Sunday 31 December 2017

Happy New Year! Bring on 2018!

As I sit here waiting for O to fall asleep, I'm taking the opportunity to do a little self reflection. O was desperate to stay awake for as long as she could, but alas tiredness won out. L on the other hand is still going strong!

2017 has been a huge year at Superhero Headquarters with the year culminating in us relocating back to sunny Queensland to be closer to family. It is a move that has always been on the cards for us but we certainly didn't anticipate that the time would arrive as soon as it did. Sometimes the little hiccups in life really do come as a blessing in disguise.

We received O's official diagnosis of ASD mid year. The diagnosis didn't take us by surprise  however her level of severity was somewhat of a surprise to everyone, us included. O's level of severity highlighted to everyone involved that girls are very capable of masking their traits so as not to stand out from the crowd.

Throughout this year L has kept us well and truly on our toes with his numerous visits to the Accident and Emergency department of the Children's Hospital in Perth. We rounded out 2017 with a trip to the Accident and Emergency department of our NEW local hospital this morning. We located yet another foreign object in L's ear yesterday afternoon. The third time that this has happened this year! The verdict from Luke, the legend of a nurse who removed said foreign object, was a seed! So L now has TWO favourite nurses at TWO hospitals in TWO states of Australia! Mmm, maybe we could start reviewing how efficient Accident and Emergency Departments are!!!!!

L has continued to move forward in leaps and bounds in every facet of his development. His therapists, Katie, Nathara, Sameera, Lauren, Jess, Bianca and all the girls at Little Stars in Perth are just amazing. Attending Little Stars is one of the best decisions that we have made for L. He misses all of the staff at Little Stars terribly but from watching his interactions with his new therapists here in Queensland, we're fairly sure that he is going to make new bonds with them. Although the name "Tara"s School" has stuck, sorry Autism Queensland!

O began her therapy journey shortly before we made the decision to move back to Queensland. In the six short weeks that O participated in some very intensive therapy sessions with her therapist, Leticia, she also made the most amazing progress. O has become so much more confident and is able to verbalize to us how she is feeling. This makes my heart sing. We know that she too is on her way to smash her goals.

Both O and L have had some wonderful teachers and teacher aides at school and carers at the after school care facility that they attended this year. All of these individuals have assisted in some way in guiding O and L on their educational and social journey. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Tracey, Bernadette, Leanne, Kirrily, Bec, Kate, Nicola, Kayla, Dan, Beth, Emily, Nadia and everyone else who has had an impact on both O and L. Your support has been wonderful and we appreciate everything that you have all done to assist O, L and us.

The cliche "it takes a village to raise a child" couldn't be more true. We well and truly found our village this year in the form of therapists, teachers, teacher aides and carers, and you have all become part of our family! Welcome to our slightly crazy, never dull, full of laughs and tears autism journey! Hang on tight because it can be one hell of a ride at times!

We also had the pleasure of welcoming an amazing Support Worker, Zaim, into our family this year. The bond that he and L created in a few shorts weeks was truly wonderful to watch. Zaim was instrumental in assisting L to practice the skills that he was learning on a weekly basis at Little Stars. Having to say goodbye to Zaim before we left Perth realy was a bittersweet moment. L still doesn't quite understand why he can't see Zaim anymore, he certainly misses his big buddy.

So onto 2018 ....

My one and only wish for 2018 is NO MORE VISITS TO ANY HOSPITALS. Please!!!

I know that both O and L will continue to smash their goals out of the ball park.

So raise a glass and let's welcome in the new year. From our family to yours,  Happy New Year, stay safe and we'll see you all on the flip side xx

Monday 25 December 2017

Merry Christmas from my Superhero Family to Your Family

Is it really that time of year again? It honestly doesn't seem like twelve months since last Christmas. The time has snuck up very quickly.

