Nichole’s presentation from the Australian Aspergers Conference 2015.
Hello, my name’s Nichole Conolly and I work in the circus. In the circus I specialise in plate spinning, clowning and static trapeze. I am based in the Lockyer Valley around an hour drive west of Brisbane. We have circus schools in Laidley and Toowoomba where we train children and adults in the art of circus.
My presentation today is on where do I fit in? Or simply finding ones niche.
All of us at one time or another have found us asking at one time or another, where do I fit in? (PRESS FOR TITLE SLIDE OF PRESENTATION)
As Albert Einstein once said (FLIP TO FISH QUOTE)
“Everyone is a genius but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid”
That is like that for all of us; for example (SHOW TEST PICTURE)
What one person is good at another may not be good at the same task or activity and vise versa. For example our icebreaker activity at the beginning.
I know I have struggled a lot with this notion to the point of tears and anger at myself.
(SHOW STOP SIGN)
One thing I have been taught though is not to compare ourselves and others to others, how high they climb, what tricks they do etc. The Circus performance would be boring if everyone did the same act. That is the same in general; it would be boring if we were all clones of one another.
So to solve this problem we need to find our niche, where we fit in. I am going to explain some of the steps my family, friends and I have taken to help me on my own journey and I hope they help you too.
1. REPEATING THINGS A MILLION AND ONE TIMES IS A MUST
(PICTURE OF ME DOING A CIRCUS TRICK)
This may become very frustrating for all parties involved and could include displays of frustration especially when it come to a task seemed simple. Please keep going because maybe the million and second time, it may click into place and the cogs begin to turn. This is one of the most exciting days for all involved.
2.PLEASE BE PATIENT AND DON’T DO THINGS FOR ME.
(PICTURE OF ME COLOURING IN)
I may be really slow at some tasks but this is how I learn, through doing this and watching you do things. Finding out how one learns is important and no matter how slow and painful it is let me go. Allow me to watch you to do tasks and be prepared to answer those annoying what and why questions, 50 times each.
3. HELP ME TO DEVELOP SIGNALS OR CUES FOR USE IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS
(FRIEND PICTURE MONTAGE)
I am very lucky I have very understanding people in my life. In social situations I often talk too much, cut people off mid conversation or even drift in to my own world.
In the beginning one of my friends thought it would be good to kick me under the table as a signal when we were out. This went on for a long time, until she accidently kicked someone else rather hard in the shins. This is all good but you aren’t always going to have a table there so here are a few things that have helped me-
*Developing a signal or cue with person to let them know when one is overwhelmed and needs a moment breathing time
*Learn to pick changes in mood to know when its going to work and not
*After social situations they may need alone time to recharge and breath
In one situation a friend stood next to me or was always in view of me in a large group setting and watched how I was going and when I started tiring, needed help with conversation or the music was too loud she jumped in.
Also having a bit of a debrief about what can be improved or changed, I find this helpful to get feedback on how I went and what I can improve.
4.HELP ME TO LET YOU KNOW WHEN I NEED “ME TIME”
(PICTURE OF ME WITH BOWL)
As stated above this is important to prevent meltdowns. We all need that escape from business. The main cue at work I use is asking to get a drink or to step outside. I am very lucky I have very understanding workmates.
Have a space/ environment (e.g. Bedroom) that they can retreat to.
5. ALLOW ME TO BE IN MY OWN WORLD OCCASSIONALLY
(PICTURE OF ME IN FUNNY COSTUME)
Yes there may be stares if your child wears rainbow socks and a tutu down the street but that is what they feel comfortable in.
Don’t expect them to always be in your world in social situations. Allow breaks, as meltdowns are just as embarrassing for us as they are you.
If it’s been a big day, positive words of affirmation on good efforts can be very helpful and makes them proud of their effort.
6.SPECIAL INTEREST DEVELOPMENT IS NECESSARY FOR FINDING ONES NICHE
(PICTURE OF CIRCUS BIGTOP)
It is quite often from this area that a child or young adult will make a career from. For me it is circus, musicals and gymnastics. I met my circus family when I was 14 and years later joined the show.
You may find yourself hiring books on only trains or as my mum did, print photos and articles of my interest areas (one suggestion though don’t plaster the wall completely in blue tacked articles as trying to get it off after many years is a nightmare.
You may find yourself knowing more about topics then you wish, maybe you can share your interests with them.
7.CREATE A PRODUCTIVE OUTLET FOR FRUSTRATION AND ANGER
(PICTURE OF ME UPSIDE DOWN)
*Flipping the trampoline up and kicking a ball into it
*Writing feelings down
*Hanging upside down
8. HAVE AN ENDLESS SUPPLY OF FAVOURITE FOODS
(PICTURE OF RED FROGS)
Use them also for rewards but monitor for low stocks. I usually have a packet of red frogs or dairy free biscuits with me in my handbag when I attend events. These provide a mid activity energy boost or so I don’t feel left out when I can’t eat anything on the food table.
9.HELP ONE TO BECOME INDEPENDENT
(PICTURE OF ME IN MY APPARTMENT)
*Let them help you in tasks such as grocery shopping
*Let them hand over money and collect change, teach them about the different notes and coins
*Teach them how to use appliances like the washing machine, dishwasher, microwave etc.
*Take them into environments such as a café and help them learn hands on skills
(PICTURE OF ME WITH MUM AND DAD)
Quite often someone on the autism spectrum already has low self-confidence and self-esteem, high anxiety and anger problems.
*If there is a meltdown don’t try to speak to them in the middle of it.
*Give it a little while and then approach when everyone is clam, be prepared to be blocked though.
On the other hand be prepared for crying (from you too) and hugs but most of all let them know no matter what you love them and are there for them. Even though I no longer live with my parents I ring them every week, sometimes to ask random questions or because I just want to hear their voice.
As I mentioned before my niche is circus and through this I have learned confidence, communication, fine and gross motor skills I also get the opportunity to meet many ASD families and hopefully help make a difference.
At the beginning I presented you with a question, where do I fit in?
(PICTURE OF DR SEUSS QUOTE)
Well, what if we weren’t born to fit in? What if our standing out so to speak is what helps break those barriers both society and us have raised. You’re probably wondering what’s on the table to my left, right?
(PICTURE OF PLATES)
Well one thing I find with not only those with aspergers but many others is we often hide who we are, try to squash our niche to be someone else, to fit in. This can be quite exhausting, so when you find that place you can be yourself it is truly like being set free.
For me I was petrified of coming up on stage and talking, but now I’m comfortable I won’t be needing this dress that I put on just so I fitted in with everyone else down the street
(TAKE OFF OUTER DRESS TO REVEAL COSTUME)
I have been able to channel my love of spinning into my circus art and that is what I’m about to show you.
PLATES ROUTINE INSERTED HERE
Don’t let anyone ever stop you or your child from being you and them. Love and support goes a long way.