…growth

This is the picture of the brownie that I didn’t post last week.. I just had to share. I’ve thought about it (the brownie) a lot since last week. I may have to go back for another.

Anyhow, the reason for including the picture of said brownie, is that it signified more than just the caramelly chocolately amazingness that it was… I was in a coffee shop by myself.

It’s not that long ago that I couldn’t have contemplated going out for coffee by myself. What would have been the point? (Not in the ‘I can make coffee cheaper at home’ sense, but in the ‘who would I talk to’ sense). And also, would people stare at me, or think I had no one to have coffee with?

Coffee is the international word for ‘company’.. I think.

I like company. almost as much as I like coffee. In fact I have, on several occasions over the last year, contemplated buying a coffee shop, just to combine my love of people and coffee beans… For me to go to a coffee shop alone was a big thing. Growing up I was always the chatty one. In groups, I fill silences; include the quiet ones; I chat…I cannot be quiet. I have tried, but I always end up worrying that the people I am with will think there is something wrong (not necessarily with me, but perhaps with them). I remember a friend of mine who,, as a teenager would have quite happily gone to the cinema by herself. I could never understand why you would do that (enjoying or needing company as I did), but also I would have worried what others would have thought.

But now that I am 40 I am perfectly content in my own skin. When I think about it, the children broke me in to this, as it was acceptable to be in a coffee shop with no other adults but with one or two children. But now.. I can do it alone. I’m not bothered what people think, primarily because I know no one cares, and even if they do, I don’t care what they think*. how enlightening! In fact it was so therapeutic to have the silence amidst the hustle of all that was going on around me. I felt as though I had treated myself to a stolen hour; that no one noticed me and that I wasn’t required to smile or tell funny stories – not that i didn’t want to, but because its ok not to. It’s ok to enjoy your own company.

* I’m not sure why I was so worried about what people might think of me drinking coffee alone… there are so many other far more interesting and nuts things that I’ve done in my life that people could have had opinions on (!).

We were at a wedding party on Saturday night. It was a perfect location, in a marquee slap bang in the middle of a barley field. A balmy night with fab live music.. and then a dj in the wee small hours. I found myself completely content to do the casper slide alone on the dance floor (its ok, i’m not that confident..! I mean alone as in my hubby left me at the ‘criss cross’ bit and I stayed on to finish as I was having such a laugh. There were others on the floor of course; I just didn’t know them). I just love dancing and used to line dance about 20 years ago when I was thin. I love that its coming back.. I need to get a bit fitter so that I can enjoy it again the way that I used to. You can be in a line, but alone in a line. and that’s amazing. Like laughter is a social thing (we rarely laugh alone), dancing is the same.

I had my epiphany this afternoon, realising that this shows how much I’ve ‘grown’.. you wouldn’t buy a car and not put petrol in it, or service it. But yet we expect our wee bodies and indeed our wee ‘selves’ to just cope. Some time thinking about your ‘self’ is important so that there are sufficiently strong enough roots to weather a storm.

One of the courses I’ve recently developed is ‘personal development’. It primarily focusses on leadership, team work and resilience but there is a significant module on self awareness and personal growth. The course is generic, but will be marketed to team workers who work with children in the first instance, and this is deliberate. You will recall if you are a regular reader, that I truly believe that as parents we need to have a strong sense of who we are, other than ‘parent’ in order to demonstrate for our children the need for them to do the same. The same is therefore clearly true of those who work closely with children, especially within daycare in which children spend a huge proportion of their time. Daycare staff have such an important role in children’s lives.

I know as in any profession, there are huge variances in the quality of staff, but parents should take comfort in the professional standards set by the authorities and rigorously checked by Early Years teams within the Health and Social Care Trusts. The current standards are described as the ‘minimum standards’ and indeed they are just that; the minimum that is acceptable practise. The minimum has however been raised so as to ensure that all settings are professionally led and managed and this, whilst an increasing pressure for settings, raises the professional status of their work right up, so they can uphold their organisation, business or setting with the best of the best in this country.

The personal development course will be listed on my website as soon as I manage to work out how to do it.

(I’m busy watching you tube videos of line dancing and expecting that to be the clincher… when its the ‘breathless before 1min 50 of Footloose’ that is the real issue. Maybe I should skip the brownie next time…?)

 

second

It’s sports day on Friday. Lucy cannot contain her excitement! We’re not competitive here (it might have sthg to do with what she plans on wearing though!). We’ve had 7 primary school sports days with Amy where you willed her on but as her wee legs were so much shorter than everyone else, finishing was the goal. Her first sports day was a tear jerker. My p1/2 mummy friends (Amy was in a composite class) will remember.. it was the day my faith in humanity was clarified and I was sure we had picked the right school. Amy, at the end of p1 was wearing age 2-3, weighed significantly less and measured a lot smaller than children her age. The last race of sports day was a relay with a child from each year group in each team. They ran from p7 to p1. It was a scorcher of a day and Amy was freezing (her internal thermostat doesn’t work).. the children sat in rows eldest to youngest front to back and although I can’t remember who the children in her team were, I remember clearly what they did. One of them put a fleece jacket put round her shoulders and they took it in turns to keep her warm as she waited for her turn. When it got to her turn I could see she was purple with cold and her wee legs were dragging as she ‘ran’. She was by this stage the only child running as all the other teams had finished. Every child in the school cheered for her and one of team members was waiting with the coat as she collapsed at the finish. I’m crying writing this as I remember how proud I was of her but also of them. I ran round to scoop her up and take her to the closest car that was open to get her warmed up. That’s her spirit for you..

