A Glimpse into our Autism: Forgotten

31 January 2017

Dear son,

Yesterday I spoke with your teacher. She told me about your struggle. A problem that I knew nothing about...

How did I miss this, my big hearted boy? How did I miss that you were feeling confused, worried, anxious about autism.

The thought of your face at the classroom window, searching the playground to check your brother is OK, tears at my heart...

Did I forget you my beautiful boy?

Was my attention too keenly focused on supporting your big brother and not enough on you?

I am sorry I didn't notice, I didn't see...

I have always been so proud of your relationship with your brother, your closeness and the joy that you share in just being together.

We have never hidden his autism but maybe now it is time to explain.

You know your brother is different but can't explain why. You know the word Autism but not what that means.

The problem is that I don't want you to look at him with different eyes.

But it is time to fill in the missing dots...

You must not bear the weight of your brother's disability, ever...

I don't want to be haunted by the image of your face at the window.

Yesterday I spoke with your teacher. She told me about your struggle. A problem that I knew nothing about...

How did I forget 'you'?

For help and support for Siblings of children with a disability see the Sibs website.

A glimpse into autism is a series of short letters that explore how autism effects us on a day to day basis. Disclaimer:  this is our experience not all autistic people are the same.

More autism awareness posts...

Point Shoot: At the Zoo

27 January 2017

Dear friend,

Welcome to my new Photo series Point Shoot. I love capturing the ordinary moments and special times with my camera, looking at our life through a lens gives me a clearer focus.

This week's Point Shoot is a series of photos taken at the zoo, my little man's favourite place in the world. He asked Santa for zoo tickets and guess what was in his stocking? Lucky boy!

Now I'll let my photos do the talking...

The pursuit of parenting happiness

25 January 2017

Dear friend,

What makes you happy?  It seems like the pursuit of happiness is big business at the moment. You can't go anywhere without happiness being thrown in your face by someone. From quotes on IG to pretty graphic plaques for your home, to best selling books adored by bloggers  and even a happiness institute.

It feels like everyone is in pursuit of this magical element that will make our lives better. Everyone wants to be happy. Don't get me wrong, I do too. I love a good quote, attempt to live mindfully, read the little book of Hygge and when asked what I want my boys to be, my reply is... happy!

Over the last few weeks the attention seems to have shifted. Instead of general happiness we have seen a movement towards the pursuit of parenting happiness.

Dutch children have twice been top of the league table when it comes to happiness so naturally researchers and writers have looked towards Holland for parenting inspiration. As an EXPAT who has lived in Holland for eleven years and who is married to a dutch man, these articles always catch my eye. I have also written about how living in Holland has changed my parenting style, here and here...

Over the last two weeks I have read several articles telling me that Papadag could be the reason Dutch kids are so happy.

...the parenting trend that could make your family happier.

One article prompted a thread on the UK Parent Bloggers Facebook Page. In this article Papadag was quoted as:

In basic terms, it’s a regular day, once a week, where dads take responsibility for looking after their children. And we don’t mean playing half an hour of Mario Kart with the kids before flicking over to the football and letting Mum take over. 

The tone of the post prompted a backlash as people came out to defend Dad's and fight the stereotypical undercurrents. It prompted me to respond as in my opinion this was not only stereotypical hogwash it was actually factually incorrect.

What is papadag?

The Dutch government recognises that father's naturally want to spend time with their newborn children too and that some fathers may want more time with their little ones than just evenings or weekends? Dutch fathers can make use of parental leave (Ouderschapsverlof) also known as Papadag.  
Translated from the Dutch  Ouderschapsverlof site

Papadag allows fathers to spend more time with their (newborn) child and to work less.
  • You are entitled to at least three months unpaid leave until the child is eight years old
  • You are entitled to parental leave when your child lives with you
  • You have 26 times your weekly working hours for parental leave
  • You are entitled to parental leave when you have spent a year or more working for the same boss.
  • Parental leave, does not have to be taken when the little one is born but may be taken later (up to the age of 8)
  • You do not get paid for the hours less you work so this is unpaid leave

On Papadag fathers are the primary care givers for their children. Most fathers tend to take this as a set day per week. Whilst it has been sold in some articles as giving mums '...time for themselves' in the families I know it has been used as an alternative to paying for expensive childcare. Instead of the kids going to the opvang (nursery) they spend the day with dad whilst mum is at work. But to be honest, I do not know many families who have used this time! In the Netherlands, only 23 percent of fathers who are entitled to have parental leave take that leave (according to a 2014 study by the Social and Cultural Planning Office).

