Saturday 25 February 2017

Where on earth have the last 8 years gone?

My daughter, my baby girl, turns 8 tomorrow.

Where on earth have the last eight years gone?

Eight years ago today I was told by my obstetrician that I would need to have an emergency c-section the following morning as the labour with my first child was not progressing. I can’t remember much of the c-section as I was past the point of exhaustion. I do remember hearing and seeing a purple screaming baby and thinking thank goodness it is all over. I also remember instantly feeling an overwhelming amount of love for my newborn.

Roll forward 8 years and the love that I have for O has grown and each and every day I am both equal parts terrified and delighted to be her Mumma.

O is beautiful and kind, caring and thoughtful. O is intelligent and is constantly wanting to learn. I have to keep reminding myself and others that O is only 7, well almost 8, years old as she has the temperament and maturity, at times, of a child who is much older.

At times I have expected so much from such a small person, but each time O rises to the occasion and astounds me with her maturity and her knowledge. O can be counted on. When we have the times when I urgently need her assistance with something because I don’t have enough arms to do everything, she makes it very clear that every talk that we have ever had with her, is stored in her head. She remains calm and helps exactly as she has been taught how to.

O took to her little brother immediately, she was besotted with L the moment that she found out that she was going to be a big sister. Although, O did originally want a little sister so when we found out that we were having a boy we thought that we had better prepare her. We didn’t really want O getting to the hospital and finding out that she had a baby brother and saying “take him back, I ordered a baby sister!”

But we needn't have worried as from the moment that we introduced O to L, she was instantly in love. From the very beginning O has always been one of his biggest supporters and advocates. O makes me proud every day the way that she is always so passionate and delicate when explaining to people why her little brother does what he does.`

The love that O has for her brother is huge and L adores O just as much. O cares for L no matter where they are. At school, at OSHC, at home, she is always acutely aware of his needs and is always on the lookout for him. But in saying that, while she is always aware of and is always willing to support L’s needs, she only gives him enough room for his Autism that he needs and after that they bicker like any other siblings do!

And then on the other hand, she will always save half of anything good that she has for L so that he can have some too, “so that he won’t be sad.” And when she spends her hard earned pocket money she will always make sure that she has enough money left over to buy L a small treat too.

One of the many things that I absolutely love about O is her innate ability to see the differences in others without judgement. She just accepts them and moves on. It makes my heart swell with immense pride how naturally and easily O views differences as a good thing. She doesn’t bother to mention them unless she doesn’t understand something and even then, she will ask one of us discretely. It is as if she is acutely aware of not wanting to draw attention to the difference as she doesn’t want the individual to be alienated. She doesn’t stare, she just says hello.

O is the child who is always ensuring that all her friends, and even those children who she doesn’t know well, are included in activities. No matter where we are, O always has a following of small children, she's like the Pied Piper! She takes them under her wing and looks out for them.

O is aware of others rights – “everyone should be able to love whoever they want to!” It is very clear that she supports equal rights for everyone and she is accepting of everyone. O didn’t bat an eyelid at an OzComicon that we attended when she asked a beautiful princess for a photo and the princess replied “not a problem” in a very deep gruff voice!

O voices her opinion about the future and what she would like to do and it all revolves around going to university and being a teacher so that she can help other children who need help. She would make the best teacher, carer, support worker or mentor that anybody could ask for.

O seems to have the knowledge and understanding to put into perspective what others need to go to school for years and years to understand. Most of the time O just gets things.

O loves driving in her Daddy’s car as he’ll crank the radio up so that she can sing along to the music. Although don’t ever try to sing along with her as you will be told in uncertain terms that you’re really not as good a singer as her!

She loves having O and Daddy time and if she thinks that it has been too long between Daddy-Daughter dates, she will remind us that it is about time to do something that she wants to do.
O understands that we simply can’t do everything that she wants to because of L but she never complains and she is never resentful towards us or L. So when she asks for a ‘special outing’ like getting out of the house to go to the movies or to a cafe and being made to feel special, we try our hardest to grant her her wishes.

I am trying to remember that she will only be this small for a short while. She is growing taller every day, she loves to measure herself against me – “I’m almost your height Mummy!” But as I keep reminding O, even when she grows up, she will always be my baby girl. No matter where she goes and what is doing, she will always be my baby girl.

I don’t think that I could have wished for a more amazing, special, unique, caring, loving and thoughtful daughter.

