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Making it two decades!

Tomorrow is the day I turn 20 years old. I have officially survived and lived two decades. It’s crazy to think how fast time flies; how many birthdays I’ve celebrated; how many things have happened and changed. How much I’ve changed.

At 11 years old, I didn’t think I’d survive to be 12. Each year since then has been a battle. Each year since then has been an absolute roller coaster. Joy, change, hurt, sadness, depression, anxiety, happiness, fear, shame. At 15 years old, I cried myself to sleep because I didn’t want to celebrate my 16th birthday and become ‘grown up’. Now I’m sat here, the night before my 20th birthday and I won’t cry myself to sleep. Life isn’t a walk in the park. I’m far from where I want to be but much further than I have been.

Tomorrow I will wake up and celebrate that I have actually made it two decades in this crazy world. Two decades of life to which half has been filled with mental illness…

I will not give up.

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autism · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Is Autism Different in Girls?

Is Autism Different in Girls – Video

Gould and Ashton-Smith (2011) identified the different way in which girls and women present under the following headings: social understanding, social communication, social imagination which is highly associated with routines, rituals and special interests.

 Girls are more able to follow social actions by delayed imitation because they observe other children and copy them, perhaps masking the symptoms of Asperger syndrome.  Girls are often more aware of and feel a need to interact socially. They are involved in social play, but are often led by their peers rather than initiating social contact. Girls are more socially inclined and many have one special friend.

In our society, girls are expected to be social in their communication. Girls on the spectrum do not ‘do social chit chat’ or make ‘meaningless’ comments in order to facilitate social communication. The idea of a social hierarchy and how one communicates with people of different status can be problematic and get girls into trouble with teachers.

Evidence suggests that girls have more active imaginations and more pretend play. Many have a very rich and elaborate fantasy world with imaginary friends. Girls escape into fiction, and some live in another world with, for example, fairies and witches.

The interests of girls in the spectrum are very often similar to those of other girls – animals, horses, classical literature – and therefore are not seen as unusual. It is not the special interests that differentiate them from their peers but it is the quality and intensity of these interests. Many obsessively watch soap operas and have an intense interest in celebrities.

Signs of autism in girls

Social interaction:

  • boys with ASD tend not to appear motivated to be socially interactive, but girls on the spectrum do. However, girls have a history of failure in achieving and maintaining friendships
  • girls gravitate towards older girls, who tend to mother them and act as a form of social “protection”
  • girls may be socially immature and make a preference to play with much younger children who are not challenging and would allow the child with ASD to dominate play, giving them the predictability and control children with autism crave
  • girls with Asperger’s may “adopt” a less able peer, perhaps someone with a learning difficulty, who may themselves be marginalised so they are open to being dominated by the child with ASD
  • girls with Asperger’s may be unnecessarily dependent on their mother (or other primary carer) whom they regard as their best friend and confidante in a social world which they find challenging and frightening.

Social communication:

  • boys engage in disruptive behaviours, whereas girls may be persistently “ill” to gain what they want or control their situation
  • girls with ASD tend to act passively and ignore daily demands, while boys become disruptive in response
  • girls appear more able to concentrate than boys, who become distracted more easily and can be disruptive
  • girls tend to learn social behaviours by observation and copying, which can disguise their social deficits
  • girls may find the idea of social hierarchy difficult, so they can respond inappropriately to people in authority, such as teachers
  • children with ASD of both sexes need to learn the rules of “small talk” which they often find incomprehensible as a pastime. Girls’ difficulties tend to be masked by their passive behaviours and ability to mimic without understanding.

Social imagination:

  • parents may perceive their daughter as being non-specifically “odd”, but without being able to pinpoint the cause
  • imaginative play does exist, but it is intense in nature, often focused on stereotypical female interests, such as dolls, make-up, animals and celebrities – which is why girls with ASD may not seem that different to females not on the spectrum. The key is the intensity and quality of these special interests, which are exclusive, all-consuming and experienced in detail
  • children with ASD can engage in repetitive questioning well beyond the age that those who are not on the spectrum would normally do. They can exhibit poor empathic skills and a lack of social interest. They can also seem disinterested in the classroom and exhibit immature, impulsive and unusual behaviours. An inability to “move on”, even with basic matters, can be common – for example, not being happy to throw away old toys or clothes which the child has long since grown out of. This “cluttering” behaviour can outline their difficulties with change. While such types of behaviour may be common to both sexes, the ways in which they present can be different for boys and girls.

