Monday 31 October 2016

Anxiety and the delayed effect

Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on anxiety disorders, I'm just commenting on what we see on a very very regular basis. If you feel that you have issues with anxiety, the best advice that I can give you is to go and see your GP.

This afternoon O walked through the door at home and immediately I knew that something was up. O didn't have to say or do anything, I just knew. Call it mothers intuition, call it picking up on cues, call it what you like, I just knew that something was wrong. I knew that her anxiety had been eating at her all day and that I was about to see the delayed effect.

I knew that O had had a tricky day at school and that she had managed to hold it together for the entire day - at before school care, at school and in the car on the way home. I knew that she didn't draw attention to herself all day and that very shortly, cyclone O was about to hit.

O may have been showing small signs throughout the day, signs that someone who knows O well or someone who has experience in childhood anxiety may have spotted early in the day. O may have been stimming, she may have been chewing on her shirt or she may have been fidgeting. These are all little signs that her anxiety is beginning to take over, beginning to consume her every thought. O's small cues may have been missed or they may have been mistaken for tiredness.

I'm not sure that O is able to recognise that her anxiety is rising until it's too late and then because O hasn't learnt the skills she needs to lower her anxiety, she starts going round in circles which in turn increases her anxiety. It's a vicious circle and it is one that she struggles to get herself out of without assistance.

As we walk through the door, all the remaining energy seeps out of O and I can see her deflating like a balloon. O's face tenses up, she has red cheeks, her body is stiff, her speech is reduced to very short simple sentences and she constantly has her shirt in her mouth. O needs a snack to eat but we don't have the right ones in the cupboard. Our lorikeet squawks hello too loudly, L runs past too quickly.

I try to engage O in conversation to distract her, to get her mind out of the anxiety trap, but she isn't able to answer as there is a fog that surrounds her and she isn't able to process what I'm saying.

O starts to get angry and she's no longer in control of her body, she starts to lash out at L. L then lashes back and round two has begun.

O is in full meltdown mode, there is no turning back. All her pent up frustration has to come out. O kicks and screams and lashes out at anyone that comes close. We just have to let her ride it out.

This, my friend, is the delayed effect.

Some medical professionals have called it "the delayed effect." Others have called it the "pressure cooker" situation. Others call it the "bottle of pop phenomenon."

The delayed effect is a very common challenge that many children and adults with ASD face on a daily basis. I would say that individuals who suffer from  anxiety may also experience the delayed effect. And the tricky bit is that quite often people outside the family unit don't ever see this other side. Parents will describe the child one way, schools see a completely different side. It's almost like a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde type situation.

Some children are able to hide the signs of anxiety very well. They can often contain their feelings and their teachers remain blissfully unaware of the rising stress inside their students. The child's teacher will often not believe, or at least struggle to believe, the parents or may not understand, as they may never see this other side of the child.

When we've tried to explain this other side of O, we've been told -
"But she's always so happy, she can't have anxiety."
"She smiles alot, she has a lot of friends, she doesn't have anything to be worried about."
"But she's so polite and friendly in class, she never yells."
I'm sure that at times, her teachers think that we are fabricating how O behaves at home. It wasn't until I recorded one of her meltdowns, that people started believing what we described and took us seriously.

The rising anxiety throughout the day might be due to any number of things. A new topic might have been introduced in class. Class reading groups may have been changed. The classroom may have been rearranged. There might have been a relief teacher for dance. O may have struggled to understand a task that her teacher had set. The noise levels in class may have gotten too high.

I liken anxiety to that of a duck paddling on a lake. Above the surface of the water, the duck appears so graceful, gliding along the surface. Below the water, the duck is paddling away furiously just to stay afloat. It's exhausting for the duck and after a while, the duck needs to take a break.

O's break is at home. O is somewhere safe, she is somewhere familiar and simply can't contain the pressure anymore. O feels safe and secure with us, we understand her, we won't judge her and won't hate her for whatever she may do or say. We're the predictable part of her day, we're her calm.

After the meltdown, exhaustion sets in. The exhaustion doesn't just hit O, it hits L, her Dad and myself. It's hard being a mum on the receiving end of the delayed effect as it holds no prisoners and it really doesn't care who it hurts in the process. I can't even imagine how it feels for O. She is beginning to express how it feels, but she doesn't fully understand the how or the why it happens.

