Slings make such a difference! Carrying is often therapeutic in many situations. It is very convenient for most of us and makes life work more easily for many of us, but for some of us, being able to use a sling is a necessity. With many thanks to Kate for sharing her and her son's story of how a sling has helped with carrying a child with autism.

“Please share a snap shot of an hour in your life.”

It is a Tuesday morning during term time. The shopping centre is relatively quiet. We’ve not been to a shopping centre for 2 years, but today he, (he being my 3 year old), wanted to buy a rainbow t-shirt, so off we went.

The shopping centre is relatively quiet but very quickly I can see that things are not right. After navigating the first 10m on his hands and knees, he stands and starts to follow the patterns on the floor all the while jumping. The patterns don’t form a path, but rather sequential large spirals so he ends up walking round and round and round and round, not progressing much in the direction of the shop. More jumping follows in order to bridge the gap between the spirals. He’s on his hands and knees again to read out any letters he finds on the floor.

To the outside world this boy is happy. He is not distressed. He is not upset. He is quiet. However, I can hear the muttering of numbers under his breath. He is anxious. It takes 30 minutes to navigate down one corridor to reach the shop.

We go in. My son now enters ‘phase 2’ of his anxiety; hyperactivity. Everything is being pulled off the shelves. He runs around manically, only stopping to return the multipacks of socks he finds on the floor which are clearly now ‘out of order’ back to the rail. He likes lining things up on rails.

Within a few minutes we enter ‘phase 3’ of his anxiety. He hides under a rack of dresses and I hear the oh-so-familiar call of “mummy carry, mummy carry”. I am wearing my toddler carrier. I am always wearing my carrier. I wouldn’t even think of leaving the house without it. So now I am walking around the shop with a 3½ year old cuddled into my chest, straps pulled extra tight, toy rabbits pushed against each ear and a dummy for comfort.

carrying a child with autism

My boy has Autism. I am not a fashion carrier. I don’t own 100 different carriers and wraps made from different materials with different patterns to match my outfit. I use one. I got it second hand as that is all I could afford. However after persistently seeing the benefit that carrying brings to the mental health of my child I would pay 100 times what I did and more. In truth, I have had a preschool carrier hanging on my wall for 9 months, but he refuses to try it as it is different. For me carrying is not a choice. I am fulfilling a very real need and I will continue to carry for as long as he needs me.

“Do you think it is the closeness to you or the sensory compression (and thus reducing other stimuli) or both that helps? Has the carrier always been useful?”

I have always carried from birth, as he could not fall asleep for any nap without being carried, so there is that element of familial comfort. However, between the age of 2 and 2 years 7 months he went through a carrying amnesty, never asking to be carried, except at bedtime. At around this time his emotional development really started to blossom, and with that his anxiety began. He once again starting asking for “mummy carry” and would bring me the carrier to help him feel secure.

If I can identify the subtle triggers and pick up on the precursors to a meltdown and intervene in time, he will agree to be carried, cutting ‘meltdown time’ from 50 minutes to 5. However if I miss that tiny window, and I mean tiny, then he cannot be carried as he refuses to be touched. In these instances I will apply deep pressure on his chest and back and will count to and back from 12 repeatedly. Sensory compression definitely plays a role in helping to calm him.

Other families have had a similar experience…

Amanda says “I use slings with my 5yo for this exact reason. J has autism and finds the world (and life in general) quite difficult. Being carried means he can shut out the outside world, he is anchored and safe. J doesn’t really like to be touched, but carrying he can tolerate. This is a big part of how we connect and I am so grateful for this.”

Kate agrees. “We use deep pressure as a regulating input and I’m a huge advocate of carrying as an enabler and regulating force for children with additional needs. It also provides some time to potentially further develop attachment and reconnect.”

special circumstances
In happier times