In the words of one of O’s favourite bedtime stories, O you are my most favourite first baby and your little brother is my most favourite second baby. You are both my favourties.

I love you to the distant galaxies and back.

Happy birthday baby girl, don’t be in a hurry to grow up xxxx

Friday 24 February 2017

Life is like a Rollercoaster with Scary Clowns Lurking in the background

Several weeks ago we had a very, very interesting week. And when I say interesting I mean challenging, overwhelming, frustrating, exhausting and heartwarming. And it’s taken me until now to work up the courage to write this.

Daddy superhero was away for work and the little superheroes really struggled to understand where and why he went.

They both know that sometimes Daddy has to go on an aeroplane for work but they haven’t quite grasped the concept that it doesn’t mean that he’s gone on holidays. O has started calling his work trips "workadays." O knows that Daddy is doing work but she also thinks that Daddy is doing some sight seeing.

In L’s mind, the last time that we all went to the airport, we went on a fun holiday. So L was adamant that Daddy had gone on a holiday too, without us. It was quite logical to a 4 year old and you can imagine the response that the thought of Daddy going on a holiday without us brought on.

L also decided that for that week sleep was optional, every night.

By Friday morning I was completely overwhelmed by the little superheroes, by the lack of sleep and by the subsequent stress that the week brought on me. This feeling of being completely overwhelmed brought on a panic attack, the first one that I have had in a very, very long time and I ended up at my GP where one of nurses made me have a sleep. Thank you Sue xx

The week ended well, I caught up on sleep, L and O caught up with their friends at a birthday party and a lovely friend came over to help with the little superheroes. I can’t say thank you to Alisha enough.

But that week got me thinking that our Autism journey really can be likened to a ride on a rollercoaster at a funfair.

Life in general can be likened to a rollercoaster. Life can be beautiful, crazy, emotional, exciting, frustrating, difficult and amazing all at the same time.

There are many moments of immense joy, excitement, thrills and laughter. There are the photo moments that I want to etch into my brain so that they’ll last forever. Then there is the fear and anxiety and self-doubt that I am doing enough for my little superheroes, could I be doing more, should I be doing more?

We have days where I am the mum who is waving proudly from the sidelines as my little superheroes tackle life on their own. These are the days when I am cheering them on as they learn new skills, watching them make huge gains and wanting to give them constant high fives to celebrate their successes!

We have days where I feel as though all I am doing is driving a bumper car, forever knocking obstructions out of the way so that there is a clear path going forward for my little superheroes.

Then there are the days, weeks even, where I feel that I am hurtling downwards on a white knuckle, out of control, jaw dropping roller coaster and I feel as though I have no control what so ever over the ride that we’re on. It feels as though we have no way of getting off and I end up wondering whether and how we are going to survive.

And then there are the scary clowns. Seriously, L has a phobia of clowns, even pictures of clowns. Clowns cause L to run, very fast, in the opposite direction from them. Those days I don't know how we survive. Days like these I just put one foot in front of the other and keep pushing forward.

We all go through these ups and downs. Sometimes there are more ups then downs, other times the ratios are reversed. Throughout this ride called life we have two choices - we can scream and try to hide or we can try to enjoy the ride.

I chose the latter. I have no choice but to ride this rollercoaster so I muster the strength that I need to navigate through the Autism minefield and simply get on with life. If I didn't try to enjoy the ride, I would end up in a very dark place. All of the time. Not a pleasant thought.

Why do I chose to enjoy the ride? Because I love my children. They are my world and I will never give up, no matter how insecure and alone I may feel at times.

Autism doesn’t go away, and believe me I have been asked this question many times! Autism does get easier to manage.

You can never predict what is going to happen in the future, it's the great mystery of life. So the next time that you feel as though life is throwing you a curve ball and is getting you down, just remember that life changes. Nothing stays the same forever.

And in the meantime, hold on tight and keep going.

Friday 17 February 2017

When does it stop?

I've been asked on quite a number of occasions by parents who have newly diagnosed children as well as individuals who have very little to do with the Autism world "when does it stop? When do all the endless specialist and therapy appointments cease to exist?"

I would love to say that I have the answer. But the truthful and honest answer is that I don't know. I truly do not have an answer, or a solution in fact, to this question.

What I can tell you is this..........

Since we received L's diagnosis in January last year, the specialist appointments for L have become few and far between. With L we are at the stage of follow up appointments and these are usually six to twelve months apart.

