Parenting via the scenic route

18 March 2019

Dear Friend,

Being a parent is amazing, exhausting, awe inspiring, confusing... full of contradictions. It is everything and nothing like I expected.

When my son was five he was diagnosed with autism, one of life's curved balls and we had to learn to parent a little differently. I like to call it parenting via the scenic route.

The scenic route:

a way that is not the fastest way but that has beautiful scenery

We discovered very quickly that our parenting journey would not take us down the usual route. We had missed the exit onto the parenting superhighway so instead of a straight line from A to B we took the relatively unknown, scenic path.

It wasn’t long before we encountered rough terrain. The health visitor was the first person to flag up issues when our big lad failed to follow her instructions to make a building with blocks. Then a rather cruel nursery teacher told us he presented like a special needs child but offered no help or advice. We felt lost.

We got stuck down a few dead ends. He was initially tested for Dyspraxia but didn’t tick enough boxes for a diagnosis. The therapists who worked with us were amazing and they taught me about sensory issues and encouraged me to follow my gut.

A Glimpse into our autism: Invisible

11 March 2019

Dear friend,

We sat in the airport assistance waiting area surrounded by people. It was a busy day but our big lad calmly played on his mobile phone. There were a lot of people needing assistance, a child flying alone, several elderly passengers, wheelchair users and someone with a visual impairment.

A lady sat next to us and struck up a conversation. The usual questions, It’s busy today isn’t it? What time do you fly? Where are you going to? Then she asked; What’s wrong with him?

I saw my son shrink into his chair.

I calmly answered, we are having assistance today as he is autistic and finds the crowds in the airport overwhelming. Then I turned my attention to my son who was now really agitated and wanted to leave.

This is not the first time that a member of the public has questioned our entitlement to help. My boy is tall, healthy and very handsome. You can not see his autism.

People have stared at and tuted at us as we have been lead to the front of a line. One snooty woman actually said to her husband, we are privilege members so we go before them. A member of staff asked us, why are you in this line? And we are not alone. I have read accounts on social media of people being abused for parking in disabled spaces or using disabled toilets because they don't look disabled.

Encouraging children to read

4 March 2019

Dear friends,

One of the most frequently asked questions by parents is how to support their child's reading at home. Parents can lack confidence when it comes to sharing books with their children. Yet reading to your child regularly is one of the most important things you can do. Here are my tips to teach your child to read at home.

Encouraging children to read

Make books visible
From being babies my boys have had books. Board books in the toy box, books that attached to their prams, bath books etc they have also had book shelves in their rooms since they were tiny. Books have always been on hand for when we had 5 minutes spare. Buy books for birthdays and other special occasions.

Prepare for reading
Ideally find a quiet place but you can read anywhere, on the train, in a cafe, in the park. Turn off the TV and your telephone so there aren't any distractions.

Focus on talk

Talk about the pictures as well as the story. Make connections for your child like, Do you remember when we went to a museum/the zoo. 

Repeat favourite stories
Don't be afraid to repeat favourite stories again and again. Repetition helps young children understand and remember language.

Now you are 10!

25 February 2019

Dear Friend,

Ten years ago little man entered the world and changed everything. From the day that he was born he has filled our life with joy and happiness. His playful spirit is infectious and his quiet thirst for knowledge and understanding astounds me. This year has been a real coming of age for our little man, he has started to truly shine but it has also been his most difficult too. Losing Opa suddenly to cancer was the first time that he experienced total sadness and it hit him hard. His brilliant brain needed time to reflect and to process what happened. I am so proud of him for working his way through this, for learning to talk about his feelings and to know that it is ok not to always be the joy giver.

I picked out some of my favourite moments from Instagram to demonstrate what an amazing year he has had. He makes me proud every single day and I can't wait to see what he will achieve.

The Autistic Scale

18 February 2019

Dear Friend,

I wish I had a euro for every time someone has responded to the statement, I have a son with autism with:
…but he's not that bad
…but he's high functioning
…but he's clever?

People with Autism are viewed by many as fitting along a sliding scale and autistic people are referred to as High or low functioning or as having mild or severe autism. Perhaps a need to quantify something is just part of the human psyche?

Autism charities and societies have recently started to use the colour spectrum in their logos. I welcome this move! Autism is not a linear scale. Autistic people can have strengths and weaknesses in different areas on the spectrum that is why no two autistic people are the same. Having the spectrum more in the public eye may help to reinforce this message. 

Mild Autism does not mean that someone experiences autism mildly. It does not mean that you can forget the autism. Mild autism means that you need to make some accommodations. Also Severe Autism does not mean that someone is of low intelligence. Many non verbal autistics were severely underestimated academically until technology gave them a voice and enabled them to prove otherwise.

A Glimpse into Flying

11 February 2019

Dear friend,

Whilst patiently cueing for passport control, I watched priority travelers whizzing through their separate section. I kept the boys busy talking and handed out sweets. I was trying to keep big lad out of the crush and in a safe space, as much as possible.

