Repetition

I really liked this and wanted to share it. As a teacher, I know first hand that repetition is a valuable teaching tool. As a parent, I can validate this further.

When I was an English Coordinator, I was privileged to trial and implement Pie Corbett‘s Talk for Writing. I am very passionate about Talk for Writing and may dedicate a post to it because, quite frankly, I have seen it help SO many children including those with SEN! I loved his message that children need input before they can produce. We ask children to write but we need to give them something to write about, get language into them and teach them about the ‘rules’ of different genres before we do.

Pie Corbett’s model is based on three stages…imitate, innovate and invent. The children have to learn a text by heart using symbols and actions, then they change one or more elements, then they create their own text using all of the tools they have learnt. I will definitely revisit this as I believe it is something all children should have access to, and more importantly, can access effortlessly.

The results were amazing! Utterly astounding!

Anyway, this article got me thinking about a conversation I recently had with my dad. It’s not completely related but here it is…

He said he felt bad because he hasn’t helped my son. I asked what he meant and he explained that he had perpetuated my son’s fixations and interests, and that maybe he should have encouraged him not to indulge in them.

As an example, my son loves, or loved, In the Night Garden. My dad always let him play a Night Garden app on his phone and watched the show with him. My son began to associate my dad with playing on his phone, specifically In the Night Garden. Earlier this year, my dad and I took the children to watch it live and he bought them some Night Garden keepsakes.

My dad somehow felt that nurturing these interests was wrong and only worsened my son’s ‘condition’.

I explained that he had done nothing wrong. He had instead respected my son’s interests and actually learned to share the experience with him, which was wonderful. They would sit together, snuggled up, watching the phone, and I had no issue with that. In fact, it warmed my heart to see their bond and interactions over this special interest.

My son often needs stories, television shows and apps to help him communicate. It’s all part of learning his patterns, and as I’ve said before, I’ve drawn on his memory of these things to create social stories and teach him how to cope with different situations. Although it takes a village to raise a child, I don’t expect other people to do this ‘teaching’, only to enjoy spending time with him and just let him be. Most of his little life is, and will centre around, having to learn patterns, fight his natural urges and step outside of his comfort zone to fit in. He deserves to just be himself around his family and I’m happy they all accept him for who he is.

By nurturing these interests, we enabled my son to feel secure in the familiar. We then used the familiar to introduce the unfamiliar.

As an example, he used to fixate on specific books. Five Minutes Peace and The Hungry Caterpillar were his favourites. His visual memory is amazing and he could regurgitate entire books by the age of two, including expression for the spoken parts. He can recognise some words in the context of the books and has even started adding his own bits in recent months. I digress again…we can talk about that more later.

Anyway, the point is…to introduce new books I had to use his obsession with the familiar. So…”Tonight, Mummy is going to choose a new book to read, but we will read your book first.”

At first, he struggled to accept the new…but over time this has become easier and easier.

I think this topic requires more research and discussion because what I am sharing here is merely from experience…not from reading.

I remember as a teacher I came across a child who was fixated on gold/yellow. We were advised not to let him always choose yellow…he had to have a different colour. This upset his little world. I didn’t enforce it because I found that by letting him have yellow, he felt comfortable and happy. I could introduce new colours once he was in that state.

This just seems logical to me!

Food & Choking

We’ve discussed fussy (or limited) eating. We’ve discussed safety. Now for something that combines both.

Choking hazards.

The NHS specifies which foods should be avoided for young children here:
https://www.nhs.uk/…/foods-to-avoid-giving-babies-and-youn…/

I found this about choking risks:
https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/…/education-store/choki…

And my personal favourite, Dr Sears:
https://www.askdrsears.com/…/feeding-infants…/chokable-foods

It’s is advised that children under four or five avoid lots of foods that I have seen very small children eating, such as raw, whole apples. Lots of people have, again, called me fussy for not letting my children eat certain foods but my motto is I would always rather be safe than sorry.

Some things I have allowed but I am conscious of how the item is presented. Apples need to be peeled and sliced thinly. Grapes need to be cut long ways etc. Apparently raisins are a no no and blueberries should be sliced. I have failed on both counts there.