As L said last night as we were talking about when the big man in the red suit would arrive - "Really? What?" I haven't seen neither O or L move that fast in quite a while - Santa snacks, Santa sacks, Milo and bed. As I was sitting with L to encourage him to go to sleep so that Santa and the Elves could get to work, he piped up with - "But I in the RED zone, I too excited!"

This year we are enjoying Christmas being back with family in Queensland. The only real difference between Christmas in Queensland and Christmas in Perth, apart from having family close by, is the humidity. I'd forgotten what Queensland humidity was like! I am loving the ceiling fans and air con!

Christmas to us means that O and L's beloved elves visit for a month. The idea behind the Elf on the Shelf to our family means that we are keeping the magic of Christmas alive for O and L. They just love seeing what mischief the elves have got up to each morning leading up to Christmas. They also help in the countdown to Christmas for my little superheroes. 

Both O and L love the idea of advent calendars but L just cannot help himself, he has to open every door on the one day. He then becomes cranky when he realises that O still has doors to open and he has none.

With the elves, L can see a visual countdown of how many more sleeps until Santa arrives!

A North Pole breakfast is the best way to start Christmas day and always gets a giggle from both O and L! While they groan and tell the Elves off, I think that they secretly enjoy the fact that for one morning a year they can feast on treat foods for breakfast! The Elves really are a HUGE part of our family Christmas tradition. From one year to another, the Elves are what both O and L remember about previous Christmas'.

Christmas in Queensland, or any coastal part of Australia for that matter, means outings to the beach. We are very fortunate in that we are now living a short walk from the beach which both the little superheroes absolutely love.

Yesterday we decided on an impromptu beach outing which included collecting shells, naming the various hermit crabs that the little superheroes found, marvelling in the beauty of the little jellyfish that were bobbing about in the waves, chasing bait fish, building sand castles, frolicking in the water and a short marine biology lesson on the difference between Mummy and Daddy Blue Swimmer Crabs and why the Mummy crabs HAVE to be released back into the water. The Blue Swimmer Crab that the little superheroes found had a lot of eggs on her underside!

On a side note, no marine animals were harmed in our beach outing and all were returned to their natural habitat!!

Christmas day? Well, for us, it involves plenty of family time, lots of resting for myself and Daddy Superhero and lots of playing with their presents for my little superheroes and usually a water fight or two. Today was no exception - a water fight involving LOTS of water pistols and water balloons! Apart from a lot of fun, the water alone brought some relief for all of us from the heat and humidity.

L became overwhelmed by everything that was happening around him a few times but I am very proud to say that not once did either of my little superheroes enter into meltdown mode! They were both able to verbalise to us when they needed a break!

So as Christmas 2017 draws to a close, from my Superhero Family to yours, Merry Christmas. We hope that no matter where you are in this wonderful world that you have had a fantastic day.

Saturday 23 December 2017

Melatonin .... A topic that can put you to sleep. Literally!

**** If you feel that you or your child would benefit from using Melatonin, please consult your GP or a trusted medical professional first. ****

Melatonin. It has certainly been a game changer in terms of sleep for us.

Once upon a time L slept through the night - back when he was about 6 weeks old. When this first occurred I thought, you beauty! However it was very short lived as L stopped sleeping through the night at about 4 and a half months old.

We then went for a number of years of sleepless nights before our paediatrician put us onto Melatonin. Oh my, I wish we'd been put onto this magical liquid amber earlier.

As we have since discovered, sleep disturbances and sleep disorders are quite common among individuals who are on the spectrum. It is a common topic among families who are on an autism journey as they compare notes on what does or doesn't work for their children.

Sleep disturbances are very disruptive to all - to the individual with the sleep disturbance and also to those around them. In regards to autism studies, sleep disturbances often take a back seat role as in the overall scheme of things, medical professionals will often work on other pressing issues before tackling the sleep disturbance.

