Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Archive for the ‘Foreign Service Life’ Category

Lucky

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Pudding’s American Girl doll came back to us this week, following a brief stay in hospital.  Did you know there was a hospital for dolls?  I remember reading stories about dolly hospital when I was a girl, though no such thing existed back then.

So, shortly after Pudding cropped Kelly’s hair, I discovered that for about 1/3 of the cost of a new doll, we could send her to hospital to be made good as new.  That was the easy part.

The hard part was deciding if that was the right course of action.  If the doll could be fixed, would Pudding ever learn the consequences of her actions?  Would she just do the same thing all over again.  I didn’t know the answer to that, so I decided to let Future Me decide.

Over the following weeks, Pudding’s interest in her doll dwindled to nothing.  She went from playing with her all the time, to discarding her completely.  It seems like a big part of her interest in the doll was her hair.  I don’t know to what extent that was because it made her “pretty” or because she enjoyed the tactile sensation of the hair.  It doesn’t really matter.

What mattered to me was that a source of play had gone from her life.  Some might say that the way Pudding played with her favourite doll- changing her diaper and dressing her up- was repetitive, a hallmark of her autism spectrum disorder.  I would say that she played in a way that made her feel comfortable.  In a challenging, confusing, and out-of-control world, Kelly was hers, she’d earned her, and she played with her just the way she wanted.

So then all the clothes and accessories that relatives had bought Pudding for Christmas went unused too.  There was not only a emotional investment, but a financial one too.  That very pragmatic reason, is what prompted me to finally check Kelly into hospital.

Or so I told myself.  I knew the real truth as we watched her open the box to find her friend complete with pigtails and hospital gown.

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Do you see that smile?

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That is why.

Sorry, she was moving too fast to get any good ones, but you can definitely see the glee.

I’d do just about anything for that smile.  Even run the risk of another hair-cutting incident.  She adores the gown, her new pinktails, the little get well soon card that came with it.  Most of all, she is happy to have her doll back.  Her real doll, not the short-haired imposter she couldn’t play with.

Pudding is incredibly lucky in that she comes from an advantaged family who can afford to replace a doll.  Goodness knows there is a settlement a little further on from her new school with kids living in shacks without water or electricity.  American Girl dolls are from an entirely different world.

She is growing up learning that we need to help out others who aren’t so fortunate.  Whatever challenges our family might face, they pale into insignificance compared with the way others are struggling.

We’re incredibly lucky in that we get to see that smile.  We get to connect with her, share in her enthusiasm, and see her happy-flappy joy.  Oh, I know how fortunate we are!

Pudding will always be an American Girl, just one growing up with a wider view of the world.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 14, 2012 at 11:48 am

Jubilee

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Last week I was talking to another “foreign born spouse” as people like to call us, about how things are different for us.  When we move to a new country, our husbands go to work the next day, and essentially return to America.  They have all the structure, routine, and familiarity immediately in place.  Not so for us, who are immediately trying to find ourselves (again) in a foreign land.  We are the ones getting lost as we drive around trying to find new schools, and so on.

Now, likely all those married into the foreign service are nodding their heads at this point.  But things are different if you’re not US-born.  We get lost in a different way.  When homesickness creeps in, you know that it won’t be long until there is a Thanksgiving, or Independence Day celebration.  You know that when it is time for home leave, you’ll actually go home.

It is over three and a half years since I was in England.  My son has never been to the mother country.  I have nephews and a niece I’ve never even met in person.

The same day we had this conversation, we went into one of those fancy shops that make you forget which continent you’re one because everything is imported.  Lo and behold, there was an entire table of decorations and accessories for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee that had been imported from Blighty.

My husband often laughs at the way I’ve become so much more English since becoming American too.  He was particularly perplexed when I suggested demanded that we host a Jubilee celebration in honour of Her Majesty!

I’m the same person who, when living in England, was so disinterested in all things to do with the monarchy that I don’t even remember The Golden Jubilee taking place.

