Is Lego Good for Autistic Children?

Is Lego Good for Autistic Children?

With Coronavirus taking grip of the country, we are staying at home and avoiding the madness. So I got to thinking, Is Lego good for autistic children? I’ve seen a lot of stuff around the subject online, they are even doing Lego based therapy. Where they get children working together, to encourage learning and interaction with others.

That’s not something we have ever tried, but Jack has an incredible love for Lego. I dread to think how much money we’ve spent on it over the years. To make matters worse, most of it is broken up in a big tub. He recently expressed a wish to be able to keep his Lego safe, and not get broken. Which was nice to hear. Oh how he is growing up.

Lily has Lego as well, but it has mostly been built by me. She enjoys seeing the finished product more than the building phase.

The positive points

There’s no intense research done here, it’s just my observations on Jack. And as Lily proves, it won’t be the same with all autistic children. But for Jack, Lego has had a hugely positive impact on his life. Here are the areas I’ve seen a positive impact

  • The building process having a calming effect
  • Learned to do something independently
  • something that keeps him off technology
  • Pride in achieving a finished product

Calming effect

Those are four very important points. Finding things that have a calming effect are so important to autistic people, especially as many also have issues with anxiety. We are forever searching for new calming strategies. Lego isn’t an option if a meltdown is well under way, but as a preemptive tactic to keep Jack calm it works well.

Acting independently

Doing something independently is a huge thing for Jack. It’s not that he doesn’t have the physical capabilities to do things on his own. But getting him to act independently is extremely hard for a variety of reasons. One of the main ones, is Jack needs constant reassurance that he is safe in his environment. In his bedroom he seems to feel more assured, and he’s learnt that is his space. But anywhere else, even other rooms in our house, he needs constant reassurance that he is ok and is safe. In order to be able to concentrate on a task.

With Lego he will sit and build by himself. He will ask for help with putting stickers on, and if pieces get stuck together. Other than that he will do it on his own. Sometimes he asks me to come and build something with him, but I believe that’s because he wants the company.

Keeping him off technology

Jack has some sort of technology going most of the time. It’s part of his way of dealing with his anxiety, coping with his environment and feeling in control. It’s not ideal, but he always needs to have at least some background noise. When outside, and depending on what we are doing his phone might go in his pocket. But that’s about it.

So there will always be something on in the background, whether that’s the TV, music or something playing on his phone like YouTube. But once he is building, his main focus is on the Lego. Jack loves to be outdoors, but when he’s inside it’s difficult to get him away from his Xbox or the TV. Lego is one of the best ways to do it.

Pride in his creations

We all take great pride in achieving something, your autistic children are no different. Autistic people often have difficulty showing emotions in a way that the “average” person understands, but they absolutely feel emotion. Regular readers will already know that Jack & Lily to great pride and excitement from showing off their works on here at Lily’s Art Gallery and Jack’s Documents.

He takes great pride in his Lego, which is why he now wants to make sure they are looked after. He’s still got plenty to build from Christmas and his birthday to keep him busy for a while. Here is what he currently has under his bed to keep them safe.

Answering the question

So to answer the original question. Is Lego good for Autistic children? I think the general answer is yes. Of course nothing is going to be right for everyone, but there’s plenty of evidence to say it’s a good thing. From our perspective it’s been a very good for Jack.

The popular Lego at the moment seems to be Hidden Side, you can find it here on amazon (affiliate link – if you happened to want to buy some Lego, I’d receive a small commission if you used this link) of course Lego is expensive, but there are cheaper alternatives out there that you can find in places likes Wilkinsons and Poundland, or on amazon – click here for another affiliate link.

Does anyone personally, or does their children use Lego a lot, and get as much out of it as Jack does? What other ways do you use as calming strategies? What other interests do people have that keeps them and their children engaged. There are so many ideas out there and I am always looking for new ones. Let me know in the comments below.

