5 reasons that autism has made me a better mother.

boys and Fi StairsSince today is Mother’s Day, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to share this post that I’ve had in my head for a while.

I’ve written many times about how you feel as a parent when you first receive that autism diagnosis and about having either an accompanying sense of relief because you finally have answers, or the overpowering grief at the loss of the dreams that you one held for your child and their future.

I discovered that when you become an autism parent you are left with the choice to either allow it to drown you or make you a better person. I drowned for many years. Far too many years actually – and even now – I still have days where I’m treading water and struggling to stay afloat but I’m not going to write about that stuff now. Tonight my post is going to be focused on all of the ways that I have noticed that autism has made me into a much better mother.

 Autism has made me a better mother because:

 1. It has caused me to slow down, to have patience and to be thankful for the little things that other people often take for granted.

I have always been an impulsive person. I like to live in the moment and I don’t like to plan ahead. My personality likes to make things up as I go along and you could describe me as someone who ‘wings it’ a lot of the time. I get agitated when I have to wait as I am incredibly impatient and my attention span (or lack thereof) often causes me to miss the finer details and skip over the boring stuff and I just want to get to the final destination having as much fun as I can along the way.

But then autism entered my world and turned it on it’s head.

I clearly remember a day many years ago when Harley was very small, probably about 4 or 5 and we were going for a walk to the park together. I just wanted to get there already and turned around every few minutes to tell him to hurry up. He was dawdling and was frustrating me because he kept crouching down and looking at the concrete path. He would stop every few steps and stare at the ground completely oblivious to my voice and my directions.

He was in his own world and his little face was etched with wonder and delight so eventually I crouched down beside him to see what was fascinating him so much.

He grabbed my hand and squeezed it and pointed (he still had very little discernible speech at this age) and then touched my cheek to turn my head to look at him. Then he smiled broadly and said: “Anz Mummy. Anz are cweeping an dey cawwy food to da hole”.

And my gaze was directed to the line of hundreds of ants who were all carrying crumbs from a sandwich – that was discarded on the side of the road – into their ant’s nest about half a metre away from where we knelt.

In that moment I realised that maybe going to the park was MY plan and that my little boy was having just as much fun watching these ants as I had imagined he would have at the playground. So we sat down and watched these stupid ants for probably another hour or so until he became tired. We never got to that playground that day but my boy was happy.

I learnt that day that my kid was never going to be like all the other kids. I learnt that he didn’t care much for playing with other children at the park but that he was able to find his happy place on a cracked footpath in the middle of suburbia with his Mama sitting right there beside him waving at the passing cars.

We have MANY moments like this in our house. The boys often being hyper focused on one small detail and become absorbed by whatever has taken their attention. Their autism and attention to detail has helped me to slow down and appreciate the beauty in everyday life that I would otherwise miss because I am always in too much of a hurry.

2. Autism has given me given me a deeper compassion for those who struggle in life.

It is often said that autism, like many other disorders such as ADHD, ODD, OCD etc are “invisible disabilities”. Meaning that unlike a child in a wheelchair, it’s not always obvious that the child has an impairment.

So these children are often expected to be like ‘every other kid’ and are told that they’re making excuses or being lazy when they are unable to conform to society expectations or when their sensory system is playing havoc because of their surrounding environment.

And that is rough.

I have experienced it first hand by hearing nasty comments aimed at both me as a parent and at my melting down child. I have also heard it from friends of mine who are now adults on the spectrum and this makes me sad.

They are frequently misunderstood and judged unfairly because they “look” just like everyone else and they are overlooked and labeled as ‘freaks’ ‘weirdoes’ or ‘attention seekers’ because of the massive lack of awareness and understanding for their struggles and the impact that it can have on their daily lives.

And I wouldn’t have the insight that I do into these difficulties and challenges that these guys face every day if I wasn’t privileged enough to experience autism first hand and see that there is always a lot more going on than what the naked eye can see.

Since becoming a mother to children with autism, I have learned to ALWAYS give the benefit of the doubt and to extend compassion in situations that I may have been judgmental towards previously.

3. Autism has helped me to stop and see the bigger picture instead of getting stuck on the ‘hard’ that’s directly in front of me.

