Sunday 27 November 2016

Our Calming Strategies for Meltdowns

As I blogged about previously, meltdowns are something that we deal with, at times, on a daily basis. It is unfortunately a part of life, you get used to them and begin to develop strategies to help your children. I wouldn't wish a meltdown on anyone.

Eventually you get to the point where you are able to recognise when a meltdown is about to occur and are able to diffuse the situation before the meltdown becomes full blown. It's all about timing and getting to know your child's cues.

With O and L there are certain things that just work, so I thought that I would share the calming strategies that work for us. Your strategies might be different from ours, and that is to be expected. Autism is called a spectrum disorder for a reason! Most of the time our strategies work, but there are times whenall we can do is ride out the storm.

Remain Calm. Always.

The main strategy that we try to remember is remain calm, no matter what the situation is. This might seem like common sense, and it is, but at times it is incredibly difficult to remain calm, especially when your child is throwing things around the house or yelling that they hate you or don't want you.

We worked out very early on that raising our voice just didn't work. O and L weren't shocked into silence, it had the opposite effect. The louder we raised our voices, the louder they became.

By remaining calm we are reducing the amount of stress that is placed on O and L. The last thing that a child having a meltdown needs is more stress. It is just going to make the situation worse.

Essential Oils

Late last year one of my friends, thank you Amanda, put me onto essential oils. She gave us four small blends to start off. I will admit that I was a little sceptical at first, how on earth would oils help my little superheroes. But at that point we had tried a lot of other things and hadn't found anything that worked.

I still don't know how they work, but they seem to help. Both O and L look forward to getting their oils at night time, I just roll the bottle behind their ears or on the soles of their feet. The oil doesn't help them to get to sleep, but it does relax them. I have also tried the relaxation blend, and I must admit that the lovely aroma is enough to relax me. The oils have become part of their bed time routine.

O also has a blend to assist her with her anxiety, and it does help her in a small way.

I've since added a few more blends to our collection. You name the ailment or condition, there is probably an oil or a blend that can help. We've tried a migraine blend, a stress blend, one for coughs and they all seem to help.

They are worth a try if you're out of options.

Know your child's triggers and cues

This didn't long to work out. Every time we went to a large crowded noisy shopping centre with L, he would be in meltdown mode within about 10 minutes of entering the complex. We then worked out that he was in sensory overload. L would give us cues, and still does, when he is in sensory overload and we know that when he starts showing those cues, it's time to get him out and that we only have a very small window to do so.

Knowing your child's triggers means that you can either avoid certain situations or prepare your child beforehand. If we know that we have to go some where that ordinarily would cause L to have a meltdown, we prepare him beforehand so that he knows what is going to happen. We also take along L's sensory bag so that he can self regulate.

L's sensory bag contains his weighted blanket, a pair of block out ear muffs and a marble maze. The marble maze is a great fidget toy, L has to concentrate on getting the marble from one end of the maze to the other. By concentrating on what his hands are doing, he can block out some of the noise and busyness around him.

Other sensory toys that we have used are calm down bottles (warm water, glitter glue and fine glitter,) a small plastic bottle with rice in it to shake, squishy plastic balls, plastic chew necklaces and a peek a boo bag (fabric bag with a clear plastic window and the bag is filled with beads and small toys to find.) Basically anything that O and L can squash, squeeze, shake or manipulate. All of these assist O and L to focus on anything other than the sensory overload.

Both O and L have various stims depending on the mood that they are in. Stims or stimming is a self-stimulatory behaviour and is considered a way in which people with Autism calm, stimulate and self regulate their own emotions. L's therapists have described stimming as a way that L decompresses and releases excess energy. L also stims to calm down - it sounds strange really but by spinning he can help himself to calm down. O chews on her shirt when she starts getting anxious. Stimming can also help other emotions to show. O bounces when she is excited and swings her arms when she is nervous.

It might take a while to work out your child's triggers and cues but it is something that pays off in the long run. It can make outings a whole lot easier.

Pick your battles

This is fairly obvious but at times I think it is something that we overlook. We certainly pick our battles with O and L. I know that if I skip O's bedtime ritual, then she will not go to sleep. Spending the extra 5 minutes to run through her bed time ritual means she'll go to sleep quicker and quietly. And it means that I get an extra 5 minutes of cuddles!

I would love O and L to eat a meal that I cook every night of the week, but there are some nights when I am so exhausted from the day that it really isn't worth the stress of a meltdown to make them eat. We do have a deal going that if they try at least a mouthful of something on the plate, that they can then have the good old faithful baked beans or spaghetti.

If you know that you are exhausted, it might be good for your own sanity to just let them go. Know which battles you can pick, it might just make your day or night a little quieter.

