Bailey Has A New Playmate!

While I think up some more blog topics to write about in the coming weeks, I thought some of you might appreciate some pictures of the latest addition to my family-Tia. She is ten weeks old today and is a playmate/companion for our older cat Bailey, who is pictured in earlier posts on here. Tia is extremely lively and currently has an obsession with clawing and biting my socks and jeans! Her and Bailey are play fighting a lot but have some great moments of companionship too. Hopefully they will be good friends for life! XxTia image image

A Review On The Documentary “Girls And Autism”

Yesterday night on ITV 1 in the UK, a documentary was screened entitled “Girls And Autism”. Naturally I was interested in this anyway and then I found out that the school featured in the programme was fairly local to where I live and is the only state run boarding school in the country for girls with social and communication difficulties, emotional vulnerabilities and conditions on the autistic spectrum. They also appear to follow a mainstream curriculum as many of the students can cope with this academically. The moment the programme started, I could identify with a sound bite from one of the students who was talking to the headteacher and said, “How can I be human when my own species don’t accept me?” This is something I have been known to fixate on when my mind enters a depressive downward spiral and is something I felt particularly strongly as a teenager.

There were a couple of students in the programme I identified strongly with. One was a girl called Beth who had a history of self harm and was clearly very anxious about her new school. The headteacher explained that she visualised Beth in terms of emotional management as a jug that was always nearly full so that the slightest thing that many may consider trivial was enough to make this jug spill over, resulting in a meltdown (my word, not hers). This describes me perfectly. I appear on the surface to function very well but the slightest upset can lead to depressive thoughts or a full scale meltdown depending on how much I am already dealing with. This was even more evident when I was Beth’s age as I had not yet learned all the coping strategies I use now to keep my emotions from overwhelming me (which aren’t always successful but certainly mean I can function better in day to day life than I used to). Beth had a diagnosis of Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) which is a subtype of autism which is manifested by intense anxiety whenever the person is asked to do a task leading to task avoidance. In Beth’s case, she would complain about other students behaviour or say that she felt ill whenever expected to participate in a lesson. The teachers at the school never gave up on her and eventually she became used to the rigid structure and boundaries they set for her and was regularly attending lessons and enjoying life on the boarding house which was lovely to see as a viewer.

Another student I felt an affinity with was Katie. Personality wise, we couldn’t be more different-she was very extroverted and constantly talking to anyone and everyone she came into contact with and she was extremely physically hyperactive (she had a co morbid diagnosis of ADHD alongside her Aspergers diagnosis) but I definitely recognised myself as a teenager when it came to her obsession with boys. Luckily, when I was her age, Facebook didn’t exist as I dread to think what I would have been like with access to Facebook. Katie had photos of boys she had never met who she found on Facebook and then copied the photos and stored them on her IPad with her concerned parents finding 1160 copies of the same photo. Although I never trawled Facebook looking for pictures of guys that I didn’t personally know, I was very like Katie in that, when I had a crush on someone, that crush was massively overwhelming in intensity. As a teenager of 15 and 16, I had a massive crush on the French language assistant at my school. Looking back, it’s cringe worthy in the extreme-I was utterly obsessed with him and focused on him all the time-I was sensible enough to know not to try anything but I couldn’t stop myself staring at him and it was painfully obvious to everyone around that I had a crush on him. On the plus side, I did get an A in my French GCSE partly from attending the after school revision sessions he ran! I definitely identify with Katie in that I get emotionally involved with guys very early on. She mentioned sending an excessive amount of texts to her ex boyfriend and I remember doing this in the past myself, not out of a desire to stalk anyone but just to have that interaction with them (I never reached the extent of sending 72 texts a day though!) Even now, I call my fiancĂ© at the same time every night for our daily chat-it’s become routine and I know, if it didn’t happen, I would become anxious and feel disorientated. This is what annoys me about people thinking that autism means you are emotionally disconnected-in my experience and the experience of a lot of people on the spectrum, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we tend to feel emotions very strongly, too strongly for us to convey in a manner considered appropriate by the average non autistic person so instead they ascribe a lack of emotion to us.

Abbie, another student featured in the programme last night, was a case in point. Her mum was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Abbie often appeared immature and socially inappropriate when talking to her mother about the treatment but, when asked to name her emotions by a member of staff at the school, she identified that she felt worried, upset, stressed and angry about her mother’s illness, all perfectly normal emotions in the circumstances, and later verbalised these emotions to her mother. It was clear to me that, as a 12 year old with autism, the array of emotions triggered by her mum’s cancer were overwhelming and the anxious behaviours displayed were a result of her trying to process these emotions and take some control back into her life. Dealing with a parent’s illness is traumatic enough for any child, let alone one who has to deal with autism and significant speech and language difficulties as well.

At the end of the programme, the headmistress spoke about the massive misconceptions that people have about autism. Two of the misconceptions she labelled were that people with autism don’t have friends and also that they are not caring people. I think the programme would have shattered those misconceptions as the overriding theme featured in the programme was friendship. The girls at Limpsfield Grange had genuine affection for each other and enjoyed each other’s company. They cared about their friends and families deeply. I believe that all of the girls featured will go on to great things, fulfilling their personal ambitions. They were certainly great characters! I am sure with the dedication and commitment of the staff there as well as the determination and perseverance that a lot of people on the spectrum have in abundance, success is theirs for the taking on a personal level.

I would definitely recommend it as worth a watch-if you are in the UK, it should be available on ITV Player for the next 30 days. If you are outside the UK, I am sure that it will be on YouTube very soon.