 

I’m trying to write a positive post here but it kinda goes without saying that often autism is ROUGH. Not just on us as a family but also on my children when they are thrust into unfamiliar or frightening situations.

It can be very tempting to wallow (and I still do) when one of my kids is having a hard time but I’m learning (albeit slowly) that progress is what I should always shift my focus to when times like this hit.

I have learnt to cast my mind back to when Harley (particularly) was a lot younger and the mere thought of entering a supermarket would send chills up my spine. Back in those days he wouldn’t be able to manage more than a few minutes inside before the head banging, the screaming and the crying would begin and I would beat a hasty retreat defeated and depleted.

But those days are no more.

Sure, we still encounter public meltdowns, but these days I am more equipped, he has learnt better coping mechanisms and I have learnt to read his vital signs and know when it’s time to leave and on most occasions – either redirect him or get out before the explosion occurs.

By mentally giving myself a talking to and choosing to look at the progress, I am able to see just how far we’ve all come instead of allowing the current “hard” to overwhelm me.

4. Autism has shown me than I am stronger that I would have ever believed and a lot tougher than I ever gave myself credit for.

I have experienced very high highs and extremely low lows. I have watched my child struggle to talk, to breathe, to eat, to sleep, to socialise, to learn, to ‘fit in’, to dress himself and to just survive and that does something to you.

That destroys a part of your heart. It is SO HARD to watch a piece of you battle constantly and be unable to take their pain away.

I have fought the government, schools, teachers, doctors, specialists, other parents and friends and I haven’t always won but through these challenges I have learned that I AM ENOUGH.

Because enough doesn’t mean that my house is always spotless. Enough doesn’t mean that I will always keep my cool and never yell at my kids.
Enough doesn’t mean that my marriage is perfect. And enough certainly doesn’t mean that I have got it all together, but enough means (by definition) “as much as required.”

‘Enough’ means to me, that though there’s rarely any of me left over at the end of each day – my kids are fed, they are healthy and for the most part – they are happy. Taking on board the concept that ‘I am enough’ has brought me such freedom and peace.

And lastly;

5. Autism has allowed me to grow into the mother that I am today.

I had to make the decision years ago to either sink or swim because autism clearly wasn’t going anywhere. So I threw myself into learning whatever I could about how my boy’s brains are wired so that I could approach mothering them from an educated and informed position. I came into this knowing nothing about autism and had to make the choice to either be an involved parent, or leave my ill-equipped kids to navigate this scary world on their own. As I wrote earlier; I am not motivated or organised by nature but autism has given me the opportunity to develop these skills and become a better and less selfish person. You cannot be a good parent of any child if you continue to put yourself first and this was a hard lesson for me to learn but I am SO glad that I did.

 

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Chinese Whispers..

She leaned over, cupped her hand around her mouth and started to whisper into my ear, but for the fourth time in a row, my friend couldn’t get any words our due to the giggles that kept overtaking her. After taking a few deep breaths and composing herself, she tried again. “Frogs in frocks lick spoons” she whispered before exploding into even greater fits of giggles. Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 7.46.04 pm

I looked at her and joined in the laughter realising just how stupid this game of Chinese whispers had gotten. I was last in the line and it was my job to try to figure out what the original whisperer had said. I had NO idea!

It was in the early 1990’s and I was in my early teens. I was at an Easter Camp with my church’s youth group and the idea of the game was to find a really bizzarro bible verse and whisper it along 9 or 10 people to see what we came up with at the end. The original verse here was: Proverbs 19:25 ‘Flog a mocker and the simple will learn prudence’.

As you can see – the end result wasn’t even CLOSE to the original phrase. In fact, it really no longer made any sense at all! Sure, there were parts of it that were similar to the original, and the phonetics were close but the gist couldn’t be more different. It had taken on a whole new meaning that wasn’t even related to the original phrase and it had therefore become laughable and ridiculous.

But imagine if I took that whisper as gospel, and I became convinced that the bible did in fact have a lot of verses about frogs who liked to dress up in drag and lick utensils?! Imagine if I was SO convinced that what I’d heard was correct that I started to pass that information onto other people and try to convince them that as strange as it sounded- it was correct BECAUSE I’D HEARD IT WITH MY OWN EARS!

