Saturday, 14 March 2020

A Superhero Pup for Lachlan

**** Please note that we will be receiving sponsorship and goods from the companies mentioned in this post.
I do not receive any commissions from the links in this post. ****

Late last year, I posted an article about L being accepted to receive an Autism Assistance Service Dog. We began our fundraising campaign in November and have been gradually adding funds to our goal of $20,000.

Well, a few weeks ago we were contacted by Smart Pups inviting us to an annual luncheon that is organised by a gentleman by the name of Craig Harley. Every year for the last seven years (this year being the eight year,) Craig organises a corporate fundraising luncheon for Smart Pups and every year, he asks Smart Pups to choose one Autistic child to receive some of the money raised that goes directly into their campaign. L was chosen to be that child. A few weeks ago we visited one of the Smart Pups training venues on the Sunshine Coast where we filmed a short clip about why we were fundraising for a Smart Pup, this would be played at the beginning of the function, and L met several puppies.

Thursday just gone was the day of the function. Both little superheroes had been counting down the days because, a. they would get to pat some more puppies, and b. they would get to meet a famous Australian swimmer.

Daddy superhero, myself and O got dressed up on our finest but L decided that shorts, a t-shirt and no shoes was the go. He was comfortable and had clothes on and that is all that matters! We packed all of the necessities - electronic devices, charging cords and portable power banks, body sock and other sensory items. We knew that the function was going to be quite large, we were told that 400 tickets had been sold already, so there was the potential for both little superheroes to enter into sensory overload.

When we arrived at The Paddo, the enormity of the function was a little overwhelming to both little superheroes. We were seated at the Smart Pups table so there were lots of Smart Pups to assist both little superheroes. They loved Boots, who was an old hand at being a service dog. They both needed to wear their block ear protectors. The body sock was used as where the other sensory items.

We met and chatted with Dawn Fraser and Ian Thorpe, two Australian swimming living legends. Dawn is a huge supporter of Smart Pups and has attended every fundraising function since it first started. Both Ian and Dawn are very friendly, very down to earth and very humble about their achievements. Ian is also very tall, he's huge!

Both little superheroes were looking forward to meeting Ian Thorpe, we didn't know that Dawn Fraser would be there though, due to the swimming connection. Both little superheroes loves their swimming lessons.

As the clip was about to play about how an Autism Assistance dog would help L, we were invited onto the stage to talk about how a Smart Pup would help L. By this stage L was well and truly overwhelmed and had made himself a cubby house underneath the table that we were sitting at, so Daddy superhero, O and myself made our way onto the stage.

This was a bit of a surprise as I didn't realise that we'd be speaking to the function attendees. We had a chat with Donna Lynch, one of the MC's and then she asked us to stand. At this point I began thinking, what on earth was about to happen. Well, unbeknownst to us, we were invited to the luncheon because the patron of the luncheon, Wally Fullerton-Smith, wanted to present L with his Smart Pup.

Every year Craig Harley asks one of his contacts to be the patron of the function. Smart pups then names one of the puppies in the patron's honour and that pup is presented to the child who is effectively the face of Smart Pups at the fundraising function.

So without any further ado, I'd like to introduce the newest member of our family, Wally. Wally is an eight week old Labrador puppy and he is really cute!

It will be quite some time before Wally is placed with us at home as he has to successfully complete all of his training, but as you can see L was over the moon. Initially L was unsure, but when he realised that Wally was his puppy, a huge smile broke out on his face and stayed there.

Daryl Braithwaite, an iconic Australian artist, was performing at the function and even he wanted a cuddle with Wally. Wally on the other hand, had other ideas!!

We were able to have a long chat with Wally Fullerton-Smith about Lachy and how Wally (the pup) would be able to assist L. By this stage, L was well and truly over photos and had hidden again. And while speaking with Wally (the person,) he wiped more than a few tears from his eyes. He asked if we could keep him informed about how Wally (the pup) was going and L, to which we responded a resounding "of course we will." Both little superheroes therapists over the last few years have become like family members as they've invested a lot of personal time and effort into both little superheroes. Wally Fullerton-Smith, you're now part of our superhero family network. Wally (the person) also showed that underneath his tough NRL exterior, he is a softie at heart.