I am also really strict about sitting whilst eating. At the moment, the children struggle to stay at the table when they have finished. They used to do this when they were smaller, but now they get distracted too easily and just want to play once they are finished. In the spirit of picking your battles, I no longer try to force them to stay at the table. They are two and four at the end of the day, and it is pretty boring. I’m not saying they will get away with this as they get older.

I am really obsessive about biting and chewing as well.

My eldest suffered from horrendous reflux as a small baby and toddler, and he choked on everything…even water until he’d passed his first year.

My youngest seems to cram food into his mouth and I have had to physically put my finger into his throat to remove compacted food.

Eating and chewing properly, and slicing food to prevent choking, are important in my mind.

Lots of people have, again, scoffed when I’ve cut the spiky ends off of chips and said that their children have coped just fine eating food without fussing like I do. I’m sure they have but I don’t want to take the risk.

I think it’s sad that in our society we are so judgmental. Sadly, when you become a parent, opinions come from everywhere. I was told early on not to listen and to do what I felt was right. I can’t say I haven’t listened as it’s impossible not to, but I can say that despite comments I’ve received, I’ve never changed the things I do to keep others happy. I know my children best and always do what I feel is best for them at the time. I think every parent does.

This leads me on to other issues such as dummies, bottles and co-sleeping…but I think we’ll explore this in another post.

sliced food
choking hazards
food for toddlers

School Pick Up

All children get tired after school but for my eldest, this has a huge impact.

I took the children to get a treat from the bakery. They ate their snacks and I used a wipe on the children’s hands and faces. Then without thinking, I wiped some sugar from my eldest’s jumper. He hates getting wet. Alongside being tired…this was too much…and he had a meltdown.

He screamed, cried, hit me in frustration and began to take his top off, in the middle of the street.

I watched the other parents walking by with their children. People were staring, as usual, and the rest were just going about their business, popping into shops, jumping into cars or walking home…with such effortlessness.

It took me almost an hour and a half to walk home…when usually it takes no longer than 25 minutes.

Tonight a family member said they wish I didn’t worry so much what other people thought and this struck a chord. I reflected on this and realised that it isn’t so much that I am worried what other people think, it’s the fact I am so exhausted from the daily struggles and battles I face. I adore my children, but for a brief moment, I watched the other families and felt slightly envious. I would love to be able to pop to the park with the children or even just walk home without all the dramas that unfold from a plethora of triggers I can’t control.

I think control is one of my frustrations. I can’t control what people think or how my children behave. I feel utterly helpless. The snapshot people see of my children ‘misbehaving’ is of course going to make people form opinions about my parenting. I feel this is unjustified and wish they could see beyond the snapshot to see just what I juggle and what a good job I do, and how loved and happy the children are the rest of the time. But sadly, this is not possible.

This morning my youngest had a meltdown because we couldn’t walk home the way we normally do. This lasted a long time and resulted in him removing all of his clothes and weeing on the carpet. He has had a few behavioural differences since he was very young, but now they are becoming more prominent. Ah, the magical age of two and a half to three, just like my eldest. However, they both experience very different behaviours and difficulties.

It probably sounds like I accept and tolerate this behaviour…but I really don’t. However, during meltdowns there is very little you can do ‘in the moment’.

My youngest presents as angry. Everything seems to annoy and upset him. But when he snaps out of it, he is just the loveliest soul. I am still learning about strategies to use with him, as the things I have in place for his brother are not working.

My eldest is going through ASD/SPD diagnosis. We are also looking into Tourettes and Dyspraxia. He also meets criteria of ADHD,

My youngest is being assessed for behavioural difficulties. He certainly has some SPD issues but these are different to his brother. His behaviours seem to be related to ADHD or ODD.

I’m so mentally, physically and emotionally drained right now.

Safety

So many thoughts this evening, and no idea where to start.

My eldest is still loving school but he is struggling with his sensory needs. He keeps squeezing into tight spaces and every day he has a new injury from being so clumsy.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have been called fussy on many occasions but everybody is now seeing why I simply have to be. I work hard to keep my children safe because they do not possess the ability to do this themselves. We consistently teach them about dangers and how to do things safely, but much of the time, compulsions take over. I cannot become complacent because bad things will happen.

