Alex Lowery speaks about autism

Questions to Alex

What therapies did you have?

I had a number of therapies the first was ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis)and then VB.(Verbal Behaviour) This therapy helped me a lot, but there came a time when the emphasis on only the external behaviours became a problem. The consultant for ABA wanted to stop me ‘stimming’ all the time which would have made me very stressed and unhappy and I wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway. They kept talking about doing things typical kids do, but I’m not typical.I found the Learning Breakthrough Programme really helpful, this is a balancing board programme that helps to connect both sides of the brain. I really felt this helped me. I have always had re-enforcement and I think this is really important for a person with autism because the reward of succeeding is a long way off. I go into a lot of the therapies I have had in a book I am writing about my life. I hope this helps.

What is autism?

Here is a short film that explains what autism is.

How do you manage to do your speeches?

I memorise my speeches and find it a lot easier to speak to a large audience than socialising

How do you find socialising?

I have a lot of difficulty in social skills. I struggle to make friends. I often can’t read people’s body language. It was only a few years ago when I realised body language was even part of communicating.

What is your biggest hope for the future?

I would love it if I could live alone, but a lot of my difficulties would get in the way of this. However, my parents are working on every-day living skills, so I hope I could get to the point where I could live independently.

What was the world like when you were younger?

I found the world a terrifying place because all my senses were mixed up.

What makes ‘Learning’ easier for ASD students?

Every person with autism is different, so different learning techniques will work for different people. However, I would say that it is important to use crystal clear language when teaching those with autism, and teach them one step at a time. Let them learn in whichever way they learn best. When I was 16, I was in a Photography course and one of the ways in which the tutor taught us to edit Photos on the computer, was to have the computer screen on a Projector and show us each thing we had to do, then ask us to do what he had taught. However, this was all too much information for me to take in, so I started doing what he was telling me to do on the computer, as he was telling me, because I learn better that way. The tutor thought I was just being really rude, and destructive, but that was honestly the best way I could learn. So when it comes to students with autism, don’t just assume that because they’re not doing things the accepted way, they are being obstructive. That doesn’t mean that what they are doing doesn’t work for them. Any way of learning which helps, even if it’s different from the norm should be accepted. I find that I learn how to do a lot of things better by looking up tutorials on YouTube, and keep pausing it after each instruction and doing what it says. This helped me a lot, so this may be good for students with autism.

 When meeting ASD students in the corridor, is it good to acknowledge them and have a chat?

This will likely depend on the person and on the situation, but I’d say generally yes. Just because a person has autism, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be spoken to. If anything, they may be glad of someone to talk to, because they’ll likely find it really difficult to interact, and make friends, so they’ll likely be happy when someone does talk to them. However, if a person with autism seems really stressed and asks to be left alone, then I’d say, don’t force them to talk to you. Leave them alone. Also, even though talking to them is good, they’ll likely want time to themselves too, so don’t over-power them with talking to them.

We have students with ASD who reach an overload stage – usually we refer them to a quiet area, but how much further conversation should we engage in with them; is it enough to briefly check that they are physically OK then leave them alone, or should we make further enquiries to identify the ‘triggers’ that have caused the overload. As each student is different perhaps we should discuss with the students the response they would prefer – any further advice?

When an individual with autism is having a meltdown, it’s important not talk or to try to engage with them, and make a fuss. You must just leave them alone to calm down. If you say anything to them, it will just make things worse. When it comes to the quiet area, it’s important to tell them where the quiet area is, before they have the meltdown. When you’re showing them around, just have a quiet place prepared and tell them about it, and they can go in of their own free will.

Should we be concerned if the student wants to stay on his or her own during lunch breaks and not socialise?