But yes, Lucy.. 3 times today I’ve been astounded by things she has said to me. I mean totally blown away. We should listen to children more and I mean really listen..

Lucy wants to come second at sports day. That’s her aim. I asked her why second.. in fact I think I said ‘or third? third’s good too..’.

‘Second’ she said, ‘because it’s almost first but more realistic’. Right..

I’ve struggled with setting the bar too high for many years. Not any more. Last week I contented myself that it’s not my job or responsibility to fix everything. And this week Lucy has shown me that my responsibility is to lead by example. Parenting girls is a huge responsibility for women. They model themselves on you. So we must care for ourselves the way that we want our daughters to care for themselves. We must do things we enjoy, spend time with friends, have interests and experiences without our children as well as with them so that as adults they know how to keep a bit back for themselves. I’m not advocating selfishness, I’m advocating healthy balance. If we give ourselves all away, then that’s what they’ll do.

 

So, second. I can see Lucy not feeling the need to please me (or feel she has to be the best). She’ll enjoy the healthy competition and she’ll try her best, but it doesn’t faze her at all what I think of what she does. I love that.

 

The second pearl of wisdom actually came this morning as I was brushing her (tatty) hair. I said I’d just pull it back into a Pony tail and that’d do, meaning I wasn’t going to hurt her getting all the tats out; that I’d just make it tidy enough. No she said, please don’t make it ‘just do’, please do it properly. She then said that it made her feel good when her hair was done properly.. and then the clincher… ‘mum, I’ve decided that when I go to high school (you’re 6?!)that I’m not going to have a really short skirt. I’ve decided it looks better closer to my knee and really fashion is wearing what you want to wear, no matter what other people think, but wearing it right’. Well. This is a shocker from my dallas cowboys cheerleader who is only happy with her skirt at trampy heights. I’ll remind her of this when she’s 12 but, really the wisdom behind the meaning of fashion just blew me away. Lucy has a sense of style second to none. It’s not that she has spectacular clothes; many of them are hand me downs..but she throws together the oddest combinations and makes it work, without giving a toss how it looks. Perhaps it’s the not giving a toss that makes it work?

 

I had a coffee with an old friend this morning. Old as in we’ve known each other for more than 25 years (!).. I really enjoyed that wee hour and it did my heart good. Kenny Rodgers is right-you can’t make old friends. I was listening to the Lisa Mchugh and Nathan Carter version of that song tonight on my way home from a beach walk with Lucy. She asked what ‘you can’t make old friends’ meant. I explained that the friends you’ve known for ages are the best kind of friends as they really know you. So she said ‘then why do they sound so sad about it?’ And she’s right! (Shocker). Do we make enough happy noise about and to our friends? Do we tell them they matter and do they know? We need to be able to tell the people in our lives how much they matter.. should that be a simple ‘thanks for being you’, ‘ I enjoyed spending time with you today’, or ‘you do me good’. Everyone needs to hear that. And some people need to hear it more than others. If people matter to you, let them know.

I love Lucy’s simplistic view of life. For 6 she has a surprisingly mature view on the big issues. But she also sees the joy in the little things. I took her to the beach tonight. She spun her arms round and said ‘mum isn’t this fantastic. We are so lucky’. Yes Lucy, we are. X

what i learnt today…!

 

well..

Today I had reflexology. well, I say I had reflexology, but actually what happened was more like  – ‘oh my word your feet tell me you are stressed.. in fact.. I think I’ll start with your head, never mind your feet.. ‘and so the lovely ‘K’ did some reiki on me which relaxed me so much that I don’t really need to know what she was doing -whatever she was doing, was just great.

It’s true I’ve carried some stress for a while. In fact I tend to carry the world on my shoulders. Its my own fault – I call it an overdone strength. I used to attribute it to my mum, but the apple didn’t fall far from the tree and now I too ‘cant help helping’.  If I’m with you and you have a problem, invariably I will offer to fix it before I leave. Or better still, I’ll come home, stress about your problem and then that’s both of us carrying the worry. Even if its not a problem I can fix, I somehow feel I should (I have not yet attempted to fix a car.. but there’s a first time for everything I suppose ). But what I learnt today is (leaving out the bit where its not my responsibility to be a fixer), that I have tremendously large shoulders. Do you ever just sit back and think, boy I’ve dealt with some shit?!  this brings me to learning no 2 of today – although I am laughing whilst delivering the above phrase, not everyone does this. just have a think about the number of ways that line could be delivered…

This morning I was at a meeting where there were several other parents of a child(ren) with autism. This was a big day out for me in that I do not put myself or my family in that particular box, but today I needed to, for the purpose of the seminar. Anyhow, I had to sit on my hands for most of the morning as I have difficulty keeping my opinions to myself. (that’s a shock, right?!). Suffice it to say that I learnt a lot at the seminar (on the topic), but I also learnt a lot at the seminar about myself in that I mentally patted myself on the back for the positive attitude I have, most days. Don’t get me wrong – if you ring me at 8.30 in the morning I might be a banshee, and indeed if you  spy on me 2 hours after bedtime as I hear feet on the floor upstairs, I’m likely to spring off the sofa like a bat out of hell to capture the child that cannot stay in bed. But in general, I think we’re doing ok.

