Day #23 If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

Well … it has taken a bit longer than I anticipated to get back on my feet following back surgery but I’m slowly getting back on deck. Whilst I’ve been lying flat on my back, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I’ve learnt over the past few years. In truth, my general health – not just my back – has taken an absolute hammering. Between surgeries and hospitalisations for chronic infection I’ve been in hospital six or seven times in the last three years from between 3 nights to 2 weeks at a time. I’ve learnt a few things …

You cannot subject your body to ongoing sleep deprivation, high physical demands and chronic stress for long periods without your body retaliating in some way. Since I had the boys I have completely prioritised them and their needs, and as a consequence I have neglected my own. Poor health is the consequence. But I’m taking back control slowly but surely.

I have realised that I must prioritise myself – my body, my mind, my soul. In order to do this I have had to ask for help. I’ve had help from friends, from family and from my husband. If you do not ask, you do not receive. Prior to becoming unwell, I rarely asked for help. I have had to learn that asking for help is not an indication of weakness. We all need help sometimes and people actually do like being able to help you where they can.

I used to say ‘yes’ to everything. Now I only do what is absolutely necessary and say no to things that are not necessary or that we don’t have time to do. We all do so many things out of obligation, forgetting that our first priority should be our families and ourselves. I have often said yes to things only to end up being really stressed out and time strapped. Everyone is busy however just how busy and crowded your schedule is, is up to you. It is a choice. I accept that at this stage of my life my load with my family and work is heavy, so I need to be discerning about any extra things we take on.

I have learnt the value of making time for myself, for my body and for the things that make my soul sing. I make sure I get enough sleep and eat well most of the time, and that I make time for exercise and other hobbies that I enjoy. I make sure that I leave at least half the day free on Saturday’s and Sunday’s for family time – for fun, for rest or for recreation! I recognise that how I treat and value myself and my health sends messages to my boys and impacts how they perceive me and the role of a mother. I have learnt that there is no weakness or failure in asking for help nor is it the end of the world if the floors go another week before they are mopped! I have not yet perfected all this but I’ve certainly come a long way.

So as I lie here out of commission for hopefully the last time for a VERY long time, I have been reminding myself once again that I can’t be the woman or the mother that I want to be if I’m worn out, unwell and stressed out. If the wheels come off for me, the whole wagon goes off the road. Prioritising myself is a gift to my family and to myself – it is not selfish; it is not a luxury; it is necessary.

self care

Day #13 It’s OK for parents to ask for help

I think for many young parents there is a lot of pressure to hold it all together – to be kind and capable nurturers, to run tidy and efficient households, to continue in full time paid careers whilst simultaneously maintaining a happy and full lives away from work, and to manage all this with relative ease and with little help. In mothers groups I was surprised by how reticent other mothers were to say they were finding things tough. It seemed to me that these women truly thought that admitting it was tough going some days meant that as a parent you were a failure.

Parenting is a tough gig, whether you have neurotypical kids or not. It’s exhausting, it’s relentless and it requires a lot of emotional energy. Because we love our children so much, we are enormously invested in the parenting process and oftentimes we can have unfair and unrealistic expectations of ourselves in our pursuit of parenting perfection.

It’s OK to need a break from your children. I’ve hidden in the pantry once or twice just to enjoy a few moments of being in my own space! It’s OK to admit you are so sleep deprived that you feel sick to the stomach. It’s OK to admit that you are so emotionally exhausted that you simply have nothing left to give. It’s OK to not know the answers to every problem your family faces. It’s even OK not to know the question! It’s OK to not be perfect or normal – nobody actually knows what either of those terms mean anyway! It’s OK to be afraid and it’s OK to be fierce in protecting your family. It’s OK to admit you are so anxious that you wake up every night with your heart beating out of your chest. It’s OK to admit that your children are going to school in clothing recycled from the laundry hamper because you completely forgot to turn the washing machine on last night. It’s OK to admit you’ve entertained getting in your car and driving far, far away on your own and never returning! It’s normal to experience really tough and confusing moments along the parenting road and it’s important to reach out and ask for help when you need some back up.