Getting on the plane customers were given priority: disabled and elite members. We waited while people, who should know better, jostled for position with me my 2 kids and 3 bags. The whole situation shed light on my sons invisible disability. Ok he wasn't freaking out but he was uncomfortable, and exhibiting stressed behaviours; repeating the same question, pacing, fidgeting. What would make this better for him?

As an EXPAT we are regular fliers, visiting my family in England a few times a year. My big lad is used to flying and actually enjoys it. He has been flying since he was 3 months old. But, flying can be a very stressful experience for someone on the autistic spectrum. Especially at busy times of the year.

My son finds it extremely difficult to be in unfamiliar situations and in crowded areas. He has super sensitive senses and struggles with the lighting, sound and amount and proximity of people in the airport.

I don't want to highlight my boys disability. I don't want him to be given a high visibility coat or special card to wear around his neck. He doesn't want to feel any more different. I just want to reduce his stress (and truth be told mine too). How hard would it be to make invisible disabilities a priority?

Sadly many autistic families choose not to travel!

I have never considered myself a campaigner but after this difficult experience and spurred on by reading about changes made at airports in the UK I decided to mail Schiphol airport and KLM. I urged their care teams to begin providing support for people with hidden disabilities.

Amazingly my letter landed on the desk of a staff member who had an autistic daughter. He started a project, Flying with autism and in the last 2 years has made real changes for autistic fliers at Schiphol. He introduced us to the DPNA code (Disabled passenger needs assistance). You can have this code applied to your ticket and then receive assistance at the airport when you fly.

Write the letter. You could be the one who helps make a real difference!

#PointShoot February

4 February 2019

Do you love making photos of your family? Do you like to record the everyday memories you are making? Then #PointShoot could be the linky for you. Come and share your photo story posts with me. 

You can share days out snaps or a fun, special, or touching moment from your week. It can be one photo (including Instagram posts) or a series of shots with words or without.

This Month's featured post comes from @susankmann

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A photograph is the pause button of life.

Link up your pictures!

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Photo Diary January

Dear Friend,

I love capturing the ordinary moments and special times with my camera, looking at our life through a lens gives me a clearer focus. Here I take a look back at some of my favourite moments from the month. 

 Now over to my photo diary... Happy days!

There are many more ordinary hours in life than extraordinary ones. We wait in line at the supermarket. We spend hours commuting to work. We water our plants and we feed our pets. Happiness means finding a moment of joy in those ordinary hours. - Haemin Sunim 

This month I am grateful for...
  • Family walks 
  • A new phone meaning I can make selfies again!
  • Living near a beautiful city
  • Saturday evening cinema trips
  • Very kind staff making an orthodontist visit for big lad a success
  • Evening walks in the snow
  • Family dinner at the Eetcafe
  • The boys just fitting on the sledge together
  • My big lad being more settled 
  • Saturday morning cuddles with my little man
  • Time to work on my book
  • Having a wonderful dog
  • Eating fresh, thick cut chips in Leiden
  • Facetime and ipads making contacting my parents super easy
  • An afternoon exploring Leiden by bike and taking some shots for @my_dutch_angle

A Glimpse into friendship

28 January 2019

Dear friend,

Yesterday I met someone new. During our conversation I shared that I had 2 sons and that my eldest had autism. She asked me:
Does he have any friends? 
This isn't the first time someone has asked me this question. The message that autistic people are unsociable and loners is out there.

When the big lad was younger, his friends were mostly the sons or daughters of my friends. It was easier to support him socially. We went to toddler groups a couple of times a week, swimming lessons and of course he came along with me to friends homes and played with alongside their children.

When he started school, he thought everyone was his friend but in reality he had one main friend. His teacher reassured me that everything was OK, he was not alone, he was being included.

Then birthday party season started and he found it hard to accept when he wasn't invited. I found this really hard too. Some adults made the right noises but then let us down. We all quickly discovered who our real friends were.

But he did have friends, friends with the same interests (namely computer games). The word spread that he was good at gaming and other kids soon wanted to play, to learn the tricks.  We set up a gamer room at home and friends came regularly to play.  Children called for him and he started to play outside and to attend a local youth club with a group of friends every week.

Ask my son about friendships and he will still tell you, everyone is his friend. In reality, friendships change, people move on and find new friends. Few friends are with us our whole lives. But change is difficult for the big lad and he remains loyal. A friend is a friend.

Problems arise when he doesn't understand why people behave in a certain way or when he fails to pick up on social cues or hints that neurtoypical children do. But friendship problems are common in all children and not restricted to autistic children.  

Yes sometimes autistic people do want to be alone, yes sometimes social situations can be a challenge. But autistic people shouldn't be isolated or lonely. Everyone needs a friend!

By labeling autistic children as loners who don't want friends we are simply pushing them further out of society. Surely we should instead be asking what we can do to better understand their needs, to include them more? 

Yesterday she asked me:
Does your son have any friends? 

Yes, thank you, he has lots!