One of the things people have openly scoffed at is my concern over stairs. My children can use stairs confidently, and have done from very young. However, I am still very strict about them. I do not allow the children to go up and down them without supervision and can’t understand why more people don’t give them the respect they deserve. As an adult, I have fallen down them and suffered with concussion, so I do not take them lightly.

Earlier this week, my eldest fell down the stairs. My husband saw the whole thing and was quite upset as my eldest actually did a roly poly before landing at the bottom of the flight. I was hysterical as I came running out to see my son lying on the floor, crying and holding his head. I was so worried about his neck and head. The reality is, this could have resulted in something a lot worse than, thankfully, it did.

This happened on my husband’s watch…and the most annoying thing is he was being very vigilant. We usually walk down the stairs before the children, but my eldest had stepped in front of my husband, through impatience. He was carrying a water bottle or toy and my husband removed this from him explaining, as we always do daily, that they should never carry things up or down the stairs. Despite this, he somehow tripped and fell.

Today, my eldest came home with some horrible injuries, sustained at play time. Nobody saw what happened, and he will not talk about it. I understand accidents happen, but he has so many it’s crazy.

Have things happened on my watch? Of course. Have there been near misses? Of course. But on the most part, I understand and respect his triggers and unpredictability, so I am ‘on’ all the time. What happened today would be a more common experience if I wasn’t so on the ball…but that in itself is tiring.

I am also really ‘fussy’ about doors and car doors…fingers and toes. I can’t discuss it but I had a horrific experience as a child, during a game of hide and seek. I hid behind a door…my brother slammed it open…I can’t say any more.

As a result, I am quite strict and obsessive about not playing with doors, standing behind them or putting fingers near the edges. What makes me feel sick is that all it takes is for somebody to lapse for a moment, and for somebody else to accidentally, not thinking, slam a door…for permanent damage to be done.

I can’t bear it!

My niece is very accident prone and requires constant attention. People scoff at this, but she needs to be watched all the time. She clearly has ADHD and I believe she is also on the spectrum, mainly just because she reminds me of myself as a child. My mum always said that she feels I should have been diagnosed with ADHD as a child, but it wasn’t all that common then. Although, I recently learned that a school friend of mine was diagnosed as a child. How I did not know that is beyond me. However, I did always know there was something different about her. I guess that’s partly what drew us together.

It sometimes feels like people believe that outing your child as SEN is an ‘excuse’ for poor parenting. When in fact, it is an attempt to promote understanding.

Female Autism

I’ve had a glass of wine…and this is a long one…

I need more time to focus on a very important subject matter…female autism!!!

But after a discussion online today, I wanted to share a few things before I get the time I need to really do the subject justice.

There is so much literature out there and of course much of it conflicts. Read as much as you can!

We are living in an exciting time where more information is becoming available. Sadly, people, including professionals, are still working on out of date criteria and myths about autism!

Obviously autism is a spectrum and I am not claiming that there are not overlaps between individuals and genders. But, there is enough evidence to show clear differences between male and female autism/Asperger’s.

Today I came across a mother on a parents of SEN children support group who was describing her daughter’s behaviours. These included hand flapping, excited noises, being overly social, singing all the time, talking a lot, getting on better with boys than girls, not really fitting in, playing alone despite trying to interact, having only one or two friends…

I recognised immediately that this girl was autistic. The reason I recognised this is because this was me as a child. These are just a few of the behaviours…barely the tip of the iceberg.

The mother said that the paediatrician had dismissed any concerns that this child was autistic because she could socialise and make eye contact.

As the day has progressed, this has made me feel so many emotions. Sad, angry, infuriated, hurt, incentivised…

I wish there was some way I could focus on helping people understand autism and more specifically, female autism.

I am not diagnosed yet but I know who I am. People have told me for years that I can’t be autistic because I can socialise and make eye contact. They invalidate the struggles I have faced. I spent a lifetime feeling left out and isolated despite playing by all the rules. So I could fit in, I spent hours trying to teach myself how to be interested in some of the things other children around me talked about. I trained myself to make eye contact. I tried to be everything that wasn’t natural to me. I spent many hours crying when people didn’t understand me.

I feel so grateful to have had my mum who talked me through why other people said and did the things they did. And helped me understand what things made me stand out for all the wrong reasons.