It seems that girls on the autistic spectrum may be less noticeable than boys because they are less disruptive and have an ability to mimic behaviours. However, they lack social understanding and any deep knowledge of language. This becomes increasingly obvious at secondary school level, when there are no younger children to associate with, when peer groups are more mixed and any “protection” may have dissolved. Additionally, multiple stimuli (such as crowds in corridors or screams in playgrounds) and changes to routines which occur at secondary education can increase individual anxiety greatly. Adolescence, involving unstoppable changes, such as menstruation and the growth of breasts and body hair, can profoundly affect girls with ASD, heightening anxieties due to lack of control over what is happening.

Mental health issues for girls

Anorexia nervosa has been called “female Asperger’s” because around one fifth of girls who present with anorexia have traits which are peculiar to the autistic spectrum; around 20 to 30 per cent of anorexic patients are perfectionists and demonstrate rigid modes of thinking and behaviour, which are common autistic traits. Anorexia offers girls with ASD what they perceive to be a positive outcome because lack of nutrition prevents menstruation and physical development.

It is not until puberty that girls’ social difficulties become more obvious, particularly as they enter secondary school when they can become the subject of bullying or can be generally marginalised and perceived as strange. Unlike boys, they become withdrawn, depressed and quiet, rather than aggressive.

Profound anxieties may be demonstrated in altered behaviours, lower grades at school, poor sleep patterns, low mood/depression and obsessive behaviour.

Research from 2011 found that many women who were later diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum initially were thought to have learning difficulties, personality disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder or eating disorders. This differential diagnosis could be related to lack of awareness of how ASD present in females.

All research suggests that an early diagnosis of ASD, followed by appropriate interventions, will optimise the person’s life chances by increasing independence, understanding and accumulation of language and social abilities. To date, the ways in which females present with Asperger’s have not been thoroughly examined or used as the basis for diagnostic tools, which continue to be male dominated.

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journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

Mental health problems can affect the way you think, feel and behave. They affect around one in four people in Britain, and range from common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, to more rare problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A mental health problem can feel just as bad, or worse, as any other physical illness – only you cannot see it.

Some people think that there is an automatic link between mental health problems and being a danger to others. This is an idea that is largely reinforced by sensationalised stories in the media. However, the most common mental health problems have no significant link to violent behaviour. The proportion of people living with a mental health problem who commit a violent crime is extremely small. There are lots of reasons someone might commit a violent crime, and factors like drug and alcohol misuse are far more likely to be the cause of violent behaviour than mental health problems.


Warning Signs

There are over 200 classified forms of mental illness so its clearly very important to be aware of the warning signs. Mental Illness has no clear victim. It affects people of all ages, young and old, of all races and cultures and from all walks of life. Mental illness, like physical illnesses, is on a continuum of severity ranging from mild to moderate to severe.  More than 7 million people from the UK have a mental illness in any given year.  Mental illness affects one in four adults and one in five children. Very few people, however actually seek treatment for mental illness. Many aren’t even aware of the different types of mental health problems and struggle to spot the signs.

So what ARE the warning signs of mental illness?

In an adult:

  • Marked personality change
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Drop in functioning – an unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Strange or grandiose ideas (impulsive, boastful, exaggerated, dreams and fantasies)
  • Excessive anxieties
  • Neurotic or repetitive behaviour (rocking, biting, hitting, head banging, pinching)
  • Prolonged depression and apathy
  • Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Extreme highs and lows
  • Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
  • jumpy/nervous behaviour, easily startled
  • problems with concentration, memory and speech
  • disconnected from self or surroundings
  • withdrawal and a lack of interaction with others
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Excessive anger, hostility, or violent behaviour

A person who is thinking or talking about suicide or homicide should seek help immediately.