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

How to teach children about money

21 January 2019

Dear Friend,

Teaching your kids about money may feel at times like a tall order. Especially if you yourself are not great with money. But it’s important. According to personal finance writer Beth Kobliner in her book, “Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not): A Parents’ Guide For Kids 3 to 23,” parents are the biggest influence on a child’s financial behaviour and the lessons kids are taught by age 7 can determine their money habits for life.

Our boys couldn't be more different. Little man wants to spend his money immediately and has in mind exactly what he wants. Big lad will save for something of higher value that he really wants. Perhaps it is an age thing and experts recommend that you take age into account when talking about money. But we are trying to talk about money and teach our boys the value of things.

With this in mind I thought it would be a good idea to share the expert advice that I have found through my research...

How to teach children about money...

1. Start early. It is never too early to teach your children about finances, especially today as Internet banking, online shopping and card payments makes money almost invisible. Play shops, play games with money like junior Monopoly, or the shopping game from Orchard toys.

2. Make saving fun early on. Giving pocket money from around age three can help children better understand the value of money, especially if you encourage them to save towards something they want. We try to encourage saving by matching what they put aside or sponsoring them to help them buy something of a higher value.

3. Let them do simple errands. From the age of ten children should be encouraged to buy simple things in a shop e.g. a loaf of bread or milk. If children have saved for something let them take their wallet and pay themselves.

4. Teach them to budget. Give them pocket money on the same day. Be prepared for them to spend it all quickly at first. Don’t buckle under pressure! As they get a bit older encourage them to write down what they spend.

5. Don't say we can't afford it. Experts warn against saying you can’t afford something. It’s easy to use this response when your child begs you for the latest toy but doing so sends the message that you’re not in control of your money, which can create future anxieties. Instead say: “We choose not to spend our money like that.”

6. Be a good role model. Parents have a great deal of influence on their children, and it is not just the positive messages that resonate. Children tend to copy what we do rather than what we say, so limit the amount of shopping trips as a leisure activity, as they might start to think that money is an unlimited resource and that spending is fun.

Saving up and waiting for something you want is really the key to money – if you’re able to delay gratification. - Beth Kobliner

Counting Rainbows

14 January 2019

Dear friend,

I haven’t really had time to reflect on our year and if truth be told I haven't wanted to either. 2018 is not a year that I will look back on with fondness. I've lost count of the times I’ve heard one of my family members say, I can’t wait to see the back of this year.

I could write a whole book about the difficulties we have faced but it doesn’t feel right. Some stories aren’t mine to tell. Losing my fabulous father in law very quickly this year rocked our family to the core. We all struggled to face the grief and it affected each of us immensely. We were reminded again of the fragility of life with health scares and a cancer diagnosis for close family members. The year ended with a broken arm, the accidental death of a relative and a lost suitcase.

I ruined the beginning of our Christmas trip to the UK by having a complete meltdown over said lost suitcase. Of course it wasn’t the suitcase (full of presents) that I was upset about. It was everything else. My emotional bucket was full and the deluge of water that escaped from it was of tsunami like proportions.

Then I read a meme on social media,

Count the rainbows,  Not the thunderstorms

And it really struck a chord.

I am still not 100% sure where I want to go with the blog this year but I am grateful that through blogging I have captured many of my family's happy memories. I can look back with open eyes and appreciate all of our rainbows.

Here are some of my favourite moments...

I have learned some important lessons this year too.

  • I am much stronger than I ever thought. 
  • Ask for help! 
  • Be kind but take no shit. 
  • It is easier when you face things together. 
  • Don’t wait. Reach for your goals now.
  • Talk. Find a good listener and let it out!

Yes 2018 was challenging but we made it through together.

I never make New Year resolutions but I do intend to spread positivity this year and to keep counting those rainbows. 2019 I am ready for you!

#PointShoot January

7 January 2019

Do you love making photos of your family? Do you like to record the everyday memories you are making? Then #PointShoot could be the linky for you. Come and share your photo story posts with me. 

You can share days out snaps or a fun, special, or touching moment from your week. It can be one photo (including Instagram posts) or a series of shots with words or without.

This Month's featured post comes from the fabulous

Feel free to grab your featured blogger badge!

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A photograph is the pause button of life.

Link up your pictures!

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Photo Diary December

Dear Friend,

I love capturing the ordinary moments and special times with my camera, looking at our life through a lens gives me a clearer focus. Here I take a look back at some of my favourite moments from the month. 

 Now over to my photo diary... Happy days!

This month I am grateful for
  • Pyjama day and games morning at school
  • Sinterklaas and Christmas celebrations spent with family and friends
  • Reconnecting with my cousin
  • Christmas markets and buying gifts
  • Spending Christmas with family in the UK
  • The fun of pulling crackers
  • Quality time with my big brother
  • Having a cuppa with my best friends
  • Flavoured gins; Rhubarb and Parma Violet
  • Fantastic health care and understanding doctors
  • Big lad was fit to fly to the UK with his broken arm
  • New medication easing my endometriosis pain
  • Time! 

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