ON THE SPECTRUM

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Growing up, I never knew about autism or people on ‘the spectrum’. Like many others, my first exposure to autism came from the movie ‘Rain Man’.

In hindsight, when I think back to my school years there were a few kids who were ‘quirky’ and were bullied dreadfully. There was one boy in particular who, upon reflection, was definitely on the autism spectrum. He was a harmless kid who kept mostly to himself. He couldn’t look you in the eyes or have a regular conversation, but he could recite the words to a certain television commercial as if he was reading from the script.

Twenty years ago there didn’t seem to be the awareness of autism that there is now and these autistic boys certainly did not get any special assistance in their schooling.

Of course the symptoms of autism vary widely, but these boys had stereotypical key idicators:

  • They were both socially inept and struggled to form close friendships
  • They took things very literally
  • They had issues with personal space
  • They made repetitive movements (one boy flapped, while the other rocked and gulped air)
  • They each had a special interest that they could recite every fact about.

I once had a discussion with a child psychologist who specializes in autism who made the interesting point that in her opinion, most university lecturers are autistic. They are perfectly suited to this role as they have the ability to focus their energy on one specialized subject and become an authority on that topic. They can lecture to a room of people, without the concern of having a close personal conversation. Her point was that, being autistic doesn’t mean people can’t lead successful and fulfilling lives.

She also discussed the fact that often parents don’t like to acknowledge their child may be on the spectrum purely out of pride. They don’t want the stigma attached to the title of their child being autistic as, regardless of their diagnosis, the child is still the same person. While this is true, the difference is the funding given for assistance for the child to ensure they have a smoother transition through school. If intervention to assist in routine starts when kids are young, they tend to learn and adapt much better than older people. Also, if a child on the autism spectrum has a teacher’s aide to ensure they are being taught in a way that will suit their idiosyncrasies then that child will gain great benefit.

I’m not sure if autism is more prevalent or if it is just better diagnosed, but there definitely seems to be greater awareness of the condition and better access to support networks to assist these people cope with everyday life. I think if kids are aware that another child is autistic, it gives them a chance to empathize with them and understand their behaviour. Hopefully kids can learn to adapt the way they interact with children on the autism spectrum and that these autistic kids are celebrated for their individuality and not subjected to bullying like the boys in my school were.

(Picture courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, freedigitalphotos.net)

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SICK DAY

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The eternal struggle as a parent is to decipher when your child is sick and should stay home for the day or if they are just feigning illness to get a day off school.

I’ve had times where I’ve given my child the benefit of the doubt to stay home and after a few hours they have suddenly perked up, having a complete recovery (usually mid way through the day when they know it isn’t worth taking them to school for the remainder of the day).

On the flip side, I’ve had times when I’ve been sure that my child is faking and sent them to school, only to receive a call from the school to advise me that my child is sick and needs to be collected.

I have a few criteria that I use to make my decision as to whether they should stay home:

  • Has a temperature
  • Has been up through the previous night
  • Is showing obvious signs of illness
  • Is willing to take pain medication (if needed)
  • Is willing to stay in bed or do educational work

I don’t accept tears as an indicator, as I have a few accomplished actors who can cry on cue – very convincingly I might add! If my child meets most of the above qualifying points then I figure they must be sick or at the very least, they are willing to commit to having an extremely boring day.

I don’t let my kids watch TV if they are home ‘sick’ as I believe that if they can sit quietly and watch television then they can sit quietly and listen to their teacher.

As I’m writing this I have master nine sitting in bed reading. He assures me he is too ill to go to school and given the fact that he scared the living daylights out of me when he tapped me on the shoulder to wake me at 3am to tell me his nose was running, I’ve decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. I just hope he has a quick recovery so tomorrow I can catch up on all the things I was going to do today!

Has your child ever fooled you into giving them a ‘sick day’?

