Friday, 31 December 2021

Adios 2021


As 2021 is drawing to an end, finally, I'm looking back on everything that both little superheroes have achieved this year. 

O started year 7 and nailed the first year at high school. O's anxiety has tried to get the better of O, but each time O has put one foot in front of the other and kept moving forward. 

L took huge leaps and bounds forward at school. Both little superheroes ended the school year with awards and amazing academic results. 

Henry was placed with us in May and what a positive impact he has had, not only for L but also for us as a family. Our family outings are much easier for both little superheroes with Henry. School drop off's for L have become much easier and less stressful. 

Both little superheroes began equine therapy and PT sessions with Holt Bolt. Both have benefited from these therapies.

So 2022, we're ready. We can't wait to see what both little superheroes achieve over the next twelve months.

Friday, 24 December 2021

Assistance Dogs 101: What to look for in an Assistance Dog

It has been seven glorious months since Henry has been placed with our family and what a huge difference Henry has made, but that is another post!

Over the last seven months while we have been out and about with Henry, we've come into contact with a few assistance dogs. A few have been legitimate assistance dogs and a few definitely haven't been assistance dogs.

How can we tell, I hear you ask?

Well, there are certain behaviours that fully certified assistance dogs definitely shouldn't show when they are working and out in public. If any assistance dog in training shows any of these behaviours, then they do not pass the public access test and must be retrained before attempting the PAT again.

So here's a list of what an assistance dog should be seen to be doing when working, ie whenever the dog is in their vest.

1. Assistance Dogs should be seen but not heard! 

The only time that you should hear an assistance dog barking is when they have been task specific trained to bark. If the dog is a seizure alert or diabetes alert dog, they may be trained to bark to alert their handler of a change in the individuals body functioning.

We have unfortunately been barked at several times by dogs that are apparently assistance dogs. In particular the other dogs have barked aggressively at Henry. This is a huge no no for an assistance dog. On all occasions, Henry was initially startled by the other dogs but then he did an amazing job at ignoring the  other dogs, even though in two instances, the other dogs continued to bark and growl at Henry.

When an assistance dog is not performing a specific task, they should be either be the handlers side walking or under the table/chair where the handler is. Henry's under's (laying under a chair or table) are the best as he lays down and goes to sleep. Other patrons around us are often extremely surprised when we get up to leave as they usually (unless they have seen us walk in) don't even realise that a dog is with us.


2. An Assistance Dog should ignore all other dogs.

Assistance Dogs need to be focused on their handler, or in Henry's case, focused on myself and L at all times. During an Assistance Dogs training hours prior to being placed with their person, they are put through dog distraction training. When a well trained assistance dog spots another dog in public, regardless of whether the other dog is an assistance dog or not, they should not approach it, acknowledge it, bark at it and so on.

And again, several of the "assistance dogs" that we have come into contact with completely by chance have attempted to get to Henry, and not to play. This is very unsettling for any dog, so Henry again did amazingly well to ignore the other dogs.

Even when we are out and about and spot a regular pet dog, Henry will ignore the other dog.

3. Assistance Dogs should not approach people for pats.

As an assistance dog is trained to focus on their handler, they should not approach other people around their handler for pats. Several of the assistance dogs that we've seen while we've been out and about, have been focused on gaining pats from those around their handler, rather than focused on their handler.

We're often approached by people asking if they can pat Henry. We've always said that if Henry is directly assisting L, ie: de-escalating a meltdown and so on, then we won't allow people to pat Henry. If Henry is working but not directly assisting L, then we are usually more than happy to stop and have a chat.

4. An Assistance dog should heel by their handler when walking.

When working, an assistance dog is usually on a specific harness or lead. They are trained to heel next to their handler, or in the case of a guide dog, slightly in front of their handler. If you see an assistance dog pulling on it's lead or walking ahead of their handler, chances are that the dog (and handler) need retraining.

We've had an "assistance dog" on a retractable lead rush around the corner in front of it's owner to get to Henry while we were in a waiting room. This is a huge no no for an assistance dog. The only time that an assistance dog needs to be on a retractable lead is when the dog is tracking it's handler as Henry is trained to do for L when needed, or if the assistance dog is out of it's jacket and having free down time.

