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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Starting Again

image via morguefile.com

image via morguefile.com

I know I haven’t blogged regularly in over 18 months and that my posts on my FB Page have been few and far between. And I’m a long way from the twice-daily blogger that I used to be on my old (no longer existing) blog, and whilst I miss it – I realise that my life is no longer where it was back then and that I needed to do what I needed to do to look after myself and my family.

I (we all) really needed to heal more than anything else. Autism has continually kicked all of our butts in a big way and my son went (and continues to go through) some pretty major struggles with his mental health that meant that blogging and sharing about our life was not even do-able let alone wise.

Not only did the blog suffer – I also deleted my personal Facebook profile and laid low because I simply wasn’t able to be what people expected of me (or what I had imagined they did) so it was much easier to just hide than deal with the questions and the digging.

In the past 2 years, (especially) I’ve experienced quite a lot of personal hurt and heartache that still smarts occasionally, but I now understand that I needed to go through it all in order to grow and develop my character. It completely sucked going through the mill but for me to begin to deal with the severe and major depression that I had fallen into – it was a necessary path because it has showed me that I’m a lot tougher than I ever thought I was and I can cope with more than I ever thought possible.

I don’t let people intimidate me as much as I used to and I have decided to use my experiences as a lesson in what NOT to do from now on when I blog.  So many other autism parent blogs have disappeared lately because of the spike in online trolling and name-calling, but I refuse to small allow a group of outspoken, judgemental autism parents steal away my voice. Especially when I gain so many therapeutic benefits from writing.

I have such wonderful kids who continue to challenge me to be a better mother and who teach me far more than I could ever teach them and my boys have ben showing such wonderful progress and I just can’t wait to share it all here.

I am no longer angry, nor am I seeking revenge and I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was this time 12 months ago and I have so many good things to write about.

But not tonight. Tonight I must SLEEP!

Neon signs and Eyebrows.

image via morguefile.com

image via morguefile.com

Today I got my eyelashes stuck together with hot wax and also somehow managed to wax off almost half of one eyebrow. All because I got momentarily distracted. It turns out that having poor eyesight and trying to do this with my glasses off wasn’t my smartest move!

I’m quite clever I know, and anyone who knows me well will attest that I am not known for my attention span, but today was a particularly bad one and I have one and a half eyebrows to prove it.

After I’d googled “how to remove wax from your eyelashes without pulling them out” (yes I really did) and I had read hundreds of ridiculous remedies, I eventually decided to try cutting it out with manicure scissors.

Yeah, that wasn’t my finest moment, either – so now, not only am I missing half an eyebrow, I also have only got a few small eyelashes on the opposite eye!

Oh my goodness I look quite a sexy beast I can tell you!

Then after I’d spent another ten minutes laughing at myself in the mirror, I jumped in my car and went down to the pharmacy to buy myself a set of fake lashes and an eyebrow pencil and I plan to google “how to draw an eyebrow” next.’

So I was telling this story to Paul tonight, and after he’d picked himself up off the floor from laughing he said: “Wow Fi, this would have devastated you only a few months ago. It would have had you in a total mess”.

He was right.

If something like this had have happened only as recently as a few months ago, I would’ve been a complete basket case. It would have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and would have pushed me over the edge because I was already standing on a very thin balance beam between coping and completely losing my mind.

But a lot has changed here recently and it takes ridiculous mishaps of the grooming variety like this for me to be able to realise just how far not only *I* have come, but how far all of us have come.

Many of you know that my boys started at their new school last week.

It was something that I knew in my heart of hearts had to happen but I kept putting it off because I was so incredibly afraid of change. But the story surrounding my final decision to move them is actually quite remarkable and I now feel ready to share a little bit of it here with you guys; my loyal readers.

It was back last November when I finally realised that things had reached a point with Harley’s OCD and anxiety disorder when he was referred to see a psychiatrist after saying some very troubling things to us. I won’t go into details of what he told us but suffice to say that it was enough to warrant immediate attention and enough to cause me to draw a line in the sand and look for a new school for him.

My Mum was visiting at the time and we spent literally hours researching schools, visiting campus after campus and making phone call after phone call, when one morning as I was I sitting opposite her in a cafe I said to God aloud: “I’m tired of chasing dead ends and I’m exhausted from trying to figure this out. Please give me a neon sign because I’m not in a place where I can pick up on subtle hints, I need something obvious. Give me a neon sign answer”.

I had no idea how powerful that prayer would turn out to be.