(Picture courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, freedigitialphotos.net)

PERFECTIONISTS  

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I recently had an interesting discussion with a mum who has been attending a course addressing anxiety in children. The lecturer made the point that people who are perfectionists often suffer anxiety if things are not done to the standard they desire. This requirement for perfection is then forced upon their children, also making them anxious if things aren’t done right.

She went on the say that parents who have a high level of expectation on their children, often intervene and actually take over the task their child should do (eg. homework, making bed, packing bag etc) to ensure it is done to their standard. This creates a vicious cycle because the child doesn’t learn to do the tasks for themselves and if the parent forgets to do something for the child it leaves the child feeling anxious and upset.

The advice the lecturer gave to the parents attending her course, was to let their children be more independent and to learn the consequences of not having things done perfectly. This will help build more resilient kids and will teach them a level of responsibility for their actions. A teacher is more interested in seeing a child’s attempt at homework, rather than the polished version that a parent has assisted (ie. done) for their child. If a child forgets to pack their library books, then they need to understand they can’t borrow new ones, until they remember to return the ones they already have.

I felt vindicated that a professional has the same opinion as I do on the subject of letting your children do things for themselves. I wrote a post last year ‘The fine line between assisting and doing’ on the subject of giving your children guidance but leaving them to do their homework themselves.

Children need parents to set examples for them, teach them life skills and give them a chance to take responsibility for their actions so that they grow into well-adjusted adults. So if you are a parent who is a perfectionist, take a deep breath and try to live with a little imperfection in your life so that you don’t create anxiety in your children. Kids need to live and learn – so let them!

“The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake – you can’t learn anything from being perfect.” – Adam Osborne

(Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, freedigitialphotos.net)

TWENTY FOR TILLY

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My heart breaks as I share this story with you. Earlier this year, my friend Carmen and her husband Kyle had a beautiful daughter Tilly – a little sister for their gorgeous son Jock. At Tilly’s standard eight week check up they were shocked to find out Tilly has Infant Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and in order to have a chance to survive she must undertake two years of chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants.

This family’s life has been turned upside down. Life as they knew it changed, as Carmen and Kyle took on a roster of one looking after their son, whilst the other stayed in the hospital with Tilly. Every time they leave the hospital they don’t know whether it will be the last time they will see their baby girl alive. With a depleted immune system there have been a few close calls but little Tilly is a brave and courageous fighter.

Most parents of small babies are focused on them reaching their milestones of sitting, rolling and crawling. Tilly has a different set of milestones. The next milestone for Tilly is a bone marrow transplant.

Imagine the stress of being utterly helpless to do anything to heal your daughter, other than sit by and watch as she undergoes multiple surgeries and is constantly pumped full of chemicals to kill off this insidious disease. Add to that the stress of day-to-day expenses and mounting medical bills, when neither you nor your husband can work for fear of possibly missing precious moments with your critically ill child. The Swains are proud people and have not asked anyone for help, but you don’t have to be in their shoes to know that although we can’t help eradicate Tilly’s cancer, we can help ease the stress of monetary concerns by assisting this family in need.

A fundraising page has been started to help the Swains where we ask you to donate $20 for Tilly. This small amount may not make much of an impact on your weekly budget, but will mean the world to a family dealing with unbearable stress. Please find it in your heart to help and to share this story.

I will keep you updated with Tilly’s progress and hope to report in the future that she has grown into a happy and healthy little girl, with no memory of her difficult start to life.

TABLES TURNED

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My regular readers will know that I recently took up playing basketball. This week my 12 year old daughter decided she needed to train me to help improve my skills. Ever diligent, she googled the dimensions for the key on a regulation size basketball court and then marked out the area on our driveway with masking tape.

She then patiently described the techniques required to assist me in shooting and set plays designed to beat the defense. As she took her teaching role very seriously, I was left thinking how strange it was to not be the one to be teaching and guiding her and that somehow the tables had turned. It was sweet that she wanted to donate her time to give me instruction, when she could have instead been relaxing inside.