L's therapy has been consolidated into one place. We're no longer having to visit two or three different specialists. All the therapy that he requires is provided during one time slot, on one day a week.

At the beginning of this year we were lucky enough to be provided with a lovely support coordinator through the Autism Association who liaises with all of L's service providers. Our support coordinator does all the leg work for us and comes to us with solutions. It is wonderful. Mind you there is a fee involved but her work behind the scenes is well worth the monetary value.

The Autism Association are, in our eyes anyway, experts in the Autism field and as such we are drawing on their expertise and knowledge to find the best service providers to assist us with helping L, and eventually O.

I can't stress enough the importance of early intervention and keep in mind that early intervention services can come in many different forms. The way that we see it is if we are able to provide L with the therapy now in his early years of life, as he grows older he is already going to be equipped with the skills that he requires to navigate through life.

L's therapy is fairly extensive at present but I would imagine that in the years to come as he better learns how to manage his autism, the therapy may slow down. I simply can not see the therapy ever stopping but I can see that he may not need as much.

The same can be said for O. If we are able to assist her now to gain the skills and knowledge that she so desperately needs to manage her anxiety and social awkwardness, then later in life she is going to be much better equipped. O may still need some therapy, but again fingers crossed not so frequently.

Now in saying all of this, the level and intensity of therapy required really depends on the diagnosis level. I simply can not imagine how much more difficult life would be with a child who is non-verbal. I would imagine that the therapy involved would increase ten fold.

Autism never goes away. It isn't something that can be cured with a  magic pill.

What I have realised is that we are learning to manage life with autism. Life doesn't stop because of an autism diagnosis, we had to adjust. We have had to put other items on our family agenda on hold for an indefinite time period but life hasn't stopped completely.

We may have to constantly make adjustments on this Autism journey and we do this because my little superheroes are worth it.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Autism Doesn't Define My Little Superheroes.

I have said a few times in several posts that Autism doesn't define my little superheroes, it is simply a part of them.

I was asked recently "why don't you say that L is Autistic or that O is an anxious child?"

It's a simple answer really and it goes back to my first sentence - Autism does not define either of my children and anxiety doesn't define O.

The way that I see it is if I say that L is autistic or that O is an anxious child, I feel that I am saying that this is all they are. And this is simply not true.

L is so much more than his autism. L is my wild child. L is a crazy, funny, constantly on the go, sometimes cuddly, usually noisy, try anything and has no fear type of kid. L is eager to learn and eager to please. L's autism simply explains why he does what he does.

O is so much more than being an anxious child. O is kind, thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent, she has a wicked dry sense of humour, sometimes cautious, cuddly child. O just happens to have severe anxiety. At times her anxiety does prevent her from participating in activities that she enjoys but it doesn't stop her altogether.

It frustrates me incredibly when I hear adults say "oh my child can't do that because they're autistic" or when adults themselves say "I can't do that, I'm autistic." And keep in mind that the individuals that I hear saying this are on the higher end of the spectrum.

Yes, in some cases this is true, autism does prevent children and adults from participating in daily life. Autism can be incredibly difficult and can make every day life very challenging.

I am very fortunate in that both my little superheroes are on the higher end of the spectrum and for that I am thankful. O has a provisional diagnosis of High Functioning Autism and L has a diagnosis of mid to high functioning Autism - mostly level 2 with a few areas in level 1.

For my children, I do not want their autism to stop them from trying to achieve their dreams. I do not want them to view their autism as an excuse for not trying their hardest.

I know that I should never compare my children to each other but O was able to read simple books by the time she started pre-primary. L started pre-primary this year and is desperate to learn how to read like his big sister. At this point in time, L can recognise his own name and that is about it. I also know that L will get there in his own time. As Daddy superhero keeps reminding me "by the time L is 21 he will be walking and talking like everyone else."

L is on his own Autism journey and every now and then he takes little detours. He always makes his way back onto the path, but the little detours are and probably always will be an evitable part of his life.

Don't get me wrong, as I said earlier autism is incredibly difficult and I see both my little superheroes struggle on a regular basis. But I am always encouraging them to get back up and fight on. I want them to know that while autism does make life hard for them at times, I want them to continue fighting on.

Just last week I bought O a small Katana figurine as on Tuesday she got off to rough start at school but she didn't give up. O calmed herself down, with the help of myself, one of her lovely school friends and her teacher, and got on with her day. O looked at the Katana figurine and said "is this because I am a little warrior?" Exactly O!