I don’t like to go on about Amy (its a bit derogatory), but I hope you can hear my voice bursting with pride. We are parenting a developing adult. Amy will be an adult and it is our responsibility to prepare her for this and for the world of work, or home life. We are doing this in the best way for us, which is to address each thing that arises in a positive and constructive manner.. and every day I am amazed by a little thing that she has picked up and added to her drop down menus in her brain.

I’m also amazed by Lucy – todays gem was her explanation of the lifecycle of a bird.

  • a bird lays an egg
  • the egg hatches
  • the chick grows some feathers
  • the bird ‘finds love’
  • the bird lays an egg
  • and so on…

now isn’t that lovely?! ‘the bird finds love’! I’m stupidly proud of this simple logic from a 6 year old. Now when Amy who’s studying reproduction in science (!) overheard this, we had a wee smile at each other across the kitchen and she had a wee snigger at Lucy’s interpretation. I loved that she then told Lucy how great her explanation was.. if you’ve seen my two in action, its like a war zone here when they have to talk to each other, so this was a major achievement in terms of sibling co-existence!

I firmly believe that I ruined Amy’s life when I had Lucy (to be fair I almost ruined my own, as my body has never been the same since!). Not only had Amy been an only child for almost 6 years before Lucy came (as we lost 2 children before Amy and 3 after – Lucy was lucky no 7!), but Amy’s limited understanding of her emotions meant that she is wired to panic and ‘react’ to everything. If you know Lucy, who is little miss dramatic, this is not a great combination.. but what great life experience for Amy. Some parents this morning (well, one in particular) focussed on what was not possible. at all. and how resentful this made her feel. Well I choose not to feel that way about autism at all. I choose (and that’s the important bit I think) to see it as a gift. Rather than march through life, we think about each situation in terms of how might we make that easier for Amy. Not with a ‘we cant do that because..’ attitude, but because its just generally easier if we think.. I’m thinking here about going on the school residential (we visited the place first so she could feel the pillows and see the bathrooms), playing rugby in front of 20,000 people at the RDS (visited empty Kingspan on the way, talk about the noise being happy noise, don’t sit beside her as she uses me as a crutch but is learning to use her own coping strategies, so is best left to do that, with frequent reassurance), but also less huge events such as visiting a cousin – no one sees the thought that is now second nature, but which helps to avoid a crisis, by thinking ahead. We might anticipate there being someone else there (Amy finds conversation hard.. so we might talk about things you could say in the car on the way), we might talk about what there might be to eat (Amy is not a picky eater, but she might have an assumption that we need to break down so there is no disappointment – not that round garlic bread is ever a disappointment, but you know what I mean).

I just think its a wonder when you can literally see right in front of you how the cogs fit together in that wee blond head (that’s not so much lower than mine these days). I learn about my own head through hers.

I’m reminded of the glass half full or half empty conundrum…and my response is that the glass if refillable. and what’s in the glass?!

I would love to share this mindset with more parents, but I fear that the entitlement mentality has put paid to most peoples positivity. Not mine. I choose to be positive. This brings me back to the shoulders though – I have tremendously large ones (shoulders) and although ‘K’ was a bit concerned at the state of them (physically and metaphorically) I cant change who I am. I know that I should just be concerned about my family.. but I truly believe that there is a whole generation of people who are being disempowered by parents, albeit unwittingly in many cases. I understand that all children are different, but there is a place for everyone in this world and there is something that everyone can feel good about. our role as parents is to guide them towards experiences which develop their inner voice, their sense of self.

The whole time I’ve been typing, I have a theme tune playing in my head so I’m going to post the link. Amy loves the words of this song and I’m delighted with her taste. And she’ll never be alone. x

come dancing…!

I took Lucy with me to vote yesterday. After having had the conversation about why your vote was secret, why I wasn’t voting for the man whose face is plastered on everything that stands still near our house (he just criticises other people and doesn’t have his own opinions on anything …how perceptive Lucy), and why if they are wanting to make a difference in their community they should keep it tidy by taking the posters down.. I thought we had ‘voting’ covered. It seems not.

When we came out, Lucy said ‘is that it? I thought you’d all sit round a big brown table with curly brown legs and talk about it then hold up cards with numbers..’ It’s not strictly come dancing Lucy, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if it was?!

I’m loving that the elections might mean change within the children’s sector here as there will be some new faces and hopefully a new path on some agendas. I’m also loving that I don’t have to concern myself with all of the possibilities here, rather, now that I am self employed I can watch with interest and position myself to support delivery of high quality service for children if at all possible.

I’ve had a good day today – to be fair any day that starts with minstrels for breakfast will be good, right?! In my defence they were left over from last night’s trip to the Opera House and were in an open bag and they’d have gone off if left in my handbag, so I was just minimising waste. Today has been full of plans. big plans. and coffee.

I’m on the verge of a very exciting project which will tick all my boxes and tie together all of the strands of my work. more to follow, hopefully next week!