O is gradually learning the skills she needs so that she can recognise her rising anxiety levels and so that she can get herself out of the vicious circle. We use a combination of story books, breathing techniques, essential oils and sensory toys to help O to relax and calm down. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. We also take O to see a child psychologist so that she can learn strategies to help her when she starts to feel anxious.

The delayed effect, it's real. Trust me. Individuals suffering from anxiety need support, not disbelief. So the next time, you hear someone say that they or their child suffers from anxiety, please don't brush them off. Offer support. Be that friendly ear that they may need. Be their predictable.

Sunday 30 October 2016

Swimming day!

Saturday morning is swimming lesson time at our place. The very first time we took O to the pool for swimming lessons, L took off and jumped into the pool at the deepest part and promptly sunk to the bottom. After we fished him out, he started giggling and wanted to do it all over again. It was at that point we decided that L had to learn how to swim and learn some water safety skills. The boy has no fear, at all.

We've been incredibly lucky to find not only a great swimming centre but also wonderful swimming instructors. We've tried group lessons for both little superheroes, but they really didn't cope in that environment, so private lessons it is.

Our routine for swimming is that we get to the pool about 15 minutes before their lessons start so that both little superheroes can have a splash in the pool beforehand. It gets them both in a great mood for swimming and gets L used to the noise of the swimming centre before he has to start concentrating. Both little superheroes use up a little energy playing beforehand which seems to help them concentrate better during their lessons.

O's instructor cottoned on very early into her lessons that he needs to be very specific with what he asks O to do. O has tried to swim 10m without breathing - "but you said swim!" There's usually lots of giggles from both O and her instructor during her lessons, especially when she manages to fold herself in half while doing survival backstroke! She has come along so far with her private lessons and she is so much more confident with her own abilities.

L's instructor is absolutely fantastic at keeping L's focus during his lesson. He is literally jumping for joy when he spots her across the pool and can not wait to get into the water. Today L's instructor took him into the deep wave pool. They had a ball, until the waves were turned on. L said to his instructor "well this is weird!" His instructor said it was good for him because L has now figured out his limits in the pool. With the help of his instructor, L has passed several levels just in the last 6 weeks.

So thank you so much to both L's and O's instructors and all the other swim school staff who have taught both O and L. You are all doing a wonderful job and thank you for being patient and understanding with both my little superheroes. Swimming lessons have become a very enjoyable experience for them both.

Thursday 27 October 2016

Joey Adventures with O

So tonight was hike night at Joey Scouts. The Joeys were going to hike along part of an old Heritage Railway Trail to a tunnel, go through the tunnel and then do a loop back to the car park.

At times O struggles a little with darkness so I sat down with O beforehand to talk to her about the fact that we had to take torches as we were going to walk through an old tunnel. O took it in her stride and wanted to go.

O did really well on the walk, she listened to her Joey leader, she tried her hardest to complete the tasks that were given to them, she even carried her own backpack and was very excited about seeing the tunnel.

Unfortunately I didn't take into account that 7 and 8 year old boys think differently to 7 year old girls. 7 and 8 year old boys think it is funny to try and scare their friends and tell spooky stories about what might lie waiting in a dark tunnel! Oh great!

When we got to the entrance of the tunnel, O decided that was it, she was not going any further. She tried bargaining "but we can go round and meet them at the other end!" We had tears and her anxiety started showing its head.

After much reassuring from myself and several of the other mums, I was able to convince Olivia to step foot into the tunnel. We decided that we would take it one step at a time, with the promise that we would turn around at the any point if she wanted.

O took hold of my hand and took off, very fast, into the tunnel. I honestly don't think that I have seen her walk that fast before.

Once she realised that the end of the tunnel was getting closer, she slowed down a little and stopped to look at things that her Joey Leader was pointing out. She even stopped jumping every time one of the other Joey's tried scaring each other - I guess for little boys, that never gets old!

Am so proud of O, she overcame her fear of the tunnel and she didn't allow her anxiety to control her. She not only walked through the tunnel but was able to appreciate the tunnel for its history and completed the hike without complaining once or needing to go to the toilet. I didn't realise just how much little boys need to pee when they're in nature!

Now to convince her that we should take Daddy and L back to the trail, not necessarily to go through the tunnel, just to go for a walk!

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Dear Supermarket Team (an open letter to all the staff where we shop)

To the team at the supermarket that I do our weekly shopping at,

Thank you so much for making our weekly shopping trip actually enjoyable and fun for my children.

