Fighting the dragon: Autism & the school system


As we are coming closer and closer to the school year, I am starting the cringe with the notion that here begins the fight with the Toronto District School Board to get the much-needed support for our son and others like him at our school. As we left the school in June, we were informed that while our school is considered a “hotspot” for Special Needs and recognized that there is a significant number of kids who require help to support them in school, we have thus far been allocated .5 of a position (for reference that is a 1 part-time position)..we apparently need at least 2.5 positions to cover the needs of the children.

We promptly did what many suggested and started writing letter (s) in Late June (combined with the parents of the other little guy that shared the SNA (Special Needs Assistant) with us last year). We sent it to the school trustee, superintendent, supervising principal and our MPP. We received 1 response (which we appreciated) from the superintendent, indicating that everyone was on holidays until the 20th of August and we would potentially meet then to discuss.

We have followed up but without any response to date.

I know, everyone in Toronto seems to be in a tizzy about the teacher contract agreement and what is about to happen with them. Ask any special needs parent what they think of hearing the trials and tribulations of teachers who live in such an unrealistic world of expectations on job security, pensions, and time off when it comes to hearing that your child won’t have any help this year and it’s sometimes hard to be sympathetic. I’m not saying that it’s the teachers who are responsible for the lack of resources available but I do feel that the Behemoth that is the TDSB and the way they have negotiated some terms in regards to union agreements have made it near to impossible to address the resources required in supporting the growing epidemic of Autism and children’s needs in the school system. 1 in 88 children or 1 in 54 boys now has autism. Can you truly say that your school system has changed their budgets in any way to assist that number?

Original source: http://www.churchstoke.powys.sch.uk/pages/viewPage.html?page=2071

I hate that this is going to be a fight. At one point during the summer as I was learning more and more about the lack of resources available, I even considered what it would take to become Catholic? (Trust me..I wouldn’t fit in..) Where would we have to move to access appropriate resources for T at school? Does it really have to get to that?

Parents we talk to who have kids on the other side of school (now adults and experiencing different challenges) suggest looking at it as a journey instead of a battle. I very much DO look at Autism as an adventure when it comes to the experiences T has brought us. We have learned to be more patient, appreciative, creative and grateful parents and I love how our family works.

They also say:

Fight…Don’t Give UP…YOU are the advocate for your child…YOU are responsible for getting him the best care possible. 

OK…I’m suiting up…ready to take on the fire-breathing dragon….

For reference on the most recent Special Needs Report on the TDSB Click here 

A much needed TIME OUT to keep in the game

Let’s be honest. June knocked the wind out of my sails.

My resolve got knocked down, my heart ached, my dukes down in the fight. This is how it started…

Part 1: An autism conference where I realized how still very far away they are from really understanding Autism, how to treat it, and really concrete ideas on managing through it. But I also felt like my heart had been given hope and crushed at the same time as we learned more about  just how much of a fight this will be in T’s growing up..Abundantly clear thanks to an endearing dialogue between The Thomas’ a mother, Sandy and her 22-year-old son, Dylan as they candidly talked about their perspectives on what it was like growing up with Autism. Bottom line..”it will break your heart, it won’t be easy, but you’ll get through…”

Part 2: A series of “showcased” events (School dance, year-end shows, school field trip) in which it became fairly obvious that people I assumed “got it” were not exactly sure how to treat or address Autism as a normal part of daily life. One instance was the school trip in which I got the impression they thought T would  “dart” …we were on a farm..I volunteered that day but instead of including the two ASD kids in with the regular group and asking us to be active observers, we were kept separate along with the other Autistic boy in class and his mother, keeping the most important challenge of Autism, socialization the missing link on that adventure. Another moment was when he was set to the side at the dance,  that “joining in” to the rest of his class would get him too excited.  The last at a year-end recital for dance (we do Tap with him cause he loves the impact), I couldn’t help but cry because he was actually doing the routine (slower-about a 5 second delay) but he was doing it, and enjoying it and we were so friggin proud! and then…he just checked out…went off to his own planet halfway into the second routine and I started crying for a different reason…I was crying because I just wanted him to come back.. to be part of the moment…to be proud of what he accomplished…to be there.

