Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Archive for January 2012


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I took a test yesterday.  It has been years since I sat for an exam.  I kept waiting for that familiar sensation of worry mixed with dread to appear, but it never did.  As I typed away, I kept glancing up at the clock ticking down, but was surprised to find no panic there.

Not like there used to be.  For every test, big or small, throughout my academic life, and on into the world of work, my nerves always got the best of me.  But not any more.  In fact, and I know this sounds a little odd- I enjoyed myself!

This test- a business writing exam- was the first of many steps I’ll be taking for possible, potential, one-day reentry into a career.

Or starting a career.

After six years of staying at home, I’m pretty sure this classifies as the start.  And if I do, you know, return to work…then what?  What about…everything?  It almost feels to big to tackle.  Just the coordination of school and therapy for two kids feels like a job in itself.

There it is- there are days when parenting feels like a job.  I said it.

It is really hard work at times, and I don’t get to clock off.  That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy being home with the kids, or that I think going out to work would be better, it is just that taking an exam was so different that it felt like a break.  Perhaps the last few years in the trenches of motherhood have taught me more about how to handle myself than climbing the corporate ladder could ever have done.

The thing I used to fear most as a student- taking tests- is now a walk in the park.  For our family an actual walk in the park can be exhausting, and it can be exhilarating.  But it is rarely just a walk in the park.

Then again juggling work and special needs parenting isn’t going to be a walk in the park either.  It will be more like a series of tests, and I won’t know until I take them whether I’ll pass or fail.

The fact is that for our family like many others, going back to work isn’t a choice.  Just like how my husband has never had a choice when it comes to working.  We need a second income to help ourselves out of the debt we incurred on a single income family paying for therapy on top of other bills.

I’ll never regret the time I’m spending at home with my kids.  I felt like I needed to be there, during the earliest and most critical stages of their development.  There are no right or wrong answers here.  Staying at home cost us a great deal, and when I return to work, that will come at a price too.  I’m just hoping it will turn out to be worth it.

When I return to work, it will be a testing time for our family.  But you know, it turns out I quite enjoy taking tests these days.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Wordless Wednesday 25 Jan 12

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A Masked Weaver Bird's nest near our home.

On those days where I feel ill-equipped to do something, I think of the tiny little weaver birds who visit my garden every day.  They painstakingly strip leaves from palm trees, then create something magical, using only their claws and beak.  They create up to twenty of these nests, in the hope that their mate will approve of one of them.  I couldn’t weave something this intricate even with my fingers, but it does inspire me to another day of tackling the impossible.

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January 25, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Book Review: Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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When we think of our children on the autism spectrum, a social resilient mindset is not the first thing that springs to mind.  In their latest book, Robert Brooks, Ph.D., and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., explore  strategies gleamed from their clinical practice working with children diagnosed with ASD and their families.  Indeed, the focus for helping children develop this social mindset is on encouraging parents and other charismatic adults to establish empathetic communication and acceptance, rather than concentrating on the child’s difficulties.  As they write:

“Parents strongly influence, however, whether children with ASD will develop the characteristics and mindset associated with resilience or whether they will be burdened by low self-worth, self-doubt, and a diminished sense of hope.” (p.29)

The authors recognize the challenge of being an empathetic parent to a child “whose perceptions and behaviors are often strikingly different from our own.” (p.32).  Thus the authors provide real-life examples of how they’ve guided other families through the process, and helped them overcome the challenges they faced along the way.  Once parents have faced the challenge of relating to their children in a way that doesn’t cause the child to shut down, they are then given strategies to encourage children to solve the problems they are facing.

One of the strategies the authors promote I found particularly appealing- the notion of using ‘bubble-talk’ to encourage a child to learn the difference between thoughts which may be vocalized, and those which are distressing or off-putting to others.  This technique was used with great success with a number of individuals to help develop more appropriate social interactions.  Though we haven’t personally encountered this problem yet, I know it is only a matter of time, and I will definitely be using this technique with both Pudding and Cubby.

