Talking to kids about Autism

Today I had the great opportunity to talk to H’s grade primary class about Autism.

To prep for the visit I had reached out to my Facebook friends who are parents to ask what they would like their kids to know about Autism. Many who responded asked me to post about my visit, so I thought I’d share the details of my “presentation” to his little 5 and 6 year-old buddies!

My friend Carly, who has a son with Autism in grade one, provided me with an incredible activity for the kids (one she has used when visiting her son’s classes the past two years) and some resources that could be sent home for parents.

H’s teacher introduced me to the class, and they were all really excited to meet H’s mom. It was really wonderful to chat with all the friend’s H had told me about, and to get to know them a bit better. They were all interested in me as well, one little friend inquired about my age and deemed me to be around 99. After the week I’ve had, I felt this was a fair estimate.

We started right away with the exercise. I had brought a large roll of paper. On the paper I had a number of different columns where I wrote some of the things that made H who he was:

  • Loves pasta and pizza
  • Likes playing sports
  • Enjoys swimming at the beach
  • Plays with lego
  • Has a sister

And more. In the middle of the sheet I had written, “has Autism”.

sheet1

I read out all of the different things H loved, but left out the “I has Autism” column. The kids were each given three post-it notes. They wrote their names on it, and then selected three activities/things that they also enjoyed. One everyone was done, they all sat down and we held up the sheet. I wrote H’s name on three post-its and placed them under “plays sports” (cause basketball is a HUGE thing right now) and “loves pasta”. I turned to the class and said, “I’m going to put this last sticky note here, under ‘Has Autism'”. Of course this was the only sticky note under this column.

“Look at all of these columns,” I said to the group. “You all are the same in so many ways!”

I then pointed to the “Has Autism” column, “This is one thing that makes H different from you. There are so many things that you share with H, but there is one thing that makes you different.”

The kids were really interested to learn about what Autism meant. So, H’s Learning Centre teacher sat them in the reading corner and she read the book, “My Friend with Autism”. It’s a great book, although the part where the book explains that the kids can’t “catch” Autism always makes me cringe. The book comes with colouring pages, that H’s teacher is preparing to send home in a binder with one child a night, so that they can sit with their parents/caregivers and talk about Autism and colour a page, placing it in the binder that will eventually be given to H to show him that his friends are supportive of who he is, and what makes him so great.

MyFriend

The book talked about some of the challenges H faces in his environment, such as sensory issues; like an aversion to loud noises, difficulty handling bright lights, and struggling sometimes to put his thoughts into words.

The best thing that happened after reading the book is that one kid said, “Now WE have a friend with Autism!” and everyone said, “Yah!!!”. Then another boy looked at his friend and said, “We’re not the same either!”.

What really hit me during this visit, was how prepared the kids were to have this talk. That their teacher had taken the time to talk to them about differences, about kindness and the meaning of equality. This resonated in the way the kids approached their questions to me, and how kind they were when referencing some of H’s behaviours in the classroom. They were not demeaning when they referenced these differences, but rather empathetic and curious. And curious is a completely great thing to be!

After reading the book, I referenced some sections and talked about how H identified with some of the points raised in the book, and then I asked them if they had any questions. They had some really good ones, and in another post I’ll try to recall them and provide my answers.

H’s teachers were wonderful in helping me prepare a package that we could send home to parents. It included a letter from me, and a handy (OMG I am so old now that I use the word “handy”) guide to talking to your kids about Autism. This guide is really great, and includes ways that typical kids can support their buddies with Autism.

Here is the letter I sent home with parents:

Dear Parents of xxxx Class:

My name is Ally, I’m the mom of H one of your child’s classmates.

H is six years old. He loves cooking with his Dad, playing with his toy characters (all kinds!), playing basketball, soccer and street hockey, watching movies (Inside Out is his current favourite) and reading books.

H also has Autism Spectrum Disorder, which means that his day at school likely differs a bit from the day your child experiences. H spends some time in the Learning Centre to work on some skills that he needs support with, and he also gets support from the classroom “helpers”.

Today, I came into Ms. xxxx classroom to talk to the kids about Autism. xxxxx amazing Learning Centre teacher, Ms. xxxx, joined me for this chat. We spoke to the kids about what Autism meant, and specifically, what it meant for H.