Sharing your challenges often gives voice to the experiences of others as well, and somehow sharing this with somebody who ‘gets it’ normalises not only your feelings but theirs as well. It’s the old “a problem shared, is a problem halved” story. It’s healthy to discuss the challenges that life presents us all with, and it’s equally healthy to ask for help when you need it. As parents, don’t we hope and pray that if our children have worries or burdens that are heavy, that they will always come to us and share these concerns with us so that we can help? If this is so, then we had best “walk the talk” and model these behaviours for them so that admitting you’re not OK and asking for help are part of their toolkit for life.

children-quotes-parenting-quotes-Children-are-great-imitators

Day #12 Want to learn more about Autism?

When James was at AEIOU, the Helping Children with Autism Package HCWA was introduced in Australia. This package is an Australian Government initiative which recognises the importance of an early diagnosis and early intervention for children with autism. The package entitles children up to the age of 7 with a diagnosis of Autism to access therapy, medical assistance and early intervention services by allocating an Autism Advisor to the child who helps the parents to utilise a total of $12000 over 2 years. This funding ensures that every child with Autism has access to specialist services and is able to get the help and support they need.

Another part of the HCWA package was the formation of a consortium called “Positive Partnerships”. Positive Partnerships aims to provide support to school aged children with autism by providing professional development for schools, teachers and support staff, and also to parents and carers. They have a wonderful and FREE online learning portal available to everyone and they also regularly offer workshops around the country for both professionals and parents/carers.

So if you’d like to learn more about Autism, please use this wonderful resource and share it with others in your communities as well. A number of child care facilities, early intervention providers and schools are completing online webinars as a group, and are slowly working their way through the online materials available. What a brilliant way to provide professional development to your staff for no cost. Or perhaps you have family friends or grandparents who would like to increase their understanding of Autism? Why not refer them to Positive Partnerships also?

Please visit the Positive Partnerships website and have a look at everything they have to offer. I’d love to hear some feedback from those who visit the site.

Find Positive Partnerships at http://www.positivepartnerships.com.au/ or visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PositivePartnershipsAU

positive-partnerships

Day #11 Redefining Success

Last night, James and I ventured out to his first live music concert. There was a beautiful jazz pianist/vocalist visiting our town and she was to perform at the Arts Theatre at our local University. Check her out on YouTube – she’s amazing! Brenda Earle Stokes –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKYpkpzhz6k

There’s a few things that we need to do to prepare for an event such as this. First, James and I listened to some YouTube clips of the artist, then we looked at photographs of the University and the Arts Theatre we would be sitting in for the concert. Fortunately, I have a lovely friend who lectures in the Music Faculty at the University so we were advantaged by having visited her at work once before and also being shown around just before the concert began. Thanks Melissa xxx

James gets really concerned about time – how long something will last for, when it will finish. I had reassured him that the concert would go for about 75 minutes but that we could leave at any time if he needed to.

When we sat down he requested my iPhone and started the timer for 10 minutes. As the artist began to sing her first notes, he flipped the timer up to 30 minutes. We exchanged smiles! He requested gum which is a sign he is trying to self regulate. He was chewing a lot but he was OK! He loved the music which made my heart sing!

So when the timer got to 30 minutes, he leaned over and said, “Mum, will it hurt your feelings if we go now?” We left the theatre and sat down for a few moments just outside the theatre doors where we could still hear the music. I told him I was so proud of him for making it through his first live music concert.

I guess at this point, you could choose to focus on the fact that we didn’t make it through the night, that he was uptight and that leaving early meant it wasn’t successful. But it was actually the opposite! My baby is 9 and he attended his first live music concert with me! We lasted for thirty whole minutes during which time he didn’t cry, harm himself or become upset. For the thirty whole minutes we were there, he enjoyed himself and was so proud of himself for coming out with me, at night to a grown up concert. Although he struggled to make a departure from his usual night time routine (he generally really dislikes being out at night time), he pushed through that in order to try something different. He genuinely loved the music which warmed my heart as I am a musician myself and have longed for my boys to show some heart connection with something that brings me so much joy.