5. An Assistance dog should not beg for food.

Well trained assistance dogs are trained to ignore any food or treats that they see on the floor. Part of the public access test is walking directly over food while ignoring the food. Even on the occasion that we accidentally drop food or one of Henry's treats on the floor, he makes no attempt to eat the food. This is also the case for when he is out of his jacket!

6. An Assistance dog should be wearing a jacket.

An Assistance dog, regardless of what their role is, should be wearing a jacket that identifies that they are a service dog. Depending on which organisation that the dog is trained through, really depends on what colour jacket the dog should be wearing, but the jacket is usually very distinctive. The dog's jacket must have a badge or identification on the jacket stating which organisation certified or qualified the dog. 

In Henry's case there are two Smart Pups badges (the organisation that trained him) as well as a Guide Hearing Assistance Dog badge (the organisation that certified him as a service dog. 

If a dog is wearing a jacket but doesn't have any identification on the jacket, chances are the owner/handler has purchased a jacket and is attempting to pass the dog off as an assistance dog.

7. The handler must have an identification card when the dog is working.

All handlers of service dogs are issued with an identification card once the the team has passed the public access test. In Queensland, this card is issued by Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs. The card is distinctive and has the handlers details and the dogs details on it, complete with passport photo of the handler and of the dog.

Ideally the card should be displayed on the dog's jacket but if this is not possible, then the card must be carried by the handler whenever the dog is working in jacket. Henry's jacket as a clear faced pocket that can be sealed shut for our cards. Any place that the handler and dog go can request to see the dogs certification, and that is exactly what these cards are for.

8. An Assistance Dog must obey their handler at all times.

An Assistance Dog must be focused on their handler at all times, which includes obeying all commands given by the handler. If needed I can tell Henry, "watch me" or "leave it" and Henry will refocus on me. We use this commands if another dog approaches us or if we are walking past a dog that is barking.

The assistance dogs that have barked and rushed towards Henry, have failed to obey their handlers. Each time that this has occurred the handlers have made an attempt to gain their dogs attention however the dogs have not refocused on their handler.

Saturday, 18 December 2021

Assistance Dogs 101: When an Assistance dog is refused entry

As previously mentioned, Assistance Dogs have certain public access rights under the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 2009 in Queensland and under similar Acts in other states and territories of Australia.

There are two situations in which an Assistance Dog can be refused complete entry to a place - they cannot under any circumstance enter a commercial kitchen, think dog hair in food being very unpleasant. Assistance dogs also cannot enter sterile areas, such as operating theatres in a hospital or quarantine areas where animals may be housed. These reasons make complete sense.

On one of our first public outings with Henry to a local attraction, Henry was refused entry. Now I'm not going to name this attraction, as I believe that all places should be given a second chance, and if you read to the end of this post, you'll see why!

Upon a further very heated discussion with the manager of this attraction, I discovered that all assistance dogs are refused entry on the basis that assistance dogs are a biosecurity risk. According to the attraction, they were following the Queensland biosecurity legislation, however there is absolutely nothing in either the Queensland or Federal biosecurity legislation in regards to denying access to Assistance Dogs on a biosecurity risk.

I was also told that all service dogs are refused entry because service dogs are unpredictable and that the farm animals on the premise would react badly to seeing an assistance dog.

I politely informed the staff member that if a service dog is unpredictable then it shouldn't be a service dog and it's certification can be revoked. I also enquired that if the farm animals would react badly to an extremely well behaved service dog, how would the animals react to a screaming child, which there were a lot of just in the car park of the attraction.

I challenged the attraction and informed them that under Queensland's anti-discrimination laws, they can't refuse entry because it is discrimination towards both L and Henry.

Now this was the first time (and has been the only place in the seven months since Henry has been with our family,) that Henry had been refused entry. We have been asked for Henry's certification, which all attractions are entitled to request to view. So I decided to take this attractions stance on refusing entry to service dogs further, as it restricts and excludes a certain sector of our community to visiting their premise.

An assistance dog is a necessary aid that allows a person with a disability to actively engage in their community. You wouldn't expect someone who requires a walking stick or a wheel chair to leave them at the door, the same goes for an assistance dog.

After returning home with Henry, I did my own research - the biosecurity legislation that the attraction was referring to, only relates to quarantine areas, which the attraction wasn't. And if it is a quarantine area, access is limited to the general public and signs must be posted.