Fathers taking parental leave is still not widely accepted in all professions despite the backing of the Dutch government. Some fathers are restrained by the fear of losing income and men often think that the nature of their work does not permit fewer working hours and therefore leave will not be accepted by their boss. That was certainly true for my husband who works in the flower business.

How can something that only actually affects 23% of fathers be attributed to the happiness of children and parents in Holland? 

The happiness of Dutch parents and children has more to do with the whole attitude of the Dutch towards parenting.  Papadag is recognition from the Dutch Government that parents want to share responsibility for raising their children. The thing that struck me when I first moved to Holland is that Dad's are everywhere; at the Park, the Dr, the playgroup, the school trips. Quite simply parents have an equal role in raising children!

It is also interesting to note that the Dutch are very proud of the fact they have the shortest working week in the world and one of the best work/life balances! A fact left out of these previous articles. In simple terms Dutch families spend more time together. Perhaps the real post should be...

Flexibility of working hours makes a big difference to the happiness of parents.
Click to tweet.

Now that I would read!

Is the secret to parenting happiness time? What do you think?

Point Shoot: Siblings project January

20 January 2017

Dear friend,

Welcome to my new Photo series Point Shoot I love capturing the ordinary moments and special times with my camera, looking at our life through a lens gives me a clearer focus.

This week's Point Shoot is Sibling Project. I came across the Siblings Project on IG. It is run by Lucy from Dear beautiful.

The Siblings Project is for anyone who wants to commit to photographing and sharing a sibling moment each month.

I love the idea of getting a monthly snapshot of my boys that I can look back on. I just wish I'd found this community earlier as I love this idea and there are some beautiful shots! 

Now I'll let my photos do the talking...

Why children should express themselves

18 January 2017

Dear friend,

I grew up in a world which was very black and white. My parents had (still have) very strong morals and values and very set beliefs. We were brought up with high standards and taught to show respect, obey our parents and people in authority, to be polite, to be responsible, to have good manners and to be honest. Admirable qualities, I can hear you saying, what's wrong with that? Nothing at all, I agree but I still find it difficult to disagree with my parents in my 40's because of the need to respect and obey. Shouldn't children be allowed to express themselves?

I can honestly remember the exact moment I realised that I could follow my own path. It was a friends older sister who asked me;

Do you always do what your parents ask? 

But it wasn't until my teens that I started pushing those boundaries, that I realised that the world wasn't black and white. That my opinions and thoughts didn't have to be the same as my parents. There was indeed a whole rainbow of feelings, emotions and ways to express ourselves and that one persons right was another persons wrong. But I never dared push it too far! In many ways I remain the people pleaser and always try to do the right thing, especially at work. After 11 years of living in Holland however, I am beginning to change.

A wiser, older Dutch Colleague asked me;

Who do you want to be? The yes person, or the person who pushed the boundaries? 

A fundamental part of the Dutch parenting philosophy, where children are encouraged to express themselves and parents actually listen.

I will always remember my first encounter with a Dutch child on the playground. It was my first week  in a new job. I was working in an international school that had a Dutch bilingual stream. A fight broke out on the playground and I went to break it up. I was used to english children who would stand heads bowed in shame and mouths firmly shut only speaking when spoken to. What I was faced with was 2 children loudly expressing their point of view and strongly defending their behaviour. It shocked me!

In the older classes the International children were lined up and marched out, in silence and handed to their parents with a handshake. The Dutch children left the classroom on their own and exited the building negotiating 3 flights of stairs, jostling each other and usually chatting loudly. This caused many heated discussions amongst staff. The International teachers talking of accidents and irresponsibility and the Dutch teachers arguing that they are old enough to be responsible for themselves.

Who was right?

I believe that there is a lot to learn from the Dutch way. After all in a Unicef report Dutch children have twice come out on top of the list of Happiest children in the world. The freedom that they are afforded must be a factor in this. Freedom to express themselves, be themselves and to just be kids. Children may be seen by outsiders as disrespectful but there is not so much emphasis placed on obeying and more on discussing and being responsible for yourself.