It is unclear why sleep disturbances are quite common among those on the spectrum but one train of thought is that individuals with Autism simply do not produce enough Melatonin. Not producing enough Melatonin would then disrupt the individuals circadian rhythm. And as such many individuals on the spectrum need to use Melatonin to get the elusive good nights sleep.

Using Melatonin comes from research that started in the 1990's. The research showed that as some individuals with ASD had reduced Melatonin levels, then Melatonin supplements would raise their levels and therefore help with sleep.

So what is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced and secreted in our bodies by the pineal gland. The pineal gland is a very small gland found in the brain.

During the day the pineal gland is inactive, however when the sun begins to go down the pineal gland is kicked into action and Melatonin, or the Dracula of Hormones, is released!

Melatonin is important in helping to regulate our circadian rhythm, or our internal body clock, and regulating our cycle of sleep and wakefulness. Melatonin levels in our body vary in our twenty four hour cycles. 

Normally our bodies production of Melatonin is reduced by simply being in bright light and the levels increase at night time. Hence why it is often referred to as the "Dracula of Hormones" or "the Hormone of Darkness!"

We have receptors in the back of our eyes that when they receive light, they send a signal to the pineal gland which then suppresses the production of Melatonin. When natural light decreases, Melatonin levels are gradually increased and they remain high while it is dark. When the receptors are again exposed to light in the morning, Melatonin production is suppressed and our Melatonin levels drop.

There is a chain of thought that we can boost our natural production of Melatonin by increasing our exposure to sunlight. It is thought that by increasing our sunlight exposure and therefore increasing our Vitamin D intake, that our Melatonin production will be increased.

Blue light on the other hand will impede the production of Melatonin.

We use a liquid Melatonin that is only available via prescription. It certainly assists L, and at times O, to fall asleep quicker than they normally would. Within half an hour of taking a dose, L will usually fall asleep. When O needs to use Melatonin, she certainly falls asleep a lot quicker and will get a decent nights sleep.

However ....

When L was first prescribed Melatonin, our pediatrician told us that there was a chance that the Melatonin would not keep L asleep. The tricky thing about Melatonin is that in most cases it will help you fall asleep, but if you're not tired, the Melatonin will not keep you asleep.

Most of the time by using the Melatonin, L is able to get at least 4 or 5 hours of good sleep, then after that he will toss and turn and be awake for periods throughout the night.

I also want to add that in saying how useful Melatonin is to us, I will also say that we have tried a lot of other natural solutions, and still use them as part of our bed time routines, prior to using Melatonin.

We've tried white noise, night lights, essential oils and other solutions. The majority of these solutions simply assist L to wind down but none of them help L to go to sleep. L certainly benefits from using Melatonin.

Melatonin has become part of my little superheroes bedtime routine and I would honestly recommend it anyone who is looking for another solution to their bedtime woes.

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Autism DOES NOT define my Little Superheroes!

I've read a number of posts on various social media sites recently about whether or not autism is the defining factor for individuals who are on the spectrum.

I've previously published a post about this but I wanted to revisit the topic.

The majority of the articles that I have read have stated that yes, autism does in fact define individuals on the spectrum because, well, autism is all that they are.

But I disagree ....

Don't get my wrong, autism is a huge part of both of my little superheroes but it certainly isn't all of them.

Autism does explain some of their behaviours, it is the missing link for us in what WE were missing as their parents to help them succeed in this world.

I was recently asked to list L and O's strengths and I was honestly astounded to hear that many parents are unable to list their ASD child's strengths.

The way that I look at it, is that if you only see a child's autism, you will miss every other part of the child.

If you only focus on L's autism, you will miss his cheeky personality, his massive sense of adventure, his curious nature, his wantingness to learn new skills ....

If you only focus on O's autism, you will miss her amazing imagination, her caring and empathetic nature, her intelligence, her creative ability ....

You can't ignore their autism as it is a part of them but it is not all of them.

In my mind by saying that autism defines an individual, autism can then be used as an excuse.

"Oh I can't do that, I have autism."