When L realised that Wally was his pup, the smile on his face was beautiful. There wasn't a dry eye around us. And with a fluffy face like this, who could resist.

We went out the back where all of the pups could go to have a break and Erin, our trainer, sat down with both little superheroes and Wally and did some basic training with Wally. We've been invited up to the Smart Pups training facility at any stage during Wally's training so that we can see what he's been up to with Erin. This will also give L and Wally the opportunity to strengthen the bond that was started on Thursday.

This is a unique opportunity for us as usually a family who will receive a Smart Pup do not find out the name of their Smart Pup until approximately four weeks before placement at home. Being able to follow Wally's training every step of the way is just wonderful and for that, we're very grateful.

Even O had a few cuddles with Wally. She too is smitten with Wally. While Wally is primarily L's Smart Pup, in time Wally will also be able to assist O with her anxiety.

On Thursday, we were not only surprised with L's Smart Pup, Wally, but Chris from Big Dog Pet Foods informed us that they will be providing us with a year's worth of dog food for Wally. This will take a huge financial cost off of our shoulders, so thank you.

On all of the tables at the function, were several of these little plush Smart Pups. As we were about to leave, L asked Kylie from Smart Pups if he could take home some of the puppies. We came home with four of them!! Not to be confused with Wally, but these two tiny Smart Pups are now known as WesWally! And O has named her tiny Pup, Waldo.

Both little superheroes have begun planning what Wally (the pup) can wear when we go to Supernova next year.

I am sure that the next twelve months are going to fly by. L is missing Wally (the pup) already and is looking forward to another day trip to see his pup again.

We are so very grateful to Patricia, Kylie and all of the other employees at Smart Pups, Wally Fullerton-Smith, Craig Harley, Chuggy and all of the other staff from The Paddo who worked at the function and all of the attendees at the function. Your contributions will make a huge difference to L's life, and others, and many other families who are currently waiting to receive a Smart Pup.

We're also very grateful to a close family friend, Kaz Doyle, who helped to kick off our fundraising campaign. To Bribie Island and District Woodcrafters Group, a huge thank you. Your group came on board to assist us with fundraising and we thank you for your support. To all of you who have donated money and prizes for us to raffle off, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you so much. Your support means the world to our family.

We are feeling very grateful and very, very loved.

While we have reached our goal and can see a light at the end of the tunnel, there are many other families who are yet to reach their goal of $20,000. Prior to the function, we decided that if we reached our target, we'd continue to fundraise so that we could support Smart Pups and other families. So that's what we are going to do.

For those not in the know, Wally Fullerton-Smith is a former Australian representative and National Rugby League player for St George Illawarra Dragons.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Thoughts from my children ..... Part Two

Both of my little superheroes have voices. O is wanting to self advocate for herself and others, and L is beginning to articulate his thoughts. I want them both to have more of a voice on my blog, so here are a few more of their thoughts.

I love listening to them describe how they think, feel and view the world around them as it gives me more insight into their world.

[What is normal? Our normal is having Autism. Another person's normal is not having Autism. Everyone's normal is different from each other so there is no such thing as normal.
O, 10 years.]

[Autism isn't like a light bulb. I can't turn my Autism on and off.
If you can't see my Autism then you need to look a little closer.
O, 10 years.]

[Why do people say that Autism needs to be cured?
Autism isn't a disease, it isn't an illness. Autism is a different way of thinking and viewing the world. We don't need to be cured. We need to be accepted for who we are.
O, 10 years.]

[My brain don't like when there too much noise. 
My brain tells me I got to escape cos it scared.
L, 7 years.]

[I got Awes-tism and I got 80-HD.
So I'm awesome and I got fast brain superpower!
L, 7 years.]