There was a lot of talk about integration at my previous school and in many ways we had a long way to go to achieve this. The worlds were very far apart (obey or express) but we were able to move them closer by listening to and learning from each other.

I want my sons to have strong moral values; to be honest, kind and show integrity but I don't want them to blindly obey/follow.

I know that my eldest son sees the world in black and white due to his autism. A rule is a rule. This makes dealing with his behaviour relatively easy but it does concern me that he could be easily influenced by others. Especially in our social media rich world where young people are constantly being sold an image/ideal. I think it is my duty to teach him about the grey areas too. To push him to think independently and find the person he wants to be.

Research carried out by Child development in 2011 found that teens who are able to express themselves to their mums are better able to resist peer pressure and say no to drugs and alcohol.

“Parents who can have the right kind of discussions with their kids are setting their children up to handle peer influences,” said study author Dave Szwedo.

What are the right kinds of discussions? They are calm and reasonable and allow kids a chance to be heard. Seems the Dutch parenting philosophy is echoed by researchers too.

Communication is key! 

If 2016 has taught us anything surely it is the importance of making good decisions? I think children should be encouraged to form their own opinions and to know it's OK to think differently about something. They should have the freedom to voice their opinions in an honest and open discussion. Instead of being told what they should think, children should be encouraged to find their own solutions and walk the middle ground when/if necessary.

We must teach our children to think for themselves now so their future looks brighter than ours!

What do you think?

Book Corner: Lost and Found

16 January 2017

My book corner choice this month is: Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

Once there was a boy and one day he found a penguin at his door...

The first thing that grabbed my attention about this book were the unique illustrations. This is quite simply a beautiful book with a heart warming story of love and friendship.

Point Shoot: Beach therapy 2

13 January 2017

Dear friend,

Welcome to my new Photo series Point Shoot. I love capturing the ordinary moments and special times with my camera, looking at our life through a lens gives me a clearer focus.

This week's Point Shoot is Beach Therapy. We have all been full of cold so I decided a nice walk at the beach was just the therapy we needed to make us all feel better. Did it do the trick? Take a look at my photos and see for yourself...

The versatile blogger award

11 January 2017

Dear friends,

The other morning I had to get my happy dance on in the class. One of my lovely and brilliant fellow bloggers nominated me for the Versatility in blogging award.

I was honoured to be nominated by the brilliant Mal from Into the city. I love Mal's infectious enthusiasm for all things London and her brilliant and well captured photos which always give her unique view of where she lives. You should read her first year of blogging post. I share so many of her feelings like how it is important to be nice to fellow bloggers and produce quality over quantity. Great advice! 

I was really touched as her nomination was beautiful:

Catie Diary of an Imperfect Mum -for explaining this world with incredible wisdom and for all the bitter-sweet stories Catie tells with a smile in each of her moving and truly heart-warming posts

Seven facts about me: 

  1. I am allergic to pecan nuts. 
  2. I qualified for headship aged 28 and was one of the youngest educational consultants working for the National Primary Strategy. 
  3. I was a season ticket holder at Middlesbrough Football Club until moving to Holland. I saw Boro win the Carling cup.
  4. I hate feet but used to work in a shoe shop. 
  5. I was a champion disco dancer. 
  6. I was one of the first people to have a cartilage transplant. I had chondromalacia patella, softening of the cartilage in the knee that causes it to crumble. 

The bloggers I nominate are:

  • Zoe: Petite Pudding for her brilliantly written posts that challenge gender stereotypes and her honesty and bravery at approaching the topic of PND. 
  • Morgan Prince: for her dedication to helping other bloggers. She is a wonderful, kind lady who writes a brilliant versatile blog and deserves this award! She has been my champion, sounding board and technological wizard since the beginning! 
  • Lynne: A blog about raising my autistic son. I love Lynne's blog. Her posts teach you so much in an entertaining, non preachy way. I love reading her posts as they provide me with a glimpse into my future and Lynne always gives me so much Hope, thank you! 
  • Rachel Bustin: Rachel is one of the kindest, most engaged and hardworking bloggers that I know. She really deserves this award as in the short time she has been blogging she has developed a really versatile blog!
  • Sarah: Mum and Mor. Sarah is another relatively new blogger who has developed a brilliantly versatile blog and she has done this whilst juggling a new baby and a new life as an EXPAT in Denmark. I think she is amazing as I know how hard being an EXPAT can be. She really deserves this award!