Stupid when you put it like that isn’t it?

But that’s exactly what happens with gossip. Someone hears something, they miss maybe a few vital facts so they substitute them with a few made up ones of their own –that seem likely enough to be believable– and then relay that information to another friend. That friend then does the same thing but then adds even more information based on what someone ELSE told them –or what they have observed themselves– and pass THAT on. And so on and so on and so on.

Which brings me to my point.

Most people know by now that we have withdrawn our boys from their old school and that we have left our church. Most people have probably heard some version of the events through various sources and channels but there are only a very small amount of people who have heard any of this from us.
Yes, I told other parents in the playground that my boys weren’t coming back next year when they wished us a good holiday and said “See you next year” but there are only a select few who know the reasons behind our decisions. Other than that, we have barely spoken of these events to anyone.

Therefore, there are only a very small number of people who know the full truth and those people are friends who we know 100% that we can trust.

So it surprises me that I am still getting phone calls and text messages and emails asking us if “such and such” really happened. And it leaves me speechless when I am told “So and so said that you said this and I want to know if that’s really what happened?”

Seriously. It continues to amaze me.

The things that I have been accused of supposedly doing, and the fictitious conversations that I have been dragged into are all Chinese whispers people.

I can say without reservation that I did NOT have a screaming match with anyone. I have not gone on bitching rants running down anyone in leadership in either organisation and I definitely have not created and spread lies about either of them at all.  In fact, I don’t even have any type of conversation about the school OR the church because that’s not who we are.

Bottom line is – unless you heard it from Paul or myself- there is probably a lot of frogs in frocks licking spoons going on.

If you know what I mean 😉

I apologise if this post has come across as anything other than my original intent – to use this public platform to categorically deny any accusations against us and to request that if you know us personally and you hear something- remember that those who gossip are really telling you more about themselves than they are about the subject of their stories.

Fi x


I am the mother…

This post was originally written 3 years ago -hence the ages of the children being younger.

  • I am the mother who sent her child to school sans his jacket on a cool spring morning and watched him shiver as he bravely walked in to school.
  • I am the mother who forgot to put her daughter’s school hat back in the car thus causing her to receive a uniform infringement.
  • (And the mother who can’t work out why a 10-year-old is not capable of doing this herself *ahem*)
  • I am the mother who fed her children cake for breakfast because she forgot to buy bread.
  • I am the mother of the 4-year-old boy who threw the tantrum of the century in the school car park this morning.
  • I am also the mother who glared at the other parents who were rubbernecking and tut-tutting at her child as she picked him up and threw him over her shoulder to keep him safe from the oncoming traffic…
  • and the mother who would do it again in a heartbeat.
  • I am the mother who survives on very little sleep and a lot of caffeine.
  • I am the mother who tries to do too much sometimes.
  • I am also the mother who sees what everyone else does for their children and fights the feelings of inadequacy that wash over her in tidal waves.
  • I am the mother who often pulls her hair out in sheer frustration because she is unable to remember a lot of important things that need to be done, due to the stress levels that are constantly rising at this time of the year.
  • I am the mother who finds more grey hairs every time she looks in the mirror.
  • I am the mother who keeps chewing gum in her glove box at all times so that she can hand them to kids who “forgot” to clean their teeth on the way to school.
  • I am the mother who rarely sorts her washing  *Gasp*
  • I am the mother who is fluent in sarcasm but knows that she shouldn’t use it as often as she does.  Especially on her children who don’t understand it.
  • I am the mother  who sometimes buys treats and hides them in the house because she is tired of sharing everything else that she owns and wants just one thing for and ONLY her.
  • I am the mother who owns 2 diaries and a calendar in the attempt to become more organised but has misplaced them all  :/
  • I am the mother with the short attention span who often really struggles to focus due to her constant sleep deprived state.
  • I am the mother who really wishes she could toughen up a bit and not get so hurt by other people’s words.
  • I am the mother who definitely thinks that exercise is overrated. Come and live in this house and try to be idle with my kids around. Not possible.
  • I am the mother who wishes that she didn’t comfort eat so often.
  • I am the mother who would rather be accused of talking too much then be the kind of person that you need to draaaaaaaaaaag a conversation out of. This is who she is. Like it or leave .
  • I am the mother who really wishes that school went until 5pm and that homework didn’t exist. She is exhausted from spending twenty minutes just trying to get her son to sit at the table and another 20 minutes convincing him to pick up the pencil!
  • I am the mother who secretly loves watching pre-school tv shows and misses them now that her baby has started school.
  • I am the mother who still cries at least once a week because she misses her Dad even though we lost him over 4 years ago.
  • I am the mother who is unable to eat just one grape. The grapes HAVE to be eaten in pairs. One on each side of the mouth. (Hmmm, wonder where Harley gets his quirks from?)
  • I am the mother who gets cranky when she’s not taken seriously. I may not have a fancy degree but I know my children better than anybody else on this earth and that should account for something…
  • I  am the mother that rearranges other people’s cutlery drawers when she visits their homes. It must go in the same order that they are laid on the table : Fork, Spoon, Knife. She doesn’t cope if they are different 🙂 And incidentally,  I am the mother who didn’t develop OCD tendencies until she was thrust in the world that is ASD and the stress that goes along with it!

