Could you Spare a Few Minutes to Make Christmas Special for one Autistic Boy?

Hundreds and hundreds of people all around the world have already joined in. It is a simple ask but something that will be life changing for young Isaac.

Here is why:

Isaac is 9 years old and lives in South Lanarkshire. He is the oldest of twins and he has complex needs. He has a diagnosis of severe autism, significant learning difficulties, he is unable to speak and has neurofibromatosis type 1 which has caused a tumour on his optic nerve and on his brain. He does not play with toys but he absolutely loves lifts (elevators to those in the States).

Isaac does not cope with change. He finds Christmas a huge challenge especially when he can not get the sensory enjoyment of watching and going in lifts. Although he watches lifts on YouTube as his parent I am very aware of the language used in many of these videos and would rather he was not hearing such vocabulary. Every time Isaac is distressed (which is daily) or frustrated or bored he only wants to see or be in lifts.

He loves any sort of lifts. He is a regular at the lifts in the supermarket car park, fascinated by the numbers, the voice saying what level you are at and the excitement of the words ‘door opening’. He loves to press the buttons, watch the doors and watch others getting in and out. This is not a recent thing either as his love of lifts has been ongoing now for over six years and shows no sign of abating.

The problem is on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day it is very hard to find a lift that Isaac can watch or go in as everywhere is closed. Isaac does not understand the concept of closed or have any idea about Christmas. There is no toy he longs for and he has no idea who Santa even is. All he wants is to be in a lift or to watch them. When he can’t he self harms and screams for hours.

Can you help Isaac?

Gemma Bryan, a friend of mine who I have yet to meet, decided to make this Facebook page up in the hope a few people would take some pictures and videos for Isaac that he could watch during the Christmas holidays. Please check her blog out here

The lovely Marc Carter at Little Blue Cup then shared Isaac’s story on his website and Facebook page. His site helps find things for children with autism and other disabilities that they are attached to and need replaced for any reason.

Marc happened to appear on ITV This Morning with Philip Scofield and Holly Willoughby on Wednesday 22nd of November where Isaac’s appeal was aired live. I broke down in tears when Philip and Holly surprised everyone by making their very own lift video for Isaac too.

So what can you do?

Well if you would like to join Philip, Holly, transport for London, charities, cruise companies, housing associations, lift manufacturers and hundreds and hundreds of everyday people around the world it is very simple.

The next time you are in a lift please take a photograph or a short video clip and load to this page. All the clips and photographs will be made into a dvd for Isaac and also loaded onto a special YouTube channel for others to enjoy too. What takes you just minutes will be life changing for Isaac and his family.

Be part of something special this Christmas. Help make Christmas special for Isaac.

Every picture and every video matters. We appreciate every single one of you.

Please spread the word.

Pictures and videos should be sent to HERE

With special thanks to Gemma Bryan and Kelly Kemp from It’s a Tink Thing for helping me admin this page.

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Autism: When your child’s obsession consumes the whole family

My son love lifts. He has done for many years now. He watches lift doors open and close on YouTube, he knows every shop in our town and beyond that has a lift, and when he has hospital appointments we HAVE to visit every lift in the entire hospital. 

It is consuming! 

It rules his life: He is drawn to lifts like a magnet is drawn to metal. He can not simply walk on by or use it for the functional purpose of just moving up one floor. No! He has to press every level, every single time. He has to get out at different floors and watch the same doors open and close from every possible angle. He has to flap, dance and giggle at people getting in, people getting out and the repetitive announcements telling you which floor you are at. He has to touch every wall, put his ear to the back and have a fit of the giggles at me preventing him from pressing the emergency alarm…at every single level! 

It is consuming!

I can’t just go to the shop to pick up milk or a loaf of bread because my local supermarket happens to have a life in the car park and two inside the shop. He either can not come with me (which involves a complete meltdown because despite having limited understanding he seems to be able to sense I am going to somewhere with a lift!) or he comes with me and I risk leaving having only made it to the lift! Moving him on is almost impossible. It involves him self harming, screaming, physically dragging him and sometimes calling for backup. It is not pretty. 

It is consuming. 

He loses all track of time in a lift. It is like an entire world to him. He loves the noise, the echo, the shiny walls, the confined space, the predictability, the voice that comes out at just the right time, the buttons he can press, and the feeling of it moving. It is exciting. It is his ‘happy place’ and he would stay there all day every day. I can’t let him do that though.