My husband xxxx and I wanted to send a note home to parents to talk about this chat, and to share with you what we talked about with the kids and also provide some resources that you might find helpful in talking to your kids about how everyone is different.

Today we focused on how all brains work differently, and that kids with Autism have really special brains that give them incredible strengths, but also provide some challenges. Some of these challenges include:

  • Sensory issues: Lots of kids with Autism struggle with noise volume and bright lights. These are things that H has to manage all day in addition to learning from Ms. xxxx. It makes him really tired, and this is why “helpers” sometimes take him for extra breaks in the learning centre. There he can regroup and return to the classroom.
  • Transitions: Sometimes kids with Autism get super focused on what they are doing. They are really interested in reading a book, or having lots of fun being silly and moving on to the next activity can be very tough for them to understand. This is why H’s helpers often use a “countdown” or a timer with him to help him understand that the next transition or activity is just a couple of minutes away. This lets H understand that a transition is about to happen.
  • Directions: Directions can be really tough for H to comprehend. Especially if there is more than one direction. His brain needs some time to understand each direction, which is why he gets frustrated sometimes in class or on the playground when his friends are playing games with a lot of rules.

H loves his friends in his class. He can point to each one of his friends in the class photo and tell me what they like and what they play at recess or after lunch. H wants to play and have fun like all of the other kids, but the tough thing is that sometimes he struggles with understanding the rules of the game, or comprehending a conversation that is happening really quickly. Here are some ways you can talk to your child about helping out a friend who might think differently than they do:

  • Be Patient. Some friends need a bit of extra time to understand what you are asking, or may need help with understanding the rules of the game you are playing.
  • Be kind. When you see a friend looking sad or frustrated, it might be because they are having a hard time finding their words to say how they are feeling, or they may not be able to find a way to ask you if they can play as well. Always remember that while H might not be able to communicate all his thoughts the same way you’re able to, he does understand everything you say. Words matter and he gets hurt feelings just like everyone else!
  • Be inclusive. H wants to play at recess or after lunch just like all the other kids. Invite him to play with you on the playground, he loves to have fun!
  • Be curious. It’s ok to have questions about H, and how he communicates differently. It is always ok to ask a teacher for help if you don’t understand what H is asking/saying. They can help you and H figure out the best way to play.

As well, here are some great, progressive pages to follow:

One of my favourites is Diary of a Mom; she raises two daughters, one with Autism and one who is typically developing. Her philosophy on parenting both her daughters is so inspirational: http://adiaryofamom.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Diary-of-a-Mom/

The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism: Some really great posts here, makes you think differently about disabilities and what we have previously thought about Autism https://www.facebook.com/thinkingpersonsguidetoautism/

And this was a great article in the Globe and Mail recently: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/to-help-my-child-with-asperger-syndrome-i-need-to-look-through-her-eyes/article28185297/

I was so happy to be able to chat with the kids today. H has some great friends! I understand that autism is a big topic for them to understand, so never hesitate to touch base with me if you have any questions.

So there you have it! A brief overview of my awesome chat with some even more awesome kids!

 

 

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A letter to my son on his sixth birthday.

Dear Kiddo:

You’re six tomorrow. And you’re a phenomenal six. There has never been a better ambassador for the number six. Six will have the best year ever in the marketing department.

When their kids have a birthday milestone like this, most parents talk about how time has flown by so fast. Time hasn’t really flown by for us, in fact I remember that there were very long days, long weeks, long months and long years. These days, weeks and months were so drawn out because we, as your parents, were struggling to be just that…parents. We had read all the parenting books, devoured all the blogs, listened eagerly to other parents during playdates and birthday parties, but it seemed as though none of the advice and counsel provided applied to you at all.

We kept trying though, to adhere to the rule book, to measure progress by the same guidelines, to take your hand and lead you back into the box labelled “typical little boy”.

And it’s not like you fought it, the people-pleaser that you are worked diligently to fit into the mold we’d prepared for you, but you knew in your heart and in your head that it didn’t fit. It didn’t feel good, and it wasn’t you.