The easy life of carers

The easy life of carers

It’s been a very busy week involving school and health issues for the kids. I’m working on a post about school, but first I wanted to talk about something else. What some people perceive as the “easy life” of carers. I know some carers get very annoyed and angry at people who think like that. Personally I try to just laugh off their ill informed judgment.

Firstly, the paltry sums of money families living with disability are given, pales into insignificance compared to the cost to the country, if we all turned around and said we can’t do it anymore. The cost to the country would be astronomical and probably couldn’t be met.

Breaking point

I’ll be honest in saying we have been on the brink of breaking point, on more than one occasion with Jack. His sheer size and violent behaviours were the issues for us, but everyone has their own problems. None are “easier” than the other. The demands on parents/carers are massive, and greatly under appreciated by too many.

The care part, is only half the story though. Looking after your child or children is a full time job itself for many. The demand of the physical care is full on. Then with something like autism, the “invisible disabilities” where what the problems are aren’t clear. You have the time and effort to just work out what the problems your child is having. This can sometimes take months and even years of research, discussions, meetings and trial and error of strategies.

A week of appointments

I’m looking forward to tomorrow, as we don’t have any appointments for the first time this week. It’s been a full on week, and it’s left me feeling tired. These appointments, which like with everything vary in nature depending on the child and what their needs are. Are something that if you’ve not experienced it yourself, are difficult to comprehend. Which is why some people fail to realise what is involved with being a carer.

To give people an idea of just how full on things can be, I’ll go through the first four days of this week.

The week that was (Lily)

Monday – Doctors appointment for Lily. With the GP regarding her problems with anxiety, and to get a CAMHS referral. On the surface this looks the simplest task there is, but unlike Jack we are just starting out with Lily, and have feeling like we have no idea where we are or what to do. So the time and effort trying to think up strategies and solutions has been massive.

Tuesday – Lily’s parents evening. Two appointments required, one with her teacher and one with her SENCO. This wasn’t your average turn up and hear how they’ve been doing parents evening. It was arranged to also talk over Lily’s issues and needs at school, which have really escalated quite quickly over the last term.

Putting together a plan to get a EHCP was discussed. Unfortunately Lily’s infant school was terrible, and the head teacher didn’t believe Lily had autism. So no evidence of any needs for Lily were passed over to her junior school, which has been helpful (high levels of sarcasm here).

The school were very honest, and agreed with us that Lily needs an EHCP. That she is struggling in mainstream school, and will eventually need to move to a SEN school. The good news is she is progressing really well with her work. The school have been really good, and provided lots of support despite not having any funding for her. I can’t speak highly enough of them. I don’t think we could find a better mainstream school to go through this process with.

The week that was (Jack)

Wednesday -The focus changed to Jack. It was his Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) review. We had to go to Jacks school and the review was with the school Deputy Head, Jack’s teacher and a school psychologist. Including travel it took 5 hours.

If you are unaware of what a EHCP review is like I will give you a brief idea. Big sheets of paper stuck onto a wall with various headings. We all write onto the sheets, things that are working, things that are not working. Then what needs to be worked on going forward, and how we are going to do that. This type of thing is mentally tiring on any subject. But imagine that subject being the health and well being of your child, and you get it wrong it’s them who suffer. Can you imagine that pressure? I felt exhausted Wednesday evening.

Thursday – No time to rest. CAMHS came to do a health pre assessment on Jack. Basically ten questions on different aspects of your child’s health, where you have to decide whether they fit into the category of, no additional needs, Low, Moderate or High. With the exception of challenging behaviour, which has two added categories of severe and priority.

You have to evidence each one, for it to go forward to a review, where we put the case forward to get Jack some health care funding. Although not the only thing, the major area for Jack is challenging behaviour. In order to evidence Jacks needs, we need to keep a log of all Jack’s challenging behaviours. The last thing you want to do after dealing with Jack having a meltdown down, is have to go and write about it straight away. But whatever needs to be done, we will always do.

Final thoughts

Myself and Natalie are lucky that we have each other for support and help. I know people who are doing this on there own. Some have more than two kids they need to be carers for. As for this easy life of carers then. Carers should be treated as heroes, not frowned upon like they are in some quarters. We are saving the country money, we are not a burden, and far too often people are doing it with little to no support.