But then, am I the same person?  It isn’t just about being an expat now.  Since being married, my identity has changed so much.  First I was a wife, then a mother, then American, then a special needs mother.

Soon I’ll be a working mother too, and I’ll proudly serve my American community here, but at times I wonder if I’m losing every part of who I used to be, as I become identified only in relation to somebody else.  I’m Spectrummy Daddy’s wife when I go to the Consulate.  I’m Pudding’s or Cubby’s mum at their schools.  I’d say there are many people here who don’t even know my name, let alone who I am.

Later that evening, I tried to explain things to Spectrummy Daddy.  I turned to Cubby (my kids are also dual nationals) and asked him if her was American or English.

‘Merican.  I’m not English, I’m a ‘merican.

Spectrummy Daddy tried to rememdy things by asking him if he liked soccer, I mean,  football.

I like soccer!

Sigh.  With no further delay, I set to sending out invites, making the decorations, and creating a menu as British as could be for our very own Jubilee celebration.  Pudding only became involved when she saw what amounts of cream and sugar my people use.  But every royal kitchen needs an official taster, right?

The party was a great success, and it sated my inner Brit until we get to go to England in September.  We toasted Her Royal Highness, we read out loud the Duke of Edinburgh’s gaffes, we drank Pimm’s and ate coronation chicken, cucumber sandwiches, scones and trifle.

But all this was for me.

The kids ate, then disappeared.  Cubby was upstairs playing with his  American/Chinese-Australian friends, while Pudding played outdoors holding hands with our American/Australian neighbour.  Our community is nothing if not like a 1980s Benetton commercial.

Proving once again that my kids have figured out lessons I keep having to live through.  It isn’t about where you hail from, or what your passport says, or where you call home.  It is about being true to yourself and enjoying every moment life has to offer you, no matter where you happen to be.

I’m going to start right now- by enjoying a cup of tea and a biscuit.  I’m sure Her Majesty would approve.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 4, 2012 at 10:44 am

The Hidden Curriculum

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I first came across the term hidden curriculum as a sociology student studying education.  It refers to all the things you learn in school, but aren’t expressly taught, such as social norms and values.  The hidden curriculum was used as an explanation for why students of different race, gender, and social class have different outcomes even when exposed to the same classroom setting.

Then I lived in France when I was twenty, and I learned that this concept needn’t be applied just to education, but as a way of understanding cultural differences.  Sometimes rules are expressly taught, or laws, and other times it seems like people just know when something is inappropriate.

I’ve since lived in a few different cultures, and I’ve learned to observe closely when somebody does something unexpected.  The chances are that I’m the one who is acting out of the ordinary.

Take driving, for instance.  Since we arrived here, driving has been a fraught experience for me.  Between avoiding kombi buses, and aggressive windscreen washers, my heart races as though I’m in a war zone.  I soon noticed that drivers here use their hazard lights for different purposes to elsewhere in the world.  While they are still used to indicate a hazard, or that the driver must stop suddenly, people also use them as a thank you to another driver who allows them  into their lane, for instance.

Upon learning this information, I decided to adopt this method too.  Indeed, now it makes sense to flash my hazards, and I’ll have to relearn not to do that when I move, lest I bring traffic to an abrupt halt everywhere I go.

But there are other social norms I’ve learned that I reject.  It is very common here to see children without seatbelts or car safety seats, but I haven’t adopted that as a way for my family.  Of course, the safety aspect overrides any desire I have to fit in.

When I go to the gym here, I’ve noticed that the changing room culture is quite different to other places I’ve lived.  I don’t consider myself particularly puritanical for an American or Englishwoman, but I was surprised by the difference between changing room behaviour here and elsewhere.

In England, after taking a shower, we keep our towel wrapped around us for as long as possible.  When It comes time to drop it, we turn and face the wall or locker and dress hurriedly.  We may still talk to a friend or acquaintance during this time, but there is no requirement for eye contact(!) and we tend to focus on the task at hand.