I used to hyperfocus on whatever I was interested in and spent time, up until my late teens, recording songs, playing on my keyboard, making videos etc while all of my friends were out drinking. When my auntie taught me how to knit, I didn’t think twice about taking it into school to complete during play time the next day. The other kids were mean! I couldn’t see why! There are so many incidents I could share right now as I go through spells/loops where all of these failed interactions and facial expressions haunt me. What these interactions taught me at the time was that something I did was wrong. So even if I didn’t quite understand what I had done…I knew I had to use a trial and error approach until I was accepted.

The other problem with being autistic is that even when you learn lots of strategies, the awkwardness and uncertainty doesn’t stay behind in childhood…it follows you into adulthood. As a young woman I was extremely rule driven, very black and white, and used to offend people with my opinions without even trying. I have always conducted a lot of research and find comfort in facts! Since the General Election I have realised, in my 30s, that this is not something society can handle.

Another issue is bullying. I was bullied at school, by family members, by different workplaces…and I could not work out why. For some reason, there was just something about me that people targeted. At one workplace I was told that they believed I was trying to make my colleagues look bad by performing so well. Another colleague from another workplace actually told me (when we first realised I was most likely on the spectrum) that she found this to be a relief as she thought I was trying to stand out to the Headteacher and apparently the staff had discussed me in the staffroom. She said that me being autistic made so much sense and made her feel better.

What they didn’t realise is that as an autistic person, I am a perfectionist and I hyperfocus on tasks until I have achieved what I want to achieve. I have always lived in my own little world, competing only with myself and my own expectations…yet I was perceived as having ulterior motives that were less than pure. I was accused of saying or meaning things that I would never say or mean. All I can put it down to is that many women have underlying meanings when they say or do things. With me, what you see really is what you get, but it seems that people find this hard to believe. I have always been quite naïve and I think this was part of the problem. Very often people would manipulate me into saying or doing things and on more than one occasion, words were definitely put into my mouth. These days, I keep my circle small and trust very few. It’s a shame, but it’s an easier way to live.

My mum always said that I wore my heart on my sleeve and gave too much away about myself. She used to say that it hurt her to see how pure I was and how people took advantage of that. Another autistic trait. She also used to say that I only ever saw the best in people, and I was so proud of that.

I think this is why I connect with children so well. There are no hidden agendas and codes to deconstruct. I find them so easy to work out and to work with.

Autism is not a mental health condition but it causes mental health issues for sure. When I was a teenager I considered ending my life…and that wasn’t a cry for attention. If it wasn’t for my mum having her wits about her and intervening, I would have absolutely been another statistic.

As I have said before, trust your instincts. If you suspect a female in your circle is autistic, research, research and research. They will need you to be their friend, support and teacher, with or without a diagnosis.

This is one of very few times I have openly talked about identifying as autistic because to be honest, most people dismiss it as soon as I mention it. Without a piece of paper from a professional (probably a neurotypical) who is attempting to diagnose from out of date criteria, people don’t take you seriously. Sadly, people are ignorant and don’t attempt to educate themselves before expressing their opinions. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true.

I recently told some family members that I was going for my diagnosis and they looked baffled.

“Why?”

Well, I didn’t answer because to ask that question, they clearly don’t get it.

This is who I am. This is my identity. And now my children are going through the process, I feel it is the right time.

I also think it is really important to stand up and show the world that there are more female autistics than we have been led to believe. Here we are blending into the background, pretending to fit in, when in fact we don’t.

People talk about autism in such a negative light. I want to show that we are intelligent, loving, kind, sensitive, empathetical and successful! Some autistics struggle more than others…but it’s not like that for all of us.

I am proud to think the way I do and although it has brought me pain, it has made me who I am today.

Empathy

For those people who think that autistic people can’t be empathetic…

Yesterday we bumped into one of my mum’s friends. She gave the children £1 each. We went to the shop to spend the money but upon learning that the man outside selling The Big Issue was homeless, he handed over his pound with a huge smile on his face.

I explained his pound was now gone and he couldn’t buy anything with it, then asked him why he gave his pound to the gentleman. He replied, “So he can buy a new house!”

He was so happy. And I felt so proud.

He has obviously been taught compassion, empathy and kindness, as any child should, but so many people have the misconception that ASD children lack these qualities.