We are fortunate to be receiving good support, but that’s not always the case and more needs to be done to help carers and those they care for. As always I welcome any comments and if anyone wants to share their experiences? That would be great.

One final thing. During the CAMHS visit they said we should write a book as they are amazed with what we’ve done for Jack. We both laughed. They said they were serious, or do a blog or something. I told them about this blog, and they said that was great and asked permission to share this with professions and parents. It blew my mind. I was so incredibly flattered. It made feel the decision to do this was the right one, and that I am doing something that is truly worthwhile.

Click here to go to a Beautifully written piece by an unknown author, that’s fits this so well.

Are Dogs Good For Autistic Children?

Are Dogs Good For Autistic Children?

It was back to the Sunday routine of going to my parents house this week. After not going last week. When I was there I found myself googling, “are dogs good for autistic children?” The reason being there has been talk of us possibly getting a dog.

It’s not something that is in the pipeline to happen immediately, and I just wanted to have a bit of a look at what information I could find. I found myself reading up on service dogs and therapy dogs. I’d heard them mentioned before, but this was the first time I’d read up on them.

It was fascinating, but we’d be looking at just getting a “normal” dog. I make no secret of the fact that I’d love to have a dog. I was brought up around dogs, and absolutely love my parents dog Mack. When I still lived with my parents, I used to go out with our dog Dylan for hours. I do miss that a lot.

We love animals

I come from a family that loves animals, and that’s certainly been passed on to Jack & Lily. They both love spending time with Mack, and my brothers dog Henry. But Jack especially, there are visible benefits from him being around a dog.

Although he gets excited around dogs, as far as anxiety goes, it calms him a lot. So would having his own dog keep him calmer at home? Having Dylan when I lived with my parents certainly helped with my mental health. Though it’s different with Jack, I do think it would help him too. 

It would give him some companionship, something to love and look after. That unconditional companionship and friendship, is something I think Jack really needs. 

Whilst also giving us all a reason to get out for some nice walks. Similar to how Jack never takes it out on his sister, when in a meltdown. He also never takes it out on animals that may be around.

It would be so helpful in so many ways. Unfortunately as we live in a rented property, it’s not as simple as just going and getting a dog. We have to get permission first, and it could involve an increase in rent. The rent is high enough as it is. So we will have to think about it.

We’d love to hear about your pets

There are lots of positive stories about dogs and autistic people, so that feeling of it being such a positive thing for Jack. Really makes me want to do it. I’d love to hear of any positive steories about autism and pets, or even negative ones where it didn’t work out. Perspective is always important. If your not living around autism, we’d still love hear about your pets, Jack and Lily always like to hear about people’s pets. So leave a comment below if you’d like to share what pets you have.

If you don’t have a dog but are thinking about getting one, click here to view an excellent post 102 scientific benefits of having a dog, by It’s a great read, and if this doesn’t convince you to get a dog, nothing will. Then of course there is the question of what type of dog to get? Any dog can be trained to be a great family pet, but some breeds are definitely more suited than others. Like my personal favourite the Collie. For comprehensive information on this, I recommend reading this article by Your Dog Advisor, best dogs for children. There’s lots of information, and they list the best dog breeds to have with children. As always, thanks for reading.

Dad Does Autism

Here’s a short 30 second video jack made of walking with Mack, despite only being short, it gives a real insight to Jacks personality
Jack’s Social Story

Jack’s Social Story

Yesterday I talked about Jacks trip to the Hospital, to have blood samples taken. This was to check for Chromosome Micro Deletion 15q11.2, which is what Lily has. He is also having a wider array of genetic tests done. This is to also check for other things like Fragile X syndrome, and to see if there’s any reasons for him being so tall for his age range. I mentioned Jack’s social story that he used to help him cope with the experience.

