Not that kinda mother.

img_7617There’s a certain kind of clarity that comes from being 40. Well, er – 41 actually but I’ve stopped counting. I have decided that I’m not going to get any older, Ima stop right here at this age.

Well, last year’s age, but you know what I mean.

And by clarity, I mean, self-awareness. I seriously could no longer care less what other people think of me.

Yeah, that’s a lie too. I WISH I didn’t care but my emotions preeeeetty much rule this girl.

Yep. Always have done- probably always will do.

And that’s ok.

Anyway – as I was saying, I’ve learned a lot about myself in these past few years and I’m gonna write about it here so I can read back on it the next time I’m in full blown self-hatred mode and rediscover why its ok to be me.

Firstly – I am aware that I am different to most mothers. I am not great at the whole example setting thing.

My teenaged daughter is usually the one telling ME to mind my language and it’s usually her asking ME to get a grip when I lose it. And my boys have seen me in a puddle of tears on the floor holding onto a glass of wine for dear life and then been there to comfort ME more times than I care to admit.

But here’s the thing: my kids know they could rely on me to be there for them no matter what happens, and that I will love them regardless of anything that they could ever say or do.

So I’m calling that a win. I’m not always perfect, but my love for them is.

I may not always operate in complete coping mode but I am capable of being what they need when they need it most and that’s what is most important.

I don’t always make the best decisions when it comes to parenting but I do always apologise when I stuff up.

That’s also important.

Secondly: I’m a better mother when I spend (a metric crapload) of time away from my kids. And THAT’S ok to admit too. It doesn’t make me a bad mother; it makes me real. Not all mothers want to spend every waking moment with their children climbing all over them and obsess about every tiny aspect of their children’s lives. We are all different. I for one go stir crazy when I’m not afforded enough “Fi” time.  And the result of that’s not fun for anyone. BELIEVE me. Working outside the home with long hours is what keeps me sane and helps teach my children the independence that they may not have learnt had they not have been forced into it. I’m not gonna feel guilty about that anymore either.

It’s wonderful that some people can post all over social media about how much they LOVE school holidays and simply ADORE having their offspring home and post album after album of beautiful photos of the amazing artwork, craft creations and outings they have done with the neatly dressed, intelligent, well behaved children, – but that’s not me (or my children) either.

No.

Not even close.

It’s taken me a loooooooooong time (and I’m not there yet) to be ok with the fact that I am not like those mothers.

I abhor craft, I don’t have an artistic bone in my entire body and going ANYWHERE further than the corner store with two autistic boys makes me want to stab myself because it is a hell that most people won’t ever fully experience.

And here’s why:

My kids have zero executive functioning skills. Know what they are? They are the skills that allow kids (or adults) to exercise mental control and be able to regulate themselves.  These skills are easily learned and eventually instinctive in neurotypical (or normally wired) individuals and most kids have them down pat by about ten years old.

And by self- regulate I mean, to be able to make decisions for themselves, to instinctively understand what is expected of them in public places and to know how to self-entertain, behave appropriately and in their own best interest.

Put simply:  because my boys are autistic and don’t yet have these skills mastered, a simple outing usually ends in one or both of my boys hitting/punching/kicking/poking/slapping each other in the nether region or screaming out something to the tune of:

“I’M BORED AND HUNGRY AND I HATE YOUR HAIR MUM AND YOU SMELL LIKE BUTT AND YOU’RE THE WORST MOTHER EVER BECAUSE YOU WONT BUY ME A NEW GAME AND WHY CAN’T I HAVE THIS CHOCOLATE AND WHY CAN’T I GO TO THE TOILET RIGHT BLOODY NOW AND WHY CAN’T I GO HOME WHERE MY PLAYSTATION IS BECAUSE YOU KNOW I HATE GROCERY SHOPPING AND WHY ARE YOU SITTING IN THE CORNER OF THE SHOP ROCKING AND SOBBING MUM WOULD YOU LIKE ANOTHER WINE?”

Or, you know, something like that.

And when I remind myself that most mothers stop dealing with toddler tantrums at around the age of 5 and that I am still dealing with them in 10 and 13 year olds I remember to stop comparing myself to the mum who took her four beautifully dressed children on a thirty six-hour car trip to see the beach on the other side of the country and stopped at every boutique café along the way because that isn’t – and will never be – my life.

Plain and simple.

It’s not even comparing apples and oranges but instead comparing apples with mutant kiwifruit cross bred with an exotic rambutan and bitter melon (they’re real fruits – google them).

But I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. Just don’t judge me for not being even close to having my ducks in a row.  In fact, living this ridiculously insane existence has afforded me a sense of humour that I never knew I had before, and it’s taught me to never ever EVER take anything at face value.

There is ALWAYS more going on in everyone’s lives than what they post on social media.

I’m learning not to compare my off-the-planet home life to Susie homemaker and have come to the realisation that not everyone is as brutally honest as I am.

I may scare a lot of people off with my honestly because it’s often confronting and raw and uncomfortable, but it also filters out anyone in my life who isn’t willing to stick with me through the darker days and has shown me who I can trust and who only wants to be my friend for what they can get from me.

So thankyou to anyone reading this because it means that you’ve stuck by me and I love you and appreciate you more than I could ever convey.

Have a great weekend all. I am spending mine taking my son to the hairdresser to fix up the home hair cut he gave himself (those darn executive functioning skills to blame again).  Or lack thereof.

Haha.

MY kid is spectacular!

Today was a good day.

It wasn’t the best day but it wasn’t the worst day either. It was the day of the swimming carnival at my kid’s school and this year was the very first time that Harley has attended. It’s been the 3rd year that he has been old enough to go but I had no success in even getting him there in past years, so his attendance alone was a cause for celebration.

He announced to me on Monday morning that he would like to catch the bus with his sister (Ella) and so I reluctantly signed the permission slip. I was proud of him but I admit that I was also a little uneasy. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for helping him to stretch his comfort zone a little and I think it’s good for him to try new things but if I was to be completely honest, I was a little nervous having him experience so many new things at one time.