A few minutes after asking God for a sign, I got a phone call from my sister and she asked me why I hadn’t considered sending the boys to the local public school? I gave her the same stock standard answer that I gave everyone who asked me that question: “Because I’m afraid that the boys won’t get the education that they deserve”. Amongst other things that I really, really didn’t want to tell her.

But the truth was – I was probably just being an uninformed and clueless snob. It’s not that it is a bad school that my children are zoned to, it’s just that, ok yeah – I WAS being a snob and I clearly had my head so far up my butt that I just couldn’t see any sense.

So I told my sister that I would at least consider it because I knew deep down that she had a point and I was fast running out of options.

She then asked me to tell her exactly what it was that I didn’t like about the public school so eventually; I told her what else had been troubling me.

I could hear the loving smile in her voîce as she pointed out that the two main reasons that I gave her were actually both already happening at the Independent school, and she then pointed out that we were paying bucket loads of money for it! So in her words: “It can’t possibly be worse, and even if it is – at least you’re not paying for it”.

{I couldn’t argue with that logic and it turned out that this particular conversation ended up being the catalyst for several other decisions that I was able to make straight afterwards}.

So Mum and I finished our coffees and she suggested that we drive past the local school on our way home ‘just to have a look’ so I agreed. We talked in the car on our way there and I had started to reach a point where I was willing to give anything a go because I just didn’t have any peace about any of the schools that we’d visited.

I pulled up out the front of the school and climbed out of the car and started walking toward the administration office when I stopped dead in my tracks because out the front of the school was a flipping NEON sign with the words:  “Enrolling for 2014” and I started laughing.
I’d driven past this school countless times and never once had I ever noticed that sign before!

Mum and I looked at each other grinning ridiculously and I knew right then that I had my answer. It was unmistakable and I knew that there was no denying that God certainly had a sense of humour and that this was the place the boys needed to go.

So I went in and filled out the application forms on the spot and had a meeting with the Principal and Learning Support Head Teacher only a few days later.

At that meeting, they looked over all of the boy’s paperwork and put plans in place to transition them into the school almost immediately. They told us all about the programs that they ran for children on the spectrum and assured us that they would do everything in their power to bring Harley’s grades up where they needed to be.

They also told me that several of their teachers had just completed autism specific training and they promised to place each of the boys with one of the teachers.

And they did!

It’s now been almost 2 weeks since they started at their new school and both of the boys are absolutely loving it there. They are both coming home at peace, happy and the aggression and anger that we had become so accustomed to has vanished completely.

The stress and angst and anxiety that was permanently etched on Harley’s face has disappeared and he has become the gorgeous little boy that I knew was always hidden behind the agony that he had learned to live with.

He didn’t know that school could be this great and my only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner.

And me. Well, I have been able to wean off the anti-depressants that have been my constant companion for years because these days, I just don’t have the same levels of stress that my poor body had become used to.

Things certainly aren’t perfect in other areas, but I am now able to look in the mirror at my one eyebrow and laugh at the lack of eyelashes because I KNOW that in the grand scheme if things that this is really no big deal.

I can see now that things are definitely only going to get better and better. And that my friends: is HUGE!

But even after watching several tutorials on youtube, I still look like a bit of a circus freak so it looks like I’ll be sticking to the LARGE framed sunglasses for a while whenever I’m in public. If you know what I mean 😉

Addendum: psst – I got a job today too.
YAY!

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?

Dear 17 year old me..

 

Dear 17 year old me,

You will eventually learn to like your name. You will never love it but you will one day actually tell people your real name when they ask. You think it’s funny now when you tell people it’s Beryl and giggle at their surprised faces, but it will get old fast.

So, do you see those people that you’re sharing the school playground with? Yeah, well you don’t have to be friends with all of them after school finishes for good next year. Some of them you will lose touch with and you won’t care at all, but others will always hold a special place in your heart and you will reconnect with them when you’re all grown up. They will mean more to you then than they do now because age brings new perspectives.

And your parents? You think they’re old and don’t understand you but you really need to know just how much they * do* love you. I mean REALLY love you. So much more than you could ever realise. One day you will have children of your own and only then will you actually “get” it.

After you leave school, you will move a long way from home because you think you know better than anyone but guess what? You don’t.

You will get yourself into some mighty fine messes and your parents will dig you out every.single.time because they love you that much. You are stubborn though and it will take you a long time to realise this and thank them for it.

