Five Surprising Skills Autistic Children May Struggle With (and tips to help them)

Even before my children were diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum I could see that they were struggling with certain things. The truth of the matter is we all struggle with different things in life and we all have strengths and weaknesses.

When I researched autism I could see so many of the difficulties my children had fitted with the diagnosis like not giving eye contact, not responding to their names, having repetitive play or movements, struggling with communication (speech in particular), and not understanding the play and actions of their peers. However some of the things they struggled with seemed initially to be unrelated to autism but are in fact much more common among those on the spectrum than those who are not. The following everyday skills are not part of the criteria for autism and neither are they things that every child with autism will struggle with but if you have a child on the spectrum you may relate to some of these struggles with your child too.

1. Blowing their nose.

Over the years on autism support groups (online and in person), this seems to be a common struggle for many children on the spectrum. There seem to be a number of reasons why this skill can be hard to learn including understanding the concept, sensory issues and developmental delays. My twins are now 9 and still neither of them understand or have the ability to blow their own noses! For my son the whole ability to understand and follow instructions is a huge struggle and for his sister it’s much more sensory and developmental.

Some tips for helping your child (preferably when they don’t actually need to blow their nose so they can avoid the added grossness of snot!) develop this skill are:

* Using a straw to practice blowing so they understand the terminology,

* Encouraging blowing from the nose gently with the mouth closed.

* Making nasal sounds like ‘Choo’ from the nose rather than the mouth.

* Use a smell that could endure sneezing such as pepper (though always do this under very close supervision)

2. Tying Shoelaces.

It should be noted this skill is not usually developed by any child until around the age of 7 or 8 though for children on the autism spectrum is is often much later. This is due to so many factors such as fine motor control difficulties, sequencing difficulties, co-ordination difficulties and sensory issues involved in pulling the laces tight enough.

If your child is struggling with this don’t panic. Here are a few tips to help:

* Try showing them from behind them as showing on your own shoes will actually be a mirror image of what the child needs to do and this could cause the child to become confused.

* Use visuals to follow showing what the laces look like throughout the process therefore breaking down the language issue and sequencing difficulties.

* Watch YouTube videos of different ways to tie as there may be a way that makes it much easier for your child to grasp independently.

* Invest in self trying laces or elastic laces so that tying isn’t necessary.

* Buy shoes with Velcro or other type fastenings to avoid the need for shoelaces altogether.

3. Hand Writing.

Not every child with autism will struggle to have legible and neat handwriting. My daughter is a perfectionist and her handwriting reflects this, but for many children it is a huge struggle. Some of the reasons for this are lack of motivation, fine motor difficulties, sensory issues with holding writing utensils, processing speed and sometimes other learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Some ways you can help your autistic child with this include:

*Use technology to help but having apps that include letter formation and encourage the child to use a stylus in the same way they would use a pencil or pen.

* Make it fun by playing games or drawing pictures to take the pressure off the child.

* Allow the child to type instead of using handwriting for some tasks so as not to inhibit their creative expression too much by taking the onus off the physical ability to write and onto the actual content. (As adults how often do we actually hand write now?)

* Experiment with different media and materials such as pens, crayons, or paint, to help bypass any sensory issues.

* Stay encouraging! While handwriting is a skill we all need it is less essential than ever for future employability these days.

4. Continence related issues.

Many children struggle silently with continence related issues and many parents are embarrassed to talk about things like bed wetting. While some children, both autistic and neuro-typical, may sail through potty training many will struggle. It is ‘normal’ for many children on the spectrum to have a delay of some sort in this area either by not being developmentally ready in line with their peers, having huge anxiety about one or several areas of the task, having sensory issues around bathrooms or underwear, or struggling with the social awareness of it all. Don’t panic if your child is one of those struggling and don’t feel you are alone. Here are some ideas that may help, though if you feel there could be any underlying medical issues or if something has recently changed with toilet training in any way do seek medical support.