  • Attending the carnival for the first time.
  • Catching a bus with lots of other children.
  • Surviving a crowded, noisy smelly environment for 6 hours straight with no escapes or safe corners.

But I prepared him the best that I could. And yesterday afternoon I had a chat to Ella and asked her if she would please text me at intervals throughout the day to let me know how her little brother was doing because *I* needed to know that he was surviving.

She promised she would and true to her word, she updated me every hour with messages like this:

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God bless her – she is such a gem of a child.

So after receiving Ella’s second text, I decided to go for a long drive and I blasted my favourite music in the car singing along loudly at the top of my voice. Simply: because I could and it’s something that I LOVE doing!

Playing any music at ALL is a luxury that I don’t get to indulge in when Harley is in the car, so today I made the most of it and rocked it out big time.

And I may or may not have belted out some Kelly Clarkson, Alanis Morisette and just a bit of Katy Perry – you know – power songs and all that, but I digress….

But today was just what I needed. I had a great day doing whatever the hell I felt like and managed to refuel myself enough to be able to tackle any surprises that the afternoon may or may not have in store for me.

And thank goodness that I did.

Because when I watched Harley alight from the bus and walk towards me hand-in-hand with his big sister, my heart lunged into my shoes. I knew the face that he was wearing all too well. I could read the anxiety, fear and fright in his eyes and knew that he was trying so hard to hold it together. Bless him. I also knew that we only had limited time before the cork was released from the bottle so-to-speak and that I had to act fast. The rumblings of an explosion were there…. He was moaning quietly and pushing his head into my side. He was flailing his arms around floppily so I grabbed his little hand and headed for the office to sign him out early.

But Lucas wouldn’t leave. He wanted to change out of his swimming gear into his clothes and was refusing to come to the car with me. He started to pitch a fit and I didn’t want another upset child on my hands so I sent him to the bathroom with Ella to change.  But they weren’t fast enough and Harley couldn’t hold it in any longer.

So mother and son sat on a step together away from prying eyes while my little boy broke his heart. Tears ran down his cheeks as he alternated between cuddling into me and thrashing uncontrollably. He WANTED to be close to me but he just COULDN’T. His body was fighting him and his entire sensory system was out-of-control. I did what I could but knew I had to ride it out. Eventually he calmed enough for me to carry him out to the car and take him home to his safe place.

**

It was hard on me to drive home watching him wipe away his silent tears out of the corner or my eyes, but I still couldn’t get over the immense sense of pride that I had at that very moment seeing how far he had come.

My boy achieved so much more than I would have ever thought possible today.

  • He pushed past his own discomfort to display great sportsmanship by going along and cheering on his friends and classmates even though he himself is a non-swimmer.
  • He dealt with a different format for the day and with not always knowing what was coming next or where his teacher would be at any given time.
  • He caught the bus like the rest of the kids and went to a pool that he had NEVER been to before and did all this KNOWING that there would be loud noises, lots of kids and strong smells to contend with.

He has gone from a child who refused point-blank to even consider attending the swimming carnival only 12 months ago to a child who achieved SO MUCH personal growth today. And this Mama is so SO proud of him.

And for the record; I am not trying to teach my son to conform, to be like all the other kids or continually expose himself to situations that cause him so much pain and displeasure. Nor am I trying to change him into a ‘normal’ child. I am encouraging him to recognise what I have always known about him and that is that not only will he succeed in life but he will excel.

He can do anything that he puts his hand and mind to and he is amazing, strong and courageous.

And that’s no different to what ANY parent wants for their child is it?

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This is my favourite part of today. Watching him decompress and reset his vestibular system by indulging in an old-fashioned game of upside-down TV watching 🙂

The Lorax got it right.

image via alittledelightful.com

Today I went to a Sue Larkey seminar and she was fantastic. As usual.

But I’m not going to write specifically about what she taught us today but instead I’m going to write about what I personally took away from the seminar.

Let me flash back to when I heard Sue Larkey talk for the very first time quite a few years ago now. It was 2008 and Harley was only 5 years old and had only very recently been diagnosed with autism. I was attending my very first Tony Attwood autism seminar and Sue was a guest speaker there.

I remember sitting in that crowded auditorium with literally hundreds of other parents, teachers and carers listening what seemed like hours and hours of information, strategies, advice and ideas and I was overwhelmed and distraught to find out that there was so much that I didn’t know and needed to learn to help my boy.

I came home that night and sat in my bed and cried and cried and cried for literally hours. It was almost like I was reliving the emotional distress that I felt when I first learned that he had autism. I was emotionally and mentally overloaded and felt an enormous sense of helplessness washing over me in tidal waves.

I asked myself: How could I possibly ever learn all THAT?

At that first seminar I took very few notes and absorbed only what my brain could handle but there was a handout (thankfully) that I was able to dive into and explore much later on when I had the brain space to do so.

Gradually, I started to seek out information in my own time and strived to learn as much as I could. I wanted so badly to understand the workings of my son’s wonderfully wired brain. So I started observing him at play, with strangers, with friends and in his classroom environment whenever I went in to help and I found that there was an absolutely brilliant child hiding behind his struggles.

In him I recognised my own stubbornness and refusal to be told that I cannot do something and it spurred me on even further. I threw myself into discovering ways to help him to be the best that he could possibly be. I stared down the challenge and determined that he was going to be successful NO MATTER WHAT!

And slowly – things started to become clearer and clearer.

Then I met my friend LISA who is an adult on the spectrum and my eyes were opened to a whole new level of understanding and possibilities. Seeing autism through the eyes of someone on the spectrum is Uh-mazing!

Even today in the seminar Sue played us a few videos and every single one of them was an interview with an individual with autism. Sue recognises that we can learn SO MUCH from those who LIVE with autism personally and can explain it first hand to those of us who are really only textbook trained. She featured Temple Grandin and Carly Fleischmann. (See video below).

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Honestly…..both of these women are remarkable and well worth the time spent watching some of their videos.