Be there for your child.

Your child might not want you in the room with them when they're in meltdown mode, but be nearby for them.

Be there to make sure that they don't injure themselves or others. By being there, you are reassuring your child that everything will be alright.

I hope that by being nearby, that on some conscious level, O and L know that I am there if they need me.

I don't sit right next to O or L, as that just seems to agitate them. O and L both don't like to be touched while they are in meltdown mode, they become quite distressed. I stay within eye sight of them so if need be I can remove objects from them or stop them from hurting themselves and I can comfort them immediately when they choose to come to me.

Tantrum or Meltdown?

One of the major keys is knowing the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. Children with Autism are more prone to meltdowns. But they can also throw tantrums with the best of them. I can't stress how important it is to know the difference because the last thing you want to be doing during a tantrum is reinforcing their behaviour because you have misread it as a meltdown. The way we deal with a tantrum is completely different to how we deal with a meltdown. They are two completely different things.

If you're not sure what the difference is, please go and read up on them. The big glaringly obvious difference between the two is, is your child able to talk to you during the madness? If they are responding to you, they're more than likely having a tantrum. If they are not able to respond to you, chances are they are having a meltdown.

O makes demands during a tantrum. If we were to give into her demands, we are just reinforcing that behaviour. Next time she knows that if she says "if you give me such and such, I will calm down," she'll just keep making demands until we cave. During a meltdown, she screams unrecognizable sounds.

By knowing the difference between the two, we are able to handle both effectively. 

Behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done for a purpose.

This is a big rather important point and something that I think all parents need reminding of. It is something that I regularly have to remind myself of. When O or L are in meltdown mode, I have to remind myself that in that moment, neither of them are able to find the words to express how they are feeling or what they need.

I guess a good analogy is a baby. Babies cry for various reasons - they're hungry, they're tired, they have a dirty nappy, they're over stimulated, they just want mum or dad. Parents, very early in, are able to figure out what each cry means. A baby is not able to do much more than cry to express what they need. We as parents need to know what each cry means so that we're able to respond to them appropriately.

A child having a meltdown is the same.

It is incredibly difficult not to take what the child says and does personally. O and L certainly don't mean any malice when they're having a meltdown, they're not in control of their own bodies.

Earlier this year, L had a whopper of a meltdown that lasted well over an hour and at the conclusion of it, I had a black eye. I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I'd put L into his bedroom for his and O's safety and he was throwing things out of the doorway into the passage way. I was sitting in the doorway, I put my head down for a few seconds to take my glasses off and when I looked up, a rather large ninja turtle collided with my head. L had no idea what he had done. He didn't throw the ninja turtle at me on purpose, I was just in the way.

The following morning he did ask what had happened to my eye, but he had no recollection whatsoever of what he had done. He was sad that my eye was hurt and gave me a cuddle.

A meltdown is their way of saying "I am over stimulated" or "I have used up all my energy at school and have none left for home" or "I am scared or worried or anxious."

No child has a meltdown on purpose. The meltdown serves as a form of communication. You just have to work out what they are trying to tell you.

Tell your child that you love them. No. Matter. What.

A child needs to be loved unconditionally, that's our job as a parent. To show them that are loved, no matter what they do or say.

After O or L has had a meltdown, I always make sure that they know that I love them. I think it is incredibly important for both of them to hear the words "I love you" after they have expended so much emotional, mental and physical energy.

They need to know that I am there for them, no matter what. That I love them, no matter what they do or say to me. That I will love them and be there for them, always. That loving them is my job, no matter what.

Saturday 26 November 2016

All hail the Melatonin God!

Sleep, what is this sleep you speak of? I'm very envious of parents who boast that their children sleep 12 hours a night! But their boasting also causes me to start to wonder if their children are really sleeping for that long.....

L has sleep issues, he sleeps when he needs to not when we want him to. He, like many others with Autism, goes through long regular frustrating phases of not needing to sleep for longer than a few hours.

L has always been like this. Once upon a time he slept through the night, quite a while ago mind you. L began sleeping through the night at about 6 weeks old, which was magic. But then stopped at about 4 and a half months old, not so magic. And his naps during the day as a baby and toddler were just that, naps. A half hour here, a half hour there, and that was it.

We were told that L would outgrow the phase of not wanting to sleep. Jump forward to now, well he hasn’t outgrown the phase and his sleep habits have become worse.

We get the occasional night where he does sleep through, but these are few and far between. And on the occasional night that he does sleep through, I’m still not getting a good nights sleep as I spend most of the night wondering when he is going to crawl into our bed or going down to check on him to see if he is still breathing.

And when he doesn’t need to sleep, he needs company. So one of us needs to be up with him, trying to keep him quiet so that the rest of the household isn’t woken.

