Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessments

It’s the second last day of the blogging challenge I’m participating in. I’m really surprised, and proud that I’ve made it this far. Today’s challenge is to write a post that starts a discussion. I would really love it if you commented here, or over on my Facebook page.

After writing my story post on my eldest boy and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), I had a couple of discussions with other people about their family’s journey with ASD, and difficulties in getting children assessed, diagnosed, and receiving support to help their child reach their full potential. My eldest was diagnosed in a different part of the country to where we live now, and the assessment processes are very different in these two different areas – or they were, I don’t know if the process has changed where we used to live.

So, if you have a child or family member with ASSD, I would love to hear about the assessment and diagnosis process for ASD where you live. This can be whether you live in Australia – I know different states and territories have different processes; or whether you live in other parts of the world.

For our family, we lived in Darwin in the Northern Territory when my eldest boy was diagnosed. Back in 2010, we only needed one paediatric developmental specialist to make a diagnosis, however, the assessment process was carried out over multiple appointments over the period of three months. When I asked our paediatric speech therapy team for advice on ASD assessment, they gave me the contact details of the the paediatric development team at out local public hospital. We saw our GP for a referral, and luckily for us, we had an appointment a month later. The assessment was carried out by a paediatric psychiatrist who asked questions about the signs I had noticed, and who also evaluated my boy’s behaviour, language, and social skills. Following his diagnosis, we were referred to a paediatrician, and to a paediatric psychologist at the local children and youth mental health team. Both the paediatrician and the psychologist confirmed the diagnosis made by the psychiatrist. So for us, from initial referral to a diagnosis being made was about four months. This allowed us to access ASD therapy services really quickly. I honestly believe that it was this access to early intervention services that has resulted in the huge gains that my boy has made.

I’ve since heard that the assessment in Darwin is a lot harder than it was when we lived there. We live in Western Australia now. From what I’ve been told by other ASD families, the assessment and diagnosis process here requires a child to be evaluated by three specialists over multiple appointments, including a paediatrician, speech pathologist, and a paediatric psychologist or psychiatrist. I’m also led to believe that waiting lists, especially through the public system, are quite long, and leads to delays in diagnosis, and in access early intervention services. On the other hand, while the private system is quicker, it comes at a huge financial cost to families.

So, what the assessment process where you live? Is there a huge out of pocket cost to have a child evaluated? And what are the waiting lists like?

I’d love to read about your experiences.

Procrastination

I’m staring at the last essay of my nursing degree. I’m 1000 words in, 500 to go, and I just can’t find the motivation to finish it. I know what I’m writing, I’ve done my research. I know I’ll end up way over my word count (as usual), and have some serious editing to do before I submit it in 2.5 weeks time. I’ve got full days at uni tomorrow and Friday, and my final six weeks of prac starting next week, so the time is now. Now. Now!

Except I’m doing everything I can to avoid finishing the damn thing. I’m even giving attention to this lonely old blog that I’ve neglected due to prioritising studying. You know, for good grades and all, and knowing what I’m going to be practising once I’ve finished. I’ve cleared my email inbox, emptied the washing basket. I’ve been to the gym. I’ve paid the bills. All that’s left is to write this essay.

Or maybe make another cup of coffee.

Image source here.

Public speaking survival tips

For me, public speaking is up there with spiders and heights for causing undue anxiety. My armpits and palms start sweating, I get nauseous and want to stick my head in the toilet, my breathing speeds up and becomes more shallow, and I get a nervous bladder. I’d rather be anywhere other than at the front of a room with everyone’s attention focussed on me.

My last two uni assessments for the semester (excluding exams) have been group oral presentations. So yeah, I was feeling all of the anxiety things. I got through though, and I actually think I did alright, at least my tutor from my first presentation said so, and a friend from my class for my second presentation told me I spoke well and she couldn’t tell I was nervous. Winning! So as someone who HATES public speaking, but seems to have alright despite my anxiety, I thought I’d share my top tips for making it through.

1. Be prepared. Research your topic as early as possible, and write your notes. This way you have plenty of time to edit what you have written, time the length of your speech, and make any necessary changes so that you run pretty close to your allowed time. Know your topic. You want your audience to believe that you know what you’re talking about.

2. Rehearse. This means that on the day, you will spend less time reading from your notes, and more time making eye contact with your audience. Tutors/teachers love eye contact! Audiences are more engaged if you spend time making eye contact rather than reading from your notes the whole time. Rehearsing also means you are less likely to stumble over words that are a bit of a tongue twister.

3. Get a good night’s sleep. I think this speaks for itself. If you’ve had a decent sleep, you’re going to be in a better frame of mind, and in a better position to put your coping/stress-relief strategies into place.

4. Break the ice. Find a way to speak to your audience and give them a bit of a giggle, if it fits in with your presentation. It’s a bit of a pressure relief, and lightens the mood. The topic of my first group presentation was breastfeeding, and so I mention to my fellow students at the start that while I had been rehearsing at home, I had been subconsciously demonstrating on myself how to massage a blocked milk duct during feeding, and I apologised in advanced incase I started massaging myself during the presentation. It worked well to break the ice, and I didn’t end up feeling myself up during the presentation. Win-win!

5. Remember that everyone in the room with you wants you to do well. This was a tip from a friend on Facebook. Your tutor/teacher (if you’re a student) wants you to do well, they want you to pass. And your audience has probably felt similar anxiety, especially if they are also presenting.

6. Involve your audience in your presentation. Involving your audience in some way, e.g., asking them questions or asking them to volunteer for some aspect of your presentation, takes some of the focus off you, and also asks as an ice breaker. I find I am much more comfortable interacting with audience members as I am not so focused on reading my notes, and someone else is sharing the attention.

7. Fake it until you make it. Even if you don’t feel confident talking to a bunch of people, try to act like you are. It feels like my heart is beating a million miles an hour when I’m up the front of the room speaking. I make a point of slowing down my speech, making eye contact with audience members, and smiling. The more you deliberately do things to improve your presentation, the more natural they will feel.

8. Breathe. Take some slow deep breaths before you begin your presentation to centre yourself and focus. During your presentation, if you find  yourself stumbling, or talking too fast, take a moment to pause and breathe. Everyone would prefer you to take a moment to refocus and collect your thoughts than to keep stumbling through. I also find it helpful to pause and breathe after each section of my presentation. This allows me to close that section in my mind, and focus on the next bit of information I am going to share.

9. Congratulate yourself. Make sure you acknowledge the work you put in, even if you don’t think you did very well. Getting through a presentation when you’d much rather be anywhere else, doing anything else, is a huge achievement and deserves congratulations. If you presented in a group, congratulate and thank each other for each person’s efforts.

10. Learn from your presentation. Run a mental debrief in your mind and work out what areas you need to work on for next time. I know that in both my presentations I said ‘um’ a lot, and so in the future I’m going to work on not saying ‘um’ quite so much. Take on board any feedback from your audience and tutors/teachers, or anyone else. So far I haven’t received any marks for my presentations, but I did get lots of positive feedback from my tutor for my first presentation. Feedback for my second presentation comes with my marks. Feedback I received from previous presentations included talking too fast, too much reading from my notes, and not enough eye contact. These were points I made a deliberate effort to improve on with these two presentations, and I think it paid off.

Hopefully these tips will be of use to someone, and I’d love to read other people’s tips for public speaking – I’m always looking for ways to improve. Right now I am so glad that I don’t need to worry about any oral presentations until at least February next year.