At the gym I attend here, things are quite different.  Women use their towels to stand on, sit on, or wrap around their hair, but covering the body seldom happens.  They tend to face one another in conversation, and are just as casual and comfortable as if dressed.

Now, if I wanted to make friends in the gym, I know that I’d have to adopt these practices myself.  Instead, I find myself modestly choosing a changing booth with a locked door to get dressed.  This behaviour must no doubt appear odd to everybody there.  If nothing else, it highlights me as an outsider.

For Pudding, life is going to be complicated.  Not only are there all these hidden rules and expectations that might not seem relevant to her, but even if she were interested in learning to fit in, we move every two or three years to a whole new culture.

How is she to decide what is worth paying attention to, or what values she should accept or discard when these things change all the time?  Or will she become really good at this?  Will she develop a chameleon-like ability to adapt to other cultures, even if she feels like an outsider at times?

Lately I’ve seen Pudding learn some new little things that haven’t been expressly taught to her.  She sees when it is time for dinner, and goes to set the table.  She took off her shoes waiting to go on a bouncy castle, and lined them up with those of the other children.

Whether she becomes really good at learning the hidden curriculum, or never develops an interest in it, our job is to make sure that home is always a place where she can be herself, no matter where that is.  And that is something that need never be hidden.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 1, 2012 at 11:34 am

The Whole Story

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I haven’t written about what has been going on, but I’ve decided that all parts of the story need to be told.  This month has been hard.  I need to let my friends who call me a super-mum know that I’m really not feeling super.  I need to explain that although we love living here, it comes at a price.  But most of all, I just need to tell the truth about hard times, because I know many people are going through even longer, tougher, more challenging times.  It isn’t fair to them, or myself to pretend everything is fine.

So, this month has been hard.  Mostly it has been difficult because I’ve been unwell.  So as not to scare away my (three) male readers, I’ll refer to my health issues as some ongoing lady problems that have been getting progressively worse.  Ultimately, I’m now very anaemic, which is good in that it is treatable, but bad in that it makes me feel lousy.  I’m weak and tired.  My brain feels like mush, and can’t seem to retain any information, I’m forgetting appointments.  I have heart palpitations, and wake up with numb hands, arms and feet.  My immune system is struggling, so I’m catching every germ I come across, and each one is hitting me hard.

Some of my medications have nasty side-effects too, and one weekend my fingers swelled up and I had to have my wedding and engagement rings cut off.  But I am receiving treatments, including iron injections every two weeks so that I’ll be back to speed in weeks rather than months.  Though I can’t exercise at the moment, I’m doing my best to rest, eat an iron-rich diet, and take all the supplements to support the healing process.  It just takes time.

I’m spending much more time indoors than I have previously while living in South Africa.  Unfortunately, living in a house with bars on the windows inevitably feels a lot like living in a prison, this is made all the worse by the fact that recent events mean I don’t feel as safe in my home as I used to.  Earlier this month, there was an armed robbery on our compound.  By a huge stroke of luck, all the families who live here were out at the time.  Generally on a Saturday afternoon, either our children or our neighbours are playing where the incident happened.  Anyone who has a young child on the spectrum knows that in the face of danger, they are likely to behave unpredictably.  I’ve lost many hours of sleep thinking about what might have happened if we hadn’t gone out that day.  The security officers here are great, and have already made some changes to minimize the risk of this happening again, but I’m shaken that an electric fence, gate, and security guard were ultimately so easy to overcome.

It has been hard because I’m always far more homesick after my parents visit than I am before.  Homesickness and culture shock are wrapped tightly together.  The more you miss home, the more alien a place can seem.  I’m struggling to remind myself to enjoy all the wonderful people and places here, rather than wishing for September to get here for an R & R trip back to England.

Last week brought things to a head.  I forgot to take Pudding swimming one day, then Cubby to OT another.  Then Cubby was ill, followed by Pudding too.  Instead of wanting to rest in bed, my kids become more hyperactive when they’re sick.  Not only was I struggling to keep up with them, but I’d missed the very things that help them to regulate.  By Friday, I was just exhausted.  Not only was I feeling too weary to face the effort of getting Pudding into school, or schedule an appointment for a 24-hour EEG for a child who couldn’t handle a 30 minute one; but I was too drained to get through another ordinary day.

