Hello World! I’m autistic. Perhaps you know someone like me. In April you will notice buildings lighting up blue on Autism Awareness Day. Awareness is good but acceptance is better. Allow me to explain why and how you can help.

When I am out and about with my family or carer, life can turn stressful. Autism affects all my senses, attention and perception. This means my behaviour is unpredictable. It helps if you are aware of my condition but it helps more if you:

Try not to stare when I’m having a tough time.
Please give me time, give me space, stay calm and carry on. My carer is often my Mum/Dad/brother/sister. She/he needs a break too!

Give up your place in the line.
I have problems standing quietly in a queue. Waiting is an enormous challenge for me. I become agitated and overwhelmed. I can’t help or stop the sensations I feel in my body. Please, if you notice me in a queue, allow me to go in front of you. My family will really appreciate it.

Watch my body language. It’s how I communicate.
When I’m excited I behave like most folk in Inishowen when Donegal wins a match. I run up and down, scream, shake my hands in the air and clap but I can also behave this way if I am hungry, frustrated, frightened, agitated, confused etc. I may have difficulty with words but if you observe me really closely you might work out how I’m feeling or what I need.

Keep me safe.
If you see me wandering around on my own, if you see me in my pyjamas or with no shoes, if I look lost, anxious and crossing streets aimlessly on my own, chances are I have wandered/ran off and my carer is looking for me. Please watch out for me until you find my carer or my carer finds me. Thank you.

Now, a word of thanks from Mum…

Thanks for giving my autistic child the thumbs up…the way you smile knowingly…the way you offer to watch him for a minute until I do what I need to do…the way you say hello to him even though he never says hello back…the way you ignore him when he helps himself to his favourite sweets in your shop…the way you wave my money away…the way you give him a drink and some goodies in the cinema when he gets fed up sitting….the way you open up your shop even though you had just closed it to let him check it out…the way you allow him to sneak behind the bar and serve himself a coke, the way you watch over him when he runs into your premises…the way you didn’t object when he went for a good snoop around, the way you offer to fetch our car when he has a melt-down in the middle of the multi-story car park…the way you didn’t react when he poked through your bag…the way you stopped and asked me if there was anything you could do for me…the way you made our visits to the clinic easier…the way you offer him a treat…the way you make us feel welcome in your restaurant. You will see us again and again and again because we are loyal to those that make every day life possible for us.

When you do that, you light us up, not only in April but every day of the year. Thank you for accepting, for understanding and making allowances for all families with Autism.




Let slow be your new fast

First published in the Inishowen Independent.

Admittedly, I have a love hate with all things technical. When it works and if it is used effectively it can enrich our lives in so many ways. However, it’s an irony of our modern lives that while technology is continually invented to save us time we use that time to do more and more things, and so our lives are more hectic than ever. Slowing down is a conscious choice, and not always an easy one, but it leads to a greater appreciation for life and a greater level of happiness. If you feel you are caught up in a whirlwind of life try one or two of these to slow you down and take time to smell the simple life.

1. Do less. It’s hard to slow down when you are trying to do a million things. Instead, make the conscious choice to do less. Focus on what is really important, and let go of the rest. Put space between tasks and appointments, so you can move through your days at a more leisurely pace.

2. Be present. When you find yourself thinking about something you need to do, or something that’s already happened, or something that might happen, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Focus on what’s going on right now, on your actions, on your environment, on others around you.

3. Disconnect. Don’t always be connected. If you carry around an iPhone or Blackberry or other mobile device, shut it off. Better yet, learn to leave it behind when possible.

4. Focus on people. Too often we spend time with friends and family, or meet with colleagues, and we’re not really there with them. We talk to them but are distracted by devices. We are there, but our minds are on things we need to do. We listen, but we’re really thinking about ourselves and what we want to say. None of us are immune to this, but with conscious effort you can shut off the outside world and just be present with the person you’re with.

5. Appreciate nature.  Spend time outside in nature. Take a deep breath of fresh air. Enjoy the serenity of water and greenery. Exercise outdoors when you can, or find other outdoor activities to enjoy such as nature walks, hiking, swimming, etc. Try to do this daily — by yourself or with loved ones.

6. Eat slower. Instead of cramming food down our throats as quickly as possible learn to eat slowly. Be mindful of each bite. Appreciate the flavors and textures. Eating slowly has the double benefit of making you fuller on less food and making the food taste better. Try to eat more real food as well, with some great spices (instead of fat and salt and sugar and frying for flavor).

7. Drive slower. Speed is a pretty prevalent problem and is responsible for a lot of traffic accidents, stress, and wasted fuel. Get into the habit of leaving more time for your journey and drive slower.

8. Find pleasure in everything from washing the dishes to visiting a crabbit relative. Life can be so much more enjoyable if you make up your mind that every experience will be a positive one.

9. Single-task. The opposite of multi-tasking. Focus on one thing at a time. When you feel the urge to switch to other tasks, pause, breathe, and pull yourself back.

10. Breathe. When you find yourself speeding up and stressing out, pause, and take a deep breath. By fully focusing on each breath, you bring yourself back to the present, and slow yourself down. It’s also nice to take a deep breath or two — do it now and see what I mean. 🙂

Further columns for The Bright Side  in the Inishowen Independent can be found here.

World Book Day

Today is World Book Day in Ireland and the UK. Little Missy is home with a brand new book and a book voucher. As I type she has taken to the comfort of her room and has started a READaTHON. Soon she will read dozens of books and collect much needed funds for her school library. She is having a pretty exciting day and so am I.

On World Book Day authors and writers get to talk all day about reading and writing. I spent my day with the most coolabulous awe inspiring fifth class pupils in Scoil Iosagain, Buncrana, Co.Donegal. We chatted about what they liked to read and I give them some tips on how to start writing. That was easy. All I had to do was tell them to grab some coolicious pens and notepads and start creating stories with words. The writing is in the doing. They asked a host of other questions including the most common one, “Are you really wealthy?” Of course I had to tell them the true – I am wealthy in words, books and health…you know all the stuff that matters to writers and authors.

The pupils were extremely wealthy too – in reading material and enthusiasm but one of the things that really made my day was the fact all three classes loved the children’s book I am working on at the moment. It’s about a little girl called Gracie who doesn’t like boys until she meets Niall. Their reaction and pin drop silences has encouraged me to get on with it and send it out there so that’s my focus for the next week. Wish me luck!

A big thanks to all the fababrilln’cool 5th class pupils in Scoil Iosagain, Buncrana (keep reading and writing and remember you are amazing!!!) to all the staff who invited me and thanked me a zillion times for doing what I love to do. Now I have to wait for a whole year before World Book Day comes round again….Maybe I will have my first children’s book published by then. Happy Days!

Want to read a little more about my day and how I developed my love for reading? The magic of books published in the Inishowen Independent today will fill you in.