Once she had finished with her instructions we played a very vigorous game of one on one basketball that left us both hot and sweaty. The noise of our competitive game roused my son’s interest in playing and then before long, my husband also joined in, in a battle of the sexes basketball game. For the record the girls won 😉

It is such a weird sensation having your child take on the parenting role. I’m sure my mother would concur as now I have taken on the responsibility of taking her to the doctor when she is unwell and I often try (somewhat unsuccessfully) to teach her how to use her smart phone. She has mastered making a phone call and is working on text messages!

I guess it is the circle of life and that we all go through the phase of teaching and caring for our kids and then at some point there is an equilibrium before the tables turn and our kids look after us. We have to just hope we have set them an example of patience and understanding, so that they display these traits when the time comes for them to care for and guide us!

ANOTHER DRUG DEATH

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My greatest fear as a parent is that my children will decide to dabble with drugs. Although there is more than ample drug education for kids these days, the message doesn’t seem to be getting through. Teenagers are more interesting in the calorie content in food than the chemicals used in making synthetic drugs that have the potential to kill them.

This morning I was devastated to hear of the death of a nineteen-year-old girl, Georgina Bartter, from an ecstasy overdose. She was at a music festival (just like the ones my teenage daughters like to attend) and although she is an intelligent university student, she took the gamble to have drugs and now unfortunately she is lying dead in a morgue.

These music festivals are rife with drugs, even though there is screening at the entry. The problem with drugs is that if they are consumed prior to entry there is little evidence. I’ve heard of girls putting pills into balloons and then inserting them inside themselves to smuggle them into the festival so they can consume them in the portable toilets. I even know some teenagers who flaunt their drug use by using pill emoticons when posting photos on social media.

The drug culture has always been taboo and something that teenagers will not openly disclose to their parents. I know some teenagers think that rebellion is a rite of passage, but this behaviour is risky and yet they seem to have little fear of the possible consequences.

I was exposed to drugs as a teenager but I always took the view that I had high enough self-esteem to say no and not bend to peer pressure. The funny thing is that the kids who were the ‘popular’ ones doing drugs and pushing boundaries ended up as the least successful adults and the kids that were more conservative in their behaviour have turned out to have the most balanced lives.

My heart goes out to the Bartter family as they grieve the loss of their beautiful daughter, whose life should have been just starting – not ending! Unfortunately I don’t have much advice on how to stop your kids using drugs except to say have conversations with your kids about the dangers of drug use, try to ensure they have good self esteem and won’t bend to peer pressure, keep an eye on your kid’s friends social media and monitor your kid’s behaviour for any signs of drug use.

Friendships and fun times are what make life exciting – not taking drugs! I just hope this message sinks in for my kids and they have the good sense to say no to drugs.

(Photo courtesy of amenic181, freedigitalphotos.net)

MY BLOG’S 1ST ANNIVERSARY

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Thank you to all my blog supporters – today my blog, Truth About Parenting, turns one. Just over a year ago, I had no idea how to post a blog or even if anyone would want to read what I had to write! I just knew that I would relish the opportunity to write regularly and with almost 17 years experience in parenting, it seemed like a topic with endless material.

I began writing daily but felt I was bombarding people with my blog posts (plus I wanted a life to do other things too), so I now post bi-weekly. Over the past twelve months I have written 138 posts, had over 5,000 reads and have over 1,200 followers. I am humbled by the fact that I have had people from all around the world reading and commenting on my posts.

I have had a few giggles from terms used in search engines that lead the people to my blog. The latest chuckle I had was last week when I wrote a post about Trick or Treating and a search engine term was “Trick or treat, now get the f@#* off my property” – I’m not sure why my blog was recommended, but thanks to that person for reading it all the same.

The most popular post has been “Awkward birds and bees questions”. It seems I’m not alone in being asked some tricky questions when explaining the facts of life!

I wanted to take the opportunity today to thank everyone who has read my blog and to encourage you to share it (either through social media or my website www.truthaboutparenting.net) if you think you know someone who would also enjoy reading my short ramblings on parenting!

(picture courtesy of bplanet@freedigitialphotos.net)