We made our way back to the car, chatting along the way. He was telling me how much he loved the piano and that he and I should sing songs together more (yay!). When we got into the car I thanked him for coming to the concert with me. He was still concerned that I might be sad about having to leave early as he knew I was really enjoying it. I replied that I was happy that we had shared the concert together for a whole thirty minutes and that we now had a really special memory to share. He said, “Thanks so much Mum – that was the best night of my life!” I agree James … it was a truly great night! I’m so proud of you xxx

James Theatre 2

Day #10 I dance to my own rhythm

Tom is his own man. He is not concerned with others’ opinions or concerns about things, he simply just marches to the beat of his own drum. Tom has a number of eccentricities. Even as a young child, he would often profess he could speak in another language and would talk animatedly to us in his own ‘tongue’ often becoming extremely frustrated by our lack of understanding. On occasion he will still do this. This unique form of communicating also extends to gestures.

Tom is not great at interpreting non-verbal communication at all. He will often say, “What is that face about, Mum?” because he finds it difficult to interpret facial expressions. Over time he has developed a number of his own gestures – kind of like sign language – which he uses with us but again … we have no idea what he’s trying to communicate and they are not learnable due to their inconsistency of formation. The other morning I asked him if he wanted jam or vegemite on his toast. His response was to extend his right hand towards me, nodding his head emphatically and bending his pointer finger. I became exasperated due to my lack of understanding (and time!) so he sighed and told me in a very patronising tone that this gesture was indicating both a ‘j’ for jam and also a ‘tick’ for yes!

I believe that with or without ASD Tom would be endearingly eccentric but his ASD perhaps makes some of his eccentricities easier to understand. Social communication deficits are a feature of ASD. A poor ability to interpret facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, reciprocal conversations, inferences and general social awareness skills (eg ability to match behaviour to situation) impact the individual’s ability to both interpret and interact in their social environment.

I think Tom’s eccentricities are fantastic. He is a creative thinker and he’s pretty comfortable spending time outside the box. Wonderful characteristics. I think this is all summarised beautifully by a brief conversation we had yesterday. As Tom was energetically talking to me in an unknown dialect whilst simultaneously twirling around in some freeform interpretative dance, I said to him laughing, “Tom, you are so silly!” and his response … “Mum … I am not silly… I am … a complete … lun-a-tic!” And we wouldn’t have it any other way, Tom xxxx

children marching to the beat

Day #9 Are inclusive practices an ‘extra’ or just good teaching practice?

Often there is a conception that when we have children with diagnosed, additional needs in our classrooms that as teachers our workload increases and that special programs will have to be developed to support these children. This is interesting because in my experience, every child in a general classroom will at some point have additional needs be they social, emotional, learning, medical or otherwise. Often it’s the children who are not yet diagnosed that require additional support as their specific needs are not yet fully recognised. Additionally, the strategies and supports put into place to assist our diagnosed children are likely to benefit all the students in your class. Social skills programs, self regulation strategies, the use of visual supports and graphic organisers, sound amplification devices and environmental accommodations are likely to be beneficial to many children in our classrooms.

I do need to say at this point that I am in no way giving teachers a hard time. I’m a teacher myself and I fully appreciate the enormous demands made of teachers. Our jobs are made easier by the input of therapists, learning supports teachers, medical specialists, parents and by our schools providing us with the time, training and specialist support to help us succeed. I acknowledge all of this. What I am suggesting here though is that as teachers we can think and operate smarter by adopting inclusive practices as part of our pedagogy and in this way we make accommodations for many of students across the school day without the need to think of these adjustments as additional work or something different required just for one or two students. In my experience, many of our gifted teachers do this all day, every day without even realising they are doing it!