It’s not that L is defying us, he just doesn’t need to sleep. L can survive on 4 to 5 hours sleep a night, every night. L can go for several days with just having a few hours’ sleep a night each night. And even when he is asleep, he is constantly on the go. He’s like a bulldozer going round the bed.

A typical night’s sleep for us includes sitting in the recliner trying to rock L back to sleep, filling his water bottle at 1am, finding L’s favourite green blanket at 2am, 3am and again at 4am, tossing and turning, being kicked and head butted, albeit accidentally, as L bulldozers around the bed.

Occasionally L will have a sleep during the day, when he does we have to limit how long he has. If he sleeps for more than an hour, we have no chance of getting him to sleep at a normal hour in the evening. If he sleeps past 3pm in the afternoon, hello 1am bedtime. And he can take a power nap of literally ten minutes and he is right to go again for hours.

When he is awake, L travels at the speed of light, multiplied by many times. He rarely stops. He’s like a little Energizer bunny, constantly moving.

We’ve been given so much advice, some requested, some not, about L’s sleep habits and different things that might help him get to sleep.

Have you tried white noise? Yes, yes we have. L likes white noise, he likes listening to white noise as it relaxes him, but not enough to go to sleep.

Have you tried ignoring him? Again, yes we have and it makes him worse. So no, that doesn’t work either, meltdowns at bedtime are not nice.

What about night lights, maybe he is afraid of the dark? This is the boy who will get up in the middle of the night and go and find toys to play with. He’s definitely not afraid of the dark. And night lights, if we put any more night lights into his room - yes he does a bedroom, he just doesn’t sleep in it, ever – it would be like daylight in there.

Have you thought about bringing forward or moving back his bedtime? Yep tried that too, makes no difference whatsoever.

Could it be the mattress that he doesn’t like? We’ve changed the mattress three times, we can’t keep buying single bed mattresses!

Up until the middle of last year, we’d tried loads of things and hadn’t found anything that worked. Then I read something about weighted blankets and the benefits that they provide. I looked at the cost of one and thought that I’d try making one instead.

I surprised myself, it turned out really well. It is only a lap sized blanket but L loves it. It doesn’t really help him go to sleep, the weight of the blanket does relax him though. The weight also calms him down when he is agitated, so that was a huge bonus. I just made L’s out of polar fleece and sewed little organza bags filled with poly beads into channels in the blanket. It was a little fiddly once I started putting the beads into the channels, but surprisingly quite simple.

Our next breakthrough was late last year when one of my friends, thank you Amanda, sent me some essential oils to try. I can honestly say that I was a sceptic before we tried the oils – how on earth can some essential oil help with sleep? Now? I’m no longer a sceptic. I’m not sure how or why they work but they have definitely helped. 

They oils were enough to relax L to the point that he would go to sleep, but unfortunately they weren’t keeping him asleep. We were sent four different blends that would help with sleep, behaviour and anxiety. L knows that when he gets his oil on his neck that it is time to start slowing down.

When we had a follow up appointment with L’s pediatrician earlier this year, the good doctor suggested that we try L on Melatonin. I’d heard of Melatonin but had no idea what it was.

Melatonin is a hormone that is made by the pineal gland, a very small gland found in the brain. Melatonin is thought to help control your sleep and wake cycles. It is thought that children, and adults, who are on the spectrum do not produce enough Melatonin and hence their sleep/wake cycles are at times out of whack.

One thing that the Pediatrician told us was that there was a chance that the melatonin wouldn’t keep L asleep. Melatonin will help you fall asleep, but if you’re not tired, it won’t keep you asleep. We had quite a few 2am wake up calls.

We had to phone the Pediatrician several times during the first month of using the melatonin to keep adjusting the dose until eventually we found the dose that suited L.

So now we have a bedtime of 7pm. Nine times out of ten, L is asleep between 7 and 7.30pm. His bedtime routine is that he falls asleep on the couch, some times in the weirdest positions. 

We’re still working on L going to sleep by himself, in a bed, preferably his own. We have found that if he is in a bed by himself, he just doesn’t unwind enough, even with the Melatonin. This is something that we need to work on before he gets too much older.

Once we were able to get L to go sleep at a normal hour of the evening we realised just how much trouble O was having winding down. We always thought that her poor sleep patterns were because of the noise that L was making. No, turns out O has just as much issues at winding down as L does.

Cue over the counter Melatonin. The great thing about Melatonin is that as it is a natural supplement, most pharmacy’s stock it in a spray and tablet form. O has a spray that she uses and it does just as good a job as L’s Melatonin. They both remind us before bedtime about their Melatonin and on the odd night when we haven’t given them any, we can definitely see the difference.