A central tenet Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders is the role of parents in nurturing “Islands of Competence” in their children.  Many of us have noticed the way our children light up when they can demonstrate their talents.  It just feels right to build on these skills, rather than constantly trying to remediate challenges.  The authors describe promoting the special interests, or unique skills and experience that the individual has and using those as a basis for developing esteem and self-worth.  For many children featured in the book, this was about taking an area of perseveration and allowing this knowledge to be showcased as a talent to be enjoyed by others, and a way of relating to peers.  Of particular poignance was the way the therapists encouraged a ten-year-old boy with Asperger’s to write a book describing how he dealt with his mother’s death, which was subsequently displayed in the school library.

As many of us are aware, our children are all different, and what works for one may have opposite effect on another.  Brooks and Goldstein advocate that we “consider potential roadblocks in advance…knowing that if one approach does no work, there are others that might, provides families with a very precious commodity: hope.” (pp.171-2).  Indeed, just because a strategy is not successful in our first attempt, it does not mean that it won’t work later.  Rather than seeing the problem of our child’s behavior, or indeed- in our parenting- we should look at the ways we can address particular skills.

This book will be of particular use to parents whose relationship with their child could use some expert guidance to get it back on track, especially those who frequently find their well-intentioned efforts to help their children fix their problems and social deficits are rebuffed or have disastrous consequences.  A guide to supporting and promoting a child’s strengths and talents to allow them to champion adversity and develop the social resilience so essential for a positive outcome in adulthood.

“Children with ASD are capable of finding happiness, success, attachment, and comfort in adult life…this book will be of help to parents and other caregivers of children on the autism spectrum to attain this happiness and resilience.” (pp. 248-9)


Raising Resilient Children with Autism SPectrum Disorders is by Robert Brooks, Ph.D., and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. and is published by McGraw-Hill.  It is available now at Amazon and other leading book stores.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 23, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Breathing Freely

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I’m not sporty.  At all.  The girl who never got picked for a team?  That was me.  My husband refers to me as “indoorsy” and he is spot on.  I enjoy getting cosy under a blanket with a good book or TV show.  I enjoy treating myself to cups of tea, or hot chocolate…actually, chocolate in any form.  Lots of chocolate.  I have a feeling that I’ll make the most content old person ever, having practiced for it all my life.  As long as my home has plenty of chocolate.  On a Saturday evening we’ll put the kids to bed, eat take out followed by treats and watch TV, just lazing around.  It does me good, but it isn’t good for me.

I don’t enjoy exercise in the way that I feel about my more passive pastimes.  But I need it.

Last year was tough.  For the first half of the year, I felt like I added an extra worry every day.  There were big things like additional diagnoses, assessments for the other child, moving to another country…and other big  things like a supportive friend moving away  and trying to coordinate therapies for two children.  That is the thing about life- there are never any little things, and before long I was suffocating under the weight of so many big things.  After more than a decade symptom-free, I was back on two different kinds of medication for asthma.  Just so I could breathe.

Once we moved, I knew I had to make changes if I was going to stay healthy for my family.  We found a babysitter.  Once the kids were in their respective preschools, I started going to the gym.  And though there were still stressors, they didn’t seem to weigh me down so heavily.  I no longer need the asthma medication- I’m breathing freely again.

Now I can’t get enough pure oxygen.  Last weekend we took the kids outside to play sports.  Pudding refused to join in, preferring to draw with chalk.  Cubby soon tired too.  We couldn’t compete with the allure of the other kids in our housing complex, who are impressively accepting of our kids, quirks and all.  Instead of sinking in a chair to keep an eye on them, I suggested to Spectrummy Daddy that we had a game of tennis instead.  We only have plastic Swingball rackets, and the balls didn’t have half the bounce our kids do, but we managed quite the game!

We used the driveway for a court, and both of us were running around for the ball, unable to convince the kids to collect the strays.  Before long we were both a little out of breath, but this time in a good way.  We had a good time, and it doesn’t hurt our kids to see us play.  Maybe next time Pudding will join in too.  Spectrummy Daddy even said he’d pick indoorsy me for his team.  Maybe we were all winners that day, but the score was love-all.