I want them to see their autism as a gift, as a different ability. I want my little superheroes to be empowered by their autism - they may struggle in some areas but they exceed the expected norm in other areas. I want my little superheroes to be empowered to live their lives the way that works best for them.

The other reason that I don't like to refer to either of my little superheroes as autistic is that there are many negative stereotypes that society has towards individuals with autism.

Our personal perceptions, values and experiences will generally influence how we react when we hear people disclose information about themselves. My personal experience tells me that people tend to react in a negative fashion when they hear that someone is autistic.

Some members of society have assumptions that individuals with Autism are less capable than others. Others don't know how to process the autism disclosure as they look at my little superheroes and try to place them into what they "know" about autism.

And then occasionally we meet someone who agrees that autism is a gift!

I know that there will be people who disagree with me, and that is fine. If we all had the same opinions then we would all be very boring.

But imagine how an ASD diagnosis would feel if instead of being given a heartbreaking prediction of the future by a specialist, we were told "your child's or your own diagnosis is the greatest gift that you are going to be given. This is the chance for you and your family to become smarter and more inventive than you ever thought you could be. This is a chance for your child or you to prove us wrong. This is the chance for you and your family to change societies perceptions of autism."

So once again, autism doesn't define my little superheroes, it is just a part of them.

Saturday 11 February 2017

20 of the dumbest things that I have said to my little Superheroes.

All parents at some stage find themselves saying the most ridiculous obscure things out loud to their children. And if they say “oh no, I’ve never said anything like that” then I call their bluff!

Since having children, I tend to say things that I even I go “what the” after I have said them. It really is a case of I-should-have-engaged-the-brain-before-I-engaged-the-mouth type of thing!

At times talking to and with my little superheroes, has caused me to rattle off some of the dumbest questions that I have ever asked and some of the most pointless sentences I could ever have thought of. I’ve said some downright insane things.

Sometimes I am lucky enough to be at home when I say them, other times we’re out and about. When we’re out and about, we sure do get some giggles from those around us!

Some are so ridiculous that after I have said them not only do I think to myself what was I thinking, but my little superheroes are staring at me in complete wonderment. I then think to myself “what does that even mean, why on earth did I say/ask that?”

Here is a list of the some of the crazy, shocking, hilarious and just downright “WTF” things that I have found myself saying out loud!

If you don’t put your shoes on, I’m leaving without you!
Seriously, where could I really go without you? You're not old enough to be left alone at home, so legally I could only go into the front or back yard or I could go hide in the bathroom!

If you don’t start cleaning up the mess, you can go to your room!
You've stopped cleaning for a reason and it’s only lunchtime. And there are toys in your bedrooms so there’s no point sending you there, because another mess will be created.

If you don’t stop, I’m turning the car around and we’re going home!
But because we are on my way to a specialist appointment, I’m not going to turn the car around so I’m not sure how that will even work.

No L you can’t put your skateboard on the trampoline, it’s not safe. The bike isn’t safe either. Or the shovel. Or the dog.
Just bounce for crying out loud, please for the love of God, just bounce!

I’m going to put all your toys into a garbage bag and throw them away.
Yes I am going to put them into a garbage bag. No I’m not going to throw them away because they cost too much. Instead the bag will sit in the spare room for a week. So the whole act really serves no purpose because you know that at some stage you are going to get your toys back.

If you don’t eat, I’m not going to give you any more dinner.
This is definitely a WTF moment, it makes no sense at all so I’m even going to try to explain it.

Are you trying to make me mad?
Isn’t that the whole point of what they’re doing? It’s not like I’m jumping for joy over here. I’m absolutely certain that they just like ignoring me until my head starts to spin and smoke comes out of my ears.

If you’re not going to listen, I’m going to stop talking.
Said I to the children who clearly weren’t listening to a word that I was saying.

If you don’t stop playing with your food, I’m going to take it away.
If they are not eating, chance are they’re really not that hungry or they don’t want what is in front of them, so just take it away!

Are you listening? Can you hear me?
Again said to children who clearly weren’t listening at all!

You don’t need your dinner on 3 different plates, nor do you need three different forks but if it helps you to eat, then okay!
Why don't we just use disposable plates all the time, would save on washing up.

Are you hungry?
No Mum I’m not hungry, I just thought that I would pull the pantry apart and put it all back together, but I’d reorganize it and leave all the snacks that I like out on the floor.