So I film him so he can watch himself back. I use ‘first and then’ and desperately bribe him to come away. I use timers and warnings. I use visuals and talkers. I could send God himself to rescue him but he still would not care. 

He is consumed by his obsession and nothing will move him on. 

Isaac is loved deeply. We allow him time at his obsession even though his sister would rather stick pins in herself than be at a lift! But what do you do when every family outing, every waking minute on YouTube and every google search (for images as he has no ability to read or write) is all consumed with your child’s obsession? 

There has to be a balance. Isaac has no understanding why he can not be utterly saturated in his own obsession. He has no awareness of the needs of others or that shops even have closing times! He craves the sensory feedback of lifts like you and I crave water and food. To deny him that would be to destroy him. 

So what do you do when you are consumed by the needs and wants of one member of the family? 

It is hard to get the balance right. We have tried the splitting up idea where one adult has the thrilling day of lifts (yes I am being sarcastic!) and the other entertains his sister. That causes resentment eventually. We have tried days without lifts (that was that awful screaming you heard ringing in your ear thousands of miles from me). We have tried compromising (have you ever tried to reason with a severely autistic non verbal 8 year old? It isn’t fun!). We have even tried the seesaw approach of you get a lift and we all get something we want too. That went down like a lead balloon!

There is no ‘little bit’ when it comes to an autism obsession. There is no ‘forget about it’ days. 

It consumes them. It consumes us. 

We are trying to teach our son patience, self control and limitations. Meanwhile he has other ideas…

P.s. I spent so long at a lift today I typed most of this up while watching him! 

His obsession really has consumed me now too…I am even writing about it! 

That is what happens when your child’s obsession consumes the whole family! 

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This article first appeared on http://www.autismawareness.com where you can find other great articles and information on autism.
A link to the original piece can he found here.

He played with a toy!!

imageThe teachers had a training day and here I was with an entire day with just one of my children. I thought it would be lovely to take him to one of his favourite places to go to…the city centre! This little six year old boy just beams with delight at the very mention of going on a train. How could I resist that smile?

He had it all planned. He has me trained.This is the routine he always does and nothing changes in his wonderful world of classic autism. We go by train to one particular station, we get off and enjoy the escalators and then turn and go into an indoor shopping centre. From there we press every button for every lift, flapping wildly in delight at the thought the doors will open any minute and we visit every floor that every lift has before finally ending up at the food court where he has me knowing to purchase the same meal he always has and sits in the same seating area he always likes. He then spends an inordinate amount of time laughing and clapping at the hand dryers in the bathrooms before running with gusto to the most expensive, prestigious toy shop in town. imageHe knows exactly what he is looking for and I know exactly where he is headed. He bypasses without even a second glance the high prices teddy bears and Lego sets and remote control cars. He hurries past the jigsaws and dolls and the toy animals. He has one place in mind and one place only…he is heading for the lift!

I never have worked out quite what is so wonderful about this particular lift. After watching it for hours at a time you really would think I would have figured this out but I just can’t. But this lift gives me him so much pleasure, more than any toy in the entire shops ever could. He watches the numbers, gets excited at the doors opening and finds great amusement in just looking at it. The total highlight of his trip. In fact until today I wasn’t even sure if he even realised he was in a toy shop.

Can you imagine a six year old not realising they were in a toy shop? Can you imagine a six year old surrounded by more toys than Santa’s grotto and not begging their parents with those four words every parent usually dreads: image‘mummy can I have…’. It is just days until this boy’s seventh birthday and yet he has never once said those words. He has never asked for anything in a shop or even really played with toys. He has no concept of Lego or toy cars and has no ability to read a book. He can not kick a ball and has no understanding what dress up pretend play is. For almost seven years he has been caught up entirely in his own world of sensory play preferring a bowl of water, pressing a hand dryer to turn it on or endlessly watching lifts either in real life or on you tube.

So can you imagine my shock, my amazement, and my emotions when all of a sudden my almost seven year old turned away from the lift for the very first time and looked over at a display of toys! As if the looking wasn’t enough he casually wandered over and decided to ‘play’ with the toys!

Did you hear me…HE PLAYED WITH A TOY! This is epic! This is breakthrough! He suddenly woke to the fact there was a world besides lifts! And he touched a toy in a toy shop!

I scooped him up and kissed him and gave him a high five! I stood there and watched with tears in my eyes! Then without looking so much at a single price tag I grabbed every single toy he had touched and took my son and his array of newly found interests to the cash register!

imageOn the train home something just as amazing happened. It was like all his disabilities left my baby for a few hours and disappeared. It was beautiful. He put his hand inside the bag (he remembered those toys were in the bag!) and he handed me a bag of toy plastic food to open!!
I did not care if that whole carriage got covered in plastic bananas that bag was getting opened! He requested! HE WANTED TO PLAY.

It is so easy to become weary of playing with children. It is so hard to stay patient when they endlessly beg for toys in a toy shop. It is so easy to take speech and play for granted at any age.

Moments like this don’t come to me often. My son has no speech and he has never played with toys. So yes I spent money on plastic toys that were over priced. But you can’t put a price on the miracle I had this week. The miracle that is the simple fact:

HE PLAYED WITH A TOY!

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We came to an understanding…

I had plans for this summer. My son also had plans. The difficulty was our plans were very different.

Isaac is six. He has autism and global delay. He has neurofibromatosis. He also has huge sensory issues, rigid thinking and a massive love of lifts and hand dryers. He has no spoken language.

So when school finished for seven and a half weeks his plans involved food (mostly mashed potato and gravy), lifts, hand dryers, food, hand dryers and more lifts…and maybe the occasional ride on a train.

I, on the other hand, wanted day trips, parks, picnics, garden play, road trips, time seeing family and shared adventures with him and his twin sister.

Someone had to give….

We came to an understanding and it went a bit like this:
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I took him to a park…and then we went to a local supermarket where he could see the hand dryers.

I got what I wanted. He got what he wanted.

We were both happy.

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I took him to soft play. He climbed about and even came back for a huge tight cuddle…which was his way of really saying ‘let’s go to the toilets now and see the wonderful hand dryers mum!’

So that is what we did.

He would play for a bit and then watch those dryers a bit more.

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I took him to pottery painting. He humoured me by putting on the apron (with support) and putting a tiny amount of paint on his model…and then he tore that apron right off and found the toilets to look for a hand dryer!

He has no problem communicating what he wants when it comes to his agenda…

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I took him took him on a train ride to a big city. His favourite place there was the lift at the train station! Nothing else mattered.

We traveled for an hour by train just to see a lift! But you have never seen a happier boy than Isaac was at that lift!

By now we were coming to an understanding.

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I decided to try to have a day without lifts or hand dryers…

I took him to the park again. This time all he wanted was the bushes at the side of the path! He felt them, watched them, heard them and even licked them. Well, what else did I think he would do at the play park?

This is life with Isaac. He had no idea others were staring at him.

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We had an invite to a family event at a local restaurant. Isaac made me so proud sitting at a large table and eating his meal (mostly using cutlery) and even having some pudding. But that was followed by an full 20 minutes in the toilets at the…well I think you probably know by now where he wanted to go to.

It wasn’t like I was hoping to speak to those relatives anyway…

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A charity invited us for a day trip to the safari park. Isaac showed not one second of interest in any animal. In fact he never even glanced at them.

But when he saw a sign for toilets he smiled, ran, and flapped with excitement.

I don’t expect he will go into veterinary care when he is older…

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I took him and his sister on a steam train ride. He did enjoy looking out the window at the passing scenery and he did enjoy eating in the cafe. But if he could talk I am pretty sure his highlight would have been that the toilets had his favourite hand dryers in…the ones with buttons to press.

It is what it is. He sees the world in a very different way. And sometimes just having him with me is a bonus.

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By the end I just decided to run with it. I only had to look at the excitement in his eyes and the happiness on his face to know that lifts and hand dryers are the most important things in his life. And if I want to get anything achieved these are the motivating factors to use.

I still would have preferred to have spent summer building sand castles, eating ice-cream, visiting castles and museums and time together as a family building memories. Hand dryers are loud, functional things that I would use only to…well dry my hands really! Lifts are convenient and quick ways to change levels…and that is when my interest ends.

But love takes you to places and has you do things in life you don’t expect.

And so I have spent an insubordinate amount of time this summer listening to hand dryers and watching lifts. And in his own way we have had fun. I had my day trips, parks, picnics and quality time with my son. And he had his fixations.

Life is about compromise. Love is amount accepting someone,however different to you they are, and not always wanting to change them. Making things work is about coming to an understanding.

I have had a lovely summer. Isaac has had a magical time. We just spent our quality time in places I never really imagined.

Even his twin sister seems to have come to an understanding…image

Am I doing the right thing?

Self evaluation is a very positive skill to have. All good parents stop and think at times ‘am I doing the right thing’ right from the very moment their child is born. Decisions about wether to breast or bottle feed, what sort of clothes to put on your baby and where they will sleep are all everyday personal decisions all parents face. And there will always be others who feel you are doing it wrong.

But what if your children are not meeting milestones? Or they receive a diagnosis of any sort that makes ‘normal’ development more of a challenge? What should be a time of needing more support and encouragement often becomes not only the time when others judge and question you more, but it also brings with it an even greater level of self-doubt as a parent.

Did I do anything wrong when pregnant? Was my birth to blame? Did I feed my baby the wrong foods or give them inoculations that damaged them? Should I not have gone back to work so early? Did I not bond with them enoughh or sing to them the right songs?

So many of us have been there. I have too. And even though my twins are now 6 I am still asking myself almost daily ‘am I doing the right thing’?

It seems that at times I am controversial without even meaning to be. Even blogging publicly about my children seems to make some people feel I am damaging them. I am not naive. I am well aware that one day my children could read my blog. In fact I will be letting them both have a copy when the time is right. This is my journey but it is very much their journey too. I actually hope having a written record of how far they have come is helpful to them in their own way as they begin to understand more and question who they are and what their diagnosis means to them. Naomi aimagealready shows much more awareness and we talk together about her autism, her brothers autism and her brother’s neurofibromatosis. I don’t believe in hiding these issues from her and there is not one blog I would be embarrassed for my children to read one day.

Naomi has recently been assessed and approved for a wheelchair. I never really thought that would be controversial either. No-one seemed to question when her brother got one months ago but somehow because she can talk, she can walk and she attends mainstream school it seems that I am ‘making’ her disabled by putting her in a chair. Maybe I am more vocal about her brothers difficulties, maybe they are more obvious than hers, or maybe the fact he attends a special needs school seems to make it more ‘acceptable’ for him to use a wheelchair. But Naomi has her own struggles and I am not pushing her to use a wheelchair if she is not comfortable doing so. I have asked myself many times if I am doing the right thing pushing her around places where she may be seen by others in her school or community. I know the impact this could have on her far more than she understandimages at just 6. But her safety, her pain level and her comfort also must be taken into consideration. And whether she is in a wheelchair or walking she will sadly always come across people who will stare, laugh and bully. It is my job to help her cope with this as she grows and develops greater awareness.

My son loves lifts and hand dryers. He craves them much like a smoker craves a cigarette. And so I take him to them. And I let him press the button to turn the dryer on or call the lift for someone. It brings him huge delight. And the majority of people I meet are happy to let him have that pleasure. But the other side of this is that sometimes in life we go into a shop and we have no need to use the lift or the dryers and therefore his sensory craving can not be met. And that results in meltdown of epic proportion. And then I once again question myself ‘am I doing the right thing?’ Do I allow him to have his craving in small amounts to allow me to achieve other things I want, or do I insist on carrying on with my business and that he has to learn that life is not always about him? Everyone has their own opinion on this and people will judge the fact I have deliberately taken him to retail parks just to see lifts and not buy anything. It is a balancing act and I have to live with my son and my decision. So I do what is right for me and him and my family.

People may be shocked to know I have resorted to feeding my six-year-old baby food at times just to get her to eat. I have allowed both twins dummies way beyond an age where it is publicly acceptable, and I have seen to their personal hygiene needs from the back of a car many a time. And just yesterday I took my eyes off my son for a second and found him alone in a supermarket lift (he is non verbal and could have been anywhere!).

Everyday is a challenge. Everyday I am making decisions based on today’s needs and tomorrow’s future. I live for today but am very aware of the future repercussions that my actions may have on both my children.

And I know I may get it wrong. And so will you.

Because I am human. As as a mum I have the future of two very special children in my hands. I take that very seriously.

It is ok to disagree with me. It is ok to worry about how things I do now may affect my children’s future. It’s even ok to do something different with your own children.

Just know I love my children. And I am doing what I feel is best for them. Both now and in the future. And every single day without fail I am thinking to myself ‘am I doing the right thing here’ because my children never came with a manual. None of them do. And when they have extra support needs that makes things so much more complicated.

Am I doing the right thing? Time will tell I guess.