Like my wonderful friend Lisa – these amazing ladies have really opened my eyes and increased my understanding of autism and sensory needs in my boys.

But do you know what I took away from today that surprised me more than anything? What amazed me and gave me the boost that I have been needing oh-so desperately lately? And what reassured me that my boys are in fact going to be ok?

 Confirmation.

She confirmed for me that my gut instincts are spot-on when it comes to my boys. A lot of the stuff that she shared about was stuff that I am already doing with them. Much of which she suggested, spoke about and taught were things that I am already instinctively applying to our family situation.  And these are things that I have learned myself through trial and error and from applying ideas that I have either researched or learnt myself on my own time.

No-one taught me a lot of this stuff – I have learned most of it just by simply following my own maternal gut instincts.

And remember that 4 years ago I was scared out of my head that I was going to somehow fail my child and that he was doomed to a life of mediocrity because *I* couldn’t be the mother that he needed.

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I remember being told by parents with older children on the spectrum that ‘it gets better’ and I scoffed and rolled my eyes at them. I couldn’t see past the next ten minutes and all I could see was hourly meltdowns, tantrums, hurdles and struggles. I had difficulty believing that it wasn’t always going to be as hard as it was at that moment. But that does really honestly change.

You still experience different levels and intensities of emotions with your child but the battles change and your coping mechanisms increase.

So I want to encourage anyone who is new on this journey and let you know that it DOES get better. It will probably never be easy all of the time but even regular parenting rarely is.

Now let me explain something important here: I am not university educated, I do NOT claim to know everything there is to know about autism and I still learnt a LOT of things today that I didn’t know before. There is always more and more to learn. I am certainly not a scholar and in fact I failed grade 12 because I hated school and never really applied myself so you don’t need to be blessed with super duper intelligence to be a successful parent to these amazing kiddos.

I believe that the most important thing you can give your child is love. If you can love them and accept them just the way they are, you will find that things naturally and gradually fall into place.

It IS overwhelming at first. It IS scary and it IS terrifying when you realise just how complex ASDs are and what they bring with them but you don’t need to know EVERYTHING to effectively parent your child.

You only need to love and focus on your own child and work on helping them. If you love them you will naturally want the best for them anyway and find that information is unconsciously absorbed through applying new methods and strategies.

When I look back to 4 years ago and realise just how far I’ve come without even really trying – I see that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel.

I will NEVER know all there is to know about ASDs because there is so much to learn. But I am in tune with my boys and their needs.

And I know that all of you love your kids too so I’ll finish with one of my all time favourite quotes from Dr Seuss’s The Lorax:

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

I remember…..

This was taken a few weeks after we received Harley's diagnosis. The same age as my reader's child.

I often get emails from strangers who have read my blog and just want to connect by telling me their story. They write and tell me how autism affects their lives and often the parallels between something I’ve written and what they are experiencing in their own worlds is fascinating.

I love receiving emails because it motivates me to keep writing and to keep spreading awareness one reader at a time.

I opened my email a couple of days ago and there was a new message from a brand new reader who had stumbled onto my blog during one of those (I assume) frantic 3am google searches.

They wrote about their child who has only been diagnosed as recently as 2 months ago. They don’t have any support networks as of yet and are not in contact with any other families that are walking a similar path to them. They feel isolated and frightened.

So naturally I sent them the link to Welcome To The Club written by the amazing Jess over at Diary Of A Mom. Because EVERY new parent should be handed that letter along with their child’s diagnosis. It is vital reading.

But do me a favour?….Finish reading this post before you click over there because once you’ve read Jess….you won’t want to come back 😉

The parent who emailed me desperately wanted to know that there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. They were anxious to find out when and if their child will grow out of this overwhelmingly exhausting stage and wanted reassurance that it will all be ok.  And to be completely truthful – I was unsure how to answer this at first.

I didn’t want to lie and tell them that the meltdowns, tantrums and sensory issues would just magically disappear one day and that life would become all honky dory all of a sudden. And I didn’t want to give them any false hope by telling them that they can expect their child to become “typical” overnight, but I wanted to assure them that what they are experiencing is a normal part of the early days of discovering that you have a child on the autistic spectrum.

I wrote of the feelings of loneliness, of grief and of self-doubt and I told them that I truly understood. I recognised the fear, the anxiety and the emotional overload that was evident in their email and I was forced to go back in my memory to when Harley was first diagnosed at exactly the same age that their child is now.

I remembered the meltdowns that seemed to go forever. I recorded some of them on my mobile phone so I could show it to the paediatrician because it felt like NO-ONE would believe that there was something “odd” about my child. He watched them and nodded knowingly and told me that I would eventually find a way to manage them.

I didn’t believe him.

I remembered the punch in the guts when this very same Doctor told us that our child was “different” and that we would need to adapt as he handed us a list of therapists, specialists and blood tests request forms. I remembered the desperate feeling of abandonment, and feeling overwhelmed and exhausted all at once.

And I remembering thinking that we’d never make it.

But you know what? Through forcing myself to go back and deliberately remember those early days – I was able to see for the first time just HOW FAR WE HAVE COME!

And it got me all excited!

I remembered these feelings and thoughts, but was able to recognise that we don’t live there permanently anymore. We visit them occasionally and we will always be tied to them in some way, but we have moved on to become stronger, wiser and a lot more street smart.

And so YES, I was able to see that there IS a light at the end of that darn tunnel. YES, it WILL get easier, but sometimes it’s probably more likely a case of our challenges seeming more manageable because we now have experience and adaptability on our side.

Back in those early days, we weren’t as capable of predicting possible outcomes in the same way that we can now. We now know precisely what Harley’s triggers are and we either avoid them completely or find other ways around them to make them work for us. We have developed a “tool kit” that is custom designed for him and we rarely go out unprepared these days.

We’ve altered our expectations and have finally realised that sometimes it just isn’t worth pushing stubborn elephants up hill anymore.

And because of this I would say: YES. There is hope. There is HOPE and you will be ok.  My heart breaks for the pain they are in but I KNOW that they WILL be ok.