The soap is dry, have you washed yourself yet? Yes, you did use soap yesterday, I meant today?
Ah, really Mum, did you really just ask that? The soap is dry, what do you think!

No L that is not Batman! Yes he does have a Batman shirt on but no that doesn't make him Batman. No you can’t go and punch him in the tummy to see if he is super strong. Why? Because he isn’t Batman.

Please go and get dressed…… (5 minutes later)…… oh you are dressed but I’m so sorry, just wearing a pair of jocks is not socially acceptable.

L you have your shoes on the wrong feet! L replied "but I don't have any more feet! 
Yeah yeah, I brought that on myself!

Where has all the toilet paper gone? Oh your teddy has a sore arm and you wanted to help like a doctor? How lovely, can your sister please have some of Teddy's bandages so that she can go to the toilet?

Go and put some shoes on please. Perhaps not those shoes, those are Daddy’s, you’ll trip over. No you can’t wear them to school.

Go and put some shoes and socks on please L. 
L’s response “don’t you mean, socks first.” 
Yeah, yeah, you’d think that I would have learnt by now!

Where have all the chips gone? Oh you were hungry? So you ate the entire packet, all 20 of the little packets? Did it not occur to you to eat an apple? Oh, you gave the apple to the dog, how thoughtful! I'm not surprised that you have a tummy ache!

I’m sure at times that my kids are bona fide smart asses!

What are some the crazy things that you've found yourself saying to your little ones?

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Dear Mama's in the School Yard.

Yesterday morning was a particularly difficult school drop off. L was in meltdown mode prior to arriving at school which then began to set off O's anxiety. I left L screaming in his classroom and O was clinging to a fence as her class was doing some morning exercises.

It is incredibly difficult leaving my little superheroes at school when they are in that state not just because they were both in such a fragile emotional state. There is the horrible feeling that I get in the pit of my stomach seeing my children in that state and then there are the stares.

Stares from other parents, stares from other children. They are stares of wonderment as to why are those children crying. There are the stares of "control your children" and the stares of "oh so they're THAT sort of child, the disruptive one."

So here is an open letter to the Mama's (and Papa's) in the school yard.

Dear Mama's in the school yard.

I wanted to write this letter to you in the hope that it might assist you to understand a little more about my children and other children like them.

I'm writing on behalf of the parents of the child who may have a behavioural issue, the child that might be in your child's class. The child who, at times, may need a little more attention from the teacher and/or the teacher aide. The child who might be disruptive at times. The child who may or may not have a diagnosis, not that this should matter.

Yesterday morning you probably heard L coming before you saw him. L wasn't being naughty, he was in the final stages of a meltdown. A meltdown that started the night before at around 10pm over a little toy Batman. You see, L took it to school on Monday so that he could tell his classmates about himself. One of L's obsessions are superheroes, in particular Batman.

L left the Batman at school and on Monday night it was that Batman that he needed. The fact that he has several similar looking and similar sized other Batman toys meant nothing to him.

By the next morning he couldn't remember why he was upset, he just knew that something was bothering him.

Yes L was still dressed in his pajamas, I saw those looks of disbelief - who would send their child to school in pajamas? L was dressed, that was the main thing. I have to pick my battles, don't we all, otherwise the entire day would be one long argument.

Did you know that when L and O are in this state of distress I feel absolutely helpless?

I know that L and O will calm and settle, their teachers are very well versed in handling these situations. So the best thing that I can do for my children is to leave them screaming and walk away. I won't ever look back when they are in this state, as you will see the tears in my eyes, you will see the pain on my face.

Did you know that parents with special needs children have cried an ocean of tears over the state that their children can get themselves into, and that we all feel helpless when we leave them in the capable hands of their teachers at school?

L doesn't mean to be disruptive, his behaviour is not done on purpose. His behaviour is done for a purpose as in that moment he cannot find the words to verbally express himself. This does not excuse his behaviour and L is gradually learning the right way to behave through attending therapy sessions.

Parents of special needs children have been through more than you could ever imagine.

For some families it takes years of doctors and specialist appointments to get a diagnosis, for other families it may not take as long. But the process is the same. The process of obtaining a diagnosis is mentally, physically and emotionally draining. And then once you receive a diagnosis, you start on the next medical merry-go-round of being taught how to manage life with the diagnosis, more specialist appointments, funding appointments, therapy and the list goes on.