Part 3: Where we are told that the Toronto District School Board does not have enough funding to provide an SNA (Special Needs Assistant) for T (and many others) next year and that we now need to fight our way up the ladder, become the squeaky wheel, do whatever is necessary to try to facilitate support for our son in the school system.

Part 4: Friends started asking how it was going, how T was doing, how our family was doing. I struggle often talking about Autism (except ironically online) because I don’t want it to consume our life. I don’t want it to be the only thing people think of when they look at T and yet, I want it to be a comfortable piece of conversation that is shared between our friends and family. I started to say something but couldn’t get the words out without that evil lump in my throat showing up. I’m not exactly sure why I started sobbing except that my energy felt it had hit an exhaustion point and my  heart-felt that it was physically aching. I said I was worried. That I felt like I wasn’t sure we were doing enough, that I hated thinking about how hard he might have in trying to connect with people growing up, worry about him, our daughter and making sure she is fairly and evenly cared for..my husband that he’s doing ok (as much as we talk, he still has taken on the role of guardian, papa bear to us all). We have amazing friends..but I didn’t realize how amazing until we started talking and they just let me talk…and gently asked questions and reassured me that we were doing everything we could to help T and support his success.

Strength in your relationship will give you the energy you need

And this is how the month ended…My parents came to town and let us get up to the cottage on our own. I sincerely think this saved my bacon. After reading an article in the early days of ASD that quoted parents of special needs were 80% more likely to divorce, I have been a big believer that it is essential to keep your relationship strong in helping manage through Autism. This trip time gave us the chance to regroup, to reconnect, to talk, to laugh and to remember why it was we got married in the first place.

We came home stronger, moving on and ready for July..refreshed and optimistic. We will all have those roller coaster times but this part of the ride I want to stay on for a long time.

The journey through Autism isn’t always easy

Last week I attended an Autism conference by KidsAbility in Waterloo and had the privilege of listening to a very honest, heartwarming and heartbreaking dialogue between Dylan Thomas (a 22 year old U of W student with Aspergers) and his mother, each describing their point of view of what it was like growing up with Autism. The closeness of their relationship as mother and son as well as their unique perspectives gave me moments of laughing my ass off with Dylan’s straight shooter depiction of thinking of people as animals to that large lump that gets in your throat as his mom described the constant challenges they faced in navigating the school system on Dylan’s behalf.

That presentation as amazing as it was, somehow turned me into a sobbing mess on the way home, an ache in my heart that felt so heavy as I thought about the road ahead and what we might have to face as T grows up.

That was Friday and it somehow opened the floodgates for the weekend as my most amazing husband sent me off to the cottage with the girls to regroup, relax and reconnect with lovely ladies I hadn’t had a chance to catch up with for quite a while. These are beautiful friends, women that I know very well, enjoy their senses of humour, and can easily talk about anything. Yet I found myself, worn out from a fairly exhausting month of work, unable to prevent the crack in my voice and the floodgates to open when we were having a simple conversation about Autism. I’m not sure if it’s that I don’t want to talk about it in case in starts to ostracize people or if I don’t like talking about it because I don’t want it to define who T is and who we are. I surprised myself by admitting that anyone who gives me that sympathetic, “I’m sorry” head tilt, I want to slap and I find myself putting the word “Autism” out there as almost a dare for anyone to react in a way that is anything different from normal.

T is doing really well right now. He is engaging in social conversation, he is doing way better at looking people in the eyes, his frustration freak outs are almost non-existent. He is doing well because we are working hard at managing a household that works for Autism. We go to Speech Path weekly, we practice at home, we work with his teachers, we know what sets him off and create plans that don’t contribute to those ugly moments.

No one ever said the road would be straight…

But he still has Autism.