Both my children struggle with noise, bright lights and at times crowds of people. I shop at the same place, at the same time, the same day each week. It is part of L's routine. We drop O off at school, we do the shopping and then go home to get ready for Tara School.

You've come to know us very well, we're the ones that buy the same things each week - there is very little variation to our shopping list. I'm not even sure why I write a list out, but if I didn't, I'd forget something for sure.

To the lovely cold section attendant who sees us coming and goes out the back to check that the Moo button and Cluck button are turned on so that L can giggle his head off in surprise when he hears the sounds. Thank you so very much for recognising the joy he gets from pressing two buttons each week.

To the ladies who are picking online orders, thank you for saying "hi buddy" to L - he looks forward to your interaction and one day he will say hello back rather than just waving.

To the front of store team who have on occasions come to our rescue when L has been having a moment. Thank you for offering to help, for distracting O when she has been with us, for holding our full trolley when I've had to take L out for a break. Your understanding is wonderful.

To the lovely lady on the register who seems to be always on, thank you for including L in our conversations. Thank you for your patience as L helps to put everything up onto the belt. Thank you for packing light bags so that L can help to put them into the trolley.

Lastly to the lovely deli attendant, you are L's most favourite person in the supermarket, hands down. You see us coming and you always have a piece or two of polony ready for L with a 'hi buddy, how are you today?" You are the one person that L will say "hello, thank you and bye" to.

Also thank you for standing up for my beautiful boy when that person decided that it was her job to tell me "that kids like him should be kept at home." It made my heart jump when you defended L and politely told her where to go. Thank you for understanding that L does struggle at times and thank you for accepting him the way he is.


A mum who dreads going shopping because it might end in tears and frustration.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Time to look after me

After being on holidays for three weeks and being able to relax and do absolutely nothing, getting back into the normal day to day routine was a bit of a struggle. So I decided that each weekend I am going to try and have some me time, even if it was just 5 minutes to recharge my batteries.

The wonderful lady who runs a Facebook group, Autism Living Life on the Spectrum, that I am part of posted a #selfcare Sunday to-do-list, so I am going to borrow her list and expand on it.

So, here is my #selfcare to-do-list!

Have a cuppa - try for a milo but will probably be a coffee.
Enjoy breakfast - while my toast is still hot or at least warm. And if it goes cold, I'm going to make more!
Nurture Me - warm shower, relaxing bath, without the little superheroes in with me!
Relax - sit down in a comfy chair and not do a thing for a change.
Read a book - I'm determined to cut down on how much time that I spend playing on my phone. Going to read a book instead, either a book for me or read a book to my little superheroes.
Go to Bed Early - by early I mean soon after my little superheroes go to sleep. This could be anytime after 8pm mind you!

Enjoy being outside - my little superheroes love having us watch them play, so I'm going to make sure that I spend time doing this. Not outside hanging washing or tidying up, just outside watching them play!
Going for a walk - each day on our holiday we went for a family walk. It was great, we loved it and the little superheroes loved it. We're going to keep doing this, perhaps not each day as some mornings are just crazy!
Do some baking - with the little superheroes. Biscuits, muffins, who knows, just some different snacks for us all.

What have you done to nurture yourself today? It may not be one of these, but something is better than nothing!

We spend so much time making sure that our little ones are okay, so now it is time to nuture yourself, you need to honour yourself for the amazing job that you do .... because you are doing an amazing job!

If you are after a fantastic support group, I would really recommend Autism Living Life on the Spectrum. It is a forum full of very supportive individuals, loads of great information and a place where everyone is accepted for who they are.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Conversations we have in the middle of the night

Mummy Mummy I needs you!

Am I dreaming? No, wait, I'm pretty sure someone is talking to me.

"Mummy Mummy I needs you" as my eyes are being pried open.

Pardon, are you talking to me or are you talking in your sleep?

Mummy, it dark!

Really? It's meant to be, it's the middle of the night! Please go back to sleep.

But I needs you Mummy!

What's up buddy? Do you need a drink? Are you cold?

No, I needs my toy!

You pried my eyes open for a toy? Go back to sleep please, it's night night time.

But I needs my toy Mummy!

Ah, it's 2.53 in the morning, why do you need a toy and which toy are we talking about? More to the point, please go back to sleep!