I also contacted the executive director of Australian Zoos and Aquariums Association who advised me that while an attraction is well within their rights to restrict access to certain parts of their premise (for example where the public can physically touch an animal,) there is no section within the biosecurity act that allows the complete refusal of an assistance dog. The executive director also advised me that some zoos and aquariums did require individuals with assistance dogs to provide their attraction with a few days notice (often 72 hours) so that accommodations could be made for the service dog. We saw this first hand when we visited Australia Zoo - by the way they were absolutely brilliant in accommodating us and Henry on our visit.

After a phone call to Smart Pups, the refusal of service dogs by this attraction was taken further to Guide, Hearing Assistance Dogs Queensland, but the attraction still refused to budge on their decision. So the refusal was taken higher all the way to the Department of Communities and Disabilities.

Jump forward a few months and I again checked the attractions website (I'd been doing this every few weeks just out of curiosity,) and low and behold a BIG positive change had been made. I then received an email from the Department of Communities and Disabilities to advise me that the attraction had changed their stance, but only after communication had gone back and forth between the Department and the attraction several times.


I was initially asked by the Department, what outcome I had wanted from my complaint about the refusal of Henry. All I wanted was for the attraction to change their stance so that all members of our community could have access to their attraction.

So to find out that they had seen the error of their initial decision and had completely reversed their decision, was absolutely brilliant. It also showed that making a little noise can make a difference, no matter how big or little the person is. The change may have taken a complaint to the Department of Communities and Disabilities, but a change was made.

The change was definitely a win on our behalf for those individuals who require an assistance dog to make access to their community easier.

It also showed to never mess with an additional needs family!

Sunday, 12 December 2021

Big Things Adventure!

Who loves family adventures??? We certainly do, and they are the best way to have quality family time away from electronic devices! We've started a new weekend tradition by going on adventures as a family and rather than choosing a destination, we're packing a picnic (or pic-a-nic basket as L has taken to saying,) choosing a direction and heading off until we find somewhere interesting. 

This began a few weekends ago when on a spur of the moment, we headed off for a family day out. It was such a great day, that when we arrived home that afternoon, we sat down and wrote out a bucket list of places that we haven't yet been too, places that we'd like to go back to and adventures that we'd like to try. We've been back in Queensland for four years and there are so many places in our area that we haven't yet been to.

While researching potential adventures in our local area, I realised that there is an entire list of big things - think over sized man made structures that are local attractions for tourists. So on our last adventure, the little superheroes kept their eyes peeled for these structures and to their delight, we found two.


The Big Dinosaurs.

The first that we found were two oversized, very old looking dinosaurs. The dinosaurs have clearly seen better days and need a new coat of paint, but they both fitted the brief according to both little superheroes.

The dinosaurs were located at the Sunshine Castle in Bli Bli. The Castle is a family owned tourist attraction and while visitors aren't able to go into all areas of the Castle, it was worth the visit. The dinosaurs are located on the front lawn and are free to look at but there is an entrance fee into the Castle.

Within the Castle grounds there is an assortment of castle and medieval type bits and pieces. There is also a HUGE doll collection and a toy shop located conveniently at the exit of the Castle!

After having a good wander around the castle, we climbed back into the car and drove towards Noosa where we stumbled (following the directions from Google!) onto another big thing.


The Big Pelican!

Now The Big Pelican definitely fits the brief of big things. It is roughly 5 metres high and sits on an old boat trailer. It was originally constructed in the Noosa council workshops in circa 1977 for Rotoract as a float for the Festival of the Waters parade. The Pelican was, at that time, the embelm for the council. It was originally constructed of paper mache over a chicken wire frame but has since been renovated several times of fibreglass so that it will withstand the weather conditions.

The Big Pelican is affectionately known as Pelican Pete or Pericival, and is now owned by Pelican Boat Hire and is located along the foreshore in Noosaville out the front of their shop.

There are some lovely parks in the surrounding area, it's definitely a place that we will go back to to do some more exploring.

These were the only two big things that we found on this outing but stay tuned because there are quite a few still on our to visit list.

Monday, 6 December 2021

The Beach. A fancy poem by L.

Recently at school, L's class were writing poems about the natural environment and what they could see, hear and feel (literally and metaphorically) when they went on excursions to two different natural environments near their school.