He still has repetitive behaviours, over-stimulation issues, sound and texture sensitivities, communication and social challenges.

We always try to take a very positive approach to this journey but I have to admit, after a month of school field trips, volunteering in the classroom, school dance, and most recently an end of year performance where the kids go to dance, we are emotionally exhausted. Every time we go to one of these events, my heart is FULL of love for our little guy..we feel so incredibly proud of what he has achieved. But there is a part of me that is really sad…sad when he checks out into his own world in the middle of a performance, sad that kids aren’t connecting to him in school activities, sad that he is left out…sad because we can’t make a difference in those moments.

I know this just a moment in his life but its one I wish we could speed through and get to the other side.

After hearing the Thomas’ story, it seems like the road is a long one.

How Women In Biz helped me open up about Autism

I had the pleasure of attending the Women In Biz Network Conference in Toronto last week, reuniting with a number of “old” friends and meeting new ones. #WIBN has a very soft spot in my heart as it was through Women In Biz that I truly figured out Twitter and via their networking events, have met dear wonderful people who I truly count as amazing friends now.

It helped me realize how very much I am not alone in the world of solo/mom/entrepreneurship and that many of the challenges I face are very similar to what they are going through. What I love about the Women In Biz Network (perhaps because so many of us are moms) is that unlike posturing at other conferences, there is a group of highly motivated, intelligent women, willing to talk about those key challenges and brainstorm together how to help one another. What I have also found was a group of kindred spirits in moms (who are business owners/bloggers) who have children with special needs. They have been a tremendous source of encouragement, comfort, laughter and that much-needed nod of understanding when you are detailing some of the latest challenges you’ve had with the school board. Their experiences mirror my own and help me get through the moments I struggle with.

It was during one of those candid conversations, as we laughed about some of the judgemental looks we’ve gotten at the grocery store, that I realized how much we have changed habits/behaviours within our life to accommodate Autism into it. None of it is really a big deal but when you start adding it up, you realize how many changes we have made to help keep things on an even keel and keep our family strong.

A few changes..

-We haven’t eaten pasta in god knows how long. We used to get upset with T when he would gag out the spaghetti he was eating (thinking he was being overdramatic) until we discovered that texture can be a major issue for Autistic kids.

-My mother loves buying really awesome outfits for the kids but even she is starting to recognize that T just won’t wear jeans and depending on the day, really hates collared shirts (sometimes he will so there is always hope!) His favorite attire, pajamas (you can find him in them at any given time of the day) and he also can be found wearing a long sleeve shirt in the middle of a heat wave. Again as we looked further into this, jeans can feel like sandpaper to a kid with sensitivities and sometimes the long sleeve shirt is a response to his heightened reaction to stimuli. The funny thing is is how often before we better understood this, that those were a root of frustration/anger/impatient arguments in trying to get T to do what he was told.

-T goes through obsessions. First it was Thomas, then Lightning McQueen (Cars), then onto Super Mario. We are used to it. The kids at school patiently say “Yes, we know T…Super Mario and Luigi say ka-pow…as they roll their eyes cause they have heard it every day X10 for the last 2 months”, other people are not, and we see them annoyed/confused/amused by his repetitive conversations or simply stuff like “Welcome to the Thomas and Friends DVD Experience. Please press play to start the movie” We roll with the obsessions and often use it as a reward for good behaviour. Trying to fight it has proven to just not work for us.

-We have become quieter in our house. We’ve realized that yelling or loud voices is one of the worst things for him. We use a lot of non-verbal charades to help slow his brain down and get him to focus on looking at us to accomplish tasks. We also recognize that after a while when there are a lot of kids over playing that he will disappear to go play on the computer. Yes, it’s rude but it’s how he copes and we are totally ok with that.

-We work on patience (my husband and I) daily. We try more now to figure things out. See what’s not working..decide whether its T being a 6 year old boy, Autistic or both. We still have some really sad days (usually after an incident at the playground or after talking to the school board) but we know that if we don’t work together on all of this (as many reports show) we won’t make it. Bottom line.