However:

  • I am also the mother who would move heaven and earth just to make her children smile.
  • I am the mother who gets to witness MANY achievements and successes in her children’s lives and is finds joy in the smaller things because for us they are HUGE!
  • I am the mother who is convinced that her children will go higher and grow stronger than a lot of people give them credit for due to the handful of people that DO believe in them and their go-get- ‘em attitudes.
  • I am the mother who is thankful that God is daily giving her more and more insight into their little worlds so that she can understand them just that little bit more.
  • I am the mother who would some days like to hang up her hat and resign. Or at least have a couple of weeks paid leave. Several times a year.The mother who didn’t read the fine print before putting her hand up and volunteering to do this job BUT the mother who doesn’t walk away from somethings that she’s started until she sees it to completion.
  • I am the mother who often spends her own birthday money on her children because she wants to bless them as they bless her by just being themselves.
  • I am the mother who cannot for the life of her understand what makes her children tick but would give anything to be granted a free pass into their thought processes so she could make sure that their every need is met 100%
  • I am the mother who wants to learn to appreciate the little things.
  • I am the mother who wants to learn NOT to stress on other little things!
  • I am the mother who would take a bullet for her children.
  • Yes this mother is fiercely loyal.
  • I am the mother who often lays awake at night thinking of fun things that she can do with her children on the weekend and willing the hours to tick by so that the weekend can start.
  • I am the mother who wants to join her kids by dancing in the puddles in the rain and skip through supermarket aisles singing but is too afraid of what other people might think.
  • I am the mother who desperately craves understanding and tolerance for her children.
  • I am the mother who worries that she is not doing enough for her children, but also the mother who realises that she only has 2 hands and 24 hours in a day.
  • I am the mother who is learning to love herself just the way God loves her and the one who believes that life is good.
  • Yes. I am THAT mother :D

My children will not fly under any radars and they will not go through life feeling like failures.

 What kind of mother are you?

Imperfectly Perfect.

 

We had been out all day sight-seeing and had come back to the hotel briefly to shower and change ready for dinner. As I kicked off my shoes I noticed a red light that was flashing on the phone on the bedside table. I looked over and saw that Paul had noticed it too. We locked eyes and I noticed the tears forming in his eyes to match the ones forming in my own.

We both knew exactly what it meant but neither of us moved for almost ten minutes. We sat side by side on the corner of the bed holding hands and wiping our own tears away in total silence. We stared at each other, each of us willing the other to walk over to the phone and find out for sure.

We were hoping and praying that it was just a simple benign message from one of the tours that we had planned and not the call that we had been dreading but Paul eventually picked up the handset and punched in the numbers. I saw his face pale at the same time that I heard my Mum’s voice gently saying: “I’m sorry to have to spoil your trip but he’s gone”.

My Dad had passed away during the night and she had been unable to contact us to let us know so left a message instead. I was gutted and wracked with guilt.