Anyhow, over the last couple of days I’ve had a long hard look at the things I’m working on and I’m delighted that its all coming together. To be honest it has been a slow journey thus far, not least as I refined my list to something workable. Although, if I’m really honest, I’m pretty sure I’ve still got too much on my plate. But this new way of working suits me. There has not been a single day that I’ve been on my way to meet a client, a friend, or a colleague and have not appreciated the view. What a beautiful part of the world we live in. Having the time to soak in the beauty on the drive was something I didn’t even know I was missing as I was always ‘in the wrong town’ (ie already late for where I was meant to be). My family is benefitting from more of me, not the dregs at the end of the day, or in fact in an interval before I had to start work again once they were in bed (hubby included sometimes). I’ve learnt a lot on this journey – not just to appreciate the view, but that you can decide what the view will be.

I’ve also learnt that other people are happy enough for you to run yourself into the ground. why not? saves them a lot of work it seems.. and I need to take some responsibility for some of this as I didn’t ever wave a distress signal a mile from shore (not waving, but drowning). That says more about me than I’d like it to, but I’m learning. Always learning.

In this country people have an awful habit of focussing on the negative.. ‘how are you?’ ‘not too bad’… what about ‘I’m well thanks’?  (as long as you are of course). An alternative is honesty. This little known trait means that it would be ok to say ‘actually I think I’ve got too much on my plate at the moment. can I ask you for some help?’ weird.. no?

For this approach to work though, we’d need to be comfortable enough in our own skin to not worry about how this reflected on us. I aspire to this. And I’m really trying.

Anyway – have you heard about my ‘Personable‘ approach? I’m aspiring to create an environment where this would all be possible.. where we would live in environments where everyone could have the confidence to go out into the community and to engage as equal citizens

The Personable approach aims to ensure that the sensitivities of all persons are taken into account within the environments that we learn, shop, play and work

People who have difficulties processing information received from their senses can have difficulty in understanding the world around them. Unfamiliar environments can make them feel anxious, and they may choose to stay at home rather than going out. This can make them strangers in their own communities.

Difficulties with the processing of sensory information underpins many labels such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and other communication, learning, behavioural, motor, genetic and chromosomal disorders, and you know that many people live without a label, but with many insecurities.

The Personable charter is a commitment by businesses to consider the needs of their customers; respecting their individual differences. Awareness seminars are available on a range of topics and for varied audiences to ensure that businesses can best meet the individual needs of their customer population. The key to the success of this approach is having front line staff who are trained to respect difference and to show sensitivity. A comprehensive self evaluation framework has been devised to enable businesses to regularly assess how well they are ensuring that individual needs are being met by their service.

Businesses who subscribe to the approach, signing the charter to demonstrate their commitment to the needs of their customer population are licenced to use the Personable logo and display the charter, giving confidence to their clientele that the business is people friendly.

I’m hoping that through implementation of this approach in a range of settings where we learn, shop, play and work, we can make our localities much more accommodating.

I’m working to create environments where more people can go out dressed head to toe in red with fabulous eyelashes intact if they so wish (you know what I mean) like in Lucy’s picture. I’m not sure who the character is. I’m not sure I need to know. I do know I am proud that she is happy and that she lives with me.

 

 

 

 

 

Doing your best

Amy got 29% in her maths test… I’m ok with that as I know she did her best..in fact when I looked over it I saw some some questions marked right that were wrong (?!). Amy laughed at the idea that her teacher had messed up but it didn’t dawn on her that that meant she’d got less than 29% (She’s not great at maths). She laughed as I drew huge circles round the answers that were incorrectly marked right and put exclamation marks beside them, then she was horrified about what her teacher might say when he saw what I’d done. ‘He wont like you mum!’, she said.’I have enough friends’ I said.. ‘I don’t need him to like me, I need him to teach you maths’.

But actually, knowing Amy has genuinely tried her best to navigate her way through a test which might as well as been Latin verbs, I’d rather see what the teacher’s plan is after handing her paper back to her as surely he has caught on that she just not grasping it? The clue is the question on the back of the paper which goes something like this… you have to put 120 chairs out in rows for a concert. How many ways could you arrange them?

Amy drew chairs.

I can laugh now.. but this is an example of how no amount of explaining maths will help her with questions that have words in them, cause maths is numbers, right?

Tomorrow Amy is playing in a rugby tournament. I don’t mind how many games she plays in or how she performs as I’m already proud before she gets on the bus.

When Amy was born they told us to pick a name and call our minister. She weighed the same as about 10 mushrooms. She’s never scored well on tests – she had an apgar score of 1. In normal words that means that she had very little going for her, was not breathing, was blue and lifeless and had a very faint pulse.

Her success with tests continued in that she failed to meet any developmental milestones and in terms of the growth norms chart- she didn’t meet a single centile line until she was 6 when she finally met the 0.2 centile, meaning that 99.8% of children her age were taller and heavier than her. That was a real success though as she’d trucked along on her own wee growth line at the bottom of the page for the previous 6 years.

She has defied all odds (the ins and outs of which are a story of their own- you wouldn’t believe the half of what you see as your child grows, not inside you, but inside a glass box).

So I’m not interested in making her feel like she’s failed in anything. By goodness she’s worked harder than most; having to be taught to swallow, breathe, move her legs, sit etc..things most take for granted. I am quite sure that maths is less important than breathing.

Sports mums are generally divided in 2 camps..without going in to us and them, I’ll just describe my camp.

I don’t need Amy to be the best player on the pitch.

I’m happy that she is doing her best (her best might be different from other girls’ best..).

There is as much if not more to be learnt about life on that pitch for my child as she’ll get in school..