I’m sorry that it took us longer to figure that out. It wasn’t because we don’t love you. Oh, if you knew how much we love you.

I think the greatest gift we’ve given you this year is taking that “typical little boy” box and lighting it on fire. I only wish we had brought s’mores.

Now our joy is seen watching you throw yourself into your passions, your interests, what makes you, “you”.

Our joy is the hour we spend on Saturday mornings pouring over the pasta recipe book that your Poppy picked up at Frenchy’s. Reading every single ingredient and deciding which meal would be best for each of your friends when you have them over for a dinner date.

Our joy is determining the specific shade of colour for every single item that you come in contact with…the garlic finger is light brown, the cup is baby blue, the minion stuffie is sunshine yellow…ok, that gets a bit tiring but it brings you comfort and peace of mind so we indulge.

Our joy is watching how you excitedly run up to meet new friends at the playground, eager to use your new found words. And our joy is seeing how you regroup when sometimes those friends don’t know how to respond. You just dust yourself off and try again. A skill that many of us adults still aren’t able to grasp.

Our joy is watching you at the cottage, a place where you are literally free. Free of programming, of structure, of barriers and constraints. Where you can race across fields, run into the icy cold ocean water, and spend time with all your summertime friends.

Our joy, my little buddy, is seeing your joy. Your happiness. Happiness that we probably hindered for a long time, however innocent our motives.

At six years old, you’ve literally changed our entire world. You’ve opened up our minds and our hearts and those of the people who surround you.

You are a ball of giggly silliness. You have Poppy’s ability to laugh at his own jokes, no matter how many times you tell them. You have an imagination that I envy and love being a part of when you tell your stories through your cherished characters. You are everything to your little sister, whose face lights up when she hears your voice or sees your smiling face.

You are the little boy I always dreamed of having; a boy who loves his family, loves his life, loves fun and adventure and who loves being himself.

You are perfect.

Happy Birthday, Boo.

HughBeach

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That one time I did something right.

There are a million mommy blogs out there, all of which likely contain a post about this magnificent groundbreaking moment they had with their child when everything became clear to them.

Well this is another one.

The posts on this blog are far and few in between. Mostly because parenting a small child and balancing a career is fairly challenging, and it’s hard to type with one hand when you’re guzzling a container of wine after toddler bedtime. I try to get on here though when I have real deep thoughts, or there is something I’d like to share with my son or daughter when they are older(I haven’t properly introduced her on this blog, but that’s because she’s the second child and we mostly ignore her…she’s laying around here somewhere and I figure we’ll find out where once she gets hungry enough to call us).

Recently I shared a link on my Facebook page to this inspiring blog post from one of those other mommy blogs. This mom was Good. Like, capital G good. She talked a good game about not appreciating other people coming to her kid’s rescue when they’re at the playground. That her kids need to learn how to overcome adversity in order to get through this life without their heads shoved up their ass. I read it, shared it, and thought, “mmmhmm, exactly”. Except, I’m a complete fraud. My son is the kid at the playground repeating, “that’s not safe” when he encounters anything that requires a bit of effort to climb.

Basically, I thought that in order to be a good mom you needed to make sure your kid didn’t break. Part of it my son comes by naturally. Since birth he has always been cautious, like me, before taking on any task. I have to admit that another part of his anxiety comes from me trying to shelter him from anything that might give him the idea that the world is a sort of terrifying place. I slipped once when I let him watch Lady Gaga’s Marry the Night video. Nightmares for dayzzzz.

I’m trying, though, to be better for him, because I’m seeing how this behaviour is holding him back.

Tonight, it was my turn to take the boy to swimming lessons. It was to be his second lesson. So despite the pouring rain, we headed to his lesson which was being held at an outdoor pool. I ignored him the entire drive over when he pleaded with me to go home cause it was too cold to swim. I dragged him down the stairs to the pool once we arrived while balancing the umbrella. I averted my eyes so as not to look into his while we waited for his class to start, because I knew I would break if I saw the tears streaming down his face.