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January 20, 2012 at 11:53 am

Shining a Light (at Hopeful Parents)

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This post was originally published at Hopeful Parents.  You can read it there by clicking below:

Hopeful Parents

I’ve been volunteering for Autism South Africa since I visited their offices a few months ago.  Unfortunately, the financial difficulties the organization was experiencing then have become even more pronounced.  There is no government support.  Donations are dwindling.  Existing sources of revenue are drying up.

There is the great dilemma- should you continue to push for awareness in a country where autism is under-diagnosed and misunderstood, knowing that it is already impossible to provide adequate assistance?

The one thing they desperately need- more money- I’m unable to bring.  I couldn’t help but feel helpless.

And yet that morning…

  • In walked a student from the local university looking for further information about autism spectrum disorders.
  • An educator is travelling around the country providing workshops for parents, therapists and teachers.
  • A therapist stopped by and asked to be added to the mailing list for more information about autism workshops.
  • The mother of a newly diagnosed child was able to walk in and collect information about autism in her own language, and given direction about the next steps.
  • Another concerned parent could call in and schedule an appointment for a full assessment free of charge.

The staff continue to work on ways to help everyone affected by autism in South Africa has access to the support and services they need, regardless of the current situation.

Following a phone call in which a father asked, “Is there any hope?” following the recent diagnosis of his child, the member of staff who took the call turned to me and said he wasn’t sure how to respond to that question.  He asked me how I would have replied.

There is always hope.

When there is nothing left to give, hope is the one thing you can give.  We hopeful parents know that.  A cause is never hopeless as long as there are people trying to find it.  I don’t feel helpless any more.  I described my first visit to the office as a flood, but now I know better.  It is a lighthouse.  In these dark times, Autism South Africa is still shining a light.  Now all that remains is to make that beacon brighter.

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January 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Wordless Wednesday 18 Jan 12

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January 18, 2012 at 11:04 am

Swimming in the Rain

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I like the weather here.  It is warm, intense, and dramatic- just like Pudding.  On Sunday we were in the pool, as we have been most days since she started to swim.  After some time, Cubby tired and Daddy took him upstairs for a nap.  We stayed in the pool, and after a little while, the weather suddenly changed, as it is wont to do here.  The blue skies turned grey.  There was a good chance there would be a storm, as there are most days here in the summer.  The African Storm is much more ferocious than any I’ve witnessed before, but they tend to blow over quite quickly.

It takes pretty dramatic weather to get Pudding out of the pool.  In fact, even with loud claps of thunder, and lightning illuminating the sky, Pudding would just keep wallowing in the pool if I didn’t reinforce bribe her to get out of there.  I felt the first drops of rain, and mentioned this to Pudding.  She wasn’t buying it.

Me: Yes, look, it is raining now.

Pudding: No!  No!  Not raining yet!

The drops get bigger, until she can no longer deny it.

Pudding: Look, Mummy, look at the rain on the pool.

Me: Yes, shall we get out now?

Pudding: No.  Mummy, we need a [sic] umbrella!

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January 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Snakes, Chutes, and Ladders

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English: Snakes and ladders, board game. ‪Nors...

Image via Wikipedia - which is actually firemen hoses and ladders, making even more sense! Is this the Canadian version...hosers and ladders?

In our Anglo-American household which is a heady mix of spectrummy preschoolers and grown-ups stuck in their nerdy teenage ways, we often dispute what things should be called.  If the kids are involved, they win.  If it is between Spectrummy Daddy and I, the battle can last and last, we’re both as stubborn and argumentative as each other.  Actually, he would argue that he isn’t, but I refuse to budge from my assertions.  You see how it is here?

Sometimes one of us is forced to concede.  I don’t like the word “diaper” and he dislikes the connotations of the word “nappy”- an offensive term in the US, but not at all in England.  Though nappies or diapers can be pretty offensive- just ask Cubby, who has taken to blaming his sister when he has a dirty one.  Pudding initially called them nappies, but switched to diapers, and that decided that.

Then again, he argued that “pacifier” was a much better term than “dummy”, but Pudding called it a dum-dum, then Cubby did, and that is The End.

I allowed that “Mimosa” is a better term than “Buck’s Fizz”, the latter just a little too tacky sounding for a drink containing champagne, though it does get full marks for inspiring our Eurovision winners.