I wanted to share with everyone the social story we used, and how we used it. We don’t use PECS continuously with Jack for everything while at home. However we do when we take Jack out, especially to a new place. There are many different styles of PECS and social stories. Natalie put this one together using Twinkl. Natalie has membership for this website, which allows us access to thousands of resources, such as PECS and a wide variety of educational tools from early years to adulthood, including a fully kitted out section for us parents. There’s also free downloads for those without membership. This is the story we used.

Using the social story

For people who have been around autistic children, this will probably be a familiar sight. If you haven’t then what this is used for is, to explain to Jack what he is going to be doing. Just telling Jack what he is doing isn’t enough. He fails to fully understand what you are saying. He also needs constant reassurance through the whole process.

This is where the pictures are really useful with Jack. We have all the pictures separate and I keep hold of them. I give Jack the first picture and he keeps hold of it. Then as we get ready for the next stage I swap his picture for the next one. This means he has the picture of what he is supposed to be doing. Which he keeps in his hand as a reminder, and he can keep looking at if he feels like he needs to. He also had both of us talking to him, which he also requires.

Yesterday this worked extremely well for Jack. He stayed fairly relaxed for Jack, and coped so well. As with everything autism related. The same things don’t work for everyone, as the spectrum is so wide and varied. But this is something I would definitely always recommend people try, if they haven’t before. Have you used social stories? If you have I’d love to hear about how you found them. Please leave a comment about your experiences with them, positive or negative. Thanks.

Controlling sensory processing & modulation

Controlling sensory processing & modulation

We have had lots of issues, with Jack wanting to take his Nintendo Switch to school. He uses devices as a way of controlling his sensory processing and modulation. His school have done us a social story, to help us explain to him why he can’t take it. And also so he can’t try on, the school say I can take it routine. Which he does all the time.

Controlling sensory processing and modulation

We went through it with him the night before, so he was ready for the morning. I still expecting him to want to take it, but no. I was all ready for battle, but Jack didn’t even mention the switch once. Then when it was time to go. Much to my amazement he just walked out of the door with a smile on his face.

It’s not uncommon for Jack to wait to the last second, before deciding he wants to take something with him. Because of this I stay prepared until he’s gone out the door. Once I shut the door behind him I felt a bit lost. I was so keyed up and ready for battle, that when it went so smoothly I didn’t know what to do with myself. Social stories are great things, but for it to work in this situation so well on the first day. It was unexpected, but I’m delighted that it did. 

Operation Punch bag

Jack got a punch bag for his birthday, it took some time to set up as you have to fill the base with sand. The holes to put the sand in are ridiculously small. Lily always likes to volunteer to help, and as she’s off school at the moment I got her involved. Right now I’m not sure if we are even half way there, but we’ve taken a break. It had become painstakingly dull and I was starting to ache. I will carry on with it later.

The reason for the punch bag, is when Jack is getting annoyed, angry or has a full on meltdown. He hits and throws what ever he can get his hands on. If I’m around it’s usually me, me or aimed at me. So we are trying to find ways for Jack to let out his frustration in a safer manner.

Controlling sensory processing and modulation

As I’ve said before, things have got much better with Jack’s behaviour. A big part of that, and a big part of continuing to improve it. Is finding strategies to control his anxiety. His sensory modulation and processing needs, are where a lot of the issues come from. When Jack has a meltdown, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He is normally “seeking”, what I mean by this is he is after sensory input.

Jack is diagnosed with both Sensory Processing Disorder and Sensory Modulation Disorder. What does this mean? Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses. For those with Sensory Processing Disorder, sensory information goes into the brain but does not get organized into appropriate responses.

Sensory modulation is the ability to respond appropriately to sensory information and remain at an appropriate level of alertness for daily activities. For Jack this manifests in being over sensitive to things, especially high pitched noises. He is unable to regulate himself, so he seeks for you to do it for him. We are working on him recognising when he needs help to regulate, so we can help him before he’s at the point of hitting things.