His shirt came off and he was thrust into his teacher’s arms, where he screamed and cried, and begged me to let him go home. I smiled and waved and gave precious winks to the other moms and dads watching this shit show play out in front of them. When he somehow escaped from his teacher’s arms and crawled out of the pool, shaking violently from the combination of freezing ass cold and being utterly terrified, I gently shoved him back in with the promise of treats when we got back to the car. I ignored him when he cried out, “but I looooooove you” as his teacher bounced away with him to the other side of the shallow end.

Then something clicked. He realized he was fucked (sorry, there really isn’t a better word). He was stuck in that pool for another 20 minutes until the class was over. He was going to have to suck it up and lay on the big floaty board and kick his feet. And so he did.

I watched this all go down in the pouring rain, completely soaked from repeatedly walking him back in the water.

He was scared, but he did it. He grinned at me from across the pool and kicked those little feet.

That was accomplished in the last minute of the class. If he had given up, he never would have felt that rush. He never would have realized that he could do it. I never would have gotten to see that confidence resonate from my son’s face.

On the way home, my son eating his Lightening McQueen gummy treats (I know, awful), I told him how proud I was of him and asked him if he was proud of himself. He said quietly, “Yah, I made it”. Being the drama queen that I am, I chocked back tears and agreed with him. Then he said, “Mommy? I love you.”

So there it is, a defining moment in my son’s life. Maybe he’ll share this story in his valedictorian speech at high school graduation entitled, “The Day I Grew a Set of Balls” alternatively titled, “The Day my Mother Stopped Ruining my Life”.

The truth is he will likely forget his moment of glory at age three in the neighbourhood public pool. I hope not though. I hope he remembers some of it. Maybe not that I abandoned him to the arms of a 20 something lifeguard who sort of wasn’t really careful about him not swallowing water, but I hope he remembers how alive he felt when he let go of his fear and actually took a chance. I hope it means that he’ll try it again. I hope it means that he’ll begin to understand to get to the glory you have to sometimes get served up with defeat.

Dear reader, I can see you rolling your eyes at this point, and that’s fair. To me though, after all we’ve been through with him this past year, tonight meant everything. I felt I did something right, and in doing so I allowed him his own moment of victory.

Tomorrow night at his third swimming class he’ll maybe pee in the pool, or throw himself on the ground before he even gets in. And if he does, I’ll know what to do. I’ll abandon the little shit into the arms of the 20 something lifeguard that maybe lets him swallow pool water.

And we’ll both be better for it.

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That’s a Bad Word, Mommy.

swear

Pre-kid, one of my favourite activities was to judge other parents. Pretty high on the list were the parents who let their kids run around with snot caked on their face. Actually, I still judge this. It’s called kleenex, they sell it at the grocery store. You’re welcome.

Another thing I judged was kids who dropped “f-bombs”, words they obviously heard from their parents. “How hard is it to not swear in front of your kids?!” I judged.
“Fucking hard,” post-baby Ally answers.

Case in point, on several occasions our Toddler G has been within earshot when we’ve said the word “shit”. I’m talking situations where you spill maple syrup on the floor or perhaps pour boiling water on your hand. It’s not pre-meditated, people. It slips out. Of course we do the obligatory, “Mommy/Daddy is sorry! We should never say that word! Never!”

The kid isn’t stupid. He quickly picked up on our anxiety and has used it effectively to his advantage.

Example A: Toddler G has come along for a family walk to Video Difference on a beautiful winter Sunday morning to select a few videos of his choice. Upset at having to remain in his stroller, he decides his payback will be served best in the form of instant mortification for his mother, “We don’t say shit, Mommy. Do we? No. We don’t say shit.” At first the video clerk pretends not to hear the child stuffed into his snowsuit which is stuffed into his stroller. This upsets Toddler G, so he repeats, “I said we DON’T SAY SHIT, MOMMY. DO WE? WE DON’T SAY SHIT!” Finally the video clerk giggles and Toddler G smiles with satisfaction.

Example B: We’re at a friend’s place post-sledding on a beautiful snowy day. Relaxing in their living room, we are chatting over a cheese plate while the kids enjoy their healthy snack in the living room. Feeling left out and frankly pissed that we have the better crackers, Toddler G swaggers over to our side of the room to check things out. Taking a cracker and piece of cheese from the cheese plate, Toddler G looks at our friend and says sincerely, “We don’t say shit”, winks at me and saunters out of the room. Toddler 2 – Mommy 0.