I don’t know if either L or O will outgrow the need for Melatonin, but in the meantime, I’m extremely thankful to the good person who discovered its sleep inducing properties!

**** If you, or your child, are experiencing sleep difficulties, please speak to your doctor or pharmacist before using melatonin to make sure that it is the right product for you. ****

Thursday 24 November 2016

Where has this year gone?

I was helping O with her homework yesterday afternoon and I realised that we are in the middle of week 7 of the term. That means that there are just over three weeks left of the school year. Where on earth has this year gone?

It honestly feels like just last month that we received L's official diagnosis of Autism and were reading the seventeen page report of all the things that he can't do or struggles with. The year has gone far too quickly.

And yet in 12 months so much has changed, and for the better.

We've been incredibly fortunate this year with O and L's teachers, aides and carers at school, day care, OSHC, therapy and swimming.

O and L have built wonderful relationships with all the teachers that they have had contact with this year and I'm very thankful for everything that they have all done for my little superheroes.

O is in year 2 this year and her teacher, Ms S, has been extremely supportive and encouraging of O. Many a times have we heard from O "but Ms S said this" or "I have to do this because Ms S wants it done this way!"

O has learnt so much this year in her class and it has been wonderful to see her little brain go into over drive when she was learning new knowledge at school. O has been challenged with some of the work that she has been doing, she's in a split year 2/3 class, but she has loved every minute of it. O proudly tells us when she gets 20 out of 20 on her spelling tests or has extension words. And her love of books makes me very happy. O got the Shakespeare Collection out on the weekend to start reading again but she also loves reading story books to her little brother! She makes me proud every day.

O has enjoyed every moment in Ms S's class and she is certainly going to miss being in Ms S's class! O thought it was great when she found out that her teacher was marrying Superman at the end of the school year! She wanted to chase Superman at Movieworld just so that she could get a picture for Ms S!

O has also built wonderful trusting relationships with the carers at the OSHC that she attends. She loves going and looks forward to seeing all her friends and the staff when I am working. So much so that when Daddy superhero goes to pick her up, he often gets told "but I don't want to go home, I'll wait until Mummy finishes!" On the way to school the other morning, she said "On the holidays Mum I want to got to vacation care, even on your day off!" It is great to see her so settled and happy.

L started Kindy at the beginning of this year. It was a very anxious time for him and us as we were concerned how L would go in the school environment.

We needn't have worried. His teacher Mrs S and his aides Mrs DC and Mrs S have been a godsend. They just got L within the first few weeks of school. He has really come out of his shell through out the year. All three of his teachers and aides have been able to get him to change into his school uniform and wear shoes which is something that we still struggle with - we get told by L "cos Mrs W says I have to!" Mrs W is the principal! L still occasionally throws a wobbly when I drop him off but he has started pushing me out of the classroom door saying "bye, you go now Mummy!"

I love that L is pushing me out the door as it means that he is finally comfortable at school. It makes me a very happy mamma! It also puts my mind at ease as I know that L is in great hands at school with his teachers.

When we were on holidays in Queensland L would come out with "hey Mummy, check this out, it toilet like Mrs S" or "I tell Mrs DC about this" and "but you got to buy capes for Mrs S and Mrs S and Mrs DC!" According to L, what Mrs S, Mrs DC and Mrs S say is gospel! He is going to miss being with them next year but I am sure that when he sees them in the playground, he'll be straight over for a high five, a cuddle and a chat!

L has also built wonderful relationships with the staff at the day care centre. He has his moments but he is settled and happy there. He is joining in with activities, he has made some wonderful friends and he has fun! He might not always say goodbye, but he does love being at the centre.

And of course there is L's Tara School. Tara is his most favourite person and if he could he would go to Tara's school every day. Tara's School has definitely been a game changer, L has learnt so much there and his confidence grows every time he attends the centre.

All of L and O's teachers, carers, aides and coaches have brought the best out of both of them this year. They have both achieved so much and have come so far. I couldn't have asked for better role models and teachers in their lives. Instead of reading about what they can't do, we're hearing about all the things that they can do. Can't is not in their vocabulary anymore!

From the bottom of my heart, to all of O and L's teachers, aides, carers, therapists and coaches, thank you so much for all the effort that you've all put in for my children this year. You've helped to set them up to achieve great things. At times it has been a very challenging year, but when I see how far they have both come, it's all worth it. And I can't wait to see what they can achieve next year.

Bring on the 2017 school year!!

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Little superheroes love to tell jokes!

Don't you love it when children try to tell jokes but they haven't yet grasped the concept of a joke?

L tries his hardest to tell jokes, and quite frankly they are funny because we end up going round and round in circles.