It’s a work in progress, but we have made some headway. When he is seeking we use deep pressure to help him, lots of squeezes and also letting him push into is while we push back. Controlling sensory processing and modulation, isn’t easy, and takes a lot of thought and planning. You need to always be aware, especially if the person you are caring for can’t communicate to you spoken words. They will likely be communicating in other ways, you just need to learn those ways.

Trying to plan ahead to avoid meltdowns

Trying to direct him to a punch bag, when he is in meltdown probably isn’t going to happen. Instead the plan that was discussed as the last multi agency meeting we had. Is to try and get a sort of routine together, that gets Jack the sensory input that he needs throughout the day. To hopefully avoid him getting frustrated and angry so quickly.

I plan to draw a routine up. I’m not sure I want it to be set in stone. Do this at 4, do this at 5 etc.. Unless it turns out that’s how Jack needs it to be, but a case of having set things that we do throughout the day. Anyone with any experience with this, any advice would be gratefully recieved.

So we are looking to keep him doing little walks, some stretching and maybe even yoga. He does yoga at school sometimes, and really likes it. Finally use the punch bag to help get some of that sensory input he needs, but also a fun form of exercise for him as well.

Do you know of or use anything to help with any sensory processing issues? I would love to hear about them, we are always looking for new ideas to help both Jack and Lily.

Dad Does Autism

Using technology and online safety with autism

Using technology and online safety with autism

Today I’m going to be looking at using technology and online safety with autism. We all want our children to be safe, but you can’t wrap them up in cotton wool forever. First though, we had success this morning. It was unexpected, as last night Jack wouldn’t listen to us at all, but he went to school without his Nintendo Switch. However he did say he wants to take it tomorrow, so the issue is far from over. But today was a positive step, tomorrow I will prepare to do it all again. That’s just how it works.

Lily at home again

Lily was off school again. Just to make sure that if she did have a stomach bug, she wouldn’t pass it on to other children. So it’s not been a very productive week so far, especially as there’s so much work, around the house that needs doing. That’s without thinking about the garage or the garden.

But it has been a nice couple of days. I got to spend some time just with Lily. It’s been a bit full on as Lily has wanted my attention for what seemed like every second.

Online safety

She especially enjoyed getting me to play Roblox with her. I’m no good at these sort of games. So she set it up and I followed her around, very slowly. I actually found it quite difficult to control, unlike Lily who wizzes around.

We were in some sort of theme park world. Lily was really excited to be giving me a tour of the theme park, and taking my character onto all of the rides. Sometimes Jack will play it with her. She enjoys that more, as Jack knows what he’s doing unlike me. It’s these sort of things that make you feel old, but like with anything involving Jack. It depends on his mood, and always has to be on his terms.

Technology and online safety with autism

I know there a lot of views on what you should “allow” your kids to do. Whether that be computer games, internet, social media or just TV. Online safety, lack of social skills, lack of physical activity are things that are talked about. I haven’t done any research. I don’t have facts and figures to prove or disprove anything. All I have is my opinions. That are based on common sense.

We don’t set any time limits on anything. We generally let them choose what they want to do. If they have been in front of screens for a long time, then we will go to them with ideas of stuff to do. Lily will normally jump at the chance to do anything. Jack not as much, with it very much depending on what you ask him to do.

One thing is for sure. If you ask either of them if they want to go outside and do something. At least 9 times out of 10 they can’t get out of the door quick enough. With that in mind. That is why I don’t worry to much about their time on technology, they do enough other stuff that I don’t see it as a problem.

Lily also loves art & crafts, board games and imaginary play. I don’t have any concerns about the time she spends on technology. Jack spends a lot more time on there. A few years ago CAMHS came up with the suggestion, to always let him have his phone, as it helped to keep his anxiety in check. In hindsight would another solution have been better? Possibly, but that’s what we did at the time and it works, so we have no plans to change it.

There can be problems

It has caused problems like him wanting to have the Nintendo Switch all the time, being the latest issue. But Jack needs to have background noise, even if he is reading or drawing. He will have music or YouTube on in the background. If you turn the background noise off, he will quickly become agitated and lose concentration.