This journey has taken us sharp left…and it is definitely an interesting adventure. Obsessions will change, behaviours will differ, life is ever-changing and we are learning as we go how to work with it. That’s Autism. A different puzzle (or piece to the puzzle) all the time.

Original source: http://www.theshirtdudes.com/monopoly-change.html

Training…finding time in the midst of tired

Morning with a view of the CN tower...jussssst off in the background. You see it?

I have something like a dozen half finished posts in my drafts these days. It seems that whenever I get a chance to sit down and truly concentrate on writing a post I think is worth value, it comes at a time where my eyes are getting heavy and my body is shutting down. I’m in a constant state of craving that much sought after sleep that (these days) feels a little elusive. Its not that I stay up that late, our challenge exists between the hours of 2-6am. Hours which normal sane people would be fast asleep in deep REM mode but our children have decided in this phase of familyhood, that they are prone to  getting up and acting as if its bright and sunny daytime rather than the dark cloak of night.

Like clockwork, one of them (BING! ) is awake, chatting about all sorts of gobbledy gook, not just awake but WIDE awake which (If we don’t get to them in time) might just wake up the other one. A much worse proposition. My husband and I love to dance but this dance LEFT-RIGHT-STUMBLE TO BED-GET UP–LIE DOWN WITH KID-BACK TO OUR BED-TAG OFF-REPEAT is one that we’re not as much fans as say a good foxtrot!

You might think that we have really young kids…a baby perhaps or a toddler…ummmmm no. Our kids are 4 & 6 and seem to have been leaping in and out of this phase for their entire existence. We know they can stay in bed. All sorts of threats, negotiations, deals and more though seem to get thrown out the window as soon as they say those words that breaks the heart of every parent its been said to..”Mommy…I had a nightmare…will you cuddle with me?” Ouch! Stab me right through the heart, because whether or not they really did have a bad dream, (I had many growing up) I want to be there to help comfort them when they need it.

I am not helping the matter of being tired. As I mentioned, I actually enjoyed the accomplishment of the half marathon we did last year so much that we are doing it again. May 6th is our official race day and we are now in the high teens in terms of long runs along with other short runs/training 3-4 times a week. So I am getting my exercise and training hard for this run. We also have begun training for a Try Triathalon. This is something that a) I never in a million years entertained I would be doing and b) find monsterously more appealing than say and actual Triathalon as its more likely going to be a 500m swim, 20k bike and a 5 k run. All elements I know I can handle. Its just whether I can handle them together?

A few friends have commented recently on where I have found the time or the energy. The answer is two fold.

The time…I have a really awesome partner in a husband who has come to the brilliant conclusion that when I exercise, I am a happier person…ergo, he supports me and the training schedule I am working against (and often keeps me motivated by telling me how proud he is that I am going after a goal and sticking to it). I also try to manage runs during times that don’t impact our family as much…which is why I am getting out of my cozy warm comfy bad at 5:45am to meet up with my neighbour and get in the 7k we need to do before 7am tomorrow. Yuck!

The energy…I think since I started this I have more energy overall…I am eating healthier, I am sleeping better (when the kids don’t wake us up) and I am feeling fit. But truth be told, in the confession outlet that is this blog post, I drop the ball. I have a long overdue list of phone calls to make, emails to catch up on, taxes to be done, garage sale stuff to be organized…I can go on…

But I know for me, to stay healthy and in fighting form to tackle the constant challenges we keep getting faced with, this is what I need to do. My friends know I love them and someday we will catch up (definitely over a glass of wine), the taxes will eventually get accomplished, the garage sale stuff purged…

and emails…I don’t think anyone ever catches up on emails…like ever.