Example C: It’s hard to trump the no swear rule. Which Toddler G has learned early on. I was bad, and he will do everything in his power to remind me of this. Yesterday morning, Toddler G was pretending his fork was the school bus dropping his pancakes off at school, as one does from time to time. This had to be done by scrapping his fork along our wooden table, “Toddler G, it makes mommy angry when you scrape your fork on the table,” I said firmly just like the parenting books tell you. “Oh. It makes me angry when you say shit, Mommy,” he responded.

Touche.

He has also learned other things from me, like how you can effectively display concern that you may or may not actually feel towards someone’s hardship by uttering, “what a sin” softly while shaking your head in commiseration.

“Why would you torture yourself by buying maternity skinny jeans,” asked my husband as he saw what the bright red pants were doing to my five-months-pregnant behind.

“What a sin,” says Toddler G, who has overheard this exchange, shaking his head in sorrow.

We shudder in fear some days sending him off to school, wondering what street language he is going to throw down in Circle Time.

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Basically I was a Nut Job…

Things have been busy lately. So busy that my husband searched for a way to bring some levity into my life by sending me the following document I prepared for him when Toddler G was Baby G and I was heading out of the house for my first evening away from the kidlet. It’s scary, dudes. Really scary. I prepared a document for him. An actual document on how to care for our child. Like it was his first rodeo. Here are some snippets (obviously his name has been replaced with “Baby G” to protect his identify…this is for the time-being until I get my Dina Lohan role underway and start pimping him out on YouTube:

Baby G’s Intinerary

Pre-Dinner

  • Make Baby G’s supper
  • Prepare bottle for bedtime
  • Wipe down bath
  • Two face cloths (one for wiping bath, one for Baby G to sit on)
  • Place Baby G’s towel and face cloth in the bathroom
  • Lay out pajamas on our bed
  • Fill humidifier

Supper

  • Sippy cup of water
  • Meal
  • Fruit for dessert
  • Warm milk and bring it upstairs with you

Bathtime

  • Play with toys
  • Wash hair
  • Wash stinky baby
  • Play with toys
  • Out when Baby G says so!
  • Warm milk again

Pre-Bed Routine

  • Baby G waves at himself in mirror wrapped in towel (Editor’s note: I really did have this down to an effing science)
  • Place on change table, make a big deal about looking for Sal (Editor’s note: Sal is Baby G’s stuffed animal)…”Who’s that?! What’s in there??!! Who could it be??!!”
  • Bring out Sal, “It’s SAL!” (Hug Sal when you say this)
  • Start the Sal song, (Editors note: I did include the lyrics for the “Sal song” but in order to protect what is left of my credibility I will delete for the purpose of this blog).
  • Baby G hugs Sal while you sing the song
  • Face cream first
  • Excema cream
  • Lotion on legs (not on feet, Vicks Vapour Rub goes on feet) and arms
  • Vicks on chest, feet and back (Editors note: He had a cold! Give me a break)
  • Hair brushed
  • Dim lights, turn on humidifier, turn on monitors (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT PUT HIM IN HIS CRIB FOR THIS, CARRY HIM TO DO IT)
  • Into bedroom to put on pajamas and read a story
  • Back in Baby G’s room, sit in the rocking chair and give milk. Constant slow rocking while Baby G has his milk. Not too fast, not too slow. No talking. Start to look sleepy yourself. He should be laying in your arms like a baby, rub his legs and belly a bit with the hand that is not holding the bottle. He should start to get drowsy.
  • After milk, softly bounce and pace around the room (slowly) while Baby G lays against your chest. 
  • Place in crib once he is relaxed (sometimes he actually points to crib and wants to go in).
  • He will roll towards Sal, and cuddle him, put his blanket over him after this happens.

Make sure to open his door and your door before you go to sleep.

If Baby G wakes up

  • Grab the bottle you prepared for the morning and warm it. You can replace it afterwards. Don’t go in until you have the warm bottle. He’ll just get worked up that it is not mommy.
  • Same routine as before bed. Rock slowly, rub his leg, turn on music (you often have to turn the volume down a bit, for some reason it starts out loud)
  • Pace a bit and lay down with Sal. He will probably cry a bit, but if he is not teething, he should be fine to go back to sleep. 