I don’t know how this works at school, perhaps  the background noise of the classroom is enough. But again, Jack is always happy to do other things. Especially if it’s outside. Because of that I don’t get hung up on time spent in front of screens.

Online safety

Then of course you have the safety aspect. When they are online, as with everything. Most  people are there just to have fun, but as we all know there are those people out there with darker intentions. When they are younger it’s fairly easy to put on restrictions. We have had no problems with Lily at all yet.

Jack on the other hand. He is now probably more skilled on the modern devices than I am. So there has been issues, but as long as you are doing the single most important thing that you need to be doing in this area. Then you will be fine. Keep an eye on what your kids are doing!!

That goes for all kids. Obviously there comes a time with most kids, where they have to be trusted with a bit of independence. When this happens with autistic kids can be massively different, depending on the difficulties they have. As we know each autistic person is completely different. Some may have learning disabilities, and some won’t.So I’m not offering a set of exact instructions here. 

Just use common sense

It comes back to what I said at the start. Common Sense. You know your child better than anybody else does. You will know if they’re spending too much time on technology. If it is effecting their behaviour you will be the ones who can see that, and then take action.

Better than anybody else you will know if they have the know how, and responsibility to be able to act safely online. Jack doesn’t. So we have to watch him carefully, but at the end of the day it’s a modern world we live in. Everything is being done online now, and there are skills they need to learn. 

For Jack it has been an area he has excelled in, and provides a big creative outlet. One that I’m very keen to encourage. It all comes down to watching them and using common sense. That concludes my thoughts on using technology and online safety with autism, I hope you enjoyed it. Remember, no one knows your child better than you do!

For more information on online safety, see my post that talks about and includes a social story on the subject, by clicking here.

Dad Does Autism

Be careful what you say

Be careful what you say

There was no leaving the house today. At some point yesterday Jack heard something about the storm coming across the UK. I’m not sure exactly what, but it was a reminder of the importance of being careful what you say around autistic children.

I don’t know if he overheard the weather report or me and Natalie talking about it.  Last night Jack wouldn’t go to sleep, because he was worried about the storm. He was sat with his phone on the weather app, continuously reading it off to us . He was under the impression that we were in great danger, because it said “warning” in a big red symbol on the weather map.

We told him that it was fine. The storm wasn’t here yet, and when it is here, we will look after him. He came back downstairs a few times. We just repeated the message, finally some time after 1am he finally fell to sleep.


I was up late today. When I checked on the kids, they were both in Jacks room. The wind had picked up. Nothing major, but stronger than anything Jack and Lily can probably remember. I could tell they were a bit nervous. They were distracted enough playing computer games, so I left them to get breakfast ready.

After breakfast Jack kept getting more and more agitated. Kept saying “I don’t think we can go out” and “I don’t think we can see Mack.” The Sunday routine of going to my parents, and seeing their dog Mack.
I s something Jack really enjoys. So it was clear it was really bothering Jack. He was starting to get short and snappy. He got annoyed with the TV and his phone, knowing what the problem was we sat him down for a talk. With the thought in our minds, be careful what you say.

Staying home

We told him that we are all staying at home today. We will all be in the house and perfectly safe. Thankfully this reassurance calmed Jack down. The anxiety just seemed to drain away, and he’s not been bothered since. Even watching from the window when the rain and wind really whipped up.

Lily didn’t say much until she started crying in the afternoon. When she said she was scared of the noise of the wind. It was getting loud at times, so it wasn’t surprising she found it difficult. As long as she had someone sat with her, she was alright.

The storm itself would have caused some problems. We don’t have many here. I can’t remember that last time we had anything significant. Even this one hasn’t been too bad, so far. It was another reminder to be careful what you say, and that what Jack and Lily hear they will take literally. He heard the word danger. He then thought he was in immediate danger. It took a lot of convincing to get him to think differently, and even then it’s only because we have stayed in the house.