L's jokes usually start with "Mummy, why did the chicken/dinosaur/batman cross the road?" We then go round in circles as he wants me to give the answer but of course I don't know the answer. We all end up in fits of giggles on the floor.

O has finally grasped the concept of a joke and she has her set repertoire that she says, all the time.

Knock knock jokes involving Doctor Who, an annoying orange joke that she read in a story book, the interrupting cow joke from the movie "Home" and a few others.

On Sunday night as O went off to bed she looked at me and said in a very serious tone:

"Mummy I have a joke to tell you."

I was expecting one from her normal routine but this is what she came out with!

What's another name for a snail?
A boogie with a helmet!

We burst out laughing and O went off to bed giggling her head off!

It is safe to say, that neither child went to sleep easily on Sunday night. O was still giggling in bed and L kept repeating the joke and would giggle each time he said the punch line!

Life is never dull in our place and I wouldn't have it any other way!

What are some of your little superheroes favourite jokes? Perhaps I can teach a few more to O and L!

Sunday 20 November 2016

Sensory Santa Experience

Today was Sensory Santa day! O and L have been looking forward to today all week.

Up until last year I had never heard of Sensory Santa. I found out about it quite by accident but I'm glad we did. Last year was the first year in six years that we'd been able to get O anywhere near Santa and it was the first time that L would go and talk to Santa. Admittedly L would only go near Santa if O was in between them, but he sat on the chair, stimmed, made sounds to communicate with Santa and we were able to get a family photo with Santa. It was wonderful to see him interacting with Santa in this way.

Sensory Santa for those not in the know is held by shopping centres that host Santa each year. Santa's kingdom is opened up to families with special needs children prior to the normal shopping hours. You do need to book in advance though. The bookings are essential so that there are no queues and no noisy crowds of people. The lights in the area are kept very low and there is very little or no background music. The shopping centre staff are also kept to a minimum.

All of this helps to keep the area as sensory friendly as possible so that children with sensory issues aren't overwhelmed by their environment. It also provides an opportunity for children with special needs to participate in an activity that normally they would struggle with.

When we got to the shopping centre this morning, both O and L were beside themselves with excitement. O eagerly chatted with the security guard and L was bouncing around. Both little superheroes had their noses pressed to the glass window to try and spot Santa. We had prepared them of what we were going to do, and both little superheroes remembered last years experience.

As Santa was running a little bit late, he was parking and feeding his reindeer, we were allowed into Santa's kingdom. O and L had a ball exploring the set and talking to all the animatronic reindeer and rabbits.

L climbed all over Santa's chair, O posed for the camera as Santa's helpers took some test shots, L tried to climb into Santa's letterbox and O practiced telling the time on Santa's clock! Both O and L interacted with the children of another family who were also waiting for Santa to arrive.

Santa's helpers and the shopping centre staff were wonderful, they kept interacting with our little superheroes and were just letting them do their thing. There was no judgement from anyone, our little superheroes could be themselves.

When Santa appeared, O called out hello and L hid!

O was fantastic, she sat next to Santa, gave him the letters that she and L had written and had her photo taken, again!

L on the other hand by that stage was a little over waiting and just wanted to go. As far as L was concerned, he'd had a play in Santa's kingdom, said hello to Santa as he arrived, he didn't need to go and talk to Santa again.

Unfortunately Santa was running quite a bit late and that affected L's concentration. But these things happen. At least we were able to get O to have her photo taken with Santa! Second smiling photo in two years, we're on a roll!

Target had also organised a sensory friendly shopping experience for families with special needs children. The store was opened up at the same time as Sensory Santa, very few staff were in the store, there wasn't any music on and the lights were dimmed. L loved it, he bounced, rolled and did hand stands all though Target without anyone glaring at him. If only all shopping experiences were like this!

Thank you so much Midland Gate Shopping Centre Management, we really appreciated the effort that the staff put into this mornings experience.

If you have children with sensory issues or special needs, I would highly recommend Sensory Santa. Most states have a Sensory Santa Facebook page that lists the times, dates and places were Sensory Santa is being held. If the shopping centre near you isn't holding one, give them a call and spread the word about Sensory Santa, you never know, you might start something!

Wednesday 16 November 2016

I am Blessed

I feel blessed each and every day when I look at my little superheroes and here are some of the reasons why.

I am blessed with children who have special talents. They don't have a disability, they have different abilities. They inspire me every day to be a special kind of person. To be more patient, more caring and more open to different ways of thinking. They inspire me to be an advocate for them and other children like them.

I am blessed that I have a special needs child who is not a statistic, he's not a number, he's not a diagnosis. He is my child who has a different ability and he's taking on a difficult world, head first, and at pace.