*Try using visual schedules outlining the stages involved in the skill from understanding the need, sitting on the toilet, cleaning up and pulling clothing back up. It may take much longer for someone on the spectrum to sequence naturally so be patient.

* Eliminate any obvious sensory issues or barriers by having something for the child’s feet to rest on while on the toilet so they don’t feel they will fall, empty any smelly bins, having the room calm and tidy and if using a public toilet try and find one without noisy hand dryers if this is a trigger.

* Go often and make trips more routine rather than waiting until urgent. Many children on the spectrum thrive with routine so having regular routine visits can take away stress.

* If your child is socially nervous having a card or code they can use to be excused from school lessons to go could make things easier than having to get the teacher’s attention and communicate the need verbally, all of which can be immensely stressful for some autistics.

* Don’t expect a smooth ride! Change in routine, high anxiety, family change in circumstances and even hormone changes can affect toilet training so much.

* Be respectful always. Don’t laugh at accidents or mention struggles in this area with your child as it could damage their self esteem.

5. Sleep.

No-one told me my son’s severe difficulties with sleep could in any way be related to his autism! A quick google or chat to parents of autistic children and it isvery obvious just how common sleep issues are for anyone with autism. These issues range from inability to settle to sleep, inability to stay asleep or inability to get back over to sleep therefore waking extremely early. Sleep is vital for our mental and physical health and lack of it can have significant effects such as memory loss, fatigue, ill health, poor diet, inability to focus, irritability, mood swings and weight gain. There are a number of key reasons why it is thought autistic children and adults find sleep a struggle and these include anxiety, sensory issues (around clothing, bedding, lights and noise), hormone issues, lack of time awareness and different bodily needs. My son can function very well on four or five hours sleep for example while I can’t!

Some ideas to help your child with sleep:

*Having a clear routine to help establish time and expectations.

* Using visuals such as a grow clock or nightlights.

* Physical and environmental factors such as black out blinds and toy free bedrooms to remove distractions.

* Background noise such a while noise (hoovers/fridges/freezers etc) which can be calming for some or perhaps quiet, peaceful music.

* Technology free time before bed to avoid stimulating the mind too much prior to sleeping.

* Some parents choose to use natural products like lavender oil or prescription medication from paediatric doctors such as melatonin.

These are just five things I was surprised my autistic children struggle with and I could have picked so many others like riding a bike, regulating their body temperature, and even dressing themselves.

Don’t underestimate your child though. If there is one thing my children have taught me about autism it is this: they may struggle in some areas but they excel in others and they bring me untold joy daily.

Have you related to any of this? Feel free to share!

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A Nine Year Old’s Letter To Her Disabled Brother

Dear Isaac,

I know you can’t ever read this but maybe one day I will read it to you. Maybe one day you will understand.

Tonight when you moaned and screamed when I was trying to watch a video you made me grumpy. I still love you even when I got mad at you and I am secretly glad you are well enough to scream and moan now.

The last two days I have watched you have lots of seizures and I have been so worried about you. I worry you might go to hospital or you might faint. When you have lots of seizures I don’t like going to school or leaving you. I call your name to try and wake you up. I prefer you wide awake and acting normal. I miss your screaming and being noisy when you have seizures. It’s like you are there but not there. You scare me but I still love you. I pray God will stop your seizures soon because I want you better.

One time I counted you had at least 7 naps in one day. I played card games with mum and dad and still you didn’t wake up. That made me sad. I missed you that day so much.

When you have a bath I really want to play with you and have fun but just as I start to have fun with you you push me away and makes me cry. Why do you do that? I wish you could talk to me and tell me. I would understand. I love you.

I love going on trains with you and going to the park. You are always happy in those places. I know you love me pushing the roundabout for you. I like seeing you on the swing too because I got you that swing for you, though I know you will never understand that. I did it because I don’t think life is fair to you and its better when you are happy. When you are happy I am happy too.