All people are different, and this is all he has known. He is so loving, sensitive and affectionate! And just beautiful inside and out! 😍🥰

Precious Moments

Well, we continued snuggling and he fell asleep on me. Nothing will make me move…too precious!

He was so cute after the tantrum. Very loving and polite. Why can’t he see he gets so much more from behaving that way?

Mum Guilt

I am suffering from huge mum guilt this morning.

I put milk in my youngest’s Shreddies, as always, and he frowned and shouted at me saying no milk! He was very rude so I removed the bowl and sent him to the other room. When I felt he was ready, I gave him another chance. He continued to be rude so no more chances.

This triggered a tantrum which escalated into throwing and screaming for almost an hour. Every item he threw was confiscated.

My husband had to take my eldest to school as despite battling my youngest to get dressed, it was just impossible. Once I’d managed to forcibly get his clothes on, he just started taking them off.

You can’t help but wonder if you are hurting him in some way, both physically and emotionally.

I am so patient with my children. I label emotions and do everything I instinctively feel they need, as well as things I’ve learned through reading and advice from experts. But some days it feels like nothing works.

Today I am feeling a bit exhausted and frustrated, and just like I need a break. And just like I want to cry. I’m sure that will pass.

As I posted before, I was really looking forward to some 1:1 time with my youngest now my eldest is at school, but it hasn’t been all that enjoyable this week.

I know it’s a mega change and that could be affecting him, but selfishly I am feeling a little sorry for myself.

Of course the good outweighs the bad but I can’t help but question why every day has to be so hard; such a battle.

I feel guilty because although I am so grateful for my children, I am struggling a little with the challenges they pose.

People say I’m the best mum for them and most of the time I feel that’s true. But sometimes you just wonder why it can’t be easier. Just because I can deal with them doesn’t mean I always want to. That sounds awful I know, but it’s such a huge responsibility.

I am actually looking into preschool for one day a week for my youngest before his three year old funding comes into play. I have huge guilt over this for a few reasons. First of all, we are a one income family so I know it’s going to be hard financially. Secondly, although he likes to do his own thing and behaves well most of the time, once he is triggered he is so difficult, I don’t know if it’s fair to expect preschool to cope with him. Thirdly, although I know he really wants to go, I feel it is so mean of me to send him before he ‘needs’ to. I didn’t send my eldest until he was three and a half…and I was happy to keep him at home. Saying that, he was a different child and was totally not ready. But it makes me feel bad!

As I’m writing this, he is sat next to me and we are having the best snuggles. I will end the post here so I can enjoy the moment.

Ying & Yang

I am so happy with the school my son is at. It’s only early days, I know, but so far they really seem to get him.

He looks forward to going in and although he is obviously having a few challenges, they have already set up a safe space for him to go to etc.

I was about to explain something to his teacher this morning and before I’d completed my sentence, she finished it with the same thoughts!

You can see they really do treat the children as individuals and try to get to know them as people.

In other news, my youngest is not coping well with his big brother going to big school. Today is the first day he didn’t get upset when we left him.

We attended a toddler group, but when we reached the end of the session (tidying up/transitions), he struggled to cope and had a huge tantrum. I took him outside and brought him back once he had calmed. We did this once more but the third time the tantrum escalated so I had to put him in his stroller.

I could not physically strap him in so thankfully a lovely mum from the group helped me. She was so calm and reassuring. I haven’t come across many people who offer help so I was a little overwhelmed. What a lovely person!

We had to walk past a coffee area full of older people. Most people smiled and gave understanding faces but some of the older people pulled a very different face, clearly thinking my child is a brat and I am a terrible mother.

I am learning to filter this out and focus on the positive as most people were friendly.

Today was most definitely a tantrum. He was hungry, tired and unhappy with the transition. Last week he coped just fine…but today was clearly a different day.

I gave him his comforter once we got outside and he calmed down immediately. He then spoke to me about what he had done when we got home and has been as good as gold.

I was reluctant to take him to the group today as his behaviour has been tricky this week. However, I thought I needed to give it a try! I’m sure some of the other parents would have preferred it if I had stayed at home!

We can always try again next week…

If they all run out of the door when we arrive, I will quite understand!

😂🤦‍♀️