I am blessed as God doesn't give special needs children to just anyone. He takes imperfect people and gifts them with the greatest treasures. He knows that we can handle anything that is thrown at us because we've been through some down moments and got through the other side in one piece.

I am blessed that my beautiful girl is such a caring soul. She teaches others around her about acceptance and inclusion. She is determined that nothing will hold her back from achieving her dreams.

I am blessed that the sacrifices that I make today will give my little superheroes a better tomorrow.

I am blessed, I have two children who amaze me each and every day with their abilities.

Are you blessed? What makes your list? What are the positives that you can look back at each day and say "Yep, my life isn't that bad after all, I might struggle but I'm doing okay with what I've been given."

Sunday 13 November 2016

Dealing with My Demons

*** DISCLAIMER: In this post I discuss my own anxiety and post-natal depression. If you feel that you are suffering from anxiety or depression, please speak to your doctor or to an organistation such as Beyond Blue . ***

A few weeks after O was delivered via emergency caesarian, I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression and put onto medication to assist me to get through our day to day routine. It wasn’t something that I made public as I was highly embarrassed by it. I know it was illogical but I kept thinking that I was successful so telling people that I had PND would make me look weak. I, with my GP’s guidance, was able to wean myself off the medication after about twelve months and I thought yippee, that’s the end of that. I won’t be needing that medication again.

Skip forward to mid 2014 and I found that I was again struggling to think logically. This time it wasn’t because I had a newborn, nor was it due to having two children. I was struggling due to not being taken seriously by medical professionals about L’s health, development and behaviour.

I once again found myself sitting in my GP’s office and discussing with him about not being able to think logically about what was happening.

I’d never thought of harming myself or my children, I just found that I wasn’t coping emotionally. My GP again suggested that it might be a good idea to go onto medication. And I’ve been on it ever since. Again it was something that I was embarrassed about. How on earth do I explain to my friends that I’m not coping emotionally with what is happening, without being on medication. To me, it seemed like a taboo subject and again I thought that I would appear weak.

When O’s anxiety issues became more apparent and obvious, and since speaking with her psychologist, I have begun to re-evaluate my own anxiety that I have been battling for as long as I can remember.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I knew that I first started having anxiety issues, I do know that it was when I was a child.

I just guess that I’d never put it down to anxiety, even as an adult, I always thought it was due to other reasons. Being at a new school, being an awkward teenager, not being popular, starting at a new work place and so on. There was always another reason.

I can recall my first day at a new school, I think I was 7 or 8, and really struggling to fit in. Was it being the new kid or was that when I first started noticing that I seemed different.

As a young child I seemed to always have things to worry about. Some of them I had no idea why I was worrying, others I knew exactly why they were an issue, but I could never seem to get rid of the worries. They were always there, eating away at me and following me around like a dark  cloud. I'd see worst case scenarios and blame myself for everything. I'd forget about the good.

As a teenager I really struggled to fit in. To myself, I always seemed awkward. I always struggled to understand how other kids my age acted, talked and dressed. To other kids at my high school I was different. I hated the bus ride to and from school, kids can be so cruel. I was bullied throughout high school, at times by people who claimed to be my friends but also by kids who didn’t know me. I desperately wanted to fit in but could never seem to find a way.

In year 12, I really began to notice just how much my anxiety was affecting me. I had a lot of self-doubt and doubted every inch of my being. I struggled with my own emotions and became a loner, which made the bullying a lot worse. I’m honestly not sure how I made it through year 12 and into university.

People who knew me then, tell me now “but you were so confident!” I may have appeared confident but underneath the surface I was a duck, paddling furiously to stay afloat.

All through high school, I found that I understood and fitted in with the boys better. They told it like it was. I understood them. But this caused more problems for me as their girlfriends would get shirty at me. The thought of taking someone else’s boyfriend never crossed my mind, I just understood boys better than I understood girls.

I didn’t know how to dress on trend, I didn’t know a thing about make-up and yet all the girls were wearing it. I liked boys as friends, but wasn’t interested in forming anything other than a friendship with them. You can imagine the bullying and gossip that came from that, to the point that some of the rumours followed me into adulthood and caused issues after I finished high school…….

I liked to study and I loved music. Study and music didn’t change. I studied and I got good marks. Study and music were predictable, they were my escape.

Other kids were not predictable.

But were these the pressures of being in Year 12 and knowing that I needed good marks to get into university or was it my anxiety showing its ugly head? I know now what it was from, I didn’t back then.

As a teenager I had learnt enough skills to know that I needed to blend into the crowd, I just wasn’t very successful at it. What I didn’t have were the skills that I have now to lower my anxiety levels.

Even going into my adult years, I wanted to fit in but didn’t seem to know how. I had a very small group of friends at University and I was honestly shit scared to make new friends as I didn’t want to get hurt.