Did you know that children with special needs may have already faced more challenges than other children just to get to school? Many special needs children face more challenges in their first few years of life than many adults face in their entire adulthood. Special needs children are resilient. Special needs children are little warriors.

Beneath it all, parents of special needs children are still parents, just like you. We just want the best for our children. We want them to have fun interactions with others and make friends. We want them to succeed at school.

I could see and feel the disapproving looks and stares as I was walking to L's classroom and as I walked away on Monday morning. I've seen those disappoving looks before, at school, shopping centres, parks, playgrounds......

I know that you probably don't want your child interacting with my child because of his behaviour the other morning. But if you took the time to get to know L, you would see that he is a kind, loving playful boy.

A special needs child's diagnosis does not define them, the diagnosis is simply a part of them. I don't like saying L or O is autistic because they are much more than just their Autism.

You cannot catch a behavioural issue or Autism simply from associating with a child. L and O have in fact taught their friends a thing or two.

L has helped other children with their behavioural issues. L has assisted children to learn about empathy towards others. O has helped children to become more understanding and accepting of others, she has taught them empathy and compassion.

Parenting a special needs child can honestly leave you exhausted and wiped out the end of each and every day. If you take the time to get to know a special needs parent, they may share with you the struggles that they have gone through. This is not to gain sympathy, this is to try and spread a little more awareness of the struggles of a special needs family. They may open up to you that they may have needed to seek therapy and medication for themselves, just so that they could cope with the stresses of daily life.

What we all need as parents, are friends. People we can share our highs and lows with. People who will listen when we need a friendly ear to vent or talk to. Someone who will show us support when we really need it. Someone who will do this without any judgement.

Just a simple hello or a nod or a smile is enough to make someone feel better.

So the next time you see a child having a hard time, give their mum or dad a smile. A smile that says "you've got this, you're doing well, I'm not judging you or your child."

You just might make their day a little better.

Sunday 5 February 2017

Oh sleep, why do you evade me so?

I’m tired!

Is there anything more seductive and inviting than a comfy mattress, a warm cozy blanket, air con on cooling the room down, a soft pillow………

I’m yawning just thinking about my bed. Sleep, I do miss you.

I knew tired once, that was before L arrived.

L has since introduced me to a whole new level of tired. L has changed my definition of tired.

First I knew newborn tired with O when I was violently awakened at random stages throughout the night for feeding, changing, burping and moments of I-just-want-to-be-held. O was a pretty good day sleeper so I was able to nap with O during the day to catch up on the much needed zzzzz's.

Newborn tired with L was an introduction to a whole new world. There were the periods during the night where he was awake for no apparent reason and these were very often. L would randomly cat nap for periods of no longer than 15 minutes throughout the day. I very quickly accepted my fate that napping with L during the day was not going to happen. Instead I would lie down for half an hour while O entertained L in his cot! I am sure that that was the start of the permanent bags beneath my eyes!

Then was toddler tired. O still napped during the day so we were all good, slightly tired but managing.

L on the other hand, he started to realise that he could do more things on his own. I realized OH CRAP L CAN START DOING MORE THINGS ON HIS OWN.

Child proof gate, allegedly, no problems as L could scale any child proof gate with ease. Cot, well he could scale the side to get out of it so he wasn't able to be contained in it for a half hour rest.

L still didn’t sleep through the night and he cut his day time naps down to 10 minutes. Oh double crap!!

Hooley dooley, I thought I was going to die!!

Then came Autism tired.

Does this kid ever stop? Apparently not!

When L is awake he needs company, not just because he wants cuddles and to climb all over you but also because he’ll try and find keys to open doors, he will rifle through drawers, he’ll empty kitchen cupboards, he’ll climb on anything, he wants to eat……..

Yes we do use Melatonin and other natural sleep remedies but the thing with melatonin is if L isn’t tired the melatonin doesn’t keep him asleep.

Oh man…….

I’m now a never ending tired that even copious amounts of coffee doesn’t make much difference. I can start yawning and day dreaming about my bed within minutes of hopping up for the day.

Autism tired is constant and never ending.

But an Autism journey is fabulous and I would not change a thing for the world. It is tiring so maybe I’ll just make a wish for more sleep!

But the fabulousness far outweighs the tiredness!!

Thursday 2 February 2017

10 Things that I wish Teachers knew about Children with Anxiety

As an individual who has suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember and as a parent of a child with severe anxiety issues, there are certain things that I wish teachers and other educators knew about anxiety.