Be careful what you say

This sort of thing happens a lot, especially with me. I am very bad at not thinking about what I am saying. One example that drives Lily mad is, since I was a kid, and I guess it came from my parents. I have called a persons nose, a beak. Every time I say beak Lily just looks at me funny. Tells me I’m stupid, says it’s a nose not a beak, and then tells me I don’t make sense. I just can’t get out of the habit of saying beak, as much as I try too. To the point it’s annoying me now. Does anyone else have these problems? Or do I just need to get a grip?

Lily is really starting to get very annoyed with it. So I am trying to stop it. But a 30 year habit is not easily broken. Trying to talk so autistic people can not just understand you, but also not become confused is so important. Yet so difficult when you have slang terms, idioms and metaphors engrained in your every day language. The other day I kicked open the living room door, and shouted out “there’s an elephant coming through”. When I looked at Lily she looked completely bewildered. I realised what I had done, as Lily cautiously leaned over to look through the doorway. She then turned back to me looking confused and said “Where?” So I was explaining myself again.

Their is an autistic author called Michael Barton. He wrote a very good book called, It’s raining cats and dogs. Which I found helped me understand the difference between how I hear things, and how the completely logical mind of Jack and Lily hear things. It’s so important to be careful what you say, as confusion isn’t good for anybody. Like I said. I’m still not perfect, but as with everything when you are bringing up autistic children. I am always trying to learn, and always trying to get better.

Dad Does Autism

Introducing the Snuggly’s

Introducing the Snuggly’s

Introducing the snuggly’s
Jasper, Fortnite, Minecraft

Jack has been very keen for me to put the Snuggly’s on my website, he would tell you THEY have been very excited for it. So this post is about introducing the Snuggly’s to you. As you can see in the photo above, the Snuggly’s are three stuffed dogs. From left to right we have, Jasper, Fortnite and Minecraft or Crafty for short. 

Jack has always liked his teddy’s. But two years ago Lily had a birthday party at Build a Bears. Jack didn’t want to go, but because Lily didn’t want Jack to miss out on a bear. We said she could make one for Jack. That was Minecraft the Dog. It started something we never expected.We hoped he would like his dog, it turned out that he absolutely loved it.

Family Pets

He is desperate for a real dog, but that is not possible in the house that we are currently renting. So we got some Guinea Pigs instead, they are called Buffy and Biscuit. We had another one called Fluffy who sadly died. Both children love the Guinea Pigs, but they are not as fun as a dog.

Biscuit & Buffy fighting over a green bean

I had a dog when I lived at home, which stayed with my parents when I moved out. He was a Border Collie named Dylan, and Jack really liked him and formed a great bond with him as a small child. Dylan was very playful, and enjoyed lots of fuss. So he was perfect for Jack, who being the first child from me or my brother, and also going to school several miles away from home. Never really had anyone to play with. He was very upset when he died a couple of years ago. Last year my parents got another Border Collie called Mack. Both Jack & Lily love Mack, he’s just as playful and enjoys Justin’s much fuss as Dylan did. He will pop up in my posts regularly.

Introducing the Snuggly’s

The importance of Jack’s relationship with the dogs, (which you can read more about in my post – Are dogs good for autistic children?) is it shows his want for companionship. He has a nice friendship group at school, but due to him having to travel 20 miles to school. Due to that being the closest one that was suitable, after he was excluded from his first school (Our Special School horror story, explains that if you don’t know the story). Outside of school he doesn’t have any friends, apart from one child he sees at the place he goes for over night respite. He will play with Lily sometimes, but I know he feels lonely and wants more friends.

Back to introducing Snuggly’s. Jack is pretty much never parted from his 3 dogs, he takes them everywhere. He takes them to school everyday. They go with him to respite, and whenever we go out. To him they are like his comfort blanket, he feels safe and like he’s not alone when he has them. He did forget to take them on a respite outing once, and 10 minutes later he was back to get them.

At school

At school they have become like the class mascot. When we visited the classroom during the Christmas fair, the dogs were out and about all over the classroom. One of his friends even painted this picture of them for him, which was really nice.