[Sometimes I can't talk. I want to talk and I see the pictures in my brain that I want to say but the words get stuck. Then my brain get confused and the pictures move too fast so I got to use my sounds and my hands to do the talking thing.
L, 7 years.]

[Sometimes my brain not let me talk so I got to use my hands to do the talking 
and my eyes to do the listening.
L, 7 years.]

[During a meltdown ....
I can't respond to you, my brain won't let me, so please just stay nearby.
I don't meant to lash out, please don't take it personally, my brain is hijacking my body.
I may repeat phrases, but I don't remember what I am saying.
Reassure me and keep me safe.
Talking to me makes my brain think there is more danger, so please try not to talk.
Afterwards, I may just want a cuddle to comfort me.
O, 10 years.]

[My Autism is my Autism.
My brother's Autism is his Autism.
We're both different but similar at the same time.
O, 10 years.]

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Let's Talk About ...... Toilet Training

**** Please note that the advice in this post is based on our personal experience in toilet training children. I do not receive commissions of any kind for any products mentioned in this post.****

Over the last few years on our Autism journey, I've been asked for advice on many different topics. One topic that comes up in conversation on a fairly regular basis, is "do you have any tips for toilet training my child?"

Well, where do I start?!?!?! Working in the early learning industry and toilet training both of my own children, I have used a number of different strategies to toilet train both little superheroes as well as children in my care at work. But let's face it, toilet training any child, regardless of diagnosis or not, can be daunting but toilet training a child who struggles to understand their internal body signals, interoception, can make toilet training that little bit harder.

Before we get into toilet training, I'll recap on interoception for those of you who haven't heard if it before now. Interoception is one of our hidden senses and it consists of all of the internal sensations that we feel on a daily basis - including when we need to go to the bathroom. For children on the spectrum, interoception can play a big factor in struggles with toilet training.

Children who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder may struggle with toilet training for a myriad of reasons. Their sense of interoception may still be developing and even though their body is sending all the signals that they need to go to the bathroom, they may not be able to correctly interpret these signals. Children whose communication skills are still developing may not have the skills to verbally tell you that they need to go to the bathroom. They may also lack the motor skills - both fine and gross motor - to physically use the toilet.

So what tips can I pass onto you, the reader, on teaching your child, or perhaps a child in your care, to use the toilet?

First things first, the key to toilet training of any child is patience. Depending on the child's skill and developmental level, toilet training can take some time. Be patient and calm - children pick up on this in us. If we are patient and calm, then we can assist the child to be calm. Toilet training is a big skill for any child to learn. For some children, physically sitting on a toilet can be nerve wrecking.

You also need to ensure that your child is showing signs of being ready to toilet train. These could include -
  • Indicating to you that their nappy is wet or soiled - they may try to take the nappy off or they may vocalize or sign to you that their nappy is dirty.
  • Your child may physically take you to where the clean nappies are stored or they may go and get a clean nappy themselves.
  • Your child may be staying dry most nights while they are sleeping - this indicates that their bladder and bowel control is developing.
  • They take more of an interest in the toilet.
We began toilet training both little superheroes when they started to show signs of being ready. O was relatively easy to toilet train, but in saying that she was toilet trained at day care long before she was at home.

With O we used a book called "Stress Free Potty Training." At the beginning of the book, the reader does a quick questionnaire about the personality type their child and then based on the child's personality, the book is broken down into tips for each personality. When I initially read the section based on O's personality type (she was a child who would master a skill and then not do the skill again,) I said to my husband that the book could have been written specifically about O! We were then able to toilet train O very successfully and quite quickly.

With L, however, toilet training didn't come naturally to him and for a long time we really struggled. At times, L showed an interest in that he would sign to us that he needed to be changed or he'd simply take his own nappy off but we really struggled to toilet train him, and at other times he showed no interest at all.

It was really only after he started early intervention therapy and his therapists gave us some tips and tricks of the trade, that we were able to properly begin toilet training with L.

So what did we do? Well....