Far from the “super-mum” a friend called me in an email, I was feeling physically and emotionally at rock bottom, and taking my frustrations out on the very people who most need my love and support.  When Spectrummy Daddy got home from work, I took a bath, and let my tears fall into the water, until most of the tension left me.  After we’d got the kids to sleep, we talked about what measures we could take to make things easier.  But, once I’d finally let go of trying to keep everything together, I no longer felt like I was coming apart.

It isn’t the end of this hard month yet, but I’m starting to feel stronger.  Yesterday when the car broke down, I didn’t join it.  I was just grateful it happened with Spectrummy Daddy there, and in a safe place.  I’m using visual strategies to keep me on track of the things I need to do this week, and hopefully that will keep me from getting too overwhelmed.  After all, if it is good enough for Pudding, it is good enough for me too.

So now I’ve honoured the truth.  I’m not a super-mum.  Though I love living here, it does come at a cost.  I can go through hard times, and while they have absolutely nothing to do with autism, they can challenge my ability to parent.  I’m going to keep telling the whole story, even if I’m hoping that this particular chapter will come to an end soon.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 26, 2012 at 11:50 am

Happy Holidays!

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I meant to write a post on Christmas Day, to wish you all happy holidays from our family to yours, but the only photo I have of us all together is this one, and I realized that it looks like we are in a very comfortable and festive jail.  Not really in the spirit of the season, but a fair representation of living here.  So in the style of not-so-great photo-journalism, here is our Christmas in pictures.

So, as you can see, Santa came.  Or Father Christmas as we call him in England and South Africa.  He enjoyed his whiskey and cookies, and I’d like to say Rudolph enjoyed the carrot, but that was actually Pudding who gnawed on it.  I had to stop her before she ate the whole thing, and shook my head at the strangeness of a child who chooses carrots over cookies, and a mother who stops her.

Pudding awoke at the usual 5am, but we made her wait an unbearable (for all of us) hour until her brother woke up to go downstairs.  Eventually her demands of “I want presents” became loud enough to rouse him.

One of the great things about raising third culture kids is that they are exposed to many different religions and cultures, and we embrace this fully, while honouring our own traditions.  One of the weird things is that you end up with photos of your kids opening Christmas presents while sitting cross-legged on a Muslim prayer rug.

And another great thing is that Christmas is an opportunity to support the local economy.  Pudding had her own very specific requirements that didn’t lend themselves well to sourcing locally-produced items.  We did, however, find this hand-crafted chair for her doll at a local market.  It broke moments after this photo was taken.  Kind of glad the rest of our stuff came from Melissa and Doug or Lego Duplo.

It isn’t difficult to find gifts bigger than the boy himself.  The way he has been eating this holiday season though, we’re expecting a growth spurt any day now.

I told you she was Santa’s little helper!  Once her own unwrapping was done with, Pudding assisted us too.

Love is not indulging your husband by surprising him with Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars with his special interest- Batman.  Love is being seen out in public with him wearing them.

And for most of the rest of the day, it was about play.  Here we are tricking Cubby into developing his fine motor skills.  Probably doesn’t hurt that he is learning about counting, shapes and numbers too- with us as parents he needs all the mathematical help he can get.

Pudding played by dressing up in the same outfit as newly-shorn Kelly doll and telling her a story.  Maybe I joined in likewise- you can’t tell because I’m on the other side of the camera, thanks to Santa bringing me a new lens to replace the one I broke back in the US.

And the rest of the day I pretty much spent making this: my most perfect turkey yet.  The kids ate about two mouthfuls, of course.

That was about it for our Christmas.  It was quiet, cosy and drama-free, and I know what a lucky autism mama I am to be able to say that.  Of course, I did take down the tree the next day- a return to our version of normality is a present to us all.