Because love conquers all and they have more than enough of that for their child or they would never have cared enough to write.

Where do I go from here?

When you read today’s post – please keep in mind that I’m not looking for sympathy. I am working through this in my own way by writing it out. I am not angry, or depressed or complaining, but I have found myself to be at a bit of an impasse and not knowing which direction to head in.

I  love my kids and am fiercely protective of them but on occasion…..there are parts of their brands of autism that drive me stinking crazy. Hence this post.

Cyber hugs will be gratefully accepted as will heartfelt advice but criticism will not be published.

Ok. Ground rules laid out, let’s begin.

Most of you know that both of my boys are diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, and most of the time I’m ok with that. But if I’m being completely truthful with myself, I can admit that a lot of the time I also feel quite ripped off.

And there’s another emotion circling overhead that looks a lot like jealousy or anger but I’m refusing to admit that either of them are possibilities. So for now they will remain known as ‘the unknown factors’.

OK  😉

And it’s not so much that I’m ‘jealous’ of the normal families that I seem to see everywhere – because I’ve mostly dealt with the fact that this is our life and that it’s ok to be different, but surprisingly I’m MORE ‘jealous’ of those families that only have one child with autism.

I’m ‘jealous’ of the fact that they can focus on that child’s needs alone and of the lengths that they are able to go to, to ensure that their child’s needs are mostly met.

I read stories about new techniques that they’ve learned and methods that parents have implemented and wish that there were some way that I could make them work for us. But I know that I can’t put one child’s needs on a higher priority than the other and I know that I am not able to always to meet both of their needs at the same time.

Sure, I join these parents in rejoicing when their child makes progress or learns something new but there’s a part of me that inwardly cries out: “My child could possibly learn that too if he were the only one I had to put the extra time and effort into”.

Because let’s face it. There’s no doubt that raising children is hard work full stop.

And raising multiple kids kicks it up a level. But raising children with a special need kicks the difficulty factor up a helluva lot of notches.

So trying to foresee and plan for 2 kids with completely opposite high needs – is nothing short of bloody ridiculous.

Most afternoons in the car on the way home from school – there is screaming and/or crying.  And most of these episodes can be attributed to the two boys driving each other stark raving MAD! The problems arise because they are both needing to escape from their brain overloads but because their sensory profiles and emotional needs are polar opposites – they do what calms them in completely different ways.

Harley goes into a trance like state where he shuts down and sits quietly with his arms wrapped up around his bended legs. He finds comfort from gently rocking back and forth and gazing out the window. I have learned not to ask him about his day or try to converse with him until he has had his down time and I know he will come to me when (and if) he’s ready to talk later on.

And this would be great if he were able to do this in peace each afternoon. Ella and I would gladly leave him be until he was ready for company. If he could spend the car trip home defragging from his day – I’m sure that our entire afternoons would be a helluva lot smoother.

But our problem is that Lucas also needs to defrag as well. But he gets his release from vocal stimming. He hums, makes throaty repetitive noises and flicks his fingers over and over again. He talks non-stop in boring monologues and pointless rhetoric.

And as you can imagine…..all of these…drive….Harley…..CRAZY!

So then the tears begin.

The tears quickly turn to moans, then to thrashing in his seat and eventually he screams at Lucas with his hands over his ears begging him to stop making those noises.

So what should I do?

Whose “need” is more important?

Who do I tell to change ?

Do I try to stop Lucas from making noises (that really are quite harmless) for Harley’s benefit?

Or do I try to teach Harley to ignore it and give him headphones to wear instead. (Which I have done many times).

But then, there’s the part of me that wonders if I should be doing a better parenting job. I wonder if I should be using situations like this to teach them both a thing or two about life. Should I use the moment to teach Harley that there will be many times during his life where things  will annoy, frustrate and irritate him but that he needs to learn to suck it up occasionally. Or should Lucas be taught that his noises are irritating to other people and that he needs to control himself better and point out that people in the real world will tell him to shut up if he continues that into adulthood.

Well I suppose the time will come that both of these issues will need to be addressed, but then while my own brain is processing these thoughts, my mother heart takes over and tells me that it’s my job and responsibility to provide what they BOTH need and give them the grace to wind down from a busy day in their own individual ways.

And then the guilt begins.

Eventually my head starts to hurt and I react like I did today: Today it all got too much for me, so I pulled the car over on the side of the road, turned off the ignition and climbed out of the car for ten minutes to let them fight it out alone. I stood beside the car with my back turned to them just taking deep breaths and I counted to 100.

I totally bailed on them both.

And I did it because I simply didn’t know which child to help. I couldn’t prioritise either of their needs and problems and I couldn’t work out which decision to make. All I knew was that I needed to get as far away as possible from the chaos that was unravelling right before me and that I needed to escape immediately.

Anyone that has ever tried concentrating in traffic whilst children scream, throw things and kick the back of your seat will know that in situations like this, escape is not only highly desirable but also entirely necessary.

I did what I had to do to prevent me from having a car accident. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I’m still left wondering: How the hell do I fix this?

And why doesn’t anything seem to work?

I’m sure that both of them would be AOK if they didn’t have each other. If I only had Harley, I could provide that quiet safe place. If I only had Lucas, I could allow him to make the noises he needs to and run and bounce to his heart’s content. But I wouldn’t want to even imagine life without either of my precious wonderful boys.

But this isn’t just about a car trip each afternoon. As my friend puts it – I am living in a constant combat zone.

If it’s not the car, it’s the dinner table. If it’s not the dinner table, it’s in the bathroom with gurgling and teeth cleaning noises. Or the trampoline and the joyful yelling that goes along with it, or the TV noise levels, or the volume on the iPad. We leave one combat zone (the car) each afternoon to leap straight into another one that’s equally as exhausting and demoralising. And it continues well into the sleep combat zone.

And then I’m back to my original thought: Am I jealous, angry or is it something more?

Where do I go from here?

Executive functioning and visual aids.

Temple Grandin once said:

“I cannot hold one piece of information in my mind while I manipulate the next step in the sequence.”