Unfortunately for L, he was unwell on the days of both excursions, so one afternoon L and I went to one of our favourite beaches and L told me some of his observations of the beach. The deal was that if L told me his observations, I would write them down so that he could then take them to school to compose his poem.

In the last twelve months, his descriptive vocabulary has increased two fold, so I wasn't overly surprised at the descriptive language that he used.

And we thought that his original draft was good enough to post here! So for your reading pleasure, here is The Beach by L. And L asked me to tell you all that his writing is a fancy poem as it doesn't rhyme.


The Beach.

I see boats bobbing up and down from the waves.

I see the water moving.

I can see the mountains in the distance looking like tall towers.

I see birds swooping to catch their food.

I see fish jumping out of the ocean to get away from the birds.

I can hear the waves crashing on the rocks like thunder.

I can hear birds singing their welcome songs.

I can hear people talking and noisy cars driving by.

I can hear the wind blowing the leaves on the trees.

I can feel the soft sand like little foam beads between my toes.

I can feel the cold ocean water on my feet.

I feel the cool breeze tickling on my skin.

I feel calm and excited by the waves crashing on the beach.

I feel happy and calm at the beach.



Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Henry goes to ..... Sealife

*** Please note that we do not receive commissions of any kind for this post.***


Family outings. I've said it before and you'll probably hear me say it again, can be tricky with children, regardless of whether they are neurotypical or neurodiverse. When you add in neurodiversity, outings can become a whole lot trickier - overwhelming sensory inputs, noisy and busy crowds, bodies tire easily and many more factors.

Since having Henry with us, outings have become a whole lot easier and as such, we are branching out and stepping outside of the little superheroes comfort zone. Henry is really our saving grace, he knows instinctively when L needs assistance and his training kicks into action.

Last weekend we ventured up to Sealife on the Sunshine Coast. L went on a school excursion to Sealife when he was in prep, three years ago as he keeps reminding us, and ever since he has wanted to take us back there.

As a teenager, I had my heart set on gaining tertiary qualifications as a marine biologist after doing my year 11 work experience stint at our local Museum in their marine sciences section. Any time there is an Aquarium, I want to go. So visiting Sealife has always been on my to do list.

We kept our outing destination as a surprise, but gave the little superheroes hints as to where we might be going - it was somewhere that has animals, it is somewhere where most members of our family including Henry haven't been before, we need to drive to get there! We had some really odd guesses, but eventually as we drove closer to where we were going, both little superheroes got it right!



First up on our stop for the day was a break to stretch the little superheroes and Henry's legs. We'd left home with plenty of time just in case there was a lot of traffic on the road, and as it usually is when we leave early, we arrived at out destination way ahead of time. Neither little superhero had explored the esplanade in Mooloolaba (yes that is the name of the town!) so we took a short walk. As soon as we began walking, Henry immediately spotted that L was headed for a road, and his training kicked in. He began nudging L and made sure that he was between L and the road. I haven't seen Henry doing this before without being prompted, so it was just awesome.


If you are intending to visit Sealife, make sure that you have pre-booked your tickets. We did but unfortunately quite a number of people in the line hadn't. Luckily for them, there were still a few free spots in the time slot that we had purchased tickets for. As soon as you check in using the QR code (for Covid tracking purposes) and have your tickets scanned, you have the opportunity to have a souvenir photo taken. The photographer was suitably impressed that we were able to get Henry to sit still and look in the direction that we wanted - using a small treat of course. The way to his heart is definitely through pats and food!



The first few exhibits when you enter Sealife are open top aquariums and a huge touch tank. Henry was fascinated by the rays and fish swimming in one of the tanks. I have a feeling that visiting an aquarium was a first for him.

Both little superheroes were immediately drawn to the touch tank and without any hesitation, they both (after washing their hands) began to explore the textures of the sea stars in the tank.



The sea horses and Leafy Sea Dragons put on a show, just beautiful.


We'd purchased two of the Sealife explore packs for the little superheroes. L loved using the mini magnifying glass. The fluorescent corals and anemones were beautiful. 


L was fascinated by the moral eels and wanted to pat one, until he realised that they had big sharp teeth!!

 

The display with the Wobbegong Shark, Stone Fish, Lion fish and Scorpion fish was also a hit. All are odd looking creatures and beautiful in their own ways. And all except for the Wobbegong are quite dangerous! Got to love Australian animals!!