After spending another 2 years doing some really stupid stuff like jumping from job to job and hanging out with the wrong crowd you will eventually tire of the rebellious lifestyle.  But do you remember the story about the prodigal son in the bible? Yeah, well good, because that’s kinda who you become.

You will eventually go home with your tail between your legs and move home again until you get back on your feet. And your parents take you in with open arms and love on you and encourage you to right your broken relationship with Jesus. It will be the best thing that you will ever do.

Your Dad will teach you that if you have God in your life; anything else is just icing and that you need to look to Jesus for happiness because a man will never provide what only God can.

He will teach you that all men and women are flawed by their human-ness and will ultimately fail you at one time or another because of this, but that God will never let you down.

You will never forget this and there will be times in your life that you hold fast to this teaching because people will let you down but you will only be disappointed – not destroyed.

You will marry and it won’t always be smooth sailing, but you chose to put your hope in God so you’ll survive every storm intact.

You will have 3 children and they will bless you, frustrate you and complete you all at once.

But it won’t be easy. Two of your children will be boys and they will both have autism. You will fall apart at first but surprise yourself by picking yourself up and carrying on despite your heartbreak and lack of faith in yourself.

You will lose friends once the news gets out and it will hurt, but all will not be lost because much better and more loyal friends will replace the void that they left.

You will experience great loss in the death of your beloved Dad, great heartache in watching your children struggle and great pain as you endure a lot of personal health issues but you will survive them all and come out a stronger person at the other side.

Eventually, you will learn that you can find happiness and beauty in the small everyday things if you just stop long enough to notice them.

Autism will give you the ability to appreciate things that other people take for granted and bless you with the desire to be a better parent.

One day, you’ll read this letter back and you’ll smile, you’ll laugh and you’ll wipe away stray tears that inevitably fall, but you will know that you have done the best that you can with that which you have been given.

And you will continue to rejoice through both hard times and good because you KNOW that life is what you make of it.

Love 37-yr-old you xxx

10 ways to spot autism in a crowd…

I am often asked the question: “What does autism look like” or “How can I tell if a child has autism” and the simple answer to those questions is “You can’t”. Because autism doesn’t have a particular ‘look’ but is detected by observing behaviours NOT appearance.

Autism is often referred to as the silent disability because there is no wheelchair or defining facial features to help identify it at first glance.

But if you know what you’re looking for – its not as difficult to recognise as you might think. It’s important to me to share this because the more that society is taught about differences – the greater the acceptance and tolerance levels toward children and adults on the spectrum for the future generations. So I are condensed a lot of information here into ten short points that may indicate an autism spectrum disorder.

The first rule of thumb in possibly identifying autism is;

ALWAYS GIVE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT.

Whenever you see a child who appears to be odd or quirky or if their behaviour is not quite right-even if you can’t put your finger on the possible reason or see any other indicators of a disability, assume that there is more to the situation than meets the eye.

For example: If you see an older child having a tantrum in public then it’s usually safe to assume that there is something else going on here. Generally, kids are too embarrassed to pitch a full blown tantrum past the ages of 5 because they have enough self-awareness to know that people will stare at them. But not in the autistic child because often they are simply unable to contain their emotional and sensory overload and it is no longer a matter of choosing whether or not to hold it in.

That’s not to say that older children don’t have tantrums, but in an older child, a tantrum in public is usually much more subtle. These tantrums are designed to get their own way without attracting attention to themselves. Like kicking a shop display, or mumbling insults under their breath or sulking and refusing to do what they’re told. But not flailing and screaming in front of dozens of onlookers.

And in an autistic child, what may start as a silly little tantrum can quickly escalate into a full blown meltdown if they are unable to make themselves understood. Usually something has triggered this tantrum and if its not nipped in the bud it can get really messy really fast. Autistic children cannot control these meltdowns and are unaware that they are causing a scene and giving into them wouldn’t end the yelling whereas in a tantrum – it would.

But back to spotting autism….

Let’s imagine that you are in a playground and you know that there is an autistic child playing in there but have no idea which one it is. What would be the first clue that you would look for?

For me, spotting that child would be as simple as looking for the one who seems to be on the outer.

1. BEING ALOOF:

The child who either plays alone or is trailing along behind the other kids desperately wanting to be included. It’s often wrongly assumed that autistic kids don’t care for other kids but often it’s just their underdeveloped social skills and lack of social intuition that are holding them back. Most of the time they desperately want friends but don’t know how to initiate conversations or interact with other children. These kids don’t read body language or facial expressions and may not understand if another child gives them the ‘leave me alone’ face. Children on the autism spectrum learn by mimicking their typically developing peers and you would be looking for the child who is ‘following’ rather than leading the group.