We had to build L's confidence up in using the toilet. To begin with we'd simply get L to sit on the toilet (with the lid down) fully clothed, just to get him to feel comfortable. We read stories about going to the toilet - one of his favourite books was a book with the Sesame Street characters in it. We'd read this book to L while he was sitting on the toilet. One of the reasons that I think L loved this book is that the final page was interactive - he was able to flush the toilet on the last page by pulling a lever down! We'd read the book and then he'd play with the last page over and over again!

We were made aware of the fact that L's sense of interoception was probably still developing which could account for him lacking the ability to tell us when he needed to go. Whenever either myself or Daddy Superhero needed to use the bathroom, we'd encourage L to try too. We'd let him know that "my tummy feels a bit sore, maybe I need to go to the toilet," in the hope that he would begin to recognise his internal feelings. L watched us many times when either of us went to the toilet!!

L's therapists at the early intervention centre created social stories for Lachlan about using the toilet. These were personalised with photos of Lachlan in the bathroom - flushing the toilet, sitting on the toilet and so on. We also had social stories about washing hands.

We put up visuals in the bathroom on the steps involved in going to the toilet and washing hands after using the toilet. We still use these visuals just as a reminder of the steps involved as occasionally L still forgets the steps. It's not a case of L being lazy, his executive functioning skills are developing so he genuinely forgets and just needs a visual to prompt him.

Whenever we were encouraging L to use the toilet, we'd say the word "toilet" and sign the word as well. Initially L was non verbal, so by learning the key word sign for toilet, he had a means of communicating to us that he needed to use the toilet.

We incorporated L's intense interest of superheroes into toilet training. Every skill that L has learnt, his superhero figurines have been there every step of the way, including sitting on the toilet. This was a huge motivator for L - if his superheroes could sit on the toilet, then he was keen to do it too!

Initially we kept a record of when L was soiling and wetting his nappy and/or clothes. When we established the times that he would generally soil or wet himself, we'd encourage him to use the toilet at roughly around those times.

We would also use a specific phrase once L was sitting on the toilet, something along the lines of "L, wees and poos go in the toilet," so that he began to understand why he was sitting on the toilet.

L likes to be in control of what is happening around him so we'd give him choices based on an outcome that we wanted. We wanted him to use the toilet so we would ask questions like "Who would you like to take you to the toilet? Mummy or Daddy?" or "Which toilet would you like to use?" Questions along these lines made him feel like he was in control. If we ever asked him "Do you want to go to the toilet?" the answer was always no!

We'd also give L a visual countdown of when he'd need to go to the toilet - we'd also let him know that in five minutes it was time to go to the toilet. This certainly helped as without a countdown, he'd become quite distressed.

Other tips that could be useful ....

  • You could encourage your child to simply sit, fully clothed on the toilet and praise your child if and when they do. Start off with a small amount of time and work up to longer periods.
  • Some children find the noise of the toilet flushing overwhelming - so initially, simply get them to be in the vicinity of the toilet when you flush it and work up to your child flushing the toilet. Again praise them if this is successful along every step of the way.
  • Your child may have difficulty in dressing and undressing themselves so they may need your assistance in this.
  • Some children may respond to reward charts - a stamp or sticker each time that they use the toilet and a reward once they get a certain number of stickers. We did try sticker charts and other rewards with both little superheroes, but neither were interested. They loved getting the sticker but it didn't help in any way with toilet training.
  • Once you begin toilet training, you can encourage your child to go to the toilet every 45 minutes or so. Some children respond to this, others can be quite resistant.
And finally, if you begin toilet training your child and have no luck, stop and try again in a month or so. It could be that your child simply is not ready. Have a break from toilet training, for both of you, and try again at a later date.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Adventures with My Little Superheroes.

One thing that we love to do as a family is take day trips. We pack the picnic basket, get into the car and pick a direction. Neither of my little superheroes enjoy the unknown - the element of surprise and unknown really throws them both off balance. But throughout life, we all will come across unknown surprises so both Daddy superhero and I want to prepare them. We want them both to know what while preparation for changes is great, every now and then they will come across a change that they didn't know about and that they will be okay.

