting and watching their kids play freely, then try it out. All it takes is to strike up one conversation and your isolation may begin to diminish.  Who knows you may find other lonely dads in the same position as yourself. Sensory rooms are a fantastic alternative. These are usually hired out for the hour with other parents and can be a great place for your child to be introduced to their senses. All the while you are surrounded by like-minded parents.
Friends who are dads
Being a stay at home dad, you will have quickly realised that you will be few and far between – especially within your own network of friends. Do any of your current dad friends work shifts — meaning they are potentially available with their children during the week? Give them a call and meet up.
Meet your partner at work for lunch
Having a breadwinner and a stay at home parent can inevitably cause some tension in your own relationship. You may be passing ships in the night or may simply not have as many meaningful moments together as you once did. If your partner works reasonably close to your home, arrange to meet during their lunch break. Not only will it put a smile on you and your kid’s face, but it may make your partners day. Before you know it, other partners are doing the same and you have a regular meet-up at lunch times!
Research and join a dad network group
Sometimes stay at home dads just want to be around other dads to talk about man stuff. More and more groups are out there which aim to bring lonely dad’s together. Even if it is just initially online network building, this can lead on to organised meetups. These can be times when you can all chat and discuss the trials and tribulations of fatherhood; perhaps let off a little steam, or maybe just somewhere you can be to make new friends.

Fatherhood – 4 lighthearted changes when becoming a father

Fatherhood – 4 lighthearted changes when becoming a father

Fatherhood Aha. Where do we begin with this little life-changer, eh? Is your first baby arriving imminently, and you are feeling a tad apprehensive about becoming a father?

So, your first child is approaching faster than your brain can process, correct? Are you sweating a little? Anxious at the thought of suddenly becoming responsible for a helpless, tiny version of yourself? Don’t fret. You will be fine. I promise.

Well, firstly you will be correct in feeling these things. This is perfectly normal. Remember fatherhood, this is a life changing event and one of which is your prime responsibility. Kind of like the responsibility you had as a kid when you were left in charge of the pet rabbit whilst your mum popped to the shops for milk.

Sleep Is A Thing Of The Past

If this is important to you, please book yourself on to a retreat and sleep for the three months leading up to the birth. Non-stop. Please don’t, your unborn baby and partner will need you.

“But I love my sleep”. I hear you say. Let’s begin with the bad news. Unfortunately, sleep is the one single thing I can promise you to say goodbye to after you become a father. I can’t sit here and tell you that you will sleep eight hours per night, in a blissful scented utopia of your bedroom, without disruption. Nope. It is not going to happen I’m afraid. As soon as your baby enters the world, its own internal body clock will be all over the place. It needs to re-adjust to life outside the womb. So, expect the first few nights of fatherhood to be a complete washout for you and your partner as you try and align the baby’s sleeping pattern with your own. Once this has been established, the baby will still disrupt your sleep as they will need feeding through the night. In Layman’s terms. YOU. WILL. NOT. SLEEP. MUCH.

Fatherhood Changes Your Sense Of Smell

This is a real eye opener. Or nose opener. Depending on which way you look at it I suppose. There will be a time during early fatherhood where you are greeted with your first soiled nappy to deal with. When you do, your nose (and eyes) will undergo a sudden biological transformation. You will have been introduced to sights and smells you thought only existed in hell. Trust me. These soiled nappies can end entire civilizations.

The Social Life Of A Father

Yes, this will take a hit. It is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean you can never spend any time with friends or family ever again. Just not immediately after the birth. Once things have calmed down, you will be both deserving of a little break to catch your breath. Just don’t expect to be in a Las Vegas casino with your mates for a wee while yet.

Wearing The Same Socks Twice

If you are a male who takes pride in their appearance, this could cause you to hyper-ventilate a little. There will be a lot of washing. I mean lots. But you may find there isn’t enough room in the washing machine for your pants and socks just yet. You may have to wear them again I’m afraid. But don’t worry, your baby’s nappy needs changing again, so you better focus on that for now.

Yes, fatherhood changes things. In-fact your whole life is about to change. But as overwhelming as it may seem, think of it as your life as evolving. You are entering your next chapter becoming a father. It could be the best yet! And you may decide you want a second one.

Family Holiday – Here’s Four Alternative Ideas

Family Holiday – Here’s Four Alternative Ideas

We live in an era where we like to go against the grain by trying new things and experiences. Going on holiday with kids is no different.


Depending on your age as a parent, you will have experienced varying holidays with your own parents. Maybe you ventured to the west country packed to the rafters with suitcases on the roof of your dad’s hatchback. Or maybe your family holiday took you further afield to far-flung places to experience different cultures. And everything in-between. But what about today as a parent? What alternatives are there to driving to Cornwall or spending two weeks at Disney World before the kids return to school?  Here’s four alternative ideas for your family to consider:

A Family Holiday Glamping In A Yurt? What’s A Yurt I Hear You Say

Glamping has increased tremendously over the past decade or so. Search the web and you will find countless farms and companies offering a chance to spend your holiday half-way between camping and a boutique hotel. A Yurt provides a fantastic alternative to a traditional tent. It will give you the sense of being out in the open countryside but with an ability to enjoy all your every-day modern essentials to ease the potential stress. Most will offer heating and facilities matching basic hotel standard, so you will be in good hands.

Camping at a Family festival

Glamping is great, but there is nothing quite like traditional camping where your hard work is paid off with unparalleled views of the stars whilst all snug in your sleeping bag. Festivals are popping-up around the country more than ever, and some of the big ones are offering camping options for you and your little ones. Imagine setting up camp and then strolling together hand-in-hand to watch some of your favourite music in the safety of being in a family-friendly setting? Family festivals will have music, activities and food to suit everyone on your family holiday – including the fussy eaters of our children. For an upgrade some festivals will provide you with ‘posh’ toilets to add to the glam!  Here is one to look out for in 2020 by Just So Festival.

Hiring a campervan

Here’s where the fun really starts. As an alternative idea, forget your car this year. Why not search one of the leading vehicle hire companies like Just Go UK, and treat you and your family to a campervan for a week or so. Imagine, just rocking along to all your favourite tunes (including the annoying nursey rhymes), and just pulling up where you wished on your family holiday. You don’t even need a full strict itinerary to follow. Just pitch up at a suitable camp and ask whether there is space for one more rock ‘n’ roll family. The sense of freedom being together on one fun-filled family adventure will provide you all with truly priceless memories – even if the British rain strikes!

Test flight to the Channel Islands

You may have small children or nervous older ones who have never flown before. You as a parent may be feeling apprehensive about flying with your kids to Europe and beyond. It may be a great idea to test them out on a shorter flight to the Channel Islands as an alternative idea and use it as a stepping-stone for future adventures. After all, you can get to Jersey in under an hour from anywhere in the UK. Maybe book a hotel for a few nights and tour around the islands– or, for an unorthodox approach – how about flying to the island and then hopping on the next flight back? Either way, experiencing your first flight to a beautiful domestic destination is a great option to consider. Happy searching!