Over time Ota didn’t just become a favorite toy. It was more like a sensory comfort. He always liked rubbing it or banging it against his cheek, he stroked its tail every time he took a bottle and clasped on tight to it while he slept. Deep in his sleep his hand would move around until he found Ota’s tail and clasp on it and settle back into sleep, he didn’t wake up or open his eyes, he did this in his sleep.
Bilal holding Ota’s tail while taking a bottle
Because of my don’t go out with Ota rule, my mom bought a similar toy cat to be kept at their house so Bilal can play with it there and have it in case he naps or we stay over. That extra cat came along to the trip to the US when I was pregnant with baby brother. He had both cats by the tail on the plane with him and they came along for the our 12 hour car trip to Southern Florida to visit family.
Ota and Twin
Needless to say Ota has been through a lot, she’s been around longer than Bilal has, she’s been washed and dried countless times, she’s traveled continents. She’s an old little thing… the plastic glass eyes are scratched and chipped, her stuffing has long been unfluffed, her white fur has turned a shade of grey that doesn’t come out in the wash. A few months ago her back was ripped and I stitched it up. Last month her neck was torn and her head was held on by a small part. So I took to taking out all the unfluff, wash it, stuff it with new fluffy fluff, put in a few drops of lavender essential oil for calming effects, and stitch it back up.
New fluffy fluff
Stuffed clean lavender scented Ota
Still sleeping with Ota
Dental visits can be very tough for a child with autism. The sensory overload, too much touching, noise, instruments, lights, possible pain. Even typical children and adults have a tough time at the dentist. Thankfully Bilal’s experiences have been good so far. When he was a baby or toddler, I never brushed his teeth, as a baby he had a toothbrush he would sometimes chew on and then as a toddler he liked to copy me and brush his teeth and I was fine with that, with doctor visits so difficult I didn’t see the point of visiting a dentist with his no issues or complaints with his teeth. As we were applying for pre-k it was required to get a dentist form, so I asked his pediatrician for a referral and we went to the first name on her list. Bilal absolutely refused to put the x-ray film into his mouth and the screaming and tense body reactions started so the dentist said it was fine for now due to his age (3 and a half) the check up, cleaning and fluoride was another struggle with the dentist holding him down. On the form I was honest and marked that we didn’t brush every day so when the dentist saw that he went on to give me a long lecture about how horrible and irresponsible that was of me and how important teeth health was and that it was essential that I brush his teeth for 3 minutes twice a day and floss daily and on and on he went. I thought by telling him my son has autism and sensory issues it would shut him up some. Surprise surprise he said that his son has autism too and he wraps him up in a blanket burrito style, puts him on the floor, puts his legs over him and tilts his head and brushes his teeth, every night its a struggle but its for his son’s own good. I was shocked he was telling me practically to tie down my son and force brush his teeth, how will he ever accept to brush his teeth without a fight and how will he ever enjoy it. At the end of the visit he gave Bilal the bag with the toothbrush, toothpaste and from the treasure box he gave him a little sand timer so he can (or I can) make sure to brush for the 3 minutes. He also snapped a Polaroid picture of him and Bilal together saying it would help Bilal recognize him and the office and it would help with our follow up visits. That picture ended up in the garbage. I thanked him and got the form, went home and cancelled the 6 month follow up visit that the receptionist had set and decided never to go see him again. Our dental routine was the same after that, he had a toothbrush that he would use occasionally by himself no complaints or battles. A couple years later I really don’t remember what it was that made me decide to pay attention to dental health, his younger brother had fallen a couple of times and bumped his teeth so I called their pediatrician again and asked for another dentist and we went there, the clinic was set up with a large waiting area and a lot of play areas for the kids, all the decor was colorful and child appealing. I felt more comfortable there and the boys did too. The check-up went more smoothly, we got the x-rays done and I didn’t get a lecture only a quick piece of advice. At home I brushed their teeth every night in the bath, it was quick and easy and they had no complaints, it was a part of the bath routine. We went back again for the 6 month follow up and it went even better as the older Bilal gets the more mature and less sensory issues he faces. A cavity was found and he was only given laughing gas, no sedation, no restraints, he did a really good job and the nurses were very friendly and explained everything to him and answered all his questions and they explained the need to floss and he was okay with it after that, so now the flossing has been added to the bath routine with no complaints. At this clinic they get the little bag with the toothbrush and toothpaste but attached to that bag is a helium balloon that they love, and if they had more than a check-up and cleaning they get a little fun toy (not a timer)
This was when Bilal was 2, I heard him in the bathroom so I go check on him and find that he had climbed into the sink to play with our toothbrushes.
I give him his own brush and snap this shot. He doesn’t enjoy it much.
So in conclusion yes dental health is important but I believe that it can be taken in a slower pace and also very important is choosing the best dentist and practice, someone who can understand your child’s sensory needs and is patient and friendly enough to have the child enjoy the visit. You’d think a parent of a child with autism would be more understanding but surprisingly it wasn’t for us.
Also known as hippo-therapy which basically is horseback riding therapy, it is a well known and accepted therapy for those on the autism spectrum. Horseback riding in itself teaches discipline, strength and posture while the movement of the horse teaches the child balance. Dealing with the horse teaches the child compassion towards animals and how to treat them nicely. Used as therapy they also include brushing the horse before and after riding as a sensory stimulation, the child helps with the saddle for fine motor skills, on the horse they have the child use his words to command the horse to “go” and “stop”, they have the child hold on with 1 hand or no hands (for balance and vestibular training), they had little games of stopping the horse leaning down and picking up a toy and dropping it off at another area, the therapists would describe the toy or animal for speech therapy, they also had him throw bean bags into a bucket from atop the horse and pick rings and slide them on horizontal poles. They also let the child ride backwards for awhile also for balance and vestibular training.
Bilal has been in speech and OT for 4 months now and making a lot of progress alhamdullah mashaAllah so we decided we could move onto something else, something beneficial but also fun, so we looked into horseback riding. Last month we had gone to a county fair and they had pony rides and Bilal loved it, he sat tall and held the saddle on his own and had a lot of fun so therapy would be great. When we got to the farm and he could see all the horses in the distance he got really excited and rushed into it, no apprehension towards the new therapists and he followed all directions really well. So we’ve decided to continue with it, an hour a week every weekend weather permitting inshaAllah it will be of benefit to him.
I found the therapy location through the Autism Speaks resource guide website. It’s called Brecht Stables and Dustin’s Place, it was founded by a mother of a child (Dustin) with Down’s Syndrome to teach children with disabilities. It is in Cumming, GA. She has a website, Facebook page (lots of pictures of the farm, horses and her family), and Twitter account.
In Islam there is a Hadith (a saying for the Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him) in which he said “Teach your children swimming, archery and horse riding” it means that children should grow up fit and knowledgeable of such recreational activities, which at the time were essential to survival, now it could be adapted to mean swimming and car driving but horseback riding is still important as the benefits are so many for children with disabilities and for those typically developing.