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 lisapomerantzster.com

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! 

See more Photography posts...

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A Glimpse into our autism: Being Bilingual

2 January 2019

Dear friend,

Yesterday she asked, Is he bilingual? She did not hide the hint of surprise in her voice. I knew that there were more questions coming.

Can he speak Dutch and English equally well?
Can he read and write in both?
Is it hard for him?
What do you speak at home?

Our language of choice/use at home is Dinglish (Dutch/English). Hubby speaks Dutch and I speak English. This works for us!

As someone who struggled with languages and a British person (as a nation we are not know for our language skills)  I have always found bilingual people fascinating so I understood her curiosity. But the shock in her question still stung. 

Yes my autistic son is bilingual!

For me there is something magical about listening to people, especially children, switching seemingly effortlessly between languages. My ears always prick up on the train or bus when I hear people translanguaging. But I never dreamed that I would be bringing my own children up as bilinguals. Until I met and fell in love with a Dutch man and moved to Holland.

As an educator working in an international school, I never questioned my children’s ability to learn two languages. I had worked with children that spoke four or five languages. I never questioned my sons' bilingualism or our approach to it—one parent one language (OPOL).

By the age of two, it was apparent that my boy was having some language and social difficulties. The first time his bilingualism was brought into question was at the age of three. The advice given by the  nursery teacher was to learn Dutch very quickly and only speak Dutch with him.

I chose to ignore the teacher’s advice for several reasons: my Dutch was awful so I didn’t want him to learn incorrectly from me, it didn’t feel right talking to him in another language, I wanted him to be able to communicate with my parents and finally everything I read on bilingualism talked about the importance of mother tongue.

But at the age of five my son was still having many challenges in school and was diagnosed with autism (PDD nos).  We were again advised to make him monolingual. 

Luckily I was in a position to be able to talk to colleagues in the international education system that had experience with bilingualism both professionally and personally and were able to support my decision to ignore the advice. 

From my heart, it felt wrong to deny my son access to my culture and the opportunity to really know and love his English family. And from my brain, I felt like we were being unambitious. Having a diagnosis of autism does not mean that you can't learn.  

Bilingualism is our norm. I did not want my son to be excluded from half of our daily conversations. I was sure he would get this with the love and support of us all.

Almost 10 years later and I am so happy that we stuck to our guns. I am very proud of our bilingual boys.

Special needs children can be bilingual, the language problems they have in one language will appear in the other. For example,  my son needed help to understand prepositions and he still struggles to understand figurative language. But that didn't stop him! 

There are also many advantages of bilingualism. I strongly believe that being bilingual has improved my son's understanding of the world as he has two frames of reference. 

During a typically interesting conversation with my son, he provided a great insight: 

You don’t sound like my mummy when you speak Dutch!

For an autistic child already struggling to communicate and frightened of change, how scary would it have been if mummy had suddenly stopped sounding like herself? 

Yesterday she asked, Is he bilingual?

Yes he is!

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