You keep me awake with his noises at night and wake me up early. I forgive you. Always.

You kill my fish by feeding them. Feeding fish is good Isaac but maybe not with talcum powder, toothpaste, trains and bubble bath! You do lots of naughty things like use felt pens on the armchairs, tipping bins, pulling pictures off walls, wandering away, and you always have to be first in the house. You make mummy and daddy sad but I want to tell you it’s ok. We all forgive you. We all love you. Sometimes we might be mad but we always forgive. We know you don’t mean it, though I have some baby fish now so it would be good if you just let ME feed them. Would that be ok?

Sometimes you get more attention. Mum is always bathing you because you scream and throw things if she doesn’t. You always want to go out even if I don’t want to and it sometimes feels like you always get your own way. It’s not really fair but I still love you.

You can scream very loudly. You hit me all the time. Please can you be gentle? Until them I will be patient while you learn.

There are things you can’t do. You can’t talk or write or read. I know you can’t read this but maybe you will understand if I read it to you. Maybe.

You can play just in a bit of an awkward way like tipping things on the floor or eating teddies. You only sometimes cuddle me but that’s ok.

You can be funny though. You try to push the roundabout AND get in it at the same time! You throw your fork away when you have finished eating because you forget we can wash them. You put your fork in-between your toes and then pick up food with your fingers. That’s clever and funny. You put your iPad behind your bed and think it will magically charge there. You chew charging leads and then wonder why they don’t work anymore. You make me smile and I really love you.

You never walk to school because it’s 14 miles away. You get star of the week more than me because there are less children in your class. That’s unfair! You get it for silly things too. But you never have show and tell. That would be funny because you can’t tell anything anyway. That must be hard because I know you want to say so much.

You are always on google maps. I think that’s amazing and clever. Some people don’t think you are smart but you are.

You never get to be secret student like me. My school is doing secret student now and I was secret student today in my class. When I was chosen I thought of you. Would you know what that is? The more I get bigger the more I wonder about things that you might never do or understand. You know what though, I think they chose me deliberately because I was having a bad day. I went to school crying today because you had some of those seizure things again and I want to make sure you are ok. I can’t be a good sister if I am at school can I? I’m sorry I left you.

My friends don’t understand what it’s like having a brother like you.

Sometimes I don’t want them to even know about you. I worry they would say nasty things about you because you are different or say nasty things about me. My best friend knows about you though. She worries that you may hit me but I don’t like her questioning things about you. It’s hard to explain about you because you are just, well, you are just very special and sometimes precious things are best kept secret. Is that ok?

Sometimes I love you Isaac. Sometimes I hate you. It’s hard having a brother like you but it’s also easy having a brother like you. It’s hard to live with you but its easy to love you. Really easy.

You are my friend sometimes and a bully other times. I wish we could be friends more. I am going to try and help you do that.

You teach me how to be patient and that it’s ok to be different.

I want to be there for you when you are bigger. I want mummy to teach me to care for you. Please let me do that will you?

Please try and keep learning. I believe in you. I will teach you. I can do dividing with remainders now and everything! But what I am most happy about doing is making you smile.

You are the best brother in the world even when you make me cry. I know I make you cry too.

You help me. I help you. How does that sound?

If you can’t say yes just sign it please.

It’s ok because I understand.

With love,

your sister Naomi

Why I will no longer say I hate summer holidays…even though I do!


My husband and I were having cross words again. Extreme lack of sleep, hardly getting time to eat and a house that looks like a toy shop was burgled, added to constantly demanding children and it was no wonder we were fractious.

 
Summer holidays are so hard.

In fact part of me actually hates them. 

We need a break”

“I just want the house to be clean and some time alone!”

“I hate the summer holidays”

 
They heard us.

 
I just unwittingly and unfortunately stabbed my child in the heart with my words. 

 
Silence.