No, autism should not stop you trying your up most best to reach your goals. Autism may slow you down but it should not stop you.

Whether you use the term "have autism" or "is autistic", autism does not define either of my little superheroes. We (my little superheroes included) prefer "have autism.

Friday 15 December 2017

Why aren't we teaching our children how to recognise their emotions?

I was recently talking to a good friend about how to teach children about their emotions and it really got me thinking.

Why aren't we, and I'm talking about parents in general, teaching our children how to recognise their emotions? Some of us are doing it, some are not.

We are not born with the inherent ability to recognise and respond to our own emotions. This is a skill that begins to develop from birth. New born babies begin to learn about their emotions just through their parents responding to their cries. Children further develop these much needed skills through the interactions and relationships that they have with their families, caregivers, peers and their teachers.

From a young age we teach our children, I know that I have anyway, about their feelings and those of others. We teach them how to identify their own feelings and communicate their feelings to others.

Children's brains grow at a very rapid rate and all children are constantly noticing, reacting, adapting and developing ideas based on their emotional experiences. This year at my previous work place I was doing quite a bit of work with the Kindy children in my care on BIG emotions. After only a few sessions on how we could calm ourselves down if we were sad, mad or angry, the children were putting into practice and reminding each other of what we had spoken about. It was truly wonderful to see. Three to five year olds genuinely concerned for their peers, reminding each other to take some deep breaths and walking away from situations that were making them mad, sad or angry.

Recognising and responding to one's own emotions is a skill that is important for developing a child's ability to interact successfully with those around them and with their physical world. It is a skill that they can carry with them through life.

So why is it that when children reach school age, this aspect of their development is rarely spoken about in the formal education setting or taught for that matter?

I know with O in previous years, she has come home from school talking about being taught ways in which she can brush off bullying but rarely did she come home talking about lessons on identifying emotions.

This is the first year that she has come home talking about what different emotions can look and feel like!

If we equip our children, our teenagers, our young adults, with an emotional education, then hopefully we can dramatically improve the quality of their lives in the future.

All too often in the media you hear about teenagers and young adults taking their lives. The majority of these sad stories are due to the individual being bullied at school. Bullying drastically affects the emotional state of an individual. And as children grow older, it seems somewhat of a taboo subject to talk about ones emotions.

When we teach children about emotional intelligence - how to recognise their feelings, assisting them to understand where these emotions come from and how to deal with these emotions - it makes sense that we are teaching them some of the most essential skills for their success in life. Teaching emotional intelligence will also assist in getting rid of the taboo label.

Our own emotions and those of others can have a profound influence on the way that we live our lives. We need to acknowledge the influence that one's emotional state can have not only on ourselves but also on others.

By taking the taboo status away from talking about emotions, perhaps we will be able to inspire a new attitude in future generations towards this subject and in turn about mental health issues.

As parents if we don't have a healthy way of handling our own emotions, then we may have issues in teaching our own children about how to handle their emotions.

The change really needs to start with us.

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Working with Children. What I have learnt?

Over the last two and a half years through my workplace I have had the opportunity to be a positive influence on the children that attended the early learning centre that I worked at. Yes sadly, I had to resign from my position due to relocating our superhero family back to Queensland but I do hope to gain employment at another early learning centre in the very near future.

Through the children and families at the centre, I gained new knowledge and was able to hone my skills as an early childhood educator.