We LIT IT UP……Blue for Autism Awareness

We LIT IT UP BLUE

Autism Support
Light it up Blue on April 2, 2012

As I came home last night and approached our house, the shining blue spotlights clearly made a statement. I love that we chose to do this as a way of showing our support for World Autism Awareness Day. It demonstrated part of our commitment in raising awareness for Autism but in my mind, also made me keenly aware of how different we are from our neighbours. As they went on with their nightly activities, I came home…poured a drink…cuddled into my husband and had a good cry.

I was so overwhelmed by yesterday.

Throughout the day, I felt incredibly proud of how people in the world were coming together on one singular day to raise as much awareness as possible. It seemed every store I had stopped into recently- Toys R Us, Home Depot- there was a message about raising awareness. The Autism Speaks website had an incredible amount of shots of structures around the world Lighting It Up Blue in support. Amazing.

I found myself reading a ton of blogs, following a number of streams on Twitter, posted on Facebook, and received messages of support via email, direct message and posts on my walls from friends who generously reached out to make their statement about Autism.

My heart hurt with how many people wrote honestly and with raw truth on what it feels to be a parent with a child with special needs. The one that hit the nail on the head was 7 Things You Don’t Know About a Special Needs Parent. I appreciated so much what Maria Lin wrote in terms of the feelings you have as a parent in this situation.

When I was online after first hearing the diagnosis, I wish I had seen this. Instead I went through months of guilty feelings trying to get past that life will be different now but not really knowing how to move on. (Thus the running)

I feel like the cog in the awareness wheel is finally starting to move a little bit. That people are more and more aware of Autism (and an increasing number of kids are getting diagnosed with some form of ASD) but they still don’t really understand it. No one really does.

Now I find part of me is filled with an unruly amount of impatience. I want to do something. I want to fix something. I want to see change.

I keep thinking we need to look at things just a little bit differently..to better understand Autism and how it works, we could come up with stronger answers on how to help them manage through the key challenges they have in daily life. I used the example to my husband of one of those 3D puzzles you have in the paper. Looking at it, its just a series of spots..but if you let your eyes relax, suddenly you see an entire picture that wasn’t there a second ago.

I am trying to relax… my eyes…just a little bit more.

Autism Diagnosis – 1 year later…It gets better

We’ve officially just passed our first year with an ASD diagnosis.

It’s sometimes hard to believe that it was only a year ago that we first got sucker-punched with the announcement that our 4 yr old son (at the time) was on the spectrum. This year became a test of everything. A test of our patience, a test on our marriage, a test on our ability to learn, to cope, to support, to stay positive, and ultimately to keep laughing.

For those of you new to a diagnosis, here is a snapshot of what might happen within the first year of discovering your child has Autism. (NB: I’m being brutally honest here in hopes to pass on a realistic viewpoint and let you know that you are not alone)

First 2-3 months: Feels like you’re in a foggy haze. I have seen people react many different ways to a diagnosis. Self-pity, frustration, anger, heartbreak. As much as I tried to be positive, there were still moments I felt like I wanted to scream. I couldn’t comprehend why us, didn’t think he was really that far off from regular kids to be defined as Autistic, embarrassed by how often when someone asked me about it I couldn’t hold it together. There will be many tears, often from frustration as you fumble through trying to figure out what you are supposed to do (especially when it comes to finding support and school). You might feel useless, overwhelmed, sad, disappointed and still completely (if not more so) madly in love with your child.

A dear friend gave us a copy of The first 100 Days by Autism Speaks. It helped. Although my husband and I are both Do’ers- I’m an event planner and he’s a project manager and we didn’t get the sit back and process mode, instead stupidly tried to project manage the Autism right out of our little guy.

100 Days of Autism Diagnosis

Source: etsy.com via Jennifer on Pinterest

 

The next 4-8 months: Once we finally got to the realization that indeed our son was Autistic, that this was going to be a lifelong venture and we needed to start adjusting the how to’s in managing his success, we (or should I say I more so than my husband) had a really difficult time informing people of T’s ASD diagnosis. It felt often that people were a bit stunned and didn’t know what to say..choosing to say something like “well, he doesn’t seem Autistic to me” (hated that)..or gave us that dreaded pity look (hated that more). Then there are those friends who say something brilliant and just help you get through. Best examples of peeps we love and their originality that helped so much..