 
We made ourselves a coffee and regrouped. Stress affects everyone and this summer has been particular stressful for my family. My autistic son has really struggled to adapt to change but once he realised there was no school he assumed every single day would be simply about what he wanted. When that does not happen he screams for hours (he has complex needs and is non verbal so none of this is his fault)

 
I made the kids (yet another) snack and we all calmed down.

 
Then a little tender voice broke the silence:

 
Mum, it’s ok. I will go back to school and just stay there. Please don’t collect me at home time because I want you to be happy”

 
And then she cried. Deep sadness overtook her and I held her as the pain of my earlier careless words wrecked havoc in her mind and her heart.

 
I do hate the school holidays. I hate them even more now.

 
Parents, like all adults, need to be able to express their emotions. They get stressed and tired and we really are just humans at the end of the day.

 
But I don’t hate my children. In fact I love them and enjoy being with them more than anything else. 

 
What I hate about the holidays is this:
I hate that holiday companies are allowed to ridiculously inflate their prices in school holidays preventing so many from getting away.

I hate that family attractions cost so much that they are out of reach for many.

I hate that everyday tasks like shopping are so much more stressful because children want to do fun things and get bored at everyday mundanity.

I hate that my children see parts of me they shouldn’t because the constant 24/7 means I can’t rest or eat without them.

I hate how isolated and alone my family becomes due to having a child with complex needs.

 
But despite all this I will never ever say again in front of my child that I hate the summer holidays.

 
She does not need to hear this.

Her mental health is of far greater value than my need to vent. 

 
Children hear us. What are they hearing when we say we hate summer holidays? They are hearing we hate spending time with them. They hear they are not wanted and they are an inconvenience to mum and dad. They hear that they are the cause of stress. They hear that they are making their parents sad. They hear we hate them.

 
So from today onwards I may vent in adult only places such as social media, I may text privately a friend to moan, I may even write my stress down BUT I will no longer utter those words again when my child can hear.
I love her way too much for that.

 
She is the reason I will never say again publicly that I hate summer holidays, even though I do. 

 
Something to think about perhaps?

Let them play

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Let them play!

My heart is happy. My son is sitting on the living room floor with a large canvas bag and a pile of teddies. He fills the bag full of teddies, takes them out one by one and then refills the bag once again. It may seem very different to what other seven year old boys do but he is playing.

So I let him play.

Sometimes I get right down on that floor beside him and name those teddies. ‘This is Elmo’ and ‘This one is a panda’ and so on. I almost feel pressured to turn his play into a learning experience or a speech and language therapy session. When your child has significant disabilities and delays the pressure to use anything to ‘bring them on’ is overwhelming. But sometimes they just need to be children. Sometimes we need to allow them to explore and learn and enjoy being in their own world.

So let them play.

When the weather is more favourable we like to go to parks. Sometimes we walk about, or have a swing or venture down a little slide. I have to be so careful that any places are fully enclosed and have equipment that can take the weight of an older child still using frames build for younger, much lighter, children. But mostly our biggest problems is the general public who see my child licking the equipment, or flapping or running around in circles and they mock. And while he knows no different, I do. So he loves the baby swings, so what? He takes a whole lot longer than other just to climb up a few steps and manoeuvre his body down a slide. So what? He is enjoying the park, the fresh air, and learning from others.

He is playing.

I can’t let him be in the garden alone. He can’t join a football team or a drama club. He can barely balance enough to run never mind ice skate or dance. But boy does he love a good tickle! Or some rough and tumble play on the bed. He loves nursery rhymes with actions even if he can’t do any of them himself yet. He loves stories and videos and Peppa Pig. He loves sensory activities like lights and repeating sounds. He likes buttons to press, tummies to squeeze, toys that pour out and anything with water. His toy collection is all things for under three year olds. I am totally fine with that because they make him happy.

And they enable him to play.