Individuals with AS often lack the ability to use skills related to executive functioning like planning, sequencing and self-regulation.

>> Source <<

So, What is executive functioning and how does it affect those with autism? Well….in autistic individuals, it’s more of a “dysfunction” than anything else because it is something that many of them struggle with greatly.

Put simply: Executive Functioning is something that is instinctive in those with NT (neuro-typical) minds but needs to be taught and learned in children with autism.

It includes skills like planning, organisation, attention being held and the inability to see the big picture. People with an executive dysfunction tend to focus on the small or minor details and miss the rest.

As Temple Grandin said in the above quote –  She is unable to ‘plan ahead’ if she’s in the middle of a different task.

Can you see how many problems this can cause for my kids? Yep. A lot!

I often have to stop myself when I’m giving directions to them because I remember that I have given them too many instructions and that they are unable to take it all in and act on it.

Like – telling the kids to “tidy up their rooms”. That is waaaay too general and non-specific. So I have to break it down into little bite sized chunks and walk them through it step-by-step.

We are a big fan of using visuals in this house. We have them everywhere! On the fridge, above the basin, on the toilet wall, in the shower, over the bath, in the car and on their wardrobes reminding them to do the basic tasks like getting dressed. A simple picture of them getting dressed wouldn’t work, they need the sequence that the clothes need to go on.

And visuals are useless if you don’t teach your child how to use them effectively and have them teach you back so that you know that they fully understand the purpose of them.

As you can see in the above picture, all the tubs in our toy room have enlarged photographs on them of their exact contents. This makes it so much easier for the boys to tidy up. If they don’t know exactly where something goes they can look for it in the photo.

Below is a short video of Lucas and I today “tidying” up the toys and you can see how the technique has started to work but still needs a lot of work (on my part too).

Sure it’s a much longer drawn out process than if I tidied it myself, but it’s important to me that my kids learn these basic life skills so that they can take them with them into their adult lives.

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Oh , and I actually managed to post on my poor neglected ‘fun’ blog today as well. Just a silly poem about school holidays. You can read it by clicking >> HERE<<.

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Obsessed Or Overly Pro-active?

I was sitting chatting with a friend in a café catching up.

We hadn’t seen each other for a while and the conversation was moving along wonderfully. But suddenly she leaned over and said to me gently: “You know you’re kinda obsessed with autism right?”

I raised my eyebrows at her and feigned ignorance and replied: “Really? Do you think so?” While batting my eyelids at her.

“Well….yeah” she replied. “I mean, you write a blog, you have a Facebook page for the blog and all over your personal Facebook page it’s so obvious that you’re an autism Mama. You talk about it A LOT. It’s kind of an obsession for you isn’t it?”

I went home and thought long and hard about this conversation. She certainly had some valid points and I agree that it is a huge part of my life but I wondered about the word “obsession” and if it really was a fitting description. I wondered what exactly obsession means.

So I looked it up 😉

obsession (əbˈsɛʃən)

— n 1. psychiatry a persistent idea or impulse that continually forces its way into consciousness, often associated with anxiety and mental illness

Isn’t that interesting?!

A persistent idea. An impulse that forces its way into consciousness.

Well!….. Yeah, autism IS persistent. It IS sometimes impulsive and a lot of the time it does create massive anxiety in both Harley and in me.

So does that mean that I’m “obsessed” with autism?

Well…whilst I can certainly see how it would appear that way…no, I don’t believe that I am ‘obsessed’. Extremely dedicated, interested, pro-active and keen yes, but obsessed? No.

Sure, it is a huge priority for me to continue to learn everything that I can about autism because it’s important to me to be able to provide exactly what my boys need. I want to be their safe place and their interpreter and translator. And for that to be effective…I need to know as much as I can about what I’m actually dealing with.

I’ve seen it too many times….the well meaning people who try to communicate with the boys but are clearly uneasy around them. And the boys have like a sixth sense with this stuff. They know when someone is belittling them or uncomfortable. They are really smart kids. They may not be able to read body language or facial expressions effectively but they instantly know who gets them and who doesn’t.

And this is why it’s important for me to understand as much as I can about autism and especially how it affects both of the boys differently.

So maybe I do talk about it a lot. I know that a lot of the conversations that I have with people somehow end up being about autism, but when you’re living something 24/7 and rarely get out…you can see why.

Other parents have no qualms sharing about their child’s latest academic or sporting achievement. Why can’t I proudly announce that my 5-year-old actually drank out of a straw without choking. Or boast about my 8-year-old who wrote his first legible sentence in grade 3? How about doing a happy dance because HE HAS A FRIEND! Because they are only small things for parents of typically developing children. But for me and thousands of other ASD parents….these things are huge and worth celebrating! These are things that we always assumed our kids would also do at the age appropriate times but had all but given up on them ever occurring at all after their autism diagnoses… We go on and on about these seemingly small achievements because we KNOW that they are massive leaps of progress in our worlds. It may appear to be a tad obsessive but for us – they are life-changing.

But another thing to remember is that autism isn’t exactly like having a broken leg. I mean, if you were to break your leg in a sporting incident…..it’s something that would inevitably come up a lot in conversation.

People see the plaster cast and they ask questions. They want to know all about the accident. Where did it happen? When did it happen? How did it happen? Can we sign your cast? There are Facebook status updates about it, a few cute photos and people continually ask you how you are managing now that things have changed.

But autism is a life-long diagnosis. And we mamas know that we’re in it for the long haul. Some autism Mamas don’t know that their child will actually be able to live by themselves one day, they know that one day they will no longer be here and their child will need a full-time carer because they are unable to take care of themselves. They lay awake at night worried because they just don’t know what’s in their child’s future.

Autism doesn’t simply disappear after a few uncomfortable months. And that scares a lot of people. But because we know that this is a lifetime commitment for us, we throw ourselves into being the best mother that we possibly can. Some still call that obsession and that’s ok, but when your 8-year-old son comes up and wraps his arms around your waist and hugs you tightly, you will happily wear that label.