In a child:

Having only one or two of the problems listed below is not necessarily cause for alarm. They may simply indicate that a practical solution is called for, such as more consistent discipline or a visit with the child’s teachers to see whether there is anything out of the ordinary going on at school. A combination of symptoms, however, is a signal for professional intervention.

  • The child seems overwhelmed and troubled by his or her feelings, unable to cope with them
  • The child cries a lot
  • The child frequently asks or hints for help
  • The child seems constantly preoccupied, worried, anxious, and intense. Some children develop a fear of a variety of things–rain, barking dogs, burglars, their parents’ getting killed when out of sight, and so on–while other children simply wear their anxiety on their faces.
  • The child has fears or phobias that are unreasonable or interfere with normal activities.
  • The child can’t seem to concentrate on school work and other age-appropriate tasks.
  • The child’s school performance declines and doesn’t pick up again.
  • The child loses interest in playing.
  • The child tries to stimulate himself or herself in various ways. Examples of this kind of behaviour include excessive thumb sucking or hair pulling, rocking of the body, head banging to the point of hurting himself, and masturbating often or in public.
  • The child isolates himself or herself from other people.
  • The child regularly talks about death and dying.
  • The child appears to have low self-esteem and little self-confidence. Over and over the child may make such comments as: “I can’t do anything right.” “I’m so stupid.” “I don’t see why anyone would love me.” “I know you [or someone else] hates me.” “Nobody likes me.” “I’m ugly. . . too big. . . too small. . . too fat. . . too skinny. . . too tall. . . too short, etc.”
  • Sleep difficulties don’t appear to be resolving. They include refusing to be separated from one or both parents at bedtime, inability to sleep, sleeping too much, sleeping on the parent’s or parents’ bed, nightmares, and night terrors.

If you spot any of these warning signs in yourself or in another person please speak concerns to a health professional such as a GP or a charity that can help with advice such as childline or samaritans.

For more information on mental illness:

Mind

Rethink

NHS

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autism · eating disorder · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

What’s It Like to Live with Autism?

Living with Autism can be a struggle sometimes, but theres not much that sets us apart from everyone else.

We are all different. Some differences are easy to see – height, gender, hair style, eye colour and so on. Some differences can’t be seen – our favourite foods, fears or special skills. Interestingly, the way we see the world is also different.

All brains work differently. The brain is the body’s computer and works differently for all of us. It controls how we learn which is why we are all good at different things. It also controls how we feel which is why we all feel different emotions. It also controls how we communicate. Sometimes the brain is connected in a way that it affects senses, and how we perceive and read situations and interactions. This is known as Autism.

Many people have autism, so its likely you know someone who is autistic and for this reason its useful to know a little bit about autism. The special wiring inside an autistic brain can sometimes make us good at tasks you find difficult such as maths, drawing or music. It can also do the opposite and activities ‘normal’ people find easy are incredibly difficult to us, such as making friends. The senses constantly send information to the brain about our surroundings and other people, however when the brain and senses don’t communicate well, the brain can become overwhelmed and confused, affecting how we see the world.

We all develop behaviours to help us feel calm and comfortable. ‘Normal’ people may look away, fidget, bite your nails and so on. Equally, autistic people develop behaviours that help us cope with intense moments. These actions may seem unusual but its our way of feeling calm. It’s known as stimming. When it happens, it means we’re having a hard time. The kind thing to do is not to give us a harder time by getting cross, ignoring us or mocking us.

People with autism are not ill or broken, we simply have a unique view of the world, and with a little support from our friends we might just be able to share that feeling with you!

Autism can make amazing things happen!

Amazing Things Happen – Autism Video

autism · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Autism and Self-Injurious Behaviours

Self-injury can be one of the most distressing and difficult behaviours that parents, carers, family members and people with autism themselves may face.