Here are some of the things that I have learnt from a gorgeous group of children, babies through to five year olds, and their families over the last two and a half years ....
  • I have learnt to say hello in eighteen different languages - German, Filipino Tagalong, Vietnamese, Sudanese Arabic, Noongar, Maori, Burmese, Portuguese, Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi, Italian, Hebrew, French, Dutch, Libya Arabic, Croatian and Pirate!
  • That I am able to learn to speak another language, albeit it was only counting from 1 to 10! But I am proud to say that I can now count to ten in eight languages - English (of course,) Bahasa Indonesia, Vietnamese, Italian, Croatian, German, Filipino Tagalong and Hebrew!
  • Counting in Vietnamese and German generally evokes a lot of giggles from those children who speak the language fluently. I know that I wasn't insulting anyone, they were giggles of joy that I had taken the time to learn their language.
  • Asking a child whose first language is not English how to pronounce something in their home language generally ends in fits of laughter from everyone! There was a lot of miscommunication! And there was some frustration, on the child's part, when I was unable to say the word correctly - "Seriously Jenni, not like that, like this!"
  • That the line "I know that I am not your Mum, but I am a Mum, so would you like me to give you a Mum cuddle?" works wonders on scraped knees, tears and other minor aliments!
  • Being a "day care Mum" is perfectly acceptable!
  • That the words "I love you more than hot wheels" from a three year old is a HUGE compliment.
  • That you can ice skate and fall down on to astro turf and only occasionally injure yourself. And that spending an entire day pretending to ice skate and fall down is absolutely hilarious and a really fun way to spend the day!
Throughout my working career thus far, I have always worked with children in some capacity. Either as an educator, as a mentor for at risk youth, or as a tutor. I will admit that I did try working solely in administration after returning the workplace after having L, however the call of working with children brought me back to where I truly belonged!

Children make work life interesting. They think outside of the box and cause you to look at the world around us from a completely different perspective. No two days are ever the same.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Little Superheroes at Perth Zoo

One of the places in Perth that both my little superheroes love visiting is Perth Zoo. During our first year in Perth we were at the Perth Zoo so often that we got ourselves a family membership, it was one of O's most favourite places as a toddler.

After L came along, he too fell in love with the animals at the zoo. One of the very first times that we took L to the zoo he ended up in meltdown mode but a walk to see the elephants soon distracted him from the meltdown.

The zoo runs a marvellous program titled "A to Zoo" for toddlers. Each session is based on a particular animal at the zoo. The sessions include songs, reading a story book based on the animal and some craft. L loved these sessions, especially going to visit the animal at the conclusion of the session.

So it made sense that one of the places that both of the little superheroes were desperate to visit before we left Perth was the zoo.

So without much further ado, what follows are some of the little superheroes favourite snaps of their favourite animals from our final zoo visit!

The Cassowary, or Dinosaur bird as L calls him!

I love the meerkats. I could spend hours just sitting, watching them play.

Both O and L were fascinated by the comparison board of the plants and animals in Australia and in the Amazon Rainforest. O conducted a short math lesson with L about graphs! L just wanted to open and close the boards!

We had to do two tours of the Nocturnal house just so that L could see his new favourite animal, the ghost bats.

One little monkey, I mean superhero, pretending to be an orangutan! O loves the orangutans! She could spend hours watching them play and talking to them through the glass when she was a toddler.

This gorgeous old man is Hsing Hsing. It saddened me to hear that he passed away on the 18th of December but it does make my heart happy that we were able to see him one more time before he passed. At 42 years of age, Hsing Hsing was the oldest male Sumatran Orangutan at Perth Zoo. As Perth Zoo so eloquently stated - "At 42 and a half years of age, Hsing Hsing was a very special member of the Perth Zoo family and the dominant male in our orangutan colony. He stood out with his impressive dreadlocks and loud vocal calls. He touched the hearts of so many and gained respect by all who worked with him. He was a larger than life orangutan!" Goodbye Hsing Hsing.

Sensory break time.

The Jabiru, a very majestic bird that brings back memories of my childhood.

Aww, Mummy and baby snuggling in a tree. L told me that the baby was just like him because he hangs onto me like a baby koala, just like this little one was.

L is fascinated by this gorilla sculpture at the entrance of the zoo, and always has been. Every time we visit the zoo he has to sit and inspect every part of the gorilla and the baby!

And that's it - our Perth adventures have been wrapped up and are now fabulous memories and now we move onto new adventures in Queensland. So stay tuned!