I know that sports are usually viewed as competitive. Yes it’s a tournament we are going to. But within teams there are individuals and each person’s best is their best. That’s it. I’ve seen so many parents (perhaps reliving their youth, or defeating old dragons) who berate children who don’t win.. this is equally true for the blinking AQE test and for those children who don’t score what parents had hoped for.

The impact on a child’s self esteem of feeling as though they have disappointed their parents is huge. The template is created too which denotes the child’s role in the world-to please others. We need to be fostering a healthier viewpoint for them- their lives are their lives and they live them for themselves. They have an internal locus of control which it is vital to nurture as it is this which will make them responsible for their own actions.

I think sport is important to teach children rules, interaction with others, co-ordination etc. Then there’s the biological benefits of endorphins.. and then the boost to self esteem which comes, not from winning but from knowing you’ve tried your best. In fact I think the life lessons from a game transfer well – it’s important to learn that not everything in life will come easily, that not all games can be won (think of the implications for interactions with others if you expected to get your own way all the time), and that if you are fair and try hard  (at whatever it is) thats where the enjoyment is to be had.

I have some cheek to write about sport – my view of the rugby pitch as a teenager was from the bar..

Ive decided that the WAG equivalent of rugby mum is ‘Rummy’.. I could be a gin Rummy perhaps?! Who’s with me?!

Left field.

 

I hope I’m a good friend. I listen.. remember their worries and try to remember pertinent dates so I can check how they are (after a dentist appt, on an anniversary.. ).. I contact friends when I think about them. I love to meet for coffee and a chat. I’m usually the one to suggest it. I hope my friends know how much I need them as much as they need me. Very rarely do I ever talk about how I’m feeling, what’s worrying me or the things that occupy my mind. I’m usually the smiling one..

But I’m not always feeling that way. Few people would actually expect the answer they’d get if they asked the question. And I suppose that’s why I say.. ‘Yes I’m grand thanks’. And that’s where it ends.

But it’s OK to say it’s tough. This being a mum yoke is hard work. I’m constantly torn between wishing them older and worrying I’ve not remembered all the good bits. It takes an especially strong person not to see the hard bits as a reflection on you. The more I know about the importance of early years, of those early relationships, bonds, trust.. the more I worry that I’m seriously messing up people’s lives here.. maybe Amy is not autistic. Maybe she’s got an attachment disorder… when you spend 118 days inside a glass box and your heart stops every time someone touches you, how could this not impact on how you form relationships? Indeed how could the wee scrap work out who to bond with as there were so many people far more instrumental than me in keeping her alive.

I’m straying into showing my emotional hand here.. but I’ve a big lump where that sits so I’m being cautious. Those who know me will know cautious is not me.. seat of the pants, last minute.. I work best under pressure.. cautious I am not.

Tonight has been hard. I’ll not go into that..but suffice to say my heart hurts. I keep trying to remember it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me. It doesn’t mean that. It doesn’t.

The most difficult part for me is not knowing what’s next. Just when I think I can watch eastenders in peace..bam.. there’s a meltdown and it came from left field. I was off guard and didn’t see it coming, I’m unprepared. im feeling selfish.. this is my time.. I deserve this peace and now this is going to take an hour to sort out*

*by sort out, I mean for things to get quieter. It’s never sorted out.

Parents of pre teens, please tell me how long does this last?

I need to rise above it, remember I’m an adult and that I’ve a big job to do. I’m raising adults. It takes a big person (ok..!)to see past what’s in front of them and play the long game and parenting is no different. I remember reading something so powerful about raising a strong willed child but when times are tough I forget it- it’s more important that we raise children to make informed decisions than to be obedient. (Doing as they are told sometimes would be good?). The point is that doing something because they’re told to do it creates a personality type that may indeed mean they could be easily overpowered, led astray, taken advantage of.  Its so hard to remember that I’m to empower them, not overpower them when I’m trying to get them to do sthg they won’t do!

I have 2 very different children. Both strong willed. I have no idea where that came from. At all. 😉

I’d like to add my daughters to my friends list. I’d like to be the friend to them that I hope I am to others. I hope they can see through how I interact with others how they should be with their friends. I hope that being the best person, friend, colleague, daughter that I can, they will learn by my example. Parenting 101.. I learn so much from them and literally every day they make me question something, which I believe is how you learn, through wonder.

I wonder..

Do they know how loved they are?

Do they know how proud I am of the simple things, not just the test marks, but the little selfless things they do, the maturity I see growing in them both, the people I see them becoming?

Do they know that I’d go without to give them experiences I want them to have?(i’m not going without pretty shoes.. that’s just taking it too far)

Do they know that they have the best dad?

Do they know how much I wish my dad knew them?

OK.. I’ve talked myself full circle. I’m doing OK.. im proud of them. They both have invisible gifts. Amy’s is a clinker actually..she can feel energy. Thats some gift.

Tonight was just a bump in the road; the road that will take them far. What am I talking about?.. it was only an hour.. it’s nothing really. I’m grand thanks. X

** thank you for listening.xx **

Mum.. did you tell him about…?

Apparently April is autism awareness month. I’ve seen some activities described as autism acceptance. I’ve seen ‘don’t support x.. they marginalise autistic persons’.. I’ve seen it all.

What I’ve not seen is anyone who shares my view.