I did enough that I didn’t stand out in the crowd. I just got on and did my job at University and in the workplace. When I knew that I made social mistakes, I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me.

Even now, I find that I do seem to struggle socially. I don’t open up to people until I know for sure what the other person is like. I don’t want to reveal the real me, I don’t want to be hurt emotionally. I only reveal the real me when I feel comfortable, when I trust whoever I am interacting with.

O’s psychologist asked me recently if I thought that I was on the spectrum. If I’d been asked this question prior to L’s diagnosis, the answer would have been a definite no.

Knowing what I know now about ASD and in particular that girls present differently, I very definitely think that I maybe on the spectrum. ASD would certainly explain my odd mannerisms, it explains my emotionally state, it explains why I struggled to understand other kids behaviour.

I don’t know that if I was to go through the diagnosis process back then, or now for that matter, that I would be diagnosed as ASD though.

I’ve been told numerous times by relatives and family friends who have known me since I was a young child, that O reminds them of me at the same age. I can see some of her behaviour and struggles that she goes through, as things that I went through.

It’s only since having children that I am now comfortable in my own skin. I no longer care what others think of me, if they don’t like me, that’s their loss.

I’m here for myself and my family, I’m no longer doing things to please others. I no longer let others take advantage of me or get me down.

I occasionally still think of things that could go wrong but they no longer consume me. I see opportunities and positivity and best case scenarios. Worst case scenarios are just potential outcomes that I overthink because of my anxiety.

I’ve come to accept and acknowledge that I do need my medication to keep me level headed. It helps me to think logically about every facet of my life. It helps me to help my children. I no longer think that it means that I am weak.

I’ve finally come to accept me, PND and all!

My anxiety is part of me, it’s never going to go away but the older that I get, the more skills I learn so that I can cope and lower my anxiety levels.

And as I learn new skills, I am passing them onto O so that she too can start building the skill set that she so obviously needs. I want O to have the skills now, so that later on, her anxiety doesn’t affect her schooling and social life.

Being a teenager is hard enough, throw in anxiety issues and it gets a whole lot harder. I don’t want O to struggle like I did. I want O to be confident and know that she can handle anything that is thrown at her!

And the more confident that she becomes, the happier I will be. I will know that I am setting her up to be a confident young lady who will accept her flaws, who won’t be ashamed to ask for help when she needs it and will be proud of who she becomes, anxiety and all.

I want O to have good dreams that filter out the nightmares. I want both my children to believe that everything will be alright. I want them both to see the positivity and opportunity and beauty around them, to see the good in life. I want O not to be afraid of her anxiety, I want her to know that she can overcome it and that she can reach for the stars to achieve her dreams.

Friday 11 November 2016

The wrong plate!

Ever heard of a children’s book called “the wrong book” by Nick Bland?

My kids love this book, in fact they love all of Nick Bland's books. “The Wrong Book” is a very repetitive book, which L loves. The jist of the book is that Nicholas Ickle (the main character and narrator) is trying to tell his story and keeps being interrupted by other characters. His catch phrase is “you’re in the wrong book!” I can recite this book in my sleep, that’s how often we read it!

L and O are very specific about which plates they’ll use, which cutlery they want, which chair to use, which place mats, which spot that they’ll sit in. I won’t go on, but you get the idea.

This morning at breakfast time I heard “that’s the wrong plate!”

Me: Which plate do you want?

L: The plastic one.

Well that narrows it down then, could it be one of the oval plates, the round ones. Someone help me please, what other plastic plates do we have?

L: The one with no picture.

Okay then, that makes it easy, an oval plate as I get a blue plate out.

L: That’s the wrong colour!

M: Which colour would you like?

L: The blue one!

M: This is the blue one.

L: The other one.

Mumbling to self as I look at the clock while going to get the light blue plate from the cupboard.

M: Here you go.

L: Mmmmm, maybe I changeded my mind. I needs green one now.

Oh help, crumbs, think on your feet.

M: The green one is in the sink buddy, remember, you used it last night for your green apple before you went to bed.

L: But I needs the green plate, please?

He said please, I can’t not go and wash it when he’s used his manners. Give it a quick wash.

M: Here you go little man.

L: Not that one! That’s the wrong one!


M: What do you mean it’s the wrong one? This is the green plate.

L: No, the bread, it the wrong one!

Oh dear, it’s going to be a long day………..

Monday 7 November 2016

What my little superheroes have taught our lorikeet to say!

About a month ago we added a new animal to our menagerie, a hand raised baby lorikeet. The kids named him Popeye, because he is an olive green colour.

Any who, we asked the little superheroes to help us teach Popeye how to talk, thinking it would be good for O as she would have to use her big girl voice and good for L's speech development too. They'd both have to speak slowly and clearly.