Sometimes referred to as self-harm, self-injurious behaviour is any activity in which a person inflicts harm or injury on themselves. About half of people with autism engage self-injurious behaviour at some point in their life. It can take many different forms, including:

  • head banging (on floors, walls or other surfaces)
  • hand or arm biting
  • hair pulling
  • eye gouging
  • face or head slapping
  • skin picking, scratching or pinching
  • forceful head shaking.

People across the spectrum and of all ages may engage in self-injurious behaviours at some point. People who engaged in self-injurious behaviours as children may return to these as adults during times of stress, illness or change.

Usual behavioural intervention approaches are not always appropriate. Seek professional guidance for any self-injurious behaviour which is difficult to manage or resistant to intervention, or for any behaviour which places the person at risk of harm.

Causes

The reasons a person engages in self-injurious behaviours can be wide and varied, and will often involve a complex interaction between multiple factors. People with learning disabilities told Self-Injury Support that they self-injure when:

  • they feel they are not listened to
  • they have been told off
  • they have little or no choice about things
  • they have been bullied
  • they are involved in arguments, or hear other people arguing
  • they are feeling unwell
  • they have memories of a bereavement
  • they have memories of abuse.

MEDICAL OR DENTAL PROBLEMS

People with autism may have difficulty communicating to others that something is wrong physically and particular self-injurious behaviours (such as ear slapping or head banging) may be their way of coping with pain or communicating discomfort.

MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

Some self-injurious behaviour may indicate underlying mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

REPETITIVE BEHAVIOUR

Repetitive behaviours, obsessions and routines are common in people with autism, and some forms of self-injury may be expressions of this feature.

DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES

Some self-injurious behaviour may be persisting remnants of earlier motor behaviours which occur during particular developmental periods (eg hand mouthing which may continue beyond infancy).

COMMUNICATION

Sudden self-injurious behaviour can get a very quick response from other people, and many such behaviours occur in people who have no other functional way of communicating their needs, wants and feelings.

  • Head slapping, or banging the head on a hard surface, may be a way of communicating frustration, getting a preferred object of activity, or reducing demands.
  • Hand biting may help someone cope with anxiety or excitement.
  • Skin picking or eye gouging may be a response to lack of stimulation or boredom.

LEARNED BEHAVIOUR

The person may learn that self-injurious behaviour can be a very powerful way of controlling the environment. A behaviour (eg head slapping) which was initially a response to physical pain or discomfort could eventually become a way of avoiding or ending an undesired situation (eg turning the television off, interrupting an argument taking place nearby).

Reactive strategies

Appropriate responses will vary according to the behaviour, but here are some pointers on what to do when the behaviour is happening. It is important when using any of these strategies that the person is also provided with opportunities to develop skills to communicate their needs more appropriately and to self-regulate stress and anxiety levels.

RESPOND QUICKLY

Intervene early, and respond quickly and consistently to incidents of self-injury. Even if the behaviour serves the function of gaining attention from others, it is never appropriate to ignore severe self-injurious behaviour.

KEEP RESPONSES LOW KEY

Limit verbal comments, facial expressions and other displays of emotion, as these may inadvertently reinforce the behaviour. Try to speak calmly and clearly, in a neutral and steady tone of voice.

REDUCE DEMANDS

The person may be finding a task too difficult or that they are unable to complete the activity at that time. Come back to the activity again later when the person is feeling calmer.

REMOVE PHYSICAL AND SENSORY DISCOMFORTS

Remove unpleasant sensory input. Provide relief for physical discomfort (eg pain killers) if a medical professional has advised this after seeing the person.

REDIRECT

Tell the person what they need to do instead of the self-injurious behaviour, eg “David, hands down”. Use visual cues such as picture symbols to back up instructions. Redirect to another activity that is incompatible with the self-injury (eg an activity that requires both hands) and provide praise and reinforcement for the first occurrence of appropriate behaviour, eg “David, that’s excellent playing with your train”.

PROVIDE LIGHT PHYSICAL GUIDANCE

If the person is having difficulty stopping the behaviour, provide light physical guidance, eg gently guide their hand away from their head, using as little force as possible. Immediately try to redirect attention to another activity and be prepared to provide physical guidance again if the person attempts to re-commence self-injurious behaviour. This approach must be used with extreme caution as it may escalate the behaviour or cause the person to target others.