And when he says: “ Mum, I know I’m harder work than regular kids. Thank you for taking such good care of me, I love you”…. You can handle being called just about anything in the world! Because moments like that make you realise that it’s all more than worth the tears, sleepless nights and frustrations and you throw yourself right back on the frontline with passion.

Obsessed or not. I’m not backing down.

¨ When your child is diagnosed with cancer, neighbours stop by your home bringing pre-cooked meals, hugs and support. When your child is diagnosed with Autism, families who see you in the supermarket will slip away down another aisle.”

Dr David Feinberg 2007

Confessions of a grumpy mother.

Just a little warning between friends: don’t read today’s post if you want to read something happy and upbeat…you won’t find that here.

I’m waaaay over tired and frustrated and more than a little bit peeved today. I probably shouldn’t even be anywhere near a keyboard in my current state of mind but ….meh…

Today is part 2 of Harley’s cognitive and behavioural assessment at the psych clinic at the university.  I am sitting in the waiting room feeling sick, angry and agitated. There is a little girl beside me snorting every 2 minutes while her father sits by saying nothing. If that were my kid, I’d be whipping out a tissue and telling her to blow, not allowing her to make that insidious noise.

Told you I was cranky.

It’s partly due to lack of sleep and partly due to nerves.

I’m not nervous about the results of the assessment but more the toll that it’s going to take on my already massively sleep deprived child and the crap that I am going to have to wade through to bring some semblance of peace back into the household afterwards.

Last night was an absolutely shocker. He was awake pacing the hallway and crying and intermittently screaming for HOURS on end.   At 2am I eventually stuffed an earplug in my ear and a pillow over my head in a desperate attempt to get SOME sleep but that was short-lived too.

He told me that his brain wouldn’t switch off and that nothing he tried was working. We prayed together, we did the quiet radio in the background, the soft music, the deep pressure massages, the weighted blanket, the brushing and the writing and drawing your thoughts down on paper before sleep.   Heck….I even sung to him! And all of this combined with sleeping tablets…..didn’t make a scrap of difference.

Finally I gave in and took him into my bed with me and even then he constantly reached over to check my face and see if I was asleep. Because EVERYONE loves a slap on the cheek every ten minutes…sigh….It was clear that I wasn’t going to get any sleep either. He had decided that if he was awake – I had to be awake too. That’s obviously the stupid unspoken rule here.

And of course Mr Patient was interstate…..that always adds another level to the anxiety that he experiences and of course I have a big day ahead of me today.

Anyway….once we arrived at the clinic today, I spoke to the psychologist privately before Harley went in. I told her that he had barely slept a wink last night and she replied that lack of sleep would greatly affect the results of the assessment and suggested that we postpone AGAIN! (this is the third time).

I actually laughed in her face.

Does she think I can control this? That I should have maybe done something MORE to avoid another sleepless night before an assessment like this?

Seriously?

Do people think that I exaggerate the seriousness of the sleep issues? That I am trying to extract some sort of sympathy? Because honestly – I  don’t know anyone who would wish this upon their worst enemy. I didn’t choose this life and I’m doing the absolute best that I can with what I have got. If I could fix it, I would have done so years ago. NO-ONE is that stupid.

And surely the fact that every single time we have come here – anxiety has been at play and THAT is the very thing that should be going in her notes. The teachers need to know this stuff. They need to know just how greatly changes affect this child. They need to be given some insight into just what goes on in that head of his and see that his potential is greatly masked by the crippling anxiety that engulfs him frequently.

I don’t want to give my kid more drugs, I don’t want more ‘advice’ I want the results to show that he does not cope under pressure and I want allowances made for him so that he CAN reach his full potential. Is that really too much to ask?

Besides: Isn’t that half the point of doing this assessment in the first place?

Sorry loyal readers. You got me on a grumpy day, I promise to be more upbeat and thankful tomorrow but I KNOW that there are a lot of you also throwing your hands up in the air screaming “Aaargghh…WHAT NOW”  when autism throws you another curve ball as it has done to us this week.

