Thursday 19 November 2015

Our mummification mishaps - autism and dressing up at school

Anthony's school topic of this term has been the Ancient Egyptians. Anthony's class have been busy writing about pyramids, discussing Pharaohs and making paper mâché mummies. The highlight was a dress as an Egyptian day and workshop yesterday. Or at least, I think it was.

Anthony is seven years old so has got used to the idea of going to school sometimes in either his 'normal clothes' or something else. As a child with autism we initially took a lot of time to prepare him for a change in his routine like coming to school in different clothes. Now we can give Anthony a days notice that it's a 'special' day at school when he can wear 'normal clothes' or a costume. Anymore than a days notice and Anthony can end up focussed on this change to his routine instead of the activities of the day.  It's probably a bit like the distraction that can be caused by knowing you have a test coming up. 

We used to ask Anthony what he'd like to dress up as.  We've come to realise that this often adds pressure to the day. Anthony finds making decisions very difficult so we'll make suggestions. This relieves some of the pressure and unpredictability in the outcome for him.  More often than not Anthony would be glad of the suggestion and this is what I had expected for Ancient Egyptian day.

During the explanation of Egyptian Day on the way home from school the night before, Anthony suddenly declared he'd like to go as mummy. I was delighted that he had expressed an opinion. However, it meant I'd have a come up with a mummy costume. Usually we'd try out Anthony's costume to give him time to adjust and know what to expect. So, I got out clothes I thought I could adapt and showed them to Anthony and let him know I'd add bandages to them for the morning. I spent a good chunk of the night sewing white ribbons onto clothes. 

In the morning everything went as normal until it was time for Anthony to get dressed. His face dropped, he looked hot and his eyes became all glazed. "There aren't enough bandages on the trousers mum," he said. 

The morning routine is fairly regimented. The routine is consistent and avoids down time distractions so there isn't a lot of time for things like fixing fancy dress costumes. As I looked at Anthony I could see the panic on his face. His costume was not what he expected. It's not the same as Jane being disappointed that her snack is a banana instead of an apple like she'd wanted.  It's a completely different level. It's like a fear of things not being right. Sometimes we can help Anthony deal with this fear but looking at him I could tell this wasn't the best course of action. As part of his routine, Anthony gets dressed before breakfast so has to have his breakfast fully clothed on school days.  Given this, I told Anthony I'd fix his trousers after he'd eaten. As Anthony made his way to the breakfast table he calmed down "Thanks mum, 10 bandages would be enough."

Time was of the essence.  Obviously I'd run out if white ribbon, and the actual bandages from the medicine box were useless. As I began just trawling through washing for a clue I remembered we'd recently torn up an old white work shirt for cleaning cloths. Three safety pins later and Anthony was back on course again.  He was very excited and extremely bouncy.  It would have been easy to assume that this indicated he was all set for the day but I know different.  His excitement and bounciness could indeed be part joy at the fun that was lined up for the day.  However, I suspect he was also coping with the nerves and anxiety at the differences it would mean. 

We are really delighted that Anthony can take part in these activities at school.  Every time he copes with something new or a change to his routine is a chance for him to develop and use strategies to cope with it.  This type of skill could really help him when he gets older and allow him to be independent. Anthony seemed thrilled after school. He wanted to keep his costume on all evening and we had to get changed back into it even after his swimming lesson.

As for decision making, we are still working on that.  We have an appointment next week with some professionals to help Anthony with strategies to make decisions himself.  Despite his apparent keenness on his mummy costume, Anthony collapsed this morning because he changed his mind saying he wished he gone into school as a Pharaoh and not a mummy.  As he was still coping with yesterday, it's just as well we have that regimented morning routine to keep him focused.

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  1. Oh I so get all of this, we've had similar struggles with costume days. This year my girl has mostly opted out of dress-up days - she also feels scared by the change of look in everyone else in the classroom!

  2. Very distracting - even the teachers dress up. There's also usually special events on during the day which although offers a fun activity involves a lot of concentration. I often think Anthony misses out on particular learning objectives for the day because he's so focussed on just doing things that are very different. What works for some kids....

  3. Brilliant post lovely, I never dressed Hayden up last year whilst he was at pre school but we have had a couple of successful attempts this year, I only tired because his little brother was dressed up too! The schools have so many 'themed' days and I dread them all! Thanks for linking up to #spectrumsunday hope to see you again xx


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