So far Popeye's repertoire includes:

He's learnt to yell, growl and grumble under his breath and he sounds very much like L! He says "sorry," he asks "what's that?" and "whatcha doin?" He says "I dunno," and "sorry!" He does say "thanks mum," which is pretty cute, "hello" and "love you." He also likes to say "got your ear" as he's sticking his tongue into your ear, ewwww, and "kiss kiss" as he tries to kiss you! He also says "dance" as he's bouncing up and down which the little superheroes think is hilarious.

Tonight young Popeye spotted a suitcase coming towards him, he clambered up my PJs to sit on my shoulder and said "oh s#$@!"

Mmmmm, not what I hoped Popeye would learn, wonder who says that Daddy superhero????? Let's hope that Popeye doesn't teach that phrase to the kids!

Thursday 3 November 2016

I’m not a super mum, my children are the superheroes!

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Just lately I’ve been hearing a lot of “you’re such a super mum” but really I’m not. Just hear me out, it won’t take long, I promise!

Image result for super mom clipart

The day that L was diagnosed with autism, it seems that life handed me a cape and said “Wear this, for now you must fight for your child, you must never stop. Every waking moment, and most nights, you must figure out how to fight for your child. There is no guide book, you just need to figure it out as you go.”

There are days, weeks even, when I am completely exhausted. Not your ordinary had-a-late-night type of exhausted. I’m the I-need-5-cups-of-coffee-just-to-keep-my-eyes-propped-open exhausted, and that’s quite difficult when I can’t drink caffeinated coffee - caffeine gives me migraines L And no matter how many extra naps I manage to get, I just can’t seem to catch up on the much needed sleep.

There are days when I wish that never again should any parent have to fight for what is simply their child’s right, that they shouldn’t have to justify to medical professionals and funding bodies about their child’s diagnosis. There are days when I wish that the world was sensitive, understanding and inclusive to any individual who has a disability. That they aren't made to jump through hoops to get the help that they need. There are days when I wonder if L or O had a physical disability would it be easier to get them the help that they need. And then I get angry because it shouldn't be that hard to get help. It shouldn't make a difference but it does because Autism is considered a "hidden disability." I wish people wouldn't say "but they look normal." And then I want to set about changing societies perceptions of what Autism looks like!

There are times when I am tired of explaining that a diagnosis of Autism is not the end of the world, it just means we are touring a different world. I don't want to keep explaining that they need to be happy for us because we are on an amazing eye opening, constantly learning journey with a wonderful tour guide. I want people everywhere to understand Autism.

I don’t want to have to tell people not to pity my child because he has Autism. I want them to see that he has the most amazing strengths and that every day he is learning new skills. That both my children can achieve whatever they set their minds to, they might just take longer to get there and take little detours every now and then.

I wish that the mother at the playground who looked down her nose at me because L was having a rough morning and then told her little boy, within ear shot of us, not to play with my boy “because he’s being very naughty” would have a little more empathy towards others. I’ve yet to meet a child who is perfectly behaved all day, every day. I secretly cheered when her child started carrying on like a pork chop because he didn’t want to leave the playground! I wish that she would let her child learn how to play with children who are “different” from him, let him work how to be inclusive and accommodating of others. He needs to learn these things to help this world become a better place in the future.

I wish that sometimes I didn’t have to choose between my children. Kisses and cuddles in bed with O or have L on my lap to avoid a meltdown because he can’t get comfortable on the couch. Take O to her activities so that she can do something that she loves or put it off another week because it is easier not to go rather than take L and not be able to give O my full attention. And then I remember that L and O don't misbehave on purpose, well sometimes they do. They are trying to tell me something, just not with words because in that moment they can't find the words to use.

I wish that one night, just one, both my children would eat what I cook instead of eating tin spaghetti for the fourth night in a row. Think I really need to take out shares in the spaghetti company!

I’ve never felt like giving up and walking away when things have become too overwhelming. I have, however, wanted to lie in the foetal position and just cry and stay like that for a while. I don’t want to feel guilty about feeling that way, I need to be weak at times. I’m not so great at being strong all the time, who is. I need to cry sometimes, I do make mistakes and I do let my guard down. I'm not perfect. I don't want to be made to feel guilty when I have a rough day.

Having one child with autism and another who is suspected of being on spectrum, doesn’t make me a super mum, it really doesn’t. It does make me a fighter. I will constantly fight for both my children, for what they deserve. Don't ever tell me that they can't do something, you really don't want to be on the receiving end of a tirade from me!

I'm not a super mum, my kids are the superheroes. They never give up, they set their goals high and they will get there. They are the ones with superpowers, not me. I'm just their support team!