From my family to yours, I sincerely hope you had a wonderful time.  And if not, I’m sincerely glad they are over for another year.  Extra-special holiday love to you all.

Safe House

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Once Pudding’s birthday is over and done with, I give December over to Christmas.  We pulled out our not-so-authentic tree and boxes of ornaments, and realized that we must have inadvertently sent a box of decorations to storage.  We can’t find our stocking holders here, and probably some other things that I haven’t yet noticed.  We waited until Cubby went down for a nap, then got to work, knowing that otherwise we’d have two sets of hands thwarting our efforts.

Pudding adored getting into the boxes.  She delighted in unwrapping our ornaments, recognizing them from Christmases gone by.  It always make me wonder just how far back she can remember.  For those of us who aren’t blessed with such a sturdy memory these days, I could look on the bottom of my ornaments to see where on our travels I’d collected each one.  I didn’t need to write on my Red Sox ornament to remind me of my day Defying Gravity in Boston.  The following day, we headed out to the craft market so that South Africa would be represented on our tree of travels.

And of course, there is our other collection.  A steady record of our kids’ special interests through the years.  Pudding loves these.  It reminds me I need to find a Hello Kitty ornament to out on our tree this year.

Having a tree up is a challenge.  There has already been casualties, including the beheading of Santa on my favourite ornament bought one snowy December in Germany.  The kids can’t help but touch, and it takes all the patience we can muster not to chastise them for something that can’t be helped.  Unless, of course, we were to skip the ritual for a year.

I find that as I get further away from my traditional expectations of Christmas, I cling harder to the rituals that we are able to keep in place.  It is summer here in

Shortly before he was beheaded

South Africa, and it feels very different from every Christmas I’ve ever known.  I feel very far from home.  It is tempting to skip, to ignore the time of year when it just feels so wrong.

But that is the thing about rituals- they’re the thing that make us feel safe.  We need them.  This won’t be our home until we’ve spent a Christmas here.  I’ll be homesick until here feels like home.  It may not be the kind of Christmas I’d choose, but this is the Christmas we have, and we’ll make it our own.

Earlier today I was going through old paperwork, and I found some language tests the Pudding’s teacher had carried out over the previous year.  One test was the question: Who keeps you safe?  Pudding had answered incorrectly all three times she’d been tested, including the last time, in May shortly before we left, when she’d answered “home.”

A telling mistake, she’d confused “who” with “what” or perhaps “where.”  But even though she was incorrect, I know how right she is.  I can’t help but be glad that she associates safe with home.  And every ritual, every memory we carve from this house, from any house, will add to that feeling of security.  So we’ll have our first Christmas here, and I might have to sacrifice some of my ornaments in the process, but we’ll make new memories in the process.  Safely at home, where Christmas is supposed to be.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Imagine

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“Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man.”

Imagine, John Lennon 1971,  © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, EMI Music Publishing

Imagine is one of my favourite songs.  If I try hard, I can imagine no religion, and no countries, and yes- the world might just be as one.  But, dreamer that I may be, I still get stuck on no possessions.  Last week the rest of our possessions arrived from the US, and materialistic as it may be, it is good to be surrounded by familiar comforts.  Even though we donated or cleared out a lot of our belongings before we moved, there is still so much stuff.

Spectrummy Daddy is allotted a day (or two) to be at home to meet the packers and check that all our belongings our returned (no mean feat when dodging pirates and hijackers), which is awfully nice.  What you don’t realize though, is that it takes way more than a day to unpack, sort, and put away for an entire household.  So I’ve been going through the remainder of the boxes.  While I’m not finished yet, we’re getting there.

My husband is sentimental, and a collector, which is an awful combination for a nomadic lifestyle.  I’ve gone through box after box just incredulous at the kind of things he still keeps.  There is this whole other life- which makes no sense, because everybody knows his life only began when he met me!