USE BARRIERS

Place a barrier between the person and the object that is causing harm. For head slapping, place a pillow or cushion between the person’s head and their hand. For hand or arm biting, provide an alternative object to bite down on. For head banging on a hard surface, place a cushion or pillow between the surface and the person’s head. You can get removable padding that is placed temporarily on the floors or walls to minimise injury.

CONSIDER PHYSICAL RESTRAINTS

Some self-injurious behaviour can place the person at serious risk of harm. In these instances, it may be appropriate to explore the use of physical restraints such as arm restraints, gloves or helmets. These may also reduce the sensory experience and frequency of the behaviour.

However, physical restraints are very restrictive and should always be used under the guidance of a specialist to ensure they are used safely and appropriately, and with a plan to fade out their use over time.

Physical restraints do not address the cause of the behaviour, so they must never be used in isolation without teaching the person new skills which address the function of the behaviour.

CALL FOR HELP

In extreme circumstances or emergencies, call 999 for assistance.

Preventative strategies

Here are some ideas about how to prevent self-injurious behaviours.

RULE OUT MEDICAL AND DENTAL CAUSES

Visit the GP or dentist and seek a referral to a specialist if needed. Bring along notes about when the behaviour happens (ie what time of day and in which situations), how often it happens, when it first started, and how long it lasts.

THINK ABOUT THE FUNCTION OF THE BEHAVIOUR

Complete a behaviour diary, which records what is occurring before, during and after the behaviour, or a functional analysis questionnaire, to help you to understand the purpose of the behaviour. Make notes on the environment, including who was there, any change in the environment and how the person was feeling.

INCREASE STRUCTURE AND ROUTINE

Establish a clear daily routine to increase predictability and thereby reduce anxiety. Try to build a range of activities into the person’s routine to minimise boredom and restrict opportunities for the person to engage in self-injurious behaviour. Make plans for difficult times of the day. Increase structure and provide additional supervision and support to the person during these periods or activities. People with Pathological Demand Avoidance may need a less directive and more flexible approach than others on the autism spectrum.

PROVIDE SENSORY OPPORTUNITIES

Find alternative activities that provide a similar sensory experience and build these into the daily routine. Jumping on a trampoline or swinging on a swing may provide needed stimulation to the vestibular system (that head shaking or slapping may have previously provided). Providing the person with a bum bag of edible or safe objects to chew on that provide different sensory experiences such as gum, carrots, raw pasta or sultanas may reduce the need for hand or arm biting.

INTRODUCE COMMUNICATION TOOLS

Support the person to use other ways of communicating their wants, needs and physical pain or discomfort, eg by using visual supports such as pictures of body parts, symbols for symptoms, or pain scales, pain charts or apps.

REWARD APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOURS

Provide frequent encouragement to the person for engaging in appropriate behaviour and for periods in which they did not engage in the self-injurious behaviour. This will help the person learn that other, more appropriate behaviours bring positive outcomes.

Rewards can take the form of verbal praise and attention, preferred activities, toys, tokens or sometimes small amounts of favourite foods or drinks. Ensure that you clearly name the behaviour that you are rewarding, eg “Jane, that’s good waiting!” and ensure that rewards are provided immediately after the behaviour that you wish to encourage eg “You can spend 10 minutes on the computer now”.

It should be noted that some people with autism do not enjoy social attention. In these circumstances, verbal praise can cause distress and actually stop the person engaging in the desired behaviour in the future.

MEDICATION

Medication may help to reduce the frequency of self-injurious behaviour for some people. As with physical restraints, medication should be seen as a last resort approach to management and again, should never be used without teaching new skills and consulting a medical specialist.

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[Source: National Autistic Society]

eating disorder · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Do YOU have an eating disorder?

There are various different types of eating disorders and it can be difficult to spot whether a person’s food habits signify those of someone with an eating disorder. This blog post asks questions about your eating habits to determine if you may be struggling with food. It is not a diagnosis. Answering yes to the questions could indicate you have an eating disorder and you should seek advice from a doctor.