I’m actually starting to sound like this is my soapbox, but it’s just because it’s so topical at the moment. They even lit up the town hall blue for autism this week.. (Oh and ive also seen an online row about what colour should be the ‘light up’ colour for autism- it seems people will row about anything).

I’ve bulldozed Amy into playing rugby. Yes I know she doesn’t even weigh 5 stone, has a waist smaller than her 6yr old sister and doesn’t like dirt.. but sure. Despite both grannies (Is it not quite violent?), her dad (im not sure about that) and her aunt (Amy will get broken), I took her anyway.

 

Once she got past seeing someone she knew in the car park and therefore refusing to leave the car.. it was grand! As she was ready to get out of the car she said.. mum did you tell him (the coach) about my…. you know… ass…?

If you mean aspergers Amy (if it’d been Lucy I’d be pretty sure she meant bum), then no I did not. I don’t really think it’s relevant.. what I did say as she stepped round the side of a muddy puddle to get on to the pitch (sigh) was, ‘Amy’s quite shy’. Now if you ask me, that describes her rather than puts her in a box. It also didn’t make me sound like the sideline mother from hell, nor send him into a tailspin wondering what he needed to do or not do with her. If autism awareness had come as far as all the jigsaw car stickers I’ve seen hope it has, we’d not need to mention it at all. i reckon. But I’m aware this is not a popular view.

If autism awareness really made people aware that I’d say on average a third of children in every class would have a personality trait, a sensitivity, sensory issue, anxiety or worry which may (if we were to assess..which we won’t) suggest that they might (if we dehumanised it all) be on the autistic spectrum.. then I think what we’d be looking at is individual difference and how we actually relate to each person on an individual basis, taking their particular traits into account.

 

I’m lucky to have several good friends. Ive used them all in explaining to Amy how friendships work. I’ve discussed their personality traits with her and pointed out several things about my friends to her which make her feel less different. She can see commonalities with adults that she knows I love and that’s how she is learning that everyone is different. Friendships are different with each person that you are friends with. Conversations are different depending on how you know a person, how well you know them, how much fun you have together or how much you have in common with them. She’s also learning that you can have conversations without any of those variables as I seem to have the kind of face that people tell their life story to, even in a queue in marks and Spencer for example. In fact I have a good friend that I met in a toilet once many years ago…!

Having read more about autism these last few days than ever before, I’m hearing parent voices, not those of autistic people. Do they want to stand out as different? I’d say if you were to ask a mainstream class if anyone had autism would they please stand up, that might actually be cruel. So why are we hearing so much about marginalising so many children who want to be understood. Understanding autism is a biggie.. but we don’t need to understand it all, only that which relates to those children and adults we come across, live with, work with, play with. But that’s not about understanding autism. It’s about knowing a person.. what they like, what makes them comfortable and what makes them tick. Each person is different. Autistic or not.

I’m sure teachers would find that many of the soft skill interventions that benefit autistic pupils would also benefit the whole class. So let’s focus on just being generally more sensitive to people. Please.

(She’s loving rugby by the way.. she’s so proud of herself which is just wonderful 🏉❤)

 

 

Learning from lucy

So today Lucy asked me if i thought a risk was a good thing. Yes, Lucy asked this. Lucy who is 6.

..and so ensued a conversation about where she had heard the word ‘risk’, what she thought it meant, what it actually meant and to be honest I think I’ve not had as educated a conversation in a long time. And it was with my 6 year old!

Lucy is an enigma. She’s an old soul. Don’t get me wrong, Lucy can be 6 with the rest of them, but she has this wee air of ‘I’m playing along with this’ that is a wonder to watch. We learn a lot from Lucy. Her observations often sum up a conversation in a phrase or two (remember like Jerry Springer used to do in his piece to camera at the end of each show?!).

Lucy is a sensitive wee soul. In more ways than one. Sensitive in that from across the room she can give you a look that says ‘you need a hug.. I’ll be there in a minute.. here’s a special air hug to do you until I get there’. Sensitive in that if we meet people she’s not met before she feels the need to explain Amy to them.. sensitive in that she picks up on details few adults do and can make your day by complementing them..sensitive in that she has princess and the pea syndrome (it’s a real thing).. she cannot wear jeans. Can’t. She can’t wear tops with lines on them, trousers, anything baggy or anything with a collar. We’re limited to the dallas cowboys cheerleader look (shorts and welly boots). But she rocks it.

Last week was mothers day. We tried on about 8 dresses before we left the house. She tried to hold it in but couldn’t… in the end she said ‘mum, I’m sorry, you just can’t make me a different person’.. and you know what, I don’t want to. I’m so proud of my fiesty cheerleader. Those traits that make her headstrong, bossy and a wee know it all will make her a decisive, single minded leader in her own time. So why would I want to change that?  Sure, the 6 changes of clothes a day, all of them trampy, are a pain.. but she knows what she likes..

I do however need to work on her self image. It’s so important with wee girls that they don’t feel the need to please others or dress for others. As adults you know we do it. When dressing for a function or event, you dress to impress the other women, not the men (not that the men would notice anyway?!). With girls I think we need to work on making sure we are dressing for how you feel, not how you look (I can say this as a size 18.. there I said it!).

What’s really sad though is the power that clothes have over how Lucy feels about herself. This goes beyond how the clothes physically feel, which in itself is a very real issue for her, but how she actually feels wearing them. It’s unfortunate that unless her skirt is grazing the top of her thigh (at 6!), she feels frumpy. Now i hasten to add that she didnt learn that here! Her sense of self needs some work.. she has so much to feel good about.