I think this depends. They may just feel more comfortable sitting on their own. If this is the case then no, you shouldn’t be concerned; you should let them sit on their on their own, because they may like time to themselves. But the thing is, you don’t know what the reason is for them not wanting to sit with other students. It could be that they find all the social interaction just too difficult. I find that when everyone’s speaking to each other in a social group, I do often want to be a part of it, but I find it too hard. I also find that I often don’t have anything to say, if the people in the group aren’t talking about anything of interest. So it may be good to have some sort of activity going on during the lunch hour, when it may be of interest to some of the autistic students and some of the others. If they normally sit with the other students, but one day refuses to, it may be important to find out what the reason is. They may have experienced bullying, so feel frightened of sitting next to the other students. They may be extremely stressed or anxious.

What makes a ‘good teacher’ for students with a diagnosis of autism?

It’s important to understand that a person with autism thinks differently from a person without autism. If a person on the spectrum seems angry, you shouldn’t tell them off. They may be having a meltdown. If they become really quiet, and don’t respond to what you say, it could also be a sign of a meltdown. If there’s going to be a change in the timetable, make sure you tell an autistic student in advance, and tell them about it gradually. Also, if you say you’re going to do something, you’ve got to make sure you do it, otherwise this’ll likely cause the student anxiety. It’s important to use clear language, and think before you speak. Think if what you’re about to say can be interpreted in a different way. I know that people are often taken away to discuss things. This may not be a good idea for someone with autism. I’ve had this experience, and find it very difficult. Social interaction may also not be the best way for a person with autism to learn. Use some other way if they struggle with it, like maybe ask them to study it for themselves on the computer. It’s important to let an autistic student learn in whichever way works best for them, and give them the right support that they need. However, it is also important not to patronise them and treat them like they’re stupid. It’s important to treat them with respect, and only give as much as support as they need.

What does “stimming” do for you?  What does it feel like? How about rocking in bed – what is it for?

It’s very, very hard for me to explain what Stimming does, but I’ll try my hardest. When I’m Stimming, I’m often going into my own world and imagination! Thinking about things that have happened in the past. It’s often part of the way in which I process what’s happened in my past life. I also do it when thinking about something, which I have a great interest in. I used to view Stimming time as a box with past memories that I’d open and look at. I go into more of this in my autobiography though. I know that without Stimming time, I get very stressed and anxious. Stimming also often helps me to cope with stress and anxiety.

At what age did your parents help you to understand your ASD?

I was told that I had autism when I was 11 years old. Before then, there were a number of things that didn’t make much sense to me, and finding out I had autism helped me to understand these things better.

What strategies do you use to cope when your routine is changed or disrupted?

I think the main way I which I cope with change in routine, is trying to balance the anxious thoughts out with positive thoughts. For example: one time for tea, I had to have a separate plate for the Chips than what I had for the Chicken, but this didn’t usually happen, so it because it was a change I was stressed. But I managed to balance out this anxiety by imagining I was having a two-course meal.

How did you deal with the stimming before therapy?

Before therapy, I pretty much just stimmed and stimmed and stimmed all day every day. I went to a Special School for Children with autism and apparently I was the worst in the whole school for Stimming. There would hardly be a second of me not doing it. The teacher of Class 1 used to try to control my Stimming, but I really couldn’t stop. So there literally wasn’t a way of dealing with it back then. Only after I had therapy, did I learn to control it to a certain degree.

What is the hardest thing you have ever had to overcome regarding autism?

I really don’t know the answer to this! There have just been so many difficult challenges! Far more than I can count! But my anxiety issues have been very hard to overcome to name one. It was very, very hard for me to learn to control my Stimming. I still haven’t stopped completely! I’ve just learned to control it to a certain degree.

Can you explain what a ‘meltdown’ is actually like for you please?

It’s extremely difficult for me to explain this! But I’ll say that when I’m in a meltdown, I feel like I’m in a world of horror! When I was little, I was in a world of panic attacks and meltdowns, and I found the world to be a horrifying place as a result!

At what age did parents help you to understand your ASD?

I was told that I had autism when I was 11 years old. Before then, there were a number of things that didn’t make much sense to me, and finding out I had autism helped me to understand these things better.

Ask Alex a question

Organisations Alex has worked with

  • Autism Cymru
  • Chester University
  • Glyndwr University
  • National Autistic Society
  • St John's Ambulance
  • Welsh Government

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