As a parent of two boys with ASD I have spent many hours practising specific skills such as game playing skills in the knowledge that this is something the boys struggle with. How many times have you come across an average 7 or 9 year old who struggles to play a competitive game with a peer in an appropriate way? I would suggest that many children lack game playing skills. So perhaps we need to teach all children in our classrooms these skills, not just create a special program only aimed at meeting the needs of the ASD child? If everyone in the group understands the language and concepts of being a good game player isn’t it more likely that good game playing skills are more likely to be learnt across the whole group?

Many individuals with ASD are described as visual thinkers – Dr Temple Grandin talks a lot about how she thinks in pictures. One of the key accommodations for children with ASD is visual supports in the classroom – visual schedules, visuals for organisation, graphic organisers, timers and social stories. I would argue again that these strategies would benefit many of the children in the classroom. How many typical children would benefit from scaffolds, graphic organisers, checklists and visual schedules? Even as a tertiary qualified adult, I would benefit from the use of these strategies in my learning environment.

So if we are to truly embrace inclusion, we need to recognise that all of our children will have additional needs at some time. Our children are all similar in this respect. Every day, there are many supports, strategies and adjustments that teachers can use which benefit all of the children in their classrooms. Rather than seeing the extra work that comes with having diagnosed children in your classroom, think instead about how to incorporate fully inclusive practices into the classroom as part of good, everything teaching practice … rather than something extra?

Inclusion-strategy

Day #8 My “happy” is different from your “happy” … and that’s OK!

It’s funny how what we view as ‘enjoyable’ or ‘fun’ is essentially just defined by our own idea of happiness. When I was a child, I loved playing on the all the equipment and meeting new children. This made me happy. When Tom was 2-4 years of age, his idea of fun at the playground was to drive his trains around the concrete kerbing of the playground. He wouldn’t interact with other kids much or even play on the equipment most times. He was just happy driving his trains around the kerbing in his own little world. Initially, this made me so sad. He looked alone and seemed to be missing the whole idea of coming to the park – to play with others! But is there only one way to have fun?  I’ve learnt though that there are many ways to be ‘happy’ and that I should not expect my boys to necessarily find joy and happiness in the same things I do.

Tom loves organising his mini-figures in his room and creating complex scenes with them. He likes to do this alone, in quiet and with his door shut. He also loves riding his scooter and doing laps of our neighbourhood block, timing himself. He also loves ice packs but isn’t big on affection. James loves video games, tanks, pirates, chewing gum and ice. He likes to cosy up beside you on the couch for a ‘smooch’ and he loves a soak in the bath. Both boys love the water! Some of their likes are a bit left of centre and not for everyone (including me!) but these are things that make them happy … and that’s OK!

 

So what’s my point in all of this? In my job, I’m so often told that it’s concerning that an ASD child won’t join the other kids in the yard at play time – that they would rather read a book or go to the library. Some parents and teachers are almost insistent that children should be in the playground because that’s “normal” and that’s what every child should be doing. This is wrong!

 

Many ASD children find lunch times very overwhelming – so many noises, so much movement, all the smells from the various lunch boxes and the huge social demands that come with ‘free’ time. I would argue that whilst it makes some kids ‘happy’ to run about and play with others, that many other children would prefer to have ‘time out’ from all of that. They need to quieten down, spend some time pursuing their interests and regulate themselves. Some children desperately need to go outside, run, play and burn off some energy. Other children have absolutely no energy left by lunch time and need some quiet time to hit the re-set button and re-energise. It is just not appropriate to always apply our own “happiness” filter to circumstances and situations with our kids.

 

You know how we always teach our kids in classrooms that we all need different things to learn – some kids need glasses, others need sensory tools, some need visuals and some need laptops? Well happiness is no different. We all require different things to be “happy” and that’s OK! The challenge for us all is to remember to take off our own “happiness” filters and let our kids find their own joys in their daily lives.

 

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