Not school yet though. Lucy thinks like a(n at least) 9 year old. She has an auditory processing issue which means that she’s struggling to break words down to spell or to read. Lucy is however so expressive and when she describes a feeling or analogy, she’s just got it.. she also has wisdom beyond this lifetime. She can see through an issue right to the lesson to be learnt from it. We often sit back and smile (sometimes even when we should be telling her off) as she describes why she’s doing the thing we’re telling her not to do, rather than just stopping.

Talking to her in the car the other day I realised that of course teaching her like a just turned 6 year old won’t work. She doesn’t think like a just turned 6 year old. She asked why the ‘y’ on the end of her name didn’t sound like ‘yu as in yoghurt’.. oh the perils of English eh?! So I explained that letters are clever. They sound different depending on where in the word they are found. So on the end of her name it sounds like ‘ee’.. like Amy, Mummy, Daddy, Granny…  that made sense to her. Phonics teaches each letter sound first. Then you relearn digraphs and then relearn phonemes…

Whilst i am totally subscribed to the ‘they learn when they are ready’ camp, Lucy has been born ready and is just not getting it. I’m going to go off piste and teach Lucy the facts..and respect that she’ll be able to cope with that. I’m also making ‘flash cards’ (boy i dislike that title) to stimulate the visual learner in her, by giving words like ‘there’, ‘this’ and  ‘she’ pictures for her to visualise.. She loves to write and always comes to check if what she’s written is spelt properly. It completely wrecks her head if you say no. So i usually explain that she’s got the sounds right. I can make it out..

Eg

I lof yooy mum. (Y as in yoghurt sound at the end of the word ‘you’)

Choosdaay (tuesday)

Brd tbll (bird table).. we can’t  master vowels.

My granny loved the English language. Most years we got English grammar books for Christmas and you often got your thank you letters posted back to you with the corrections done in red pen. She felt that grammar was so important that the worst thing you could do was let yourself down with poor grammar. She’d be very disappointed with the number of sentences that I’ve started with ‘And’!

But (there’s another no no!), time moves on and styles change, teaching methods change and our understanding of learning adapts and progresses.

Plus, I live with Lucy. Things will never be the same again, including my understanding of learning. I think it’s so important to respect what she does know and how she thinks and above all to ensure her self esteem doesn’t dip at all.

I’ve learnt more from this tiny adult than I’ve ever learnt in a book and I’m excited to see how much more there is to know. Xx

 

 

 

 

each child matters…

As part of my topic at the conference last week, I showed some data slides to the delegates, demonstrating how whilst working with a small child, they have the opportunity to influence the family and the wider community (the child not registered with a GP by age 5, will be the child who has poor attendance at school and the child with poor results on leaving school and the young adult with little in the way of job prospects). Interestingly this is true no matter where you live. I was challenged by a delegate for implying therefore that disadvantage doesn’t matter; doesn’t impact on life chances.

Of course it does – all the evidence shows that children from disadvantaged areas (usually measured by indices of deprivation, NIMDM 2010) have significantly more obstacles in their lives, which impact on their ability to learn and their future life chances. However, in researching for last week’s conference topic, I thought it important to point out to delegates that they should not be complacent when dealing with children who do not live in wards that have been deemed as ‘disadvantaged’.

The reason?  I believe that disadvantage is not necessarily linked to your postcode, but to your personal circumstances – it is therefore unique to each child, and what may be seen as an obstacle to one, may not be to another, mainly due to factors such as personal drive, family’s involvement with education, vision etc…variables if you will…

This is a controversial opinion, as most initiatives are targeted  within designated areas of  disadvantage as all of the evidence shows that this is where resources should be targeted to make the most impact. I’m not disagreeing with the theory behind this at all. Especially with public money, a lot of time needs to be taken to work out where the best outcomes can be achieved for the £1. Undoubtedly taking a family specific approach costs more money. But in the real world, where we are not spending public money, we are not trying to ‘turn the curve’ and we are not trying to measure benefit realisation, we have the opportunity to think about each child and their barriers to learning, not as decided by the ward they live in, their parents employment status or the household income. This makes perfect sense, but unfortunately it is not how the powers that be spend money on our children, and whilst money does not make the world go round, it is handy when you need some services.

Take my children for example:

  • both were born to the same parents in and live in the same house within a Super Output area (SOA) which is ranked 606 out of 890 therefore within the top 1/3 of  SOAs in NI in relation to affluence
  • neither parent claims benefit
  • education status within the household is degree level +
  • high level of parental engagement with children’s education
  • children attend a school with a low rate of FSM entitlement (free school meals) *

…2 children who find learning difficult.

*how deprivation is measured at school level…

Can you see how the needs of the children are lost here amongst statistics?

It is a sad fact that disadvantage is often described in terms of household income, or relative income deprivation, but despite the outcomes based accountability approach being taken by many (most?) agencies at present, these tend to be described in terms of outcome for the £1 spent, as opposed to outcome for the child the £1 was spent on.

Of course, not every issue requires money spent on it, but it does take time and engagement to address them. And time costs money.

