The loving push!

30 September 2015

Dear Friend,

There was a lot of head scratching, hair pulling and teeth grinding before we made the decision to tell my big lad that he had autism. We took advice from people in the know and hubby and I talked it through and through and through... For quite some time we went with the "you have a busy body" explanation and it worked so why change? He began to say things like; I'm stupid, I'm rubbish and I wanted him to know that no he isn't. He is autistic.

At first he embraced it. Oh, that happens because I have autism. Yes, a break through. But... 

Big lad started to say stupid autism, I hate being autistic or they don't get that I'm autistic. Sometimes he is right, it is autism that is making his life difficult but...
He is clever enough to use his autism as an excuse too.

When I hear this negativity it is like finger nails down a blackboard to me. I want to scream; No!!!
Why is my reaction so strong? 

I don't want him to become his label!

In hindsight, had we made a mistake and introduced 'autism' too early? (A good intentioned mistake but a mistake non the less.) By handing him 'autism' had we also handed him an excuse and ultimately limited his behaviour?

Everyone is a genius but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid. - Albert Einstein

Time for the experts to step in. The big lad began a course with a young therapist to discuss: Who am I. The intension was to give him a much more positive view of what being autistic means for him. This was very difficult for me as in all honesty I was also struggling to find positive aspects of Big lad being autistic. I needed to change my thinking too! 

Being autistic means my big lad is brilliant at:

  • Seeing the detail: lost ear ring, no problem, he can spot anything. 
  • Seeing things in a unique way.
  • Visual puzzles, logic puzzles, seeing the pattern.
  • Being totally honest! Want the truth ask big lad. He never lies.  
  • Remembering things. Amazing memory. Put on a CD and he knows which number he wants, he remembers facts, funny stories (especially ones you don't want to) and promises made. 
  • Smelling things. He knows what's for dinner before he gets downstairs. 
  • Keeping going! He is passionate and tenacious. Big lad never gives up.
  • Following the rules: He has a strong sense of what is right. He sticks to rules. 
  • Being Loyal. He is very loyal to his friends.
  • Forgiveness.

Having autism means you learn differently and think differently but so what?!  You can not blame all problems on autism. It is not an excuse! I want my son to know that he can do or be anything he sets his mind to on.

Temple Grandin and Debra Moore spread the message well in their book entitled the loving push. 

High-functioning autistic children learn differently, but they are capable of living independent, productive adult lives IF their parents and other caretakers lovingly push them to do so.

My big lad will not be defined by his autism. He will be defined by his love, his passions, his sense of humor, his loyalty and warmth, his amazing memory and his intelligence. I will continue to lovingly push him to achieve!

Help after an autism diagnosis...

23 September 2015

Dear friend,

When Big lad was diagnosed with autism I read everything that I could get my hands on, we went on a parents course and I bothered my special needs colleagues by asking lots of questions. Why?

Looking back I think that I was scared. I wanted answers but what I really wanted was some reassurance that everything was going to be alright.

Did I get that? No!!!

What I read:

Autistic children are lonelier than neurotypical children 
Autistic kids have poor quality friendships
Autistic children have trouble reading social cues: figures of speech, facial expressions, hand gestures and body language
Autistic people withdraw
Poor friendships can lead to antisocial behaviour
Autistic kids are ignored or bullied by others
70% of people with autism are unable to live independently.
Autistic children are 28 times more likely to commit suicide

The more I read the more panicked and scared for the future I became.
According to this my son would become a lonely, antisocial person who is bullied, suicidal and unable to live alone...

The information filled me with fear for my child's future and truth be told my own. What hope was there, would he ever be happy?

Most of the initial Dr appointments and therapy sessions did little to alleviate these fears as we spent  our time talking about Big lad's problems. I left the appointments depressed and scared.

If I could go back in time and give myself advice at this worrying stage of my life then what would I say?
  • Don't panic. Don't try and look too far into the future. Plan for your child's immediate and short term needs. It get's easier. 
  • Don't try and do too much at once! Give your child a break. Let them be a child. Yes therapy is important but so is spending time with your family and friends or just relaxing. Big lad really needs his down time. 
  • Build a community of people that will listen. Many parents find it helpful to have therapy themselves. We initially shied away from the psychologists offer of support but later on found it invaluable.
  • Don't drive yourself mad doing research on the internet. Knowledge is power but too much can drive you completely crazy! 
  • Make sure you take time for yourself! Be kind to yourself and your partner. Take care of each other. Hubby and I are each other's tag team. We are honest enough with each other to be able to say, I need a time out.
  • Don't let people tell you what your child can't do. Focus on their capabilities and aim high! Ask health professionals and school to always begin and end on a positive.
  • Don't ask why and certainly don't blame yourself! It is not your fault that your child has autism.
  • Pick your battles! Don't sweat the small stuff. I was going to have perfect children who obeyed my every word (a fact my mum never tires of reminding me). Some things you have to let go, for the sake of your sanity.
  • Recognise and celebrate all achievements and don't measure progress against others. Learn to measure effort and not results.
  • Always focus on your child not on the diagnosis! My big lad is funny, kind, loving, warm and caring and happens to have autism.