And if nothing else…..at least now you know that you’re not alone.  We are all in this together. Every step of the exhausting frustrating way.

~~~

I’m ever so grateful that tomorrow is a new day with new mercies and greater expectations.    Thank God that His mercies are new every morning. Without that promise – I don’t know what I’d have to cling to.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Check back here next week for the cheerier, more relaxed and less bitter Fiona 🙂 X

Look closely…It’s all in the eyes…

At first I really struggled to know where exactly to start this post, so late last night I sat down with a pen and paper and wrote out as many random words that came to mind in an attempt to try to figure out what was really bothering me.

I came up with: bewildered, annoyed, helpless, frightened, angry, exhausted and I kept coming back to the one word that crept up more often than the others: frustrated.

And I determined to try to find out why I kept coming back to that word.

I realised that when you’re a parent of a child on the autistic spectrum, you are thrown directly into the deep end and forced to assume the role of not only parent but also that of ‘interpreter’ and “translator’ and you take on this role often several times every single day whether you want it or not.

And most of the time I am totally ok with that, but then there are days that my inability to decipher and decode what my son’s actual crisis is about is when the words like exhaustion, angry, frightened and helpless start to creep in as well.

Last October I took the children home to visit my Mum in the school holidays, and while we were up there, we attended an 80th Birthday party for a close friend that Mum had helped organise. It was a great night and I think only a handful of people actually know what went on behind the scenes in our little world that night. I’m sure that most partygoers were blissfully unaware that my little boy was breaking his heart and clawing at himself in major distress only 2 rooms away from the festivities. Mum was helping in the kitchen and also unaware at first of the mayhem I was dealing with.

And that’s because I’ve become very skilled at removing my distressed child from the attention of onlookers in situations like that night before the brown stuff starts hitting the fans. It’s become my superpower 😉

That night last year was triggered by one small remark that I had made offhandedly to Harley who I saw drinking his second can of soft drink. I casually said to him: “You’ll make yourself sick if you drink too much of that stuff”, and I walked over to greet someone else that had waved me over.

As I started chatting to this lady, I glanced over her shoulder and saw Harley’s face contort and his body stiffen and I knew I had to get him out of there immediately. I JUST knew. I excused myself and apologised quickly and ran the eight or so paces over to Harley and grabbed him under my arm calling out to Ella at the same time to keep on eye on Lucas. She nodded knowingly and grabbed his little hand and skipped outside with him towards the grassed area.

I love that girl.

Anyway….I got Harley outside through the fire exit and sat with him as he bent over the 2 foot brick wall flapping, screaming and crying his little eyes out. He was virtually non-verbal but I managed to figure out that the groans,grunts,screams and cries were to the tune of “You said I’m going to be sick….I don’t want to vomit, I don’t want to be sick, I’m so sorry, I’ll never drink lemonade ever again”

Oh yeah…..Did I mention that one of the traits of  individuals on the spectrum is EXTREME literalness? Well it is.

He had convinced himself that he was going to be physically sick and because he is a massive germ-o-phobe….this was totally unacceptable to him. He stresses if someone even SAYS the word vomit in his hearing so the thought that he might actually be sick himself, had done his head in. I sat there with him for what seemed like hours and I managed to get him to calm down (well, the screaming and crying stopped but the rocking and the nervous flapping hung around a lot longer) and I walked him back inside because he was begging to wash his hands.

As I waited for him outside the bathroom, I saw a friend who I grew up with and hadn’t seen for years, and we started chatting. He and his lovely wife have a beautiful daughter with PDD-NOS and I only had to say that Harley was “having a moment” for him to understand exactly.what.I.meant.

Shortly afterwards, Harley walked out of the bathroom and my friend (God bless him), took one look at my boy and gave me a hug saying: “Ok……You need to leave right now, I understand completely….it was great seeing you.”

I picked Harley up like a little infant and carried his limp sweaty body out to the car with Ella and Lucas following me. I placed Harley into the car seat but he clung to me like a baby koala refusing to let go.(This child is 8 mind you). I couldn’t stand there holding him with my back bent on that angle so I lifted him out and sat with him in the gutter. And there we sat for another half an hour rocking and the tears stopped wetting my shoulder and he eventually released his grip on me and we were able to all get into the car and drive home.

My mum told me later that my friend had said that when he looked into Harley’s eyes, it spoke volumes and that everything made total sense to him at that moment.

I’ve learned long ago that parties and Harley just don’t mix. THIS is why we regretfully decline a lot of invitations (and probably why they’ve stopped coming in anymore).

And it’s important to mention that it wasn’t just the literal comment  of mine that sent Harley spiralling downwards that night, that comment was only the trigger. I had already noticed anxiety rising in him earlier on due to the crowds, loud noises and unfamiliar surroundings. He had his headphones on but the noise wasn’t the only thing bothering him.

Look closely. Those eyes tell a lot. They are saying: "I'm nervous but I know Daddy will protect me"

Which all leads to me yesterday.

Yesterday was the Easter hat parade at my children’s school. Just those words induce horror in a lot of ASD parents and it was no different for me. When I arrived, the kids were all seated in their classes in the quadrangle with the parents and visitors all sitting and standing in a large circle around them. There were a LOT of people there and each class danced around in a circle to very loud and lively music one by one.

Harley’s class got up and from 20 metres away I saw his eyes and said to my friend: “Uh-Oh, he’s gonna blow”. I just knew. It was written all over him and though he may have looked shy or reserved or even nervous to the average Joe….I knew exactly what I was looking at. I’ve seen it many times before, it was unmistakable.

So how did I know?

I have been asked many times how I “know” when he’s about to topple over the edge from coping to a soggy mess and until yesterday I was unable to actually pinpoint exactly how I know. The answer is in the eyes. As my friend pointed out at the party, it was in the eyes. Yes, the eyes tell a LOT. It’s ALL in the eyes.

These eyes say "I'm safe and happy".

As soon as the parade was over I took Harley by the hand and walked him over to his teacher.  He stood beside me silently head butting me and yanking at my hand and I asked her to look closely at his face and body language and explained that THIS is what the lead up to a huge explosive meltdown looks like. I asked that if she ever sees this face….it would be advisable to help him escape to a quiet place as quickly as possible. I explained that it’s when his sensory system is about to blow and that it’s something that you preferably need to get to in the early stages but if not – you need to deal with it ASAP.

I walked him into the quiet vacated classroom and he sat in the corner crying, rocking and shaking. His eyes were filled with pain, with fear and they were pleading for me to fix it all for him. To make it all go away and to help him to soothe himself because he knew he was past the point of no return. He didn’t speak a word but his eyes told me all I needed to know. The rest of the day was a complete write off and ended badly with the effects on the rest of the family carrying over well into the night.  I put on my brave face and acted all nonchalant because I’ve gotten that down to a fine art now 😉 But yesterday was hell in many ways. Hours and hours of inconsolable crying and screaming will do horrible things to most people, and I for one, cried long into the night.

And this is where the word frustrated comes in.