  1. Do you spend a significant amount of time worrying about your body, weight or shape?

  2. Would you say that food, or thinking about food, dominates your life?

  3. Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?

  4. Do you make yourself sick when you feel uncomfortably full?

  5. Do you believe that you are fat when others say you are too thin?

  6. Do you avoid food or eating? – OR – Have you experienced a lack of interest in food or eating?

    If you suspect that you or someone you know has an eating disorder, it is important to seek help immediately. The earlier you seek help the closer you are to recovery. While your GP may not be formally trained in detecting the presence of an eating disorder, he/she is a good ‘first base.’ A GP can refer you on to a practitioner with specialised knowledge in eating disorders.

    find your local eating disorder service here

    https://www.b-eat.co.uk/

    https://eatingdisorder.org/eating-disorder-information/

    http://eating-disorders.org.uk/

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autism · eating disorder · grief · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · savannah lloyd · Uncategorized

100 Reasons to Stay Alive

Suicidal thoughts make every minute of the day a struggle. We are often left questioning why we are still here and what the future holds for us. We wonder how we can keep living a life that has been so hard. We wonder if we’ll ever get better and get the help we need. Mental health problems can be frustrating, isolating, and deathly.

However, there are people out there who understand and want to help. Here are 100 reasons as to why you should stay alive if you’re currently struggling!

  1. to have hugs that last more than a minute
  2. a smile from someone special
  3. melted chocolate
  4. ice cream on a hot day
  5. adventures with friends
  6. recovery
  7. stargazing
  8. watching a sunset
  9. laughing uncontrollably
  10. you’ve made it this far
  11. building forts
  12. eating fresh baked cookies
  13. bonfires and hoodies
  14. graduation
  15. pregnancy and new life
  16. finding a person you love
  17. late night adventures
  18. overcoming fears
  19. dancing in the rain
  20. walking through the countryside
  21. making friends with nature
  22. life is beautiful
  23. movie nights
  24. foot massages
  25. saturday mornings
  26. you have forever to be dead
  27. to be happy one day
  28. you’re beautiful
  29. you can make a huge difference on the world
  30. moving to a new place
  31. getting a pet
  32. new clothes at summer
  33. dancing without care
  34. picnics with friends
  35. long drives
  36. waking up late
  37. to prove them all wrong
  38. to love and be loved
  39. the ocean
  40. very loud music
  41. days out
  42. watching a concert/play
  43. reading your favourite book
  44. conversations that last all night
  45. to plan for the future
  46. to learn new things
  47. you are important
  48. christmas morning
  49. someday the pain will end
  50. warm baths
  51. the first snow of winter
  52. first kisses
  53. sand between your toes
  54. flowers in spring
  55. pyjamas after a hard, long day
  56. new bed sheets
  57. water balloon fights
  58. thrill of roller coasters
  59. meeting your favourite celebrities
  60. fireflies
  61. icecream
  62. days spent outside
  63. the sound of water
  64. visiting a place from childhood
  65. all the places you’ve never been
  66. music whilst driving
  67. to look back at all the shit you got through
  68. buying new clothes
  69. meeting internet friends in real life
  70. to succeed
  71. to work in the career you’ve always wanted
  72. baby laughter
  73. sleep
  74. a hot cup of tea
  75. rules to break
  76. to help someone
  77. smiling at strangers
  78. dreams
  79. the last day of school/work
  80. taking pictures
  81. brownies
  82. bubbles
  83. water slides
  84. going on holiday
  85. to fall asleep on someone
  86. to be protected
  87. to grow
  88. to make new memories
  89. to look back on old memories
  90. to laugh at childhood pictures
  91. sit with animals and nature
  92. to be loved by a pet
  93. swimming on a hot day
  94. the first signs of autumn
  95. to binge-watch a series
  96. to live independently
  97. to get somewhere in life
  98. to breathe
  99. to grow
  100. so that you can say that you’re alive

 

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