One time Fortnite’s ear got damaged, which Jack was a bit upset about. Jack is in a class of 6 or 7 very boisterous boys, so accidents happen. He accepted it was an accident, and after his Gran fixed the ear. Jack continued to take them to school, which was really good.

Interaction with his Dogs

Jack likes people to join in conversations with his dogs, which is why he’s. Happy with his classmates playing with them. Too him they need the fuss and playing which any dogs need. He likes to get you to communicate with them, 3 or 4 times an hour when I am with Jack. I will be asked how I think the Snuggly’s are? He will be holding them, getting them to jump around and wagging their tails. I always answer “they are snuggly”, and usually they get thrown to me for a snuggle.

Jack will get you to hold them, then ask them a question, and he will then expect you to answer for them. Usually it is something simple. Like “do they want to play? or “do they want a snuggle?”. Jack really enjoys these interactions, so that gave us an idea.

When Jack doesn’t want to, or can’t talk, whether that be he’s upset by a real life experience. Like when his Auntie passed away, or something has upset him from his games. Even when he’s having a meltdown. We started trying to communicate with him using his dogs. Not talking on these situations is not a choice for an autistic person, the anxiety and being unable to process his emotions. Leaves Jack unable to communicate how he would want to.

Helping to avoid meltdowns

We have had some success with this, I t’s not perfect, and it doesn’t work every time. Especially in a full scale meltdown, but he is more willing to communicate this way. They can have a calming effect on him. The key with meltdowns, as always is to recognise the triggers and get in there early. To prevent them from erupting before it’s too late, because m once he’s in full meltdown. It can be a long way back.

If you can do that. He can be distracted by his dogs and it will calm him. How long this will take, will depend on how high the anxiety and frustration has built up. To be honest I did feel a bit silly at first, I was like a ventriloquist with these 3 dogs. Trying to have very serious conversation, but acting like a bit of a clown. It’s what Jack needed though so I stuck with it.

The alternative is deep pressure, which possibly and quite often with Jack, leads to him fighting back. When he was little this was ok, but now he’s 12 and already bigger than me. I’m not small either! You need jack to be willing and compliant before you can try deep pressure, which is where the Snuggly’s come in.

Using them to get Jack to open up on difficult subjects

The really big breakthrough is getting him to communicate what is troubling him. What’s making him sad, or angry, or confused. This was done with the passing of his Auntie. When Natalie has been ill and when he has been unhappy. Both at home and at school we needed something, because we’d spent years with nothing really working.

This can be done either way. I started using the dogs to ask the questions, Jack would sometimes answer. Even if it was only with a nod or shake of the head for yes and no. Occasionally we have managed to get more out of him, but just getting the yes and no answers is a big step.

A lot of Jacks problems in the past we believe have been through frustration of not being able to communicate what he’s feeling. He is verbal, but uses a lot of echolalia. So what he’s understanding and what he’s able to say, are poles apart. To be able to find out his feelings, we need to be able to ask the right questions. The dogs have given us an effective way to ask, that Jack is happy with. Now it’s just a case of asking the right questions, to find the right answers.

How school are now using them too

Jack has been having one to one psychology sessions at school. We get sent a report of each one he has and , they have made for some interesting reading. Jack wouldn’t answer their questions, buteventually he did using one of his dogs. So now that’s what he does, just like at home they ask the question, and Jack uses the dog to answer. Again mostly nods and shakes of the head.

That is all for introducing the Snuggly’s. I don’t know how common this is with autistic children. I’ve certainly not heard much about people communicating this way. If you have, or something similar I’d love to hear about it. I’m always open to new ideas, and I believe any ideas that are working should be shared far and wide. Not every idea works for everyone, but you never know which idea will be the one that works for you.

There is a Tips & Strategies section, which will contain all posts that contain that sort of information. Whether it be ideas we have used, successfully or unsuccessfully, or ideas we have heard about and are looking to use. There is a list of 15 behavioural strategies on this website, that you might find useful too.

Dad Does Autism