J- Simply said “Oh..so he’ll be an engineer” That matter of fact..like ASD would help guide his career path to a place where other socially awkward folks might hang out..that there was a pre-existing destination that would be completely accepting of the way he functions

G- Who sent a lovely email with “I don’t know what to say” (love her honesty) and that she was there..on call…standing by if we needed her.

T- Who let me just bawl and agreed it sucked and let me rant to her more than once and asked me how I felt…that rarely happened and I would rarely talk to anyone how I was feeling but T and I are that kind of veritable friend soul mate..who can call you out, ask you tough questions and you love them for it

W-Who is one of the most generous hearts I know and also has had a ton of experience in Autism given that she has family who are as well. She was the greatest listener and advice giver ever. Having a ton of wonderful matter of fact conversations that helped me better understand what Autism is all about.

School

In this time period, we also felt the massive and crushing experience of “working” with the school system to get T some help. It blows my mind how often we heard “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”…and they’re right. Chris and I are both very much sit in the camp of you get more bees with honey but this is one example I can truly say, YOU GOTTA FIGHT! FOR YOUR RIGHT…to have your children supported in school. Many parents who went before me with the an ASD diagnosis, kept telling me to advocate for my son. I truly didn’t know what that meant until dealing with his education. It felt like a battle from the word go.. and we have to say we are incredibly fortunate to have a principal we feel supports us and lucked out with an EA who T and another boy share. The key issue..budget. There is 4X as many Autism diagnosis than in 2002 in our province and yet they have not changed the budget significantly to manage how many kids are needing help.This is something I plan to go on a crusade about once we get our lives in order.

Help

Another key change we did was coordinate help. We went to the Triple P parenting class offered by the Geneva Centre for Autism, which I highly recommend for a number of reasons. 1) You get to talk to other parents who are having similar struggles at home 2) The videos might be a bit hokey but they give you great foundations to work with not only your special needs children but parenting in general 3) You start developing a series of strategies for managing through the day to day to keep your spirits high and your energy focused on the positive. We also worked with an Occupational Therapist to look at ways to help him manage (we discovered he is a deep sensory kid and that a really big squeeze hug will help often when he gets overwhelmed). It also explained a lot why he doesn’t like certain textures..(right now jeans are on the outs) as the OT explained for him, its more like sandpaper than comfort..and why he gets really excitable in loud scenarios (his hearing is super sensitive as well) One of our worst moments was in the midst of a fire alarm. A situation I will never forget. The most valuable we are finding is working with a Speech Pathologist. She has made incredible strides with T in making eye contact when he is talking, taking time to think through what he is saying and learning how to be quiet and not talk..something I didn’t realize how important until we started using this as a technique at home. When he is really excited, we put our finger to our lips (for quiet), gesture for him to focus on what we are pointing at and wait quietly while he accomplishes the task. I tell you, getting dressed went from hellish to happy simply by using that strategy.

8-12 months: I think it wasn’t until then that I was actually able to get out the words Special Needs without cringing at the response I was about to get from people. We still get the pity look but I now realize that its simply because they don’t understand. Who I did feel totally got it was all the teachers in my life. One, an old friend from high school, Jamie M simply asked was kind of savant quality had and talked about the 5 kids he has in his class (this makes total sense as he is an absolute ham and would completely “GET” an Autistic sense of humour). The other, my cousin, shared a beautiful poem with us about truly understanding Autism in the form of the Night Before Christmas. It made me cry but also  made me realize how she and many others are part of that quiet strength we have in our corner. Friends and family are what you need to help you get through sometimes. Talking is good.