But I not tired now, I needs my toy........please? I try look but it too dark!

Oh bother, now I'm awake. Let's go find this toy, which one is it?

The batman one!

That narrows it down, which one? The big one, the small one, blue, grey, black?

The one with the cape!

They all have capes! Where's your superhero bag?

I dunno!

Seriously? Here's your bag, let's look for batman. Goes through the entire bag and the right batman was not found.

Mummy, now I hungry.

Really? Now? Go and get an apple then.

Mmmmmm, ummmm, no I thinks I need chocolate?

Oh hell no. You are not having chocolate at this hour of the morning.

It's too early for chocolate buddy, you can have an apple.

It not early Mummy! Daddy does!

Oh busted Daddy! That's where my chocolate went!

Well go and wake up Daddy and ask him for some chocolate!

Okay! DADDY!

Tag, you're it!

Thursday 13 October 2016

Words of Wisdom from O

One of my little superheroes favourite movies at the moment is Zootopia. I've lost count of the number of times we've watched it. Their favourite song from the movie is "Try Everything" which is sung by Shakira.

Every time the song comes on, both O and L start singing and dancing their little hearts out.

On the way to school this morning the song that was requested in the car was, you guessed it, Try everything.

Half way through the song O pipes up with "I know the meaning of this song and Zootopia Mummy!"

O then continued "The meaning of the movie is that if you try hard enough you can be whatever you want to be, you should never ever give up on your dreams. This song means that if I try hard enough, I can achieve what ever I want to. So if I keep being good at science, I could be an astronaut because they do astro physics as part of their science!"

Wow! Deep and meaningful conversation on the way to school, it's going to be a great day! I didn't even know that O knew what astro physics was, must ask her where she learnt that this afternoon!

The song really sums up what I want for both my little superheroes. As long as they are happy and try their hardest, then I'll be happy. I know that they'll both achieve their dreams, they might just get there in a round-a-bout way!

Tuesday 4 October 2016

I have a worry!

**** Please note that we do not receive commissions of any kind for this review.
It is simply a book that we have found useful. ****

I came across a facebook page about a month ago called "I have a worry." The page was created by the books author Tanya Balcke.

I ordered the book for O and when the book arrived she sat down with it and started reading quietly. After she finished reading the book, O came over and gave me a great big hug and said "thank you Mummy, I need this book!"

So here is O's review!

What is the book about?
A child who has a worry that grows so big. A teacher helps take the worry away.

What do you like about the book?
It tells you that you can share your worry with people you trust.

Would you recommend this book to other kids and why would you recommend it?
Yes, because I think that if they had a worry then they will tell someone they trust.

Out of 5 stars, what do you rate this book?
I rate 5 stars.

Tanya Balcke is a Australian Primary School teacher who wrote the book to help children develop strategies to deal with the worries that they have. The book allows the child to think of their worry as something that they can physically give to someone else for a time. This empowers the child while they take time to consider whether they are going to let their worry control them or not. The book gives different descriptions of how worries can make people feel. O connected with the story as she found ways to describe to us how her worries make her feel. The book also helped O to realise that everyone has worries from time to time and showed her the importance of sharing her worries with people that she trusts.

The illustrations in the book are very simple but absolutely wonderful. It's a book that O has said that she's going to read over and over!

O is also over the moon about the book as Tanya Balcke has written a message in the front of the book to O! This is something that Tanya offers to do when you order a copy, such a lovely gesture that means so much to a child. Thank you Tanya.

Monday 3 October 2016

Mummy, Mummy, come dance!

We were at a wedding just recently and I could see L standing at the edge of the dance floor during the reception.

He looked as though he was studying all the couples dancing, watching their every move, figuring out how to dance. Every now and then he'd peer back over his shoulder at me and then he'd go back to watching the dancing.

He did this for about ten minutes before he came over to me and said  "Mummy, Mummy, come dance!"

L took me by the hand and led me onto the dance floor and then said "let's dance!"

We grooved a little and he kept looking around at everyone else. L then said "but I have to put my hand here!" L reached up and put his hand on my hip so that he could dance with me just like the other couples! At that moment my heart melted.

L then decided that he had to spin me, just like the other couples. He quickly figured out that we had a problem, which he solved all on his own.

L went and dragged a chair over to the dance floor, stood up on the chair and proudly spun me around. My heart melted further.

My little superhero is also a little gentleman. Love you little man xx