In the last 9 years I have learnt that nothing works out as expected. You simply can not predict the future. All you can do is give your child your love and support and let them amaze you with what they can do!

I had to have a shift in my thinking. When I made the realisation that I needed to stop trying to fix my big lad and try harder to understand him our lives became better!

 I strongly believe that we should:

Stop focusing on the disability and focus on the child. See the child before the label.

Shouldn't professionals be giving parents hope? Hope that their child can and will have a happy future.

Sometimes all a parent needs is to know the impossible is actually possible. Hope goes a long way when it comes to autism!

When should children start school?

16 September 2015

Dear Friend,

I've read a lot of posts recently about kids starting school, some asking when is the best time for children to start, some saying 4 is too young to start, some saying their child was ready. In fact my lovely blogging buddy Natalie over at Confessions of a Crummy Mummy gave an interview on this morning about this exact subject. The too much too soon campaign hit the headlines in September with a series of experts recommending children in the UK do not start formal learning until the age of 7.

I am in awe of the mums who came out fighting to support their children. Those who knew their kids were not ready yet and went to great extremes to prove this and delay their school start. I am also in awe of those mums who put their own anxieties to the side to help prepare their little ones to start school because they knew that they were ready. The thing is as a mum a teacher and an Expat, I have the ability to look at this argument from a different, rather unique perspective. 

Sink or swim

9 September 2015

Dear friend, 

As soon as we set foot in the swimming baths I knew this was a bad idea. The place was packed. Kids everywhere. Running around, swimming in shoals, with little supervision. Oh no, a play group! 

I was tempted to turn around and get dressed again. How would my big lad cope with this? But his face lit up at the sight of the huge inflatable so instead I smiled, took a deep breath and dived in.

Invisible Autism do you Sink or swim?

I like my personal space; this stems from a long held fear that someone may kick my dodgy knee and I like to swim in peace. No such luck we were caught up in the shoals. I was determined to make the most of it, I didn't want to be the damp squib (ok enough sea puns)! We played shark mummy and found a quieter corner to perform our synchronised swimming tricks.

The little man waited in line for the slide whilst the big lad battled the inflatable again, with me watching from the side. I observed happily as he pulled himself up (he couldn't do that last time) he tottered along the thinner section before reaching the wider area, the concentration etched on his face. One shoal had sat themselves here and as he arrived they promptly pushed him back into the water.

I wanted to shout! Hey how could you do that, can't you see how much effort it took for him to get there? A part of me was ready to dive into the water and rip the little shits lovelies off there myself, see how they liked it. But I didn't...

They weren't singling him out, it was a game, no-one was safe. After all the kids in that pool did not know the big lad has a disability (autism is invisible) they were just treating him the same as everyone else. Actually, isn't that what I want?! 

He tried again... the same thing happened, he was pushed into the water. I could sense his frustration and gave him the thumbs up and told him to keep trying that it was just a game. He tried again, and again. 

Eventually the big lad climbed out and said I'm going to tell someone and walked over to the assistant who repeated my words; It is just a game. I thought about explaining to the assistant that he was autistic but why what difference would it make? 

I told the big lad; Your brain is telling you it's fun to climb up, walk along and spring off the end into the water but the other boys brains are telling them it's fun to sit in the middle and push everyone off. You have your game and they have there's. They are not being mean they are just playing. You have a choice, give up and do something else or keep trying. 

He kept trying; he fought back, he dodged, he waited patiently, he kept going. I watched from the pool side giving silent encouragement, winks, thumbs up, go on son. Until he made it and with a massive grin on his face swam over towards me asking what shall we do now?

The group left and we had 1/2 an hour peace, the pool practically to ourselves. The little man slid down the tunnel slide about 50 times in a row and the big lad returned to traversing the inflatable. 

I swam peacefully with only my thoughts for company. 

There is a massive conflict between wanting to protect my son from hurt and harm and wanting to prepare my son for the world. 

What kind of parent do I want to be? Is it better that I teach the big lad the social skills to deal with these situations so the next time he knows what to do not just to step in and take over? Is my ultimate goal for him to live an independent life? 

Yes it is! But my goodness sometimes it is very difficult for this protective mum to do

Real protection means teaching children to manage risks on their own, not shielding them from every hazard...

Photography @My_Dutch_Angle

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