However – in some of the higher functioning children (Aspergers Syndrome especially) the child may actually be the ‘life of the party’ and come across as obnoxious, precocious, loud, inflexible and unreasonable. But it’s important to remember that this is not a character flaw – it’s indicative of their under developed social awareness. They just want to be included but don’t understand how to do this in a socially acceptable manner. Either way – the child has a definite “quirkiness” about them.

2: REPETITIVE PLAY

Children with autism may also indulge in a lot of repetitive play. They may sit and watch the spinning of a wheel for a long time or continue to retrace their steps and repeat the same actions over and over again never seeming to tire of the monotony. That’s because children with autism enjoy getting the same result every time and take great comfort from being able to predict the outcome in an otherwise unpredictable world. These kids may also group items together or line them up. Example: rocks in a line in a sandpit or leaves sorted into colour shades.

3. EYE CONTACT

A child who has autism will rarely make eye contact with strangers or with other children. They can sometimes appear to be ignoring you but this is rarely the case. I’ve been told by autistic individuals that they are unable to look at people when they’re spoken to because it confuses them and they have to stop listening in order to look. They say that looking in people’s eyes is frightening unless they know , love and trust the person talking. Often times a child with autism may become mute when a stranger speaks to them because they cannot form the correct words whilst their brain is in freak-out mode.

4. TOUCH

If a child is in fact on the autistic spectrum, they may react if they are touched, hugged or accidentally brushed up against in a playground setting. They may strike out at another child who playfully pushes, taps or attempts to cuddle them as they sense that their personal space is being invaded. Because of this, they can wrongly be labelled as ‘rough’ ‘mean’ or ‘aggressive’ but really it’s just their self-protection mode kicking in.

Or….a child who under registers stimuli may do the exact opposite and be overly affectionate and not seem to recognise those invisible boundaries that we all have. Either way – the behaviours displayed here in these two scenarios are an indication that there is something bigger going on with that child.

5. UNDERSTANDING VERBAL CUES

These kids struggle to understand and comprehend instructions especially if they’re complex or contain too many steps. So you’re looking for the child who seems to be deaf or ignoring their parents or who doesn’t register that they’ve been spoken to immediately. The child may explode if they are unable to convey their wants and needs to their caregiver and become frustrated if they’re not understood by other children.

6. REPETITION

An autistic child may repeat (and mimic) the phrases that other children use or insert lines from a movie or tv show into a conversation whether it fits or not. This is called echolalia and it is a very common communication tool for children who are developing speech.

7. RULES

If a group of children are playing together and one of them changes the ‘rules’ or starts to play it differently, the autistic child may react with aggression or anger because they are not coping with change and suddenly become frightened at their lack of understanding. Autistic children thrive on rules and routines and require them to function peacefully.

8. SENSORY STIMULII

A child with autism may severely under or over react to noises, crowds, smells and sights. This is all due to their sensory system either being overloaded or under registering. Most typically developing children won’t notice subtle changes in noise levels or the sun getting brighter but you can bet your bottom dollar that the over sensory child will be the first to react negatively.

9. UNUSUAL COMPASSION

Children with autism usually always have an affinity with nature and with animals. They seem to have somewhat of a connection that most of us just don’t understand. The autistic child may be the one who prefers to lay down in the dirt with a dog or finds a lizard underneath a rock. They may also become upset and inconsolable if another child steps on an insect and go into bat for the poor defenseless ants that are crawling up your leg!

Every single autistic individual that I have met has got a very gentle nature and a sensitivity to all forms of life that most of us could really only dream of.

10. DANGER AWARENESS

The last thing to look for is the child who has no apparent fear of danger or consequence. And this goes beyond the normal ‘rough and tumble’ boy stuff. These kids have an underdeveloped sense of caution and just don’t see the risks that most other children would instinctively notice. Look for the child climbing up the flying fox or jumping off the top level of the climbing structure or – *gasp* running onto a highway to get to the shiny object that has caught their eye over the other side.

Autism really is beautiful. It is almost magical and it is extremely rewarding to live with. But how do I know this? I and the mother of two boys who have autism and they have taught me so much more than I could have ever imagined.

Because of them, I now appreciate the smaller things that most folk often take for granted. I am learning to look for beauty in the most unlikely places and I no longer take anything at face value.

Let me encourage you all to dig deeper, invest into those “different” people in society and you will always find that it was more than worth the effort.