So my message to providers of early education and care within NI is:

  • do not make assumptions about your cohort of children within your catchment area – look at each child and remember that, more than most, you can make a difference in the life of this child, their family and the community – you can do this by looking at the whole child in your care
  • do not assume that if a child has a label, that is the reason for what you are looking at in terms of behaviour for example – it is not the reason, it is your cue to look further for the reason.
  • remember that children do not behave in a particular way just to annoy adults, they do so because they don’t have all the answers yet (indeed often I want to stamp my feet, but resist in case I’m asked to leave Tesco). For example, the tantrum that you are looking at is not the issue, but a cry for help – if you remind yourself that the child is distressed rather than irritating this may influence how you react
  • often a word is attributed to a child where many others may also apply, it just depends on which therapist got there first – forget the word, just look at the child.
  • be sensitive to the needs of all of the children – not just those which are noted as ‘special’. Many more go undiagnosed with anything (which I personally think might be better).. but this can also mean they are overlooked or labelled as something else eg ‘loud’, ‘trouble’, ‘antisocial’.
  • no matter what the age of the child or young person in your care, although I would urge you to trust your professionalism at all times, never believe that you have all the answers – always look, observe and observe some more. This is the key to ensuring that your practise truly meets the needs of each child in your care.
  • and finally, care. Always care. Each child matters.
so in terms of disadvantage – I truly believe that this is person specific. it doesn’t have to be about unemployment or income deprivation. It might be the amount of time spent with the child, it might be parents assumptions of their child’s abilities, it might be too much doing and not enough being…It is impacted by each child’s ability to process the information provided to them by their senses.
Long sleeved shirts are not necessarily a disadvantage to most, but if made to wear one under a cardigan there would be no learning done for Amy at all.
Some disadvantages are invisible. And we don’t need to see them.. we need to truly feel them for each and every child if we are to make a difference in their lives, either as a parent or a professional.
but lets not forget the (my) theory of relativity – for every disadvantage, there is an equal and opposite advantage – you just have to look for it. Today was a flat day for me, for no particular reason. I was telling Amy this and she said ‘so you’re having a water day then?’ (cue curious look from me). She said ‘some days are like tap water, some are flavoured water, some diet coke’. She’ll go far this one. x

 

 

 

 

Just walk with me..

I’ve lost count of the number of times in the last couple of days even that ive read posters or facebook articles about autism friendly events. Eg closed screenings of particular movies, closed access to soft play, a shop open specifically for the purpose at a specified time, even a cruise specifically for autistic children and their families. These events may be either just for autistic children, or some let siblings attend also.

I really think this is the least ‘autism friendly’ thing ever. Here’s what it says to me:

  • A business has jumped on to the autism bandwagon and drawn attention to it
  • Your child is awkward and we need to do everything differently for them to be able to come here
  • It’s a great idea to put so many children with difficulty understanding social skills in to the one place at the one time
  • Something else for the siblings to be excluded from (or included as tokens as the case may be)

Etc

I’m not criticising those people who find these events helpful,  as no doubt there are many accommodations made to suit the attendees.. but, it’s not for me.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. These children are children first and foremost. We need to work harder to ensure that businesses become truly autism friendly, without having to shout about it. And not just autism friendly, but people friendly.. And this is simple.. and would benefit everyone. It would truly be inclusive. . Not divisive, stigmatising or patronising. Sounds better already,  doesn’t it? And how hard would it be? Not hard at all as it happens..

I’d like to start a quiet campaign ( I say quiet as i dont want to have to rub anyone up the wrong way. I’m not arrogant enough to believe everyone will agree with me, but the smart ones will😉).. I’d like to work with local businesses to show them how to consider the needs of their catchment population without segregating them. Simples.

I can say this after having endured (the best word to describe it) the downside of a manic incident with Amy last night. It’s hard. Having registered at a local autism charity a couple of years ago, in the car on the way home I knew I’d not go back, that I didn’t agree with the focus being on what was ‘wrong’ with your child. I’ve spent years trying so hard to focus on what goes well.. The ethos of many ‘support’ organisations goes against my grain as they get drawn into all of the commonalities in the room,  and those are never positive things.

I don’t doubt that parents need a support mechanism, but I believe this should be a positive and constructive support. Parents are let down by a system where the end result is a word, which is left hanging for parents to do with as they will, and for schools to do very little with.

I don’t often talk to my friends about the hard bits. But I really talk about the small victories. Because they are not small. They are huge achievements. In a world where Amy struggles to make sense of everything she is bombarded with by her senses (6 of them..), when there’s a gem of wisdom and insight from her, you dine out on it for as long as you can. The rest is forgotten.

Tonight in the midst of the madness, I saw a frightened child. One who needed me to be an adult. She told me she felt like a caterpillar but she should be a butterfly.. how profound is that?

So let’s encourage the butterflies. Let’s not remind them that they frequently behave like caterpillars, lets not put caterpillars in a room with only other caterpillars and expect them to learn how to be anything other than a caterpillar.. let’s show them the skills, the behaviours, the reactions that normalise the metamorphosis. You learn from watching others, … so we should be integrating our children in as many normal situations as we can and giving them wings a little at a time. One day they will fly.

As I was just about to hit ‘publish’, I have just remembered a song which makes me cry every time I listen to it – it will do more so now! Link attached.. Enjoy. A x

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=butterfly+fly+away+youtube&view=detail&mid=86853A121348671B4B1786853A121348671B4B17&FORM=VIRE7