In regards to special needs education, anxiety is a relatively new concept and many people truly do not understand how difficult it can be for a child to live with anxiety. Every child deserves an equitable educational environment and for that to happen, school staff need to be aware of just how anxiety can affect children while they are in their care.

Anxiety is one of those hidden illnesses and at times, as an adult, it is difficult to explain how anxiety affects me. Imagine how much more difficult it must be for a child to articulate how anxiety is making them feel.

O, for most of the time, is able to “hold it together” while she is at school. But in saying that, her anxiety levels would be rising throughout the school day and there would be tell-tale signs that she needs assistance to calm herself down. Helping O to learn how to manage her anxiety has, in turn, helped me to manage mine.

So in the scheme of paying it forward, here is a list of things that I hope will help educators to understand how anxiety may affect their students. I will add that I am not claiming to be an expert on anxiety disorders, these are just observations that I have made over the years!

1.     Anxiety is more than just being worried, stressed, nervous or being a sensitive child.

Anxiety is a biochemical reaction that occurs in the body as a result of environmental factors or to put it in simpler terms, anxiety is simply the body’s reaction to brain stress. Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. Stress and anxious feelings are a very common response when we feel under pressure and these feelings will usually pass once the stressful situation is removed. You might feel stressed leading up to a job interview or an exam but once the job interview or exam is over, the stressful feeling passes.

The term anxiety is used when these anxious feelings that an individual may have, simply don’t go away. The anxious feelings are more frequent and ongoing and often will present without any particular rhyme or reason. Anxiety doesn't discriminate and it does not care when it chooses to raise its ugly head.

O has become anxious over leaving a pencil at school in her school desk. She has worried about forgetting where she left her school hat. O has worried about forgetting to take her library book to school. O has become anxious because we forgot a step in her bedtime ritual. For some people, these worries may seem insignificant, to a child with an anxiety disorder, these are major worries.

At times, O has not been able to tell us what she is worried about, only that she has an immense feeling of worry and fear. At one point last year, O was in tears at school and when she was asked by her teacher why she was crying, O replied "I don't know."

And yes O can be a sensitive child, but she is sensitive because of her anxiety. Her anxiety causes her to overthink situations, experiences and conversations. Please do not dismiss a child simply because you think that they are being a sooky la la.

It is important not to dismiss a child’s anxious feelings as this will only make the situation worse. Their feelings need to be acknowledged. Let them know that their anxiety is real and that with your help, they can get through it. Acknowledge that they may need help from time to time and that this is perfectly okay. We all need a helping hand, it isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.

Being understood and not judged can make all the difference to a child.

2.     Parents need to be heard and listened to.
I have lost count of the number of times that we have been told “but O can’t suffer from anxiety, I’ve never seen that in her."

Parents who express concern over their child, whether it be to teachers, medical professionals, friends, they need to be heard and listened to. Many children, O included, are able to hold it together all day, only to crumble the minute they step inside their home, their safe haven.

Teachers and educators may never see this side of the child but that's not to say it doesn't happen. Yes, students are in your care for 6 hours, or there about, 5 days a week but you do not see the child when they are at their most vulnerable. You don't see them when they are shaking and in tears because they didn't understand their friends. You don't see them when they have no energy left to hold it together. You don't see the emotional and mental destruction that anxiety can cause.

Speaking from experience, anxiety can be a crippling experience. Anxiety can make it incredibly difficult to cope with day to day functioning. Anxiety can impact on an individuals quality of life. If not watched and managed, anxiety can manifest into larger mental health problems.
3.     Anxiety requires understanding, it is not something that can be turned on and off like a running tap.
Everyone feels anxious from time to time and when we feel anxious we may be able to reason with our thoughts to assist us to cope in stressful situations. This is not the case for a child suffering from anxiety issues. Their anxious feelings are not easily controlled and they may not be able to reason with their thoughts.

Telling a child who suffers from anxiety to stop worrying is not going to help. The only thing that the statement “stop worrying” will do is make the situation worse, ten-fold.

A child suffering from anxiety is most likely going to a huge massive ball of turmoil on the inside and even the simple act of breathing can pose a challenge to them. Any individual suffering from an anxiety disorder doesn’t want to be in that situation. They don’t want to be feeling the way that they are and in all honesty they probably wish that they could just snap their fingers and calm down.

But it isn’t that simple. Telling a child to calm down or stop worrying may make them feel shame, anger and frustration, which then adds extra anxiety as they try to deal with those emotions on top of the anxiety.