 

25 things to tell my children….

This is a list of 25 things that I really would like my children to learn about life and what I consider to be the most important things that I can teach them in my role as their mother.

I’ve written them all down in the form of a letter that I will print up and give to each of them when they turn 18 but for now, this list is laminated and stuck to the back of our toilet door!

I am amazed how much of this has sunk in over the past few years and regularly hear them quoting parts of is to each other.

Here goes:

My dear, precious, amazing children,

1. Please know that I love you all so incredibly much. And love is most definitely a verb.

2. There is nothing that any of you could ever do that would cause me to love you less. But this revelation is not permission to break the law, intentionally hurt someone or create havoc. There is also nothing that I wouldn’t do for any of you. But don’t deliberately push me just to find out my limit.

3. There are not enough hours in the day to show you how special you all are to me, and I want you to remember that even when it appears that I am pre-occupied and too busy for you – I’m only ever a hug away. I will drop anything if any of you ever need me. And don’t believe anything or anyone that disputes this because it’s simply not true.

4. I believe that you are all capable of achieving great things and I will support whatever life decision you make.  Even if what you choose to do is non-conventional and low paying. As long as it makes you happy and you do your best.

5. Having an asperger’s diagnosis gives you a reason for anger and resentment but not a right. There is a big difference. Some things will always seem more challenging and harder for you than for others but it’s not an excuse to give up. You are all blessed with many talents and skills and you WILL succeed despite being wired a little differently to your peers. Use this to your advantage instead. Choose to excel.

6. Respect those that are in leadership over you. You may not always agree with them but respect has nothing to do with this. If you learn this – you will go far in life.

7. Treat other people as you would like to be treated yourself and always go the extra mile.  Let people cut in front of you in lines, pay for friend’s meals and be the first one to say “I’m sorry” .

8. Don’t retaliate. It only exacerbates the problem and makes matters much worse. It doesn’t achieve anything but creates more drama and grief.

9. Always take the high road  – The view is much nicer from up there.

10. Don’t argue for argument’s sake and don’t desire to be right at all costs. It’s just not worth it in the end. Agreeing to disagree is a safer and much kinder route.

11. Stay close to one another. One day Dad and I will no longer be around and you will all need each other.  Even when you’ve all grown up and have gone your own ways – keep the sibling link alive and nurtured.

You will be pleased that you did.

12. Always do your best. You don’t have to always win, but as long as you gave it your best shot – that’s the most important thing.

13. Know what you want out of life and give it all you’ve got. Don’t worry if your dream is not the same as everyone else around you. We were all created differently for a reason. We don’t all have the same giftings.

14. There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to life plans.  The catch phrase I want you all to memorise and repeat as your life mantra is : Different is NOT wrong.

 15. Be who you are. Be who you were created to be. Don’t mimic other people because you envy their lives. Things are never really as they appear. Everyone has problems – some people are just better at hiding theirs than others.

16. Don’t sit back and expect everything to be handed to you. Work hard and work faithfully. God will see to it that you are rewarded accordingly.

17. Don’t believe everything that people tell you. If it doesn’t line up with the word of God and doesn’t sit right within you – don’t take it on board – it’s not for you. It’s ok to say no.

18. Don’t cheat and don’t be dishonest. You will ALWAYS be found out on both accounts and people will learn that you cannot be trusted.

Keep your integrity in everything.

19. Speak words of life and words of love. Don’t beat people down verbally and don’t always say everything that you are thinking. Once a sentence is out- it’s impossible to take it back again.

Think before you speak.

20. Choose you life partner wisely. Choose someone who you not only love, but someone who you respect. Make sure it’s someone that treats you how you deserve to be treated and treat them well in return.

21. Talk about everything before you decide to marry.

22. Ask the hard questions like:  Are we having children? When? How many? Where will we live?  What is our plan B if things start to go awry? & What is our ultimate escape plan as a family?  If you both know these things up front – most things can be worked out before they occur.

23. Aim high. Don’t settle for mediocre – you deserve the very best in life and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

24. Know your limits and learn balance. People pleasing is very taxing on your soul, your emotions, your family and ultimately your life. It’s impossible to serve two masters. Don’t let your work become more important than your family and don’t let anything become more important than your relationship with Christ.

Lastly and most importantly:

25.  Put your trust in God not man. Man will ultimately fail you because we are all only human but God will NEVER fail you or forsake you. He will never let you fall.

Love always Mum xxxxx