Primary School Years: Meditation, Animals & Developing Interests – Extract from ‘Look Into My Eyes’

At about eight years of age, I found a book that had a profound influence on me – The Magic of Thinking Big. This was a book I found lying around the house one day, and as a small child who loved magic, seeing a book with ‘Big’ and ‘Magic’ both written in the title was enough to make me want to know what it was about. The book taught me that you can achieve almost anything; you just have to plan and put in effort.

I learnt an incredible amount between the age of eight and ten – it has helped me immensely. The next significant learning wasn’t until I was 13, when I discovered hypnosis. As well as discovering The Magic of Thinking Big, I also lived in an environment that allowed me to spend a lot of time in the woods – or at least outside, with nature. I used to spend much of my time sitting in trees. I found life at home often stressful and noisy, and I wanted to escape, so I would go into the woods. I would find a tree, climb up high, and sit on a branch with my eyes closed, just listening.

In the tree I would focus my attention on the sounds of birds. I would try to locate where they were by focusing on individual sounds. I would focus on the sounds of the rustling leaves and try to notice each individual one, trying to break the sound down and see how it was formed. As an eight-year-old, I had never heard of meditation, but I had discovered meditation for myself. Sitting in a tree doing this helped me to feel calm; it helped to shut out the ’noise’. I think I was lucky having the opportunity to grow up in the countryside rather than in a town during this period of my life. Warningcamp became a place I would call home as a child – and still think of as home now.

Having a mum who was a riding instructor also gave me the opportunity to be around horses for all of my childhood. Mum has always told me I seemed to have a natural talent for horse-riding. I think I just feel a closer connection to animals than I do to people. Animals don’t expect me to try to communicate with them verbally – they don’t communicate with multiple messages, like people do. Most animals communicate very simply. People can say one thing and mean something else, and then when you don’t understand that they meant something else, they get annoyed or they tell you that you are stupid for not realising or understanding. On the other hand, an animal will just communicate one message at a time.

I used to have no problem getting on to any horse and riding it – horses seemed to trust me, as I did them. That doesn’t mean I thought they would never hurt me, but what I trusted was that they would be clear with their messages, and that I would understand them. Most wild animals, and many other animals, don’t demand my attention. I like being in nature, just observing, rather than needing to play with the animals. I love observing and learning, and it was this mindset which helped me to discover meditation sitting in the trees. All I was trying to do was to observe and learn. In the same way that someone parking a car may turn the music down to help them park, I closed my eyes to help me hear and focus.

During these early years, I started to become aware of patterns. I don’t know whether I had always liked patterns, but I was becoming more self-aware and so becoming more aware of what I liked and didn’t like. I seemed to have an ability to guess well with competitions like ‘how many coins are in the jar’. At a country fair, when I was about eight, I guessed the number of coins in a jar and got it correct. During the summer holidays when I was nine or ten, myself – along with many other children from the two primary schools in Arundel – painted a mural of different animals. On the last day, we were told to guess how many animals were on the mural, and the person who guessed closest would win a prize to be presented by the Mayor of Arundel. I guessed closest – just one number out.

Many of my lifelong interests started between the ages of five and ten. I have always been confused by people changing tastes and interests as they grow up. My view is that if you like something, why would you one day not like it? Between five and ten, I developed an interest in the music of Elvis Presley; I discovered books that taught me things, rather than just being stories; and I started meditating, although I didn’t know it was meditation at the time. I also became aware of some of my habits which would sometimes get me in trouble.

If I heard tunes or sounds, I would make the same sound myself, usually whistling it. I would copy words or phrases that people said which, for some reason, resonated in my mind when I heard them. What’s more, I would often copy them in a replication of the person’s voice. I didn’t realise that mimicking people could offend them – it would just happen automatically. I didn’t even realise I was mimicking them. And when I became aware I was saying or doing something, like whistling or saying a phrase in a specific way, I didn’t normally know where it came from or why I was saying it – it would just happen.

I would find myself mimicking accents and speech patterns that seemed to resonate with me. The best way to avoid offending people was to avoid people, to try and keep my mouth shut, and to keep what went through my head in my head. This was never easy, as most of what I would do would just happen. Often others would point out to me what I was doing, and I found it very difficult to stop something when I didn’t notice myself doing it.

Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis, & Me by Dan Jones, is available in Paperback and for Amazon Kindle: http://apn.to/prod/1542551196

My Autism Journey

I received an adult diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a few years ago. I suspected I had autism for many years, but I didn’t want to be labelled, so never sought diagnosis until my life hit a point where I felt it was the only way I would get the help and support I needed.

