Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘foreign service

U is for Untruth

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I have two very different children. I mean that in the sense that they are different to each other, but also that they are, or can be, different. Atypical. Not the norm, whatever that is. And just to keep me a even higher on my toes (toe-walking!), sometimes they behave very typically, and that confuses me the most of all.

Lately in our house, we have been dealing with a lot of untruths. Cubby is a gifted story-teller, and has been from an early age. I sometimes question whether he can tell the difference between fact and fiction, so immersed is he in his alternate reality. He’ll even assure us that he is not lying as he states things that aren’t true…such as his assertion one evening this week that his school is teaching him to speak Norwegian.

Back when we were in the U.S. a couple of months ago, a lady at the park started speaking to me in Spanish, and after a couple of sentences revealed that I am not exactly a native speaker, she told me that Cubby had informed her that we came from Mexico (he has never been there) and he spoke English because his nanny (we’ve never had one) is from Australia (again, never been there).

I’m puzzled by all of this, because our real backstory is just as interesting as this one he chose to create. I struggled to find a purpose for him telling a complete stranger this misinformation. A friend suggested that it is just more interesting to him, and our reality, even one that spans the world, is mundane to him. He has been there, done that, and other locations are new to him, and therefore intrinsically more exciting.

Pudding is different. I used to believe the myth that autistic children don’t tell lies, but Pudding has disabused me of that, and many other ‘facts’ about autism over the years. She just doesn’t lie on the same scale as her brother. Her more recent untruths have been more pragmatic in nature. They have a function that is very clear to me. Unlike her brother, I understand why she lies. Often it is for the same mundane reasons of most children: she wants to avoid getting into trouble for something she knows she wasn’t supposed to do, or she wants to get something she wants.

But while easier to understand, and certainly easier to deal with than Cubby’s untruths, Pudding’s simple lies are the ones that scare me the most.

As you may know, Pudding has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. We’ve known this since she was a baby, and her whole life we’ve taught her that she must always avoid these items, as well as many other foods that look safe, but may contain items that are very dangerous to her. She has been able to say from the age of three that she is allergic, and will sometimes volunteer this information about herself to others.

While she carries an epi-pen, and her school cafeteria doesn’t offer nuts, and her classroom is “nut-free” for snacks, we still rely on her to keep herself safe. An incredibly challenging thing for any young child, but more so in the case of one with the additional mix of autism and ADHD.

Imagine then, how scared I was at this story her aide recounted to me last week. It was snack time, and one of the other girls had cookies. A most covetable item at the best of times, but when compared to the healthy choices I’d sent with Pudding (carrots and cucumber sticks with rice cakes), the temptation had been too much.

Noticing Pudding’s gaze, the girl wanted to share. But what is more, before she did, she actually asked Pudding if she had any allergies.

And Pudding said no.

A lie that could, quite literally, kill her.

In this instance, there were no dire consequences. Her wonderful aide was right there, and intervened immediately. There were no nuts in the cookies (thank you, parents who obey nut-free rules), and we know to continue to reiterate the dangers of taking food we don’t know to be safe.

It is messy, this parenting thing. Allowing our kids to be themselves, develop naturally, and yet keep them safe is the hardest thing to do. And that, my friends, is no lie.

This post is part of my A-Z series. You can read the rest by clicking >here<.

 

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 5, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Wordless Wednesday 26 Mar 14

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

February 26, 2014 at 5:54 am

Blocked

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I haven’t blogged since Pudding’s birthday, more than a month ago.  It isn’t for want of things happening.  We’ve been having adventures galore that I need to catch you up on, from meeting penguins in Cape Town, to exploring Scotland.  Pudding has been making strides; learning how to brush her teeth by herself, and battling every kind of hand dryer in both the northern and southern hemispheres until she no longer fears them.  Oh, and I shook the hands of two more presidents.  Such a lot going on all at once.  I need to write about that.

Pudding is writing more than me these days.  From sending her grandparents her first ever email, to wandering around different countries with a pen and paper in her hand, she is writing all the time.

I find it interesting what she chooses to write.  Sometimes she is simply documenting her life around her; she’ll write the names of her school friends, or what she has done that day.  At other times, her writing is emphatic.  Frustrated that her spoken word isn’t being heeded, she’ll write out what she needs us to do.  This morning she was adamant that she shouldn’t be sent to school.  I know how she feels- I’d enjoyed our extended break too.

And now we are back, back in our routine.  Except not really, because it is hard to get back into a routine when you only have 6 months left in a place and you don’t know where you’ll be living after that.

I mean, I got stuck on the fact that I don’t need to buy the kids any more toothpaste, because we’ll leave here before it runs out.  We have more toothpaste than time left here, and nothing in place for after that.  No international school persuaded that inclusion