Autism Explained Summit: Supportive Approaches Wrap Up

Therapeutic Chickens: Animal Assisted Learning – with Summer Farrelly

Summer Farrelly is 13 years old and autistic. Summer doesn’t let being autistic define her as she is also so many other things – Inclusion Activist, Creator of Animal (Chickens) Assisted Learning Program, Animal Therapies, and more. 

Summer believes animals have the amazing ability to sense our struggle within without exchanging words. When they connect with you they soak up negative feelings giving room to rebuild yourself. Animals have helped Summer overcome obstacles related to being autistic.

Summer started studying chickens when she was 9 years old. She started to realise how similar the dynamics of the chickens were to that of kids in a school yard. Chickens have a similar social hierarchy to humans and interact in similar ways. She learned that chickens were more than a farm animal, they can be a friend or family. They do not discriminate against you and you can always be yourself. 

Chickens are not something to be afraid of. Once you feel like you can trust them, they will trust you and a special bond will be formed. This process can cultivate confidence and self-esteem. Summer encourages people to sign up for chicken therapy or at the very least observe chickens and learn from them. 

Building Shame Resilience in Children – with Paul Micallef and Shannan Lee

Paul and Shannan believe Shame resilience is a very important topic for autistic people because everywhere they go in the world they get a message that they are broken. Shame is a feeling that washes over us that makes us feel so flawed that we don’t feel worthy of connection or belonging.

There are many ways shame presents itself. The three main shame behaviors include:

  • Moving against – defiance, blame, ‘this is stupid’ attitude
  • Moving towards – people-pleasing, making, following, perfectionism
  • Moving away – withdrawing, isolating, protecting 

So many times autistic behaviour is mislabeled as naughty or unwanted. Shannan uses the example of going shopping with an autistic child. The child may be feeling overwhelmed, hungry, or having a sensory overload. Instead of the parent trying to understand this feeling and validating their experience, they will label the behaviour as bad and tell them to stop. This leads to rejection with the autistic child and thus shame develops.

If we are not sure what we have done, or what we know we can do better, there is no positive action we can achieve. Our main desire as a human being is love and belonging, so the threat that this will be taken away becomes a shame trigger. 

There is a need for correction. Correction is a teaching tool – a way of saying ‘you could do something different’. Whereas punishment is a shame-based approach, which is a way to make your child feel bad and thus change,. 

When we feel shame, we are likely to push it onto someone else. It is easy to accidentally flow the message through to children. Acknowledging our shame helps us protect others and live a more freeing life. 

Photo credit – Brisbane Times