Had we not married, I would never have known that the popular board game we call Snakes and Ladders where I’m from, is actually Chutes and Ladders in the US.  Spectrummy Daddy might think he has won this round, because chutes are a far more logical companion to ladders than snakes, what with them both being a common feature of construction sites.  Still, I never let a little thing like logic get in my way (just don’t tell my Aspie that).

I was reflecting about this particular board game yesterday morning as my kids returned to school following their summer break.  Cubby went from crying about returning to school to a full screaming meltdown as he struggled to cope with a new teacher and classroom.  Pudding initially tried to bargain with me that she would go to school tomorrow, not today.  When this didn’t work, she worked her way up to refusing to get out of the car, and after a struggle to get her inside came the worst of all- withdrawing into herself.

As both kids were hit with anxiety which manifested in different ways, I was dismayed to find us all back at square one, after all the effort it took to settle initially.  So did we fall down a chute, or slide down a serpent?

I’d say that even as we were climbing ladders, I could hear the portentous hiss close at hand.  At times, trying to navigate this terrain makes me feel lost and scared, never knowing what is lurking in the surrounding jungle. A bite from one of these adders can leave us paralyzed for some time.

He might respond that there is no venom as we slide back down.  We simply land in a pile of rubble, dust ourselves off, and start back up the ladder to get back to work.  And he might be right, because though there were tears this morning, they were fewer.  They’re getting better at working their way up the rungs again.

What we can agree on, is that the ladder is the most important thing.  Because this game- whatever you may call it- is stupid, requiring huge amounts of patience.  There is no skill involved, just random luck with the throw of a dice.  I don’t want to play any more.  I need to find a way to cheat, moving onwards and upwards, never slipping back down.  I’m determined to win.  There is a good chance I will, just ask Spectrummy Daddy.  He’ll agree with me for the sake of peace an quiet, which I suppose would make him the real winner after all.  He might be a pacifier, but I wouldn’t call him a dummy.

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January 12, 2012 at 10:39 am

Wordless Wednesday 11 Jan 12

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The only cure for back-to-school anxiety...a Daddy cuddle.

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January 11, 2012 at 11:32 am

The Best Presents

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We pulled into the driveway, and the kids immediately noticed that their car was parked outside, instead of in the garage.  For your Average Joe, this would pass without comment, but our kids are neither average, nor Joes (or Jos for that matter).

Our neighbours (and friends) have been away on R&R travel for the last few weeks.  In a clear case of out of sight, out of mind, this has passed without comment by either child.  I was a little surprised that Pudding, in particular, never questioned their whereabouts.  One of her favourite things is “feeding the bunnies”, which is actually a nefarious scheme by Pudding to explore their home and garden, with the most cursory of visits to the actual rabbits.  The lady of the house, Ms. M, very generously accommodates these inspections by Pudding, but we hadn’t seen her since the family returned from their trip.

Cubby: That’s Ms. M’s car, Mummy, she’s back!

Pudding: I want to go see her.  Want to go see Ms. M.

Me: Well, we can see her on Friday- she is having a party and we’re invited.

Pudding: She needs a cake, Mummy, Hello Kitty cake.

Cubby: And candles too!

Pudding: She needs a present, Mummy!

Me: It isn’t a birthday party, just a party.

Pudding: She needs a present, Mummy!  The best presents of all come from the heart.*

*Yep, this is echolalia- a line from a Little People DVD.  Fisher-Price includes one of these with their Little People toys- a horror of claymation and nonsensical storylines masquerading as entertainment, offering a smug moralistic message at the end of every irritating featurette.  The kids, of course, adore it.

Not for the first time, I’m amazed at how she makes the most of things.  She has this incredibly challenging way of learning language, but she manages to memorize a snippet, filter it, store it, and then reproduce it in an effort to communicate on our terms.  Playing it back from the heart.

The best presents of all come from the heart.  Damn…we’ve watched so much Little People that my post has turned into an episode, complete with smug moralistic message at the end.  Now all I need is to start singing the theme tune in an Aaron Neville voice.  Come to think of it, that would make the perfect present for Ms. M at her party…

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January 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm