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MENTAL HEALTH and SEN (Special Educational Needs) SPOTLIGHT ON AUTISM.

My teenage daughter is autistic as well as having diagnosis of anxiety, depression, OCD, dyslexia and probable ADHD. She is also a gifted and talented young woman with sports, photography, art and design, from fashion to home décor. Her OCD impacts on her eating and drinking habits and has in the past made her pretty unwell both physically and mentally. She was unable to attend mainstream school for almost 4 years, stemming from bullying, lack of understanding of her needs and severe social anxiety. She has huge empathy for others, feels peoples’ emotional pain, can be very cold at the same time. She is emotionally highly intelligent and intuitive. Autism is not a mental health condition. It's a developmental difference. It has an impact on how you see the world and how you interact with other people. Autistic people often experience mental health problems. A study found that seven out of ten autistic people can have coexisting conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD or OCD. You may have heard the phrase ‘on the autism spectrum’, or ‘autistic spectrum’. Autism is a spectrum condition, which means it affects people in very different ways. However, there are certain traits that many autistic people experience to some extent. These include: •Difficulty recognising or understanding other people's emotions and expressing their own • Being over- or under-sensitive to things like loud noises and bright lights, and finding crowded noisy spaces challenging • Preferring familiar routines and finding unexpected changes to those routines challenging or distressing • Having intense and specific interests in things • Difficulties reading body language, understanding sarcasm and facial expressions All of these traits can be experienced to lesser or greater degrees. Not all of them will be experienced as we are all unique individuals – same is true for neuro diverse people. As a parent we feel our child’s pain and on some level we want to take it away, even if it is just for a minute. The best thing we can do, however, is be there supporting their journey on their path. When you have a child with additional needs and mental health conditions it can feel very isolating and exhausting at times. If this is you, try and look after your own mental wellbeing before theirs. It’s the same as ‘putting your oxygen mask on first!’ You need to be on your game most of the time. Here are some things that have helped me on our continuing journey: 1) Seeking professional advice – I self-referred to CAMHS, you could do this as a parent when I did, I believe this has now changed. You know your child and their quirks so much better than anyone else. You know when they are not coping. You can go to your GP for a referral and you can do this through your child's school. Do not take no for an answer. 2) Keep conversation open between you and your child. Listen to them, even if it is the 100th time they have told you that the houmous doesn’t taste right and the date MUST be wrong. (Breathe in and listen). 3) Be curious - If they are coming to you with worries, instead of trying to resolve this ask them. What would you do? What do you think? How would you do this? Etc Reassurance seeking is part of ASD. 4) Hold space. This doesn’t mean talk at them or try to fix things. It means the opposite to this. Holding space is the art of ‘being with’ someone’s pain and allowing them to have their experience without making it about ourselves. It is a quiet, powerful force of loving connection. 5) Allow them to self soothe – Overstimulation can cause over excitement or meltdown. This can be unpredictable. Give them lots of space to do what they need to do to come back to feeling calm. 6) REST – when an ASD child is exhausted from a meltdown, anxiety, masking, OCD, etc they need to be able to reset. Let them. They are not being lazy; they are doing what their bodies need do to survive. 7) Give your young person purpose to their day – Lots of their time will be about how they must try to fit into the neuro typical world – When it is possible help them see the purpose and plan their days. Control can be an issue for some autistic people, as being out of control can make anxiety levels high. 8. Sense of achievement – Help your child see what they have achieved. Praise things even if they seem small to you. Self-worth, self esteem, and perfectionism can be an issue. 9) If there is change coming, try to give your young person as much warning as possible. Change can be a trigger and can send them into meltdown. Change of plans and situations are inevitable for us all. Just remember this can be particularly challenging. 10) Keep you sense of humour!! You have got this. Being a parent of an Autistic child is incredibly rewarding, but it can also be challenging and isolating. Keep talking to people about how you feel and what you need too. Give yourself a hug and a huge pat on the back. The journey you are on is like a rollercoaster at times. It can feel like you are always having to fight their corner to get them better support to thrive. You are your child’s biggest cheerleader, and I am here to just say you are also amazing and strong. ReplyForwar

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