Growing up I had always been different to others around me including my three brothers. My mum described me as a little scientist. As a child I was generally quiet, I tried to keep away from people, I would often do things alone rather than with others. My dad was concerned about me saying that he thought something was wrong with me, but found it difficult to put into words and be taken seriously about his concerns. He was concerned about many things including that I didn’t seem to know how to play, and I didn’t seem to be able to use reciprocal communication unless told to do so. Back in the 1980’s his concerns were dismissed. Mum said from birth I never liked being hugged, and would never hug back if I was cuddled, I didn’t have any issues walking away from mum to go into nursery school, even on my first day. She described how I walked straight in without looking back or acknowledging her, whereas my three brothers all got upset and distressed at leaving their mother on their first day of school.

Mum had tried to organise a birthday party for me when I was about 5 years old, but no-one attended. This apparently didn’t particularly bother me, but bothered mum.

I rarely felt a need to speak out, I kept myself to myself, so through school I was largely ignored. As long as everything was predictable and as I wanted, things went fine in school, but if anyone tried to do anything like giving me the bumps or jumping on me I would do whatever I had to do to make myself feel comfortable again. I didn’t care what extent of violence I would have to use, or who I would have to be violent to. If I was unable to escape the situation without violence I would do whatever I had to do to feel comfortable again. I was very stubborn, because I hate change I would refuse to do things when change occurred. This continued into my working life. When I started work I would walk out of the job if they made changes to my work situation. I wouldn’t think about the consequences of this, all I would be thinking is that I am not happy with the situation, so I need to leave the situation to feel comfortable again. I would be blunt with managers telling them when they are making stupid decisions, and telling them to shut up when they are not listening.

In my early twenties I started working in mental health, and then moved into working in children’s homes before moving into family support work where I was supporting those with autism and their parents and carers. Colleagues would often comment on how I was like the autistic people we supported, and as time went by I considered that I might be on the autistic spectrum. I never considered seeking a diagnosis because I didn’t like the idea of having a label, until workplace discrimination which I had faced in many jobs I had done, reached a point where I felt helpless and trapped, and I became depressed to the point where I wrote a date in my phone that I would kill myself because that seemed like the logical solution for resolving my situation. It was at this point I decided to seek diagnosis, feeling that it could lead to me getting the support I need to help improve my work situation. The diagnosis has been more beneficial for me than I could ever have imagined, it has helped others around me understand me better, it has helped me be more open about myself with others, and it has allowed me to help others through talks and writing my book Look Into My Eyes.

Look Into My Eyes: http://apn.to/prod/1542551196 (Link directs people to their local Amazon website. The book is also available from other retailers as an ebook (Kindle, iBookstore, Kobo, Nook, GooglePlay, etc) and paperback (retail paperback edition ISBN: 978-1326917340)

Autism: Dealing with Anger – Tips for Parents

Those with autism often have extremes of emotion, they can be calm one minute and angry the next, sometimes without any obvious cause. This can be intimidating and frightening for parents. There are some helpful ways to manage anger. Obviously, the best way to manage anger is to reduce the chances of anger occurring. To do this a parent can find ways of communicating which, as far as possible, don’t create opposition. This isn’t saying don’t put boundaries in place, just reducing how often you say the opposite to the child. So if you say “no” this creates conflict, but there are many times when there is alternatives to the word “no” which can be used, like saying what you want instead of the word “no”. So a child may ask for something (like a magazine), your answer is going to be “no”, so instead of saying “no” you may say “you can… (have a magazine at the weekend/read the ones you have at home, etc)”. Like anything, this isn’t a guarantee that they won’t get angry, but when you don’t present the opposite view it often reduces the chances of conflict occurring, which could otherwise turn to anger. You can also notice triggers and so intervene with distraction when you know a trigger is likely to occur.

When the child is already angry anything which feeds into the fight or flight response is likely to escalate the anger. So any behaviours which could be perceived as threatening or trapping the child will make the situation worse, behaviours where the child feels they are safe and not trapped or threatened help to reduce anger. So talking calmly (not saying “calm down”) and quietly, not shouting or displaying anger in your voice, sitting beside the child (sitting is a calming act, so this also helps you to feel calmer), or away from the child, not standing in front of them towering over them. Giving them a couple of clear options which give them the chance to have a safe way out. For example; I worked with a teen who became aggressive, he was cutting things with a knife and threatening to cut anyone who came near him. I said I was going to sit in the seat (gesturing to a specific seat) and want to just talk to him see how I can help, if he decides he wants to attack me that is up to him, but I want to just see how I can help. I then sat down, we talked and the situation was resolved calmly and without further incident. Whereas a teen I was working with in a local school got angry, he kept saying he wanted to go to a quiet room, which had been an agreed location for him, the teacher dealing with him told him he isn’t going anywhere until he calmed down, the teen felt trapped and eventually injured the teacher so that he could get away, this got him permanently excluded, and most likely could have been avoided if the teacher let him go to the quiet room.

Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis, & Me by Dan Jones is available in Paperback & Kindle Here is a link to your local Amazon store: http://apn.to/prod/1542551196