 
 
 

L is fascinated by sharks, so he just had to have a few photos in the shark jaw! His fascination with sharks began last year when he found out about the largest shark in the world, the now extinct Megalodon Shark. He was convinced that that this set of teeth was from a Megalodon.

 

We stopped off for a break in the children's play area and both little superheroes had a ball exploring the area while Henry had a mini snooze. It was quite a small area but every bit of equipment had a learning purpose behind it. The maze of slides and tunnels was based on the sonar abilities that whales have. The orange tubes (above left) were based on the currents that turtles and other ocean creatures use to travel on. It was a really great little break and a little bit of unschooling play.


Henry did really well while we were at Sealife. For the most, he ignored the majority of the exhibits but there were a few that he appeared interested in. While we were at the penguins, they were calling to each other which caught Henry's attention. He and L sat for quite a while looking at the penguins.



The catfish also caught Henry's attention. But when they started moving, he was not impressed!


We weren't able to go in and watch the seal presentation, and not because we had Henry. We were just that little too late walking to the presentation area - too many colourful creatures to look at on the way. But both little superheroes and Henry enjoyed watching the seals swim through the windows into their enclosure. Although asking the little superheroes to sit next to each other for a photo, didn't quite work the way I thought!!



Both were fascinated by the Gloomy Octopus!

One of Sealife's main attractions is their 80 metre long Ocean tunnel - think lots of sharks, rays, BIG fish and little fish. We spent quite a lot of time wandering through the tunnel, several times! L was very much in his element spotting all the different species of shark and rays.

 

The cownose rays were very amusing to watch! Throughout Sealife both little superheroes (and both myself and Daddy superhero,) had fun spotting the different marine creatures from Finding Nemo and Finding Dori. Much to both little superheroes delight, they spotted a few Mr Rays (Nemo's class teacher!) cruising around the Ocean tunnel! Then they both began a little scripted speech by singing "Let's name the species!" song that Mr Ray sings!

 


L ... the workers here, are they marine people?
Us .. Marine biologists?
L ... yeah, marine biologists. Are they.
Us ... some of them would be, why?
L ... Cos when I get bigger, I want to be a marine biologist so I can play with sharks every day. And so I can do scuba diving for work.
Setting his long term goals young.

After our visit, we spotted a Diving School, so we just had to go and have a look around. Much to L's delight, we spoke to one of the staff members and found that you only have to be ten years of age to do a junior Scube certificate. So guess what we're now saving a few dollars for!


 

There were a few of these majestic fish, the Giant or Queensland Grouper, lazing around in the Ocean tunnel. I've encountered these on a few of my Scuba dives. They look intimidating but are just gentle giants.


There's just something calming watching the rays glide over the tunnel with their goofy looking smiles!



Every time we went to exit the Ocean tunnel, we had to stop and say hello to L's new friend, a leopard shark that was having a good snooze in the corner.


While both the little superheroes weren't overly interested in this tank, it piqued my interest. Without the fish swimming through the tree, you'd think that it was a little bonsai. Do you think that I could get a photo without the fish in the tree???


It's Nemo! There were actually lots of Nemo's!!


The sea cucumber is a curious creature. They are the bizarre, yet marvellous butts of the oceans! They are a delicacy in Asia and are commonly known as Trepang there. Here, they are the creature that is like a vacuum cleaner of the ocean as they filter sand and water. And they breathe through their bottoms! Always the butt of the joke!! Or as O said in her year two speech at school on the sea cucumber, an unusual animal - "talk about bad breath!" Sea cucumbers have a pair of "respiratory trees" that branch in their cloaca just inside their anus and as they draw water in, the oxygen is drawn out of the water through the respiratory trees.


To exit Sealife, you walk through the jelly fish display. So many jelly fish of different sizes, shapes and colours. Both little superheroes kept saying that they were so satisfying and calming to watch.



One of the wonderful things about Henry is that while he is trained specifically to assist L, Henry also picks up on when O needs assistance. Both little superheroes needed quite a few hugs and laps on our outing, but yet again it was a very successful day. We could have stayed for longer, but both were tiring.

Sealife were absolutely brilliant and very accommodating to us and Henry. There weren't any restrictions on places within Sealife where Henry couldn't go. And it's definitely an attraction that we will return to at some stage.