But when you look at our possessions, it appears that the reverse is true.  There is hardly anything that belonged to me before we got married.  No photos, no correspondence, only one book compared to dozen after dozen of his- not even including the ones we put in storage.  If you were trying so see who I was before I was a diplowife, you’d struggle to find anything.

When I left England, I only took with me what I could carry, which amounted to one large, and one small suitcase.  Mostly filled with clothes, which no longer fit.  There is a whole lot of my present surrounding me, but nothing of my past.  My mother did bring me some photographs one time when she visited, but they were mostly of my brothers. and in her words, “it doesn’t matter because you all looked the same as babies.”  Thanks Mum!  But really, it doesn’t matter, because the things that are most important to me can’t be put inside a cardboard box and shipped around the world.  John Lennon had it right.

Perhaps because I don’t have too much to be sentimental about, I’m kind of ruthless with purging our house of unnecessary items.  I need to maintain a balance.  You see, if I get homesick, or nostalgic, I can turn to Facebook or Skype and reminisce.  But I’m not sure how this process works for Pudding, who struggles with making connections with others.  For her, those possessions might really be her world in a way that I can’t imagine.

When we first moved, including the time we were in temporary accommodation, Pudding held on tight to her two favourite toys: Abby Cadabby and Kelly doll.  If they went out of her sight, even for a moment, she would panic.  As she became more settled, she felt less of a need to carry them around- to our great relief, as there is no American Girl store here to replace Kelly doll.  Now that the rest of her toys are here, she has felt the need to play with every.single.one.  Perhaps play isn’t the right word…her belongings have been touched, worn, tasted, observed, sniffed, rubbed, sat on, rolled on or placed on top of her.  For a multi-sensory girl like ours, she needs to possess the things that are important to her.  It isn’t enough to see them, or remember them.  She has to experience everything about them, and that way they exist for her.

So now that everything is all around her, Pudding’s world is back in a way that makes sense to her.  I wonder if her playthings might be the very things that help her to connect with the world, and give her some grounding.  Unlike as is suggested in the song, I imagine that her possessions are the very things that give her peace.  In this house, we’re always open to giving peace a chance.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Community

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Community. It is a word I’ve used a lot in the last two years. I’ve written about the autism community. In spite of the divides and differences, it is a place I’ve considered my virtual home for the last year. But apart from an all too brief day in May to meet my friend Alysia, my community has been distinctly virtual. I’ve felt the loneliness of being the only family like ours, and loneliness might just be the opposite of community.

Loneliness is what compelled me to write my first blog post. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends, it was that I struggled to communicate my experiences. Spectrummy apples don’t fall far from spectrummy trees. Many of my friends did read, and began to understand our version of autism. They became part of my community too, just as the other parents of children on the spectrum, and adults with autism who read and commented, and shared their stories were my community.

I didn’t feel lonely any more.

And then we moved. Not just a little move, but to another continent, far away from my community. I wasn’t just cut off from my friends and family, everyone I’d ever known, but no Internet connection meant I was absent from my virtual family too.

But not without community.

In the State Department, each officer and their family are assigned a sponsor to meet them at the airport, buy some essential groceries, and answer questions about life in the new post. Our sponsor also had a foreign-born spouse, and two children aged 2 and 4. They were kind enough to take us along with them to some of their favourite places. They also threw a party to welcome us to the rest of the consulate community on our first weekend.

We were welcomed. Several times I felt compelled to explain or apologize for Pudding’s behavior- after all, strangers and the intense social experience of a party was overwhelming, particularly for a child with Asperger’s who had just moved to a new country. But every time, I was told there was no need. We were all accepted there. And just like any community, the consulate is full of different kinds of people, our own particular brand of diversity just as acceptable as any other kind.

A few days after the party we went out to an elaborately family-friendly garden centre with some of the other consulate families. After spending the morning at a huge playground, we went for lunch at a restaurant where Pudding made her own pizza. The sensory experience was just what my little seeker was craving, and she was in heaven pressing out the dough, rolling it out, smearing the sauce, and sprinkling on the other ingredients.