We haven’t reached the imaginative play stage yet. Or the social play. He can’t read or write or even speak. He can’t kick a ball or throw and catch. Cars are just something he puts in his mouth to chew on. But fill a ball pull full of toy plastic food and he will sit there for ages exploring, looking and rummaging. He loves his iPad. He loves a DVD player. But most of all he loves his mummy.

So before he gets bored of those teddies I am off to play with him. It is one of the most important and most beautiful things a child can do.

However they do it…let them play!

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The day one of my neighbours became an angel to my seven year old.

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I wish I had the faith of my seven year old. When she prays incredible things happen time and time again.

My daughter is so special but so fragile. God has his hand on her in a very special way. Naomi has autism. She has huge anxiety and her twin brother has a genetic condition with complex needs as well as autism. To help ease her anxieties she carries little toys with her wherever she goes, including going to school.

A week ago today her twin brother was due to go to hospital to have an ambulatory EEG machine fitted to monitor his seizure activity. Naomi was more anxious than usual that day and clung to her toys in her pocket as she walked to school.

I left her at school and headed up to hospital with her brother Isaac. It was traumatic for him and for us and we headed home with him all wired up. Naomi was collected from school by her gran as we were not going to be home in time.image

I came home to her in tears. One of her precious toys has been lost. She was distraught and I felt so helpless. I could not just go to a shop and replace it as her brother could not be left unattended and she knew this. Nothing could make things better and she cried in my arms. My heart was broken for her.

As she dried her tears and her breathing settled she quietly looked up at me and whispered

“It’s ok mummy. I have prayed. God will bring me back my toy.”

My thoughts turned to how I could make this happen. I did not want her heart to be disappointed but more importantly I did not want her faith to be shaken. I am her mum, but I can not be God. I looked into her beautiful blue eyes and saw her heart of faith.

“Naomi, you are right. I believe with you.”

And that was that. She had prayed.

As I continued to watch her brother closely we started homework with a total peace. She lined up her toys leaving an obvious gap where her missing one belonged. I knew she would not sleep tonight with that gap there but she just assured me God would bring her toy back.

She did her spelling and her reading with her heart of peace intact. She smiled, she laughed and she carried on as normal.

Then the door bell went.

Mummy, that is the Angel God has sent with my toy.”

Have you ever seen an angel? Do you think they have a halo, wings and dressed in white? My daughter knows differently. There on my doorstep stood a neighbour I only knew by sight.

“Hi, this may sound strange. On my way to work this morning I found a plastic toy on the ground. I picked it up and wondered if it belonged to your daughter. I don’t know you but I put it in my pocket and took it to work with me. I am on my way home now and just thought I would knock your door and ask if it belonged to you.image

My daughter danced with excitement. I cried.

I don’t know what my son faces but I know God is with us.
I don’t know how my daughter will cope with a future with autism, anxiety and living with a twin with complex needs but what I do know is that God has his hand upon her in a very special way.

God cares about a plastic toy for a seven year old and God cares about you.

I will never forget the day one of my neighbours became an angel to my seven year old.

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For the love of my child

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I will endure months of feeling sick and exhausted, and craving food combinations that are totally crazy just knowing it is because you are inside me.
I will face needles and tests and personal questions by strangers because you are changing my body in ways it has never been changed before.
I will research car seats and prams and clean areas of my house that haven’t seen a duster in years because I want to protect you.
I will endure pain on a level I never thought existed before for many hours on end just in order to give you life.
And when I first hold you all this will forever disappear from my memory because you are worth it.
For the love of my child.

I will repeatedly feed you, wind you, change you, and comfort you in a never ending cycle day and night because you need it.
I will exchange current pop music for lullabies, fashion heels for slippers and home cooked meals for a cold cup of coffee because I just want to be with you.
I will spend all night holding you while googling ‘help for colic’ or ‘cures for the teething baby’ because I only want the best for you.
I will cry when you say ‘mamma’ and video you when you take your first steps because I never knew what pride was until you came into my life.
For the love of my child

I will watch you with wonder, photograph you in the hope of remembering every last detail of your day, because I want to remember you.
I will measure medicine to the exact fraction of a millilitre, and cut grapes into tiny pieces to prevent you choking because you make me scared sometimes.
I will play make-believe games with you and talk to you like you are the most amazing person in the world because every moment with you is precious.
I will plan birthday surprises, take you to parks and splash in water at the pool with you because you make me smile everyday.
For the love of my child.