Marriage

Speaking of talking, the one thing I can’t stress enough is to keep the dialogue open with your spouse. As I was initially researching Autism, I came across a stat that 80% of marriages with special needs end in divorce. It freaked the crap out of me. So a key thing we concentrated on was keeping our relationship strong to be able to stay strong as a family. We set up and maintained date nights, met at the kitchen table for wine, tears and conversation, banded together to fight the school system. We are (what I would say) one of the strongest “teams” around and even then we faltered on occasion- getting frustrated at each other because of being frustrated with the system or bottling up the heartache we had that life wasn’t going to be ordinary in certain ways. That T might or might not do well in team sports, social situations, school..but talking about it and sharing our struggles made sure that neither of us felt alone in this journey. Check out Our Son Destined for a Team for our perspective on sports.

One Year Later

Life is moving forward and we are seeing some great progress in T’s development.I was starting to feel like he was really behind in the way he interacted with kids but he is starting to integrate a ton better and we are working on social situations. In speaking with his support team at daycare/school, turns out he has lots of friends and in that beautiful way that kids are, when he starts getting upset, they somehow have figured out strategies to keep him relaxed throughout the day. (They gave us a great example of T starting to get agitated and one little girl coming over and handing him a train to hold onto…seriously, I turned into a mushy mess in the middle of the meeting).

To anyone out there who might have recently received an ASD diagnosis, it will get better. You will learn to adjust to the changes in your life and the grieving period will start to subside. You might be surprised by how much of a protector, fighter, lover, or comedian you will become. It will likely change you somehow. If it does, be sure to figure out what you need to get through. For me, its been exercise and laughter and an invaluable support system behind us.

Make yourself strong. Mentally, Physically, Spiritually…so that you can help your kids have the best adventure of their life.

Source: etsy.com via Christine on Pinterest

How the IPad has saved my bacon..and kept me smiling at my kids

I know this post might create a bit of animosity with certain peeps. You know, the ones who don’t believe in TV..but this is an homage to today’s world of technology and finding a way to live the life of sanity in a world that is chock a block full of flurried activities, kids hopped up on goofballs, media infusing into every dimension of our lives, and the constant desire for “balance”.

So it is here I make the statement, that I truly think the Ipad saved my bacon (or at least for now, my sanity)…and had it not been for its beauty of creating the ability to compromise, share, educate, entertain and satiate the desires of one 5 year old Autistic little guy and his 4 year old bossy boots sister, I’m not sure I would be in such a happy place at the start of 2012.

Here are 3 examples of how our lives have personally changed with the addition of a valuable piece of technology.

Mornings

  • Mornings were a disaster. Full of hyped up, non-listening moments of repetitive requests to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth and get out the door. Usually ended up with a meltdown (Depending on the day it could either be a parent OR a kid- take your pick) but nonetheless, it wasn’t typically a happy experience. But one crazy day in the fall, my darling husband introduced the IPad and the insanely fabulous games it can produce (like Angry Birds) and suddenly our little guy turned into an angel. Why? Because we employed the First (list of all tasks required to get ready for school) and Then tactic (you can have 5 minutes of playing games before we go). We don’t have to give promise playing every morning now, its just the matter of T has started to recognize that good behaviour reaps good rewards and it is working amazingly well.
Restaurants
  • Any regular kid gets tired of waiting at a restaurant for food. Our daughter is exceptionally driven by food and can turn Medusa on you in a nano-second if she’s hungry (she gets that from her mom) whereas T often finds the crayon drawing papers to be an exercise in frustration as he loses focus quickly and finds challenges when he can’t pick something up or stay in the lines. Enter the IPad, a portable chance for brother and sister to amicably take turns playing a game together, doing word recognition, drawing, spelling, you name it (they know if they don’t play nice its gone) and mom and dad to have a small chance at catching up with each other without having to be on 100% of the time we are out.
Grocery Shopping
  • Quite often in the past would translate directly to H E Double hockey sticks if I had the kids with me. Imagine Groundhog Day and every time I went, it would be a battle ROYALE…constantly asking to stay in the cart, (or close to the cart), Don’t disappear around the corner- (I grew up with a mom who has the kids kidnapped the minute i lose sight of them), singing ridiculous songs to keep them entertained, begging T not to hide under the cart for fear of appendage loss. The entire experience would have the kids upset, me upset and ready for a drink the minute I walked in the door. Voila, we share the Ipad now with me downloading our whole shopping list via epicurious while the kids play and often we are playing against each other while shopping. This has taken something that was causing me to go grocery shopping at 11pm or to suffer through avec the kids to something I actually find enjoyable with them now.