So the day trips that we take serve two purposes - having fun as a family and preparing them for the future.

About a month ago we decided to go on a day trip and when we got to the motorway, both little superheros pointed south so that's the direction we went in. We ended up down at one of Daddy superheroes old stomping grounds on the south side of Brisbane. There's a great little (well not so little in the grand scheme of things) playground with huge old Moreton Bay fig trees at Wellington Point. After a picnic, both little superheroes took off towards the trees.

Each time we venture to Wellington Point, both little superheroes love to climb up and sit on the branches of the old trees. This time, not only did they just sit on one of the branches, they wanted to have a go at climbing/crawling/shuffling along one of the branches into the tree. This is a huge step, especially for O, as while L really doesn't have a sense of fear, the branches aren't the easiest to climb along.

But they both had a go, and with a little help from Daddy, they both made it into the tree! And not only did they have fun, but by climbing the tree, they gained a little proprioceptive input!!

After some tree climbing, we saw that the tide was on its way out. Each time we've been to Wellington Point, the little superheroes have talked about the little island that is located a short distance off shore from Wellington Point. What they both didn't realise is that when the tide goes out, there is a sand bank that appears that runs between Wellington Point and the island, King Island.

So off came the shoes and we made a snap decision to walk the sand bank to King Island! Now as the tide hadn't gone completely out, we had to cross a small channel to get onto the sand bank. We all pulled our shorts up as far as they would go and waded into the water. Me being my clumsy self, went bum up and was soaked from the waist down - thank goodness, I'd wrapped my phone in a few plastic bags! Both little superheros, and Daddy superhero and the people around us, had a good chuckle. And both little superheroes reminded me "Mummy, you don't have dry clothes in the car. Now you're wet, you going to have to walk home!"

King Island is situated approximately 1 kilometre out from Wellington Point. The island is a conservation park and is a combination of sandy pathways alongside trees and it is surrounded by mangroves. It is uninhabited now, but in the early 1900's, the island was once home to the Phillips family for medicinal reasons - one of their seven children had polio and it was suggested to them that the child would benefit from bathing daily in the sea water. They built a makeshift home on the island and lived there for a number of years.

The walk out to King Island was quite lovely. At one point L told me "It very peaceful out here!" and that it was. We took our time walking out, stopping to look at the coral and shells that were washed up on the sand bar.

The walk was a little too much for O. She did make it out to the island but the shells and coral along the way was too much for her feet. So once we'd made it to the island, she and I headed back while L and Daddy superhero explored the island.

As you can probably tell from the photo, L had a ball bouncing, running and jumping all over the island.

On our way back to Wellington Point, O and I had a talk about what we had learnt from the walk as by that point O was quite teary. Her pain threshold is quite low compared to L's so I wanted to try and take her mind off of the walk itself.

We decided that next time that while we'd take our shoes off to cross over onto the sand bar, we'd bring our shoes so that the coral and shells didn't hurt O's feet. It is wonderful to see her problem solve issues that she comes across as it means that in the future, she will have these skills to help her in every day life.

At one point on the way back, O spotted a lump of dead coral. She knows that as a teenager and young adult, I had my heart set on becoming a marine biologist, so she is always asking me questions about marine life. The coral that she happened to pick up had two, that we could see, different marine creatures living on it. There was a black and brown chiton (a marine mollusc) sticking very tightly and moving very slowly along one edge and in a burrow was the tail end of a mantis shrimp - it was madly clicking as we looked at the coral as if to say "put my home down!"

All in all, it was a great day out. Both little superheroes are already talking about the next time we walk to King Island and what we need to take so that we're a little more prepared. They both did really well to walk the 2 kilometre round trip to King Island, as we kept reminding them - it was the longest walk that they'd both done in quite some time.

Oh, and I didn't need to walk home - we'd packed towels just in case we ended up at a destination where the little superheroes could swim!