I will bubble on your first day of school and cheer you on at sports days because you are everything to me.
I will encourage you to do homework even when it is challenging for both of us because I want to teach you.
I will push you to go that bike or practice that dance recital because I believe in you.
I will nag you to brush teeth, wash your hair and be the best you can possibly be, because you are beautiful to me.
For the love of my child.

I will sometimes seem like your biggest enemy whilst always remaining your greatest ally, because we are too alike.
I will listen to your worries and hear the latest ins and outs of all your daily issues because I care deeply.
I will watch as you change from a toddler to a child to a teenager while it seemed like I was dozing because time passes far too quickly.
I will drive you places I would never go myself and buy you clothes that I have no idea what part of you they will cover because I respect your choices.
For the love of my child.

I will be overcome with emotion and pride at everything you achieve even if it seems trivial to you because my heart belongs to you.
I would spent my last penny on a new car for you or to see you through university because no sacrifice is too great for you.
I cover my walls in your photographs because my memory needs reminded so often of everything about you.
And even if I die I want the world to know that I lived my life and did it all
For the love of my child.

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Just imperfect parents raising imperfect children

I have a confession to make: I am not a perfect mum.image
I just needed to get that ‘out there’ without feeling a failure or weak. The truth is none of us are ‘perfect’ parents and none of our children are ‘perfect’ either. We are all muddling through as best we can. It’s just some of us are under more scrutiny than others.Most families get to raise their children with minimum involvement from others outside of their own family. I don’t have that luxury. And while I am grateful for everyone who supports us it also comes with huge pressure to ‘perform’ and ‘jump through hoops’ at times.
I left another multi-agency meeting this week in tears. While no-one actually came out with the line of ‘it’s the parent’s fault’, there is always a feeling of inadequacy that comes with having children who have ‘extra needs’. Sometimes it can feel like your best is just never enough.
So I just need to get this out:
I am not perfect and neither are my children.

My children throw tantrums often for the craziest of reasons, they have more screen time than they should, sometimes we are still in pyjamas at lunch time at the weekend. I sometimes let them sit right in front of the TV even though I know they shouldn’t, I help them get dressed some mornings for school just because it is quicker and easier, and I have even thought about doing homework for them because I just can’t face another battle (I said thought as not quite mastered the art of writing and spelling like a six year old).
My children have off days.
And so do I.
Just because my children have special needs does not make my family any different to any other. In fact we are probably more exhausted, more chaotic and busier than many other families.
We live in a glass house at times where teachers, social workers and therapists feel they can tell us where we are going wrong and what we have to do to help our children. Sometimes it is helpful; sometimes it isn’t. I don’t have all the answers, but neither does anyone else.
But we are doing our best.
It is easy for others to judge and criticise and ‘guide’. And there are times when someone outside of the situation can see things we just can’t which is helpful and supportive. But on a daily basis we live this.
I know I get it wrong at times. And I know other times I get it just right. Sometimes my children master something new, sometimes they don’t.
Special needs parents are no different to other parents really. But because our children ‘struggle’ in areas it puts pressure on us to ‘fix’ them and support them when all we really are is imperfect parents raising imperfect children.
When we get it ‘wrong’, be kind. When we get it ‘right’, encourage. We are all raising unique, wonderful, individual children with different qualities and skills. And we are all doing it in the best way we can.
My children’s struggles may be obvious but everyone of us struggle, wether child or parent.
Be kind, be supportive, and don’t judge.
Every single one of us are just imperfect parents raising imperfect children at the end of the day.