Yes, I know some of you are horrified that it sounds like I am using the Ipad as a babysitter. Maybe I am but I am doing it responsibly and in ways that help my family manage that illustrious balance we all desire and keeps a much happier group together when we get home. I’m not reaching for the wine and I am finding I am smiling more when we roll into the parking lot after our adventures. Think about it.

** I’d like to salute those who have gone before us without technology at their side. The pioneers of parenthood if you will. I once asked my grandma how she managed to raise 4 kids and stay relatively jovial..her answer..”Sometimes, you’d just have to leave the kids with the neighbours, go for a walk and treat yourself to a glass of wine”. Grandma, I’m in!

Come before winter. Do what you need to do now, before it’s too late

This has been a heartbreaking season for many people dear to me. Every week it seems, we are talking with someone who has been dealt a huge loss or going through the stages of a terminally ill friend/parent/loved one as we get closer and closer to Christmas.  We try to be as supportive as we can, wishing we had those perfect words of  comfort to help the people we love but its hard to find exactly what to say.
Hearing news like this often causes reflection on your own life, thoughts of mortality of people close to you, how you are running your life and does a great job of kicking you in the ass when you need to keep perspective on what’s important. What we have realized is most essential for our happiness is spending meaningful moments with the people you love and telling them what they mean to you. No words left unsaid.
My mother in law recently went to a hospice workshop in which the speaker quoted
a line from the bible that (even though I’m not religious) has become a bit of a mantra for me as of late. He talked about losing his daughter and the importance of recognizing that life is too short. He quoted St Paul who (knowing he didn’t have much time left) wrote in a letter to Timothy ‘Make haste and come to me quickly..Come before Winter’.
This resonates with me so much as we navigate through the waters of parenting and parenting special needs in particular. I easily get caught up in feeling the need to clean the house, or organize parts of our lives but am steadily realizing that as I’m focusing so much on maintaining order in our world, I’m missing out on a ton of just having fun with my kids. (Something I am sincerely envious of my husband’s ability to do and boy! does he ever do it well!)  Taking this into consideration, instead of figuring out my to do list the other day, we randomly went to a movie at 2 in the afternoon. To say the kids got a kick out the fact that we were the only ones in the movie theatre is an understatement. That moment was FULL of giggles and joy as we sat through a personal screening of Happy Feet 2.
I am now realizing that I have put off a ton when I was stuck in corporate schlock-land and am hell bent on changing numerous parts of my life. First off, running…
I thought one half marathon was what I needed for my bucket list. That after I accomplished that I didn’t need to do it again. But I’m hooked…I’m missing the discipline of training, and feeling slumpy after having felt so fit for awhile.
I have been inspired by so many stories as of late of people who have just “done it”, “gone for it” and “proven to the world that they can…that now I am intrigued about what else I could do in exercising…My girlfriend has suggested a Try Tri and I am seriously thinking about going for it.
The second, believing in our idea and not letting ups and downs of a challenge bring you down but more focusing on what needs to happen to make a dream become a reality. That Operation Thanks, a project we have designed to say Thanks to the Canadian Forces next year is truly going to be the most epic movement of pride and nationalism, Canada has experienced since the Olympics.
The third, and this is starting to get easier…to relax a bit on the need for clean and tidy and just let go…spend the kind of quality time our kids need to thrive and focusing on what kind of moments we can make together. To help them dream as far and wide as they can and believe that they can do anything.
And if you think you need a little motivation to conquer a dream…watch this.. youtube.com/watch?v=gZ8Ttq…