Here are the rules of the competition:

  • Make sure to thank whoever nominated you and leave a link to their blog.
  • Nominate at least five blogs of your choice.
  • Link the nominees and let them know of your nomination.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.

Parenting from a Special Perspective: Rainbows are too beautiful

9 January 2017

Ever wondered what it is really like to parent from a special perspective? Parent to a Special Needs Child? Where do you turn for help? What challenges do you face? What has surprised you? What have you learned? Every month I will be featuring one of my brilliant fellow SEND bloggers and sharing their reflections on raising a child with special needs. 

Welcome Ann to Diary of an Imperfect Mum. 

Ann is a full time mum and part time college teacher and writer at Rainbows are too beautiful. She is an active member of her local SEND community and lives somewhere around London / South East England with hubby and kids Anthony (8), David (5) and Jane (3).

1. How many children do you have and what conditions do your children have if any?
We have three gorgeous kids. Anthony is eight and was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) around the age of four. Since his initial diagnosis, he has also been diagnosed with Hypermobility, Anxiety and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Sensory Processing Disorder and Dyspraxia.

David is five years old and was diagnosed with ASD before he was four. He also has hypermobility although we’ve never had it officially diagnosed.

Our youngest is Jane. She is three years old and appears to be an aspiring socialite. However, it’s very common for girls with ASD to be able to mask their symptoms – so we are watching her closely.

December Roundup

7 January 2017

Dear friends,

Welcome to my monthly roundup an opportunity to look back at the ordinary moments that have made our month extra special. It is so easy to take for granted people, places and things and this look back really helps me to appreciate their importance and rejoice in the everyday memories we are making together...

Follow me on IG 

Point Shoot: My Mummy shot.

6 January 2017

Dear friend,

Welcome to my new Photo series Point Shoot. I love capturing the ordinary moments and special times with my camera, looking at our life through a lens gives me a clearer focus.

This week's Point Shoot is... My Mummy shot.

I always seem to end up walking behind the boys playing catch up as they are running along in front of me, chatting away. A few years ago I snapped a shot of my boys walking at the beach. I loved this shot as for me it captured their relationship, hand in hand, mirrored walking steps, little man turned towards his brother...

I read the phrase hand in hand together we can make it and it rang true for my boys so the mummy shot was born.

I have been snapping photos of my boys from behind for the last 18 months and I recently started to put together a series of mummy shots. I plan on continuing this series for as long as the boys will allow me to photograph them. Here are a few of my favourites...

The first ever mummy shot.

A Glimpse into our autism: Toast

2 January 2017

Dear friend,

Yesterday he made the most amazing toast. He taught us the true meaning of Christmas...

Christmas Eve is one of the most special times of the year but for him it is also one of the most stressful. We understand that and go out of our way to alleviate the pressure. There are no threats of putting boys on naughty lists or getting empty beer bottles and bags of Cinders, being made in our house. We also don't demand that he dresses up!

This year for the first time we invited friends to our house for a Christmas Eve dinner. I worried about this as I know he feels the weight of the day... was I being selfish inviting friends? Would it be better for him to keep it to the four of us? Should we keep the fuss to a minimum?

We spent our Christmas Eve busy shopping, preparing, whilst my big lad paced like a caged tiger until we allowed him to withdraw into his computer world for comfort.

But when our friends arrived he visibly relaxed. He was excited, happy! Then he said something that knocked me off my feet. Mum I want to say something, I'd like to make a toast..

I must admit that my initial thought was panic. Oh my goodness what was he going to say? (He is not known for his diplomacy.) But I couldn't have been more wrong...

I just have to say that this is the best Christmas I've ever had with my family, our neighbours and friends. It is just so special that we are all together. Thank you!

The depth of his feeling never fails to astound me. He captured the meaning of Christmas perfectly. It isn't in the presents it's in your presence.

Yesterday he made the most amazing toast. He taught us the true meaning of Christmas... There wasn't a dry eye in the house!

A glimpse into autism is a series of short letters that explore how autism effects us on a day to day basis. Disclaimer:  this is our experience not all autistic people are the same.

More autism awareness posts...

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