Everyone assumes that as his mother that I always have the solution. That I can come along and save the day and that because I can read him that I can make it all better, but this is not always the case. And most of the time I wing it all anyway because what may work one time isn’t guaranteed to work the next. It’s frustrating to be able to predict most meltdowns yet not know how to deal with them.

I was so frustrated as I watched other families laughing, talking and enjoying their picnic lunches with each other, while I had to go and fetch the head of junior school to retrieve my son who had locked himself in the boys toilets crying and screaming only to run out and escape and be untraceable for the next half  hour.

I was so frustrating to have to make my youngest child miss out on his first ever book parade after activities and it was equally as frustrating to have to go over to middle school and ask my 12 year-old daughter to leave her friends and sacrifice her lunch hour to help me by watching one of her little brothers while I searched for my absconder and do massive damage control when I finally found him.

It was even more frustrating for me to see other children on the spectrum sitting quietly with their parents eating their lunch while I bravely held back the tears yet again. I wondered what they had all done that I had forgotten to do?

Why were their kids coping and mine wasn’t? What did I miss?

How come no-one else’s child lost it on such a grand scale?

I finally convinced myself that these other parents must do what I do and whip them outta sight at the first inkling of an explosion too because any other answer would have been far too tough for me to bear.

So yeah….. Frustration is the word of this week.

But next week I’m aiming for fantastic 🙂
What are you all aiming for?

I am Mrs 79. Pleased to meet you.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the environmental factor in autism. Sure , we know it is only one possible theory as we already know that it’s also made up of a genetic component. And yes, I know there are certain people out there with theories that vaccinations have triggered off those children that were already genetically pre-disposed but that is an argument that I am NOT going into as this is not the direction that I want to take this post in.

So, I know that environment is only one small part but I definitely feel that it can be a big part nonetheless. Tony Attwood has said that to reach a diagnosis of aspergers, it is like ‘completing a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle. You need 80 or more pieces to complete the picture’.

 So, my boys are obviously made up of 80 or more pieces (and I believe the husband is too) . He often jokes to me that I am only one piece short of receiving a diagnosis myself.

In fact he regularly affectionately calls me ‘Mrs 79’. He is referring to the obsessions that I have developed over the almost 14 years that we have been married. When we first got hitched, he took a photo of our master bedroom to show the difference between his side and mine.

His was spick and span, neat and tidy and anally perfectly organised. And then my side……clothes thrown everywhere, books piled high and balanced precariously on the bedside table, an abundance of moisturising creams and make up in the drawer that was regularly left open and shoes strewn carelessly over the floor.

You get the picture. 😉

I deliberately misplaced couldn’t find that particular photo anywhere to put it on this post so you’ll have to take my word for it!
I was young, messy, lazy, nonplussed and regularly made fun of Mr Patient for his pedantic and obsessive ways.

I clearly remember (not knowing about ASDs back then) that he often had what I can now see were actuallymeltdowns if things didn’t go exactly as he’d imagined they would or if plans changed without his prior knowledge. For example: Before meeting me, every 1st Saturday of each month was spent on the ‘inside’ of the house cleaning, and every other Saturday was when he would do the ‘outside’ (mow the lawns etc). So you can imagine his freak-out the first time that I invited friends over for lunch on ‘Outside Saturday’  week. Or made a picnic and suggested we drive to the beach on ‘Inside Saturday’….. He struggled to say the least!

But then as the years passed, I became more and more obsessive myself. I became the mother that had all of my children’s clothes hanging on the same coloured hanger as the shirt: White shirts on white hangers, blue shirts on blue, orange shirts on orange hangers and they were all grouped together in the colours that blended.

The blue shirts were next to the green which were next to the yellow which merged seamlessly into orange etc. No-one else was allowed to touch the clothes…….including Mr Patient and I would flip out if anyone so much as looked at the wardrobes.

And when I hung clothes on the clothes line – blue clothes HAD TO be hung with TWO blue pegs. I simply wouldn’t cope if you used a red and a blue peg. *Gasp*

I had also started to turn into a neat freak wanting everything perfectly in its place and working myself to the bone to make it happen. I would screech at the children if they had more than one toy out and I was unable to leave the house in the mornings until ALL of the beds were made and the dishes were done on the off-chance that SOMEONE would come and visit. (No-one ever did). I really started to be bothered by all of this and questioned myself as I knew that this wasn’t the real me.

So I took myself off to see a psychologist fearing that I was losing it big time!

I had a lot going on; My Dad had just passed away, Harley was only recently diagnosed, I had suffered a particularly nasty case of glandular fever (mono) that almost turned into CFS and my body was in shut-down due to the 4 major surgeries it had endured in just 2 years.

My immune system wasn’t coping and my stress levels were at an all time high. The psychologist helped me to see that everything else in my life was literally spiralling out of control and I so desperately wanted to gain back some control. And the washing was one thing that I actually COULD do something about.

She gently explained that what I was doing was a form of ‘normalizing’ my life. By controlling these mundane every day things so closely I was able to take back some ground that I thought I had lost through circumstances beyond my control. Nowadays – I still LIKE my clothes to be on the right hangers but if they aren’t, I don’t lose it, I’m able to just shrug my shoulders and move on!

I have realised that it’s not the end of the world if a blue shirt goes on a red hanger and my house RARELY looks like a show home anymore. (I have three children for goodness sake!)

And yes, there is actually a point to this – stay with me, I’ll reach it eventually…..

So, back to the environmental factor in autism.

I was never a particularly obsessive person, in fact the bedroom photo story proves that point perfectly, but when stress and circumstances were combined……I did develop some very obsessive tendencies that are often associated with spectrum disorders.

So it is interesting to me now to look back and realise that environmental factors DO in fact play a large part in autism.  And the term ‘environmental factors’ does not just apply to untested chemicals, pesticides, flame retardants, detergents etc.. but things like the circumstances of our life, or the environment in which we live and also our everyday surroundings .

I wonder that if I was married to someone who was as sloppy as me and also didn’t care for routine, if things would have been different? I may not have dived into these obsessive natures that I often witnessed in my husband as HIS coping strategies and I wouldn’t be comparing my non-coping signs to those of individuals on the autistic spectrum?

I guess I’ll never know.

But my mum tells me that as a child growing up, I didn’t struggle in social situations, I made friends very easily and  I was NEVER obsessive or needed routine or structure.  I thrived with change and I know for myself that I have never felt particularly  ‘different”’or had any trouble understanding body language or facial expressions.

Yet……now that I am the only NT in (what may as well be called) a house full of aspies – I have somehow been ‘moulded’  into an honorary aspie if you will. I think it’s just a case of sink or swim.

I have needed to adapt to my surroundings and I have had to choose to see things through a different lens.

I may have gradually gone from perhaps 20 pieces, to 30, then to 40 and now I may possibly be up in the 70s so I truly believe that the environmental factor HAS played quite a major part here.

It surely makes sense. I live it and breathe it. It’s all I am surrounded with. It’s something that I can never and would never WANT TO escape.

It’s all A-OK with me because 79 is a FABULOUS number after all.

Have a great weekend all.