At the time, I did not realize how insulting this organizational chart must have been for The Husband. In retrospect, I was a massive asshole. I love that he saved it. Toddler G will be so impressed with our communication skills when he is a teenager.

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Cut to Two Years Later

I’ve completely ignored this blog. Completely. It wasn’t until my friend Marah commented on my Facebook page citing this blog that I thought to perhaps update on the goings on in Baby G’s life.

Baby G is now Toddler G. I look fondly on my trials and tribulations with the Soothie and the Transition to Crib. Now we are dealing with a pint size locomotive who is constantly attracted to traffic and expresses this affection by attempting to run into the street on an ongoing basis.

His vocabularly is amazing. Truly. It took him 15 months to walk, but by age 17 months he could name every colour under the rainbow and currently enjoys using terms like, “Jesus Christ” and “Oh my God” in addition to humanity’s all-time favourite swear words. Note to parents of newborns: no matter how much you try, they will hear you uttering a foul word at your weakest moment. It could be 12am, they could be fast asleep in their crib, you could be telling off your husband in hushed tones and possibly dropping the f-bomb. Guaranteed, they will hear that and use it the next day. Moritifying.

He truly is a parrot. Which gives us great comfort in sending him off to daycare. I can image the teachers delight when he drops a book in class and expresses his displeasure with a “oh, shit”.

I’m painting a bad picture here. Our son can also count to ten, remembers the names of the majority of his 100 odd books and can pretty much carry on a conversation. We’re super proud. Therefore, will ignore the occasional swear word he adds in as an adjective. Although if he is going to say, “Oh my God” it would be nice if her could get a sense of the context. Currently he is using it in sentences like, “Mommy read Curious George, please. Oh my God!” and “Mommy let’s go look at the blue water. Oh my God!”

So, more posts to come as we continue to navigate this thing called parenting. Basically, we still feel like the luckiest people on earth. Oh my God!

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Days go by…

My little baby is over a year old. Not only has time flown by, but it as given proof of my ineptitude as a mommy blogger.

I found the lead-up to the first birthday really emotional. It just seemed like the year got away from me, even though there were days that felt they would never end (particularly in the early months and the long winter days when it was too cold to go outside).

So since BabyG has turned one, I find myself struggling to let go of some of his “baby ways”. Like the bottle. I’ll admit it. He’s still taking milk from a bottle before bed (calm down, we brush his teeth before he goes to sleep), I just am really hesitant to give this up. It’s not that he’s not comfortable with a sippy cup. He loves his sippy for his water and milk during the day, but we both are attached to those moments before bed, when he’s fresh from his bath, placed in his cozy pajamas and story time has just commenced. We cuddle in his rocking chair and I chat with him about the day, he plays with my eyelashes and then plays with his own. Mostly, we just smile at eachother until he starts getting really sleepy.

Maybe you got to know BabyG, but having him cuddle, or stay still for any length of time (like, two seconds) is impossible. He’s never been one for snuggling, except when he’s sick. And he’s never wanted to sleep in our bed, except when he’s sick. You get the picture. He’s always wanted Mama at bedtime though, he looks forward to this time as much as I do I think. Where he can have a warm bottle of milk and kick back and get some cuddles.

So, yah, I know, I know. I’ve got to give it up. I can just see the judgey moms tsk tsking me through the screen. Oddly enough, I don’t really care about the judgement. I’ve become a big believer in doing what feels right for you and your baby. A mom sort of knows when it’s the right time to transition to something else, and I feel like I want to give us both a bit more time with the bottle before bed routine (again, chill, WE ARE BRUSHING HIS TEETH…ok, I care about the judging a bit). Besides, it won’t be long before he tires of this routine and wants to be more independent. I won’t let him be all Suri Cruise, carrying a bottle around at age 4. Swears it.

I also swears that I will try to update a bit more. I like writing here, mostly because I want a place to track my thoughts for the boy to read when he gets older. So he’ll know that even when I’m super pissed at him, I’ve always loved him with everything. Plus, he can blackmail me when he realizes all the mistakes I’ve made that I’ve recorded here on the site.

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