Then the chef took it away to cook, and the trouble began. Pudding had been enjoying herself, and saw no reason why her creation was taken away. We carried her back to our table kicking and screaming. I held her thrashing body as Spectrummy Daddy helped ease her into the comfort of her weighted vest.

I began to explain to her that she would have the pizza to eat soon, but as always during a meltdown, I was unclear as to how much she heard, or understood. As I gestured over to the brick oven where we could see her pizza, I noticed a table of three women with a baby and toddler. Staring. Talking to each other and staring at us. We were the car crash from which they couldn’t avert their eyes.

I hate those eyes and the challenge they represent for Pudding, and for my parenting skills. I don’t discipline during a meltdown, and I know that is what is expected by those who don’t understand. Sometimes I’m understanding of their lack of understanding. After all, I was once blissfully ignorant too. But sometimes I don’t have that composure, and in the company of my new community, we were in the midst of our greatest challenge.

As Spectrummy Daddy explained to our new friends about a meltdown, and why Pudding needed to wear her weighted vest, I glared back at the table of witnesses. Though they quickly averted their eyes, they whispered to one another, and looked back. In anger I mentioned my frustration about the stares to the rest of the table.

One of the other mothers gently touched me on the arm, and told me to turn around to face the rest of the group. “You’re with us now, we don’t care what they think.”

Community. Instant and accepting community. I smiled, and did exactly as she suggested. Pudding calmed down a few minutes later, just in time to devour her creation. By the time I turned around again, the table was empty, no more eyes upon us. We went on to enjoy the kiddie rides. Though there were some emotional moments, I no longer felt tense about anybody’s judgement.

I’ve mused since then about how different it would be for families like us if we had a sponsor from the beginning. One who met us at diagnosis when we were so overwhelmed and disoriented that we we felt jet-lagged. Someone to pick up the therapeutic supports we needed and helped us to shop for services. Then held our hands for those first few days, weeks, and months as we navigated a whole new landscape. How different things would be.

We’re in this together. We may be diverse and divided as a community, but you need never feel lonely again. You’re with us now.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 14, 2011 at 8:43 am

Safe Heaven

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In our home we have a safe haven. A secure area we can retreat to in the event of danger. Before we arrived, somebody had tried to sort through our large collection of keys to label them, and so we found the keys for our “safe heaven.”

It made me smile, because in so many ways, where we live is like paradise. The weather is glorious, the people friendly, the country amazingly beautiful, but with all the conveniences we’re used to. I can’t believe how fortunate we are to call this place home for the next three years. It surely is heaven.

Apart from one thing: the crime. It is hard to match up this glorious land of sunshine and smiles with the frightening statistics. Car-jackings, personal invasions (armed robbery of private residences), smash and grabs, muggings are all alarmingly commonplace here. It is the rape capital of the world. Living in the Northern suburbs, our affluence is a stark contrast to the poverty of the townships. There are parts of this city I will never visit. Even here I will always be on alert.

I’ve never lived anywhere like this before, and I can’t believe how much I took for granted that feeling of peace of mind.

When friends asked how I liked South Africa when we first arrived, I responded that it was like England, but with better weather and worse crime.

Then England rioted.

Seemingly out of nowhere, first London, then other parts of England came under siege. I struggled to believe it, this is England. This is my safe haven, where I would always return with the children if things got too crazy elsewhere. Suddenly it seems safer here than over there.  Severe cuts to the police force left them instantly overwhelmed.

Of course, this looting and violence didn’t suddenly spring up. It seems that the motivations for the riots are different in different parts of the country. Just as there are multiple causes: a cocktail of political, racial, cultural, and economic reasons, so will the ultimate solution be difficult and complex. I don’t have any answers here.

Yet the reasons people are putting forward to explain this senseless shift to chaos are intriguing. A generation of children and young adults who are alienated from the rest of society, who are so disengaged that they feel no empathy for the pain and destruction they are causing to others. Young adults who feel their futures are so hopeless that they opt for instant gratification regardless of the consequences. Entire sections of community at odds with one another, and a pervasive mistrust of authority.