Eventually we managed to clean ourselves up and made our way down to dinner where we quietly mingled with our tour group who were unaware of how much our world had just been turned on it’s head.

It was Saturday the 24th February 2008 and Paul and I were on a business retreat in Queenstown New Zealand through his work along with other co-workers and their wives.

Paul was the one who had planned the whole trip and organised all the activities – he was needed and we decided that we would keep our news to ourselves so as to not ruin everyone else’s holiday. We only had 2 days left and Mum told us to stay on because the funeral would take that long to plan anyway.

I barely slept a wink that night. I tossed and turned and my brain just would not stop. I worried about how I was going to tell the children. They adored their Granddad and Harley often asked if Granddad was over his cancer yet as though it were a common cold. Harley was 3 and not yet diagnosed and Lucas was still a baby. We made the decision not to tell Paul’s Mum who was staying with the children back home in Australia because somehow we instinctively knew that Harley was so sensitive to even the most subtle of changes in his caregivers.

I worried that the children would somehow blame me for abandoning them and I knew that I’d have to be extremely careful in how I chose to broach the subject with them once I returned home again. I remember looking over at Paul as he slept soundly and envied his restful state. I’d spent most of the night churning over all the different possible scenarios in my head trying desperately to figure out which direction to head in.

I opted not to go down to breakfast with the rest of the group the next morning, but told Paul that I needed to go for a walk to clear my head. It was a cool morning and I decided that the fresh brisk air would do me the world of good. I rugged up and stepped outside.

As I walked along I heard a guitar strumming softly in the distance and as I turned a corner I noticed a lady sitting on some stairs humming quietly along to her guitar and I was intrigued.

She looked up at me and smiled and it was then that I noticed that she was sitting in the doorway of one of the most beautiful and quaint old churches that I’ve ever seen.  It was perfectly nestled into the streetscape and surrounded by gorgeous rolling snow-covered hills and I immediately felt an overwhelming peace and comfort wash over me . At that moment, I had perfect clarity of mind for the first time since receiving that call. A lady who introduced herself as Janet came and took me gently by the arm ushering me inside the building and placed a warm mug of tea in one of my hands and a freshly baked scone in the other. She sat me down and introduced me to a small gathering of people who were from England, Scotland and another Australian.

I soon found out that this church was not like any other church that I had ever been in but was more of a ministry to backpackers and travelers and the like. It was a café setting and an outreach to people who were hurting, lost and troubled.

I must have looked like a hobo wandering the streets at a ridiculous hour of the morning in a too big parka that belonged to my husband and dirty denim jeans and sneakers. But I’m sure that I fitted their usual clientele stereotype perfectly!

I was welcomed in, nurtured and somehow these people knew exactly what it was that I needed. I was hugged, listened to and valued and I hadn’t told a single person that I’d lost my Dad only hours earlier.

I stayed a while chatting and sipping my tea until gradually we all started to leave one by one. As I got up to leave myself, I was hugged by several people and was handed a bible (which I still have) with an inscription inside the front cover that reads: ‘Blessings from Vineyard Queenstown, be blessed in Christ’s name’.

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Every time I look at this bible now, I am reminded of how God reached out to me in one of my most painful moments. It is a constant reminder that He will always provide me with just what I need exactly when I need it. This tiny little non-denominational and non-confrontational welcoming church serves as a constant memory of God’s grace and mercy and is a promise that He will always equip me to deal with the children that he has blessed me with.

He gives me the grace I need to face challenges that my human mind is baffled by. He provides a way out when things look hopeless and He promises that He will never leave or forsake me regardless of how ridiculous life’s circumstances may appear at the time. I don’t believe that this amazing experience was just merely a co-incidence. I truly believe that God met me in my darkest hour and that He provided just what I needed at that time. This chance encounter was all in HIS perfect timing. I was meant to walk past that church that February morning just as I was meant to be blessed with my amazing though challenging children.

Everything is in His perfect plan whether I understand it or not.

Little did I realise at the time that losing my Dad would be the beginning of a very long chain of events that have all helped to shape me into the kind of mother that my children need.

Imperfect by the world’s standards but perfect for what God has in His master plan.