Please understand that an anxious child needs you to be patient, they may need your help to get them to calm down. They may need to escape from the stressful situation to assist themselves to come back to a calm state.
4.     Anxiety doesn’t look like one thing.
Everyone is different and it can often be a combination of factors that contribute to developing an anxiety disorder. At times, the symptoms of anxiety is not all that obvious. Anxiety may be a sudden onset in some and a gradual process in others.

Every individual that suffers from anxiety would have different triggers. Anxiety can present as different levels of intensity. Some individuals may be able to cope with high levels of anxiety, others may not.

One child may have completely different coping mechanisms to another.

And as with ASD, anxiety generally presents differently in girls and boys. Boys reactions to anxiety may tend to be more behavioural driven. Girls on the other hand may tend to internalise their reactions to anxiety. Both reactions require different strategies to manage the anxiety and also to teach effective coping strategies to the child.

As the ASD saying goes, so you've met one child with anxiety! No two are alike.

5.     Build a relationship with an anxious child.
If you get to know an anxious child, if you develop a good rapport with them it may mean the difference between being able to pick up on their triggers or not being able to.

Building a rapport with your students means that they are going to trust you enough to come to you for help.

You are then going to be able to pick up on their tell-tale signs throughout the day and perhaps assist in preventing them from getting to the edge of the anxiety precipice. This will make a huge different to a child.
6.     Odd behaviours often come about as a result of stress.
As a result of her anxiety O has developed some self-calming rituals. O will start chewing on things - clothes, pencils, books, anything really. O will start to rock on her chair. O will start to fidget with pencils, clothes, toys, again anything really. These are all her little cues that her anxiety is starting to become too much for her.

Telling a child to stop chewing on their shirt or to stop bouncing on their chair, is not going to help. The child has developed those self-calming rituals for a reason. Let them use them.

If the self-calming ritual is distracting for the rest of the students in your class, sit down with the child and their parents and discuss what other self-calming rituals can be employed instead.

7.     Develop strategies
Once you become aware of a child's anxiety issues perhaps you could meet with the child and their parents and draft a plan of strategies that the child can use when they feel their anxiety levels rising.

You could pre-plan and come up with your own strategies to help students in your class. Have a list of jokes to distract your students. Even a funny thought is sometimes enough of a distraction for children.

I have been using breathing exercises with my kindy children at work when they need a brain break and we're at the point now that the children are able to recognise when they need time out. They will walk away from the situation, take some deep breaths and walk back in a lot calmer.

There are a number of wonderful books available that can assist children to deal with anxiety and worry. We love the book "I have a Worry" and "The Angry Octopus.'

Keep in mind that older children may not want to be singled out in front of the peers. Perhaps you and the student come up with a secret signal so that they can discretely communicate with you when they need a brain break.

8.      Remain calm
Have you ever noticed that a calm teacher somehow magically ends up with a classroom of calm students?

An anxious child craves quiet and calm. If you speak with an anxious child in a quiet and calm voice, they are more than likely going to respond to you and listen to what you are saying. It is much easier to come back down to a calm state when the person who you are talking to is also calm.

O responds so much better when we remain calm. She is obviously still very much in an anxious state, but she is able to come down much easier.
9. Anxiety can be difficult.
Please remember that anxiety can be difficult not only for the child, but also for their family members who are in the firing line once the child gets home school.

Anxiety can make it incredibly difficult to focus and pay attention in the classroom. Imagine being overly worried about leaving the oven on a home and then having to go to work and put all your efforts into doing your job for the day. All the while with the thought "did I turn the oven off" running through your mind. That is what it is like with anxiety.

Anxiety may cause an A-grade student to fidget and want to move around. They're not doing this deliberately.

I remind myself regularly that behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done for a purpose. Why is your normally well behaved well mannered student misbehaving?

10. Anxiety is a part of the child, not the whole child.
Lastly the anxiety is part of the child, but it is not the whole child. I read somewhere, and at the moment I simply can’t recall where, that at times anxiety is part of a child like freckles are a part of another child.

Anxiety should never be looked at as a flaw. A child with anxiety has enough self-confidence issues, pointing out anxiety as a flaw is not going to help their self-esteem.

Focus on the positive aspects of the child. O is smart, she is kind and caring. Acknowledging those aspects are important as those are what make her the loving intelligent girl that she is.

O's anxiety does not define her, it is simply part of her being.