Alienated, disengaged, lacking empathy, hopeless- these are the words I’ve read recently to describe the people of my homeland. The neurotypicals of my homeland at that. It is interesting to me that the same words which are often used (incorrectly) to describe adults and children with autism are being applied to entire sections of community. I would love to understand what is happening in England, but the causes are mysterious and complicated.

I’m ashamed at the violence directed against innocents.  A teenager even tried to mug my friend as she walked with her baby in her neighbourhood in broad daylight.  I’m proud of the way others rallied together to clean up the mess.

The Prime Minister described society as “sick”, but he failed to offer a cure. We are invited to see the rioters as different to us.  And while I can’t imagine tearing up my homeland, neither can I imagine feeling alienated, hopeless and disengaged.

As the police regained control and the courts are dealing with the fall-out, we are learning that those involved in the riots appear to come from all sections of society: a number of students, a teaching assistant and an 11 year-old girl are among those facing charges. For a while, the rules were gone, chaos reigned, and the thrill of the mob was too appealing for many. England was in meltdown. If these people have taken part in destroying their communities, we have to ask ourselves why, even if the answers are mysterious and complicated. Even if a solution is hard to find.

It pains me to think of my home country being torn apart, to see places I’ve lived and visited being destroyed. Just as it pains me to think of the crime in this beautiful country where I now live. Just a few miles from the townships, I can close my gates, lock my doors, and enjoy a relatively safe heaven. But I can’t help but feel sad that I have experienced a different England and South Africa to many.

And that my haven will only feel safe under lock and key, away from the alienated, disengaged, and hopeless.  Peace of mind is increasingly a slice of heaven that few of us can experience, no matter where we live.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 12, 2011 at 1:29 am

Making Connections

with 4 comments

As you read this, I will be finishing packing, getting the kids ready, heading to the airport, taking our first flight, making our connection in the busiest airport in the world(!), or on our second 16-hour flight.  Or I’ll be a stranger in a strange land, figuring out what to do next.  At least for me, that is familiar territory.

When Pudding was first diagnosed, I struggled to learn a foreign language littered with phrases like “echolalia” and “proprioception.”  Eventually I became fluent in this new language, even making up my own translations for some of those tricky phrases.  This language would be how I communicated with Pudding’s educators, therapists, and doctors; but to communicate with my girl, I had to learn to speak her language, just as she struggles to learn mine.

During the last two years, I made connections with those who could help me navigate this strange land.  In particular a teacher and doctor whose care and attention extended beyond Pudding to our entire family.  They acted as my guides so I didn’t get too lost.  Eventually I found community resources, and made sense of insurance regulations and somehow managed to find a path to follow.  It wasn’t always the easiest journey, but I could stumble my way along.

I would be lying if I said I’m not intimidated by starting all over again.  Making new connections, and finding trusted professionals who have my family’s best interests at heart.

At least once I began blogging, I found that there were so many of us, we could find our way together.  By reaching out to one another, we make new connections, form a community that doesn’t have geographical boundaries.  I have friends walking the same path, holding my arm if I should happen to stumble.  I’m grateful beyond measure for the friendship and support I’ve found through this blog.

Connections matter.  A few weeks ago a friend from university announced he was going to be the manager of a new independent cinema in England.  I immediately though about how great it would be if they could do the sensory showings that we enjoy here in the US, and suggested to him that they do just that.  He said he’d get back to me, and earlier this week he wrote back saying that when they open later this year, the cinema will be offering sensory showings every three weeks.

If that can be done in the UK, why not South Africa?  Why not everywhere?  We just need to keep making those connections.

I want to thank you for reading, commenting and sharing this blog over the last year.  It has been an incredible journey, that in many ways is only just beginning.  Time for me to go and make my connections.  Time for more adventures abroad!

If you would be so kind, I would love it if you could visit here and vote for Spectrummy Mummy as one of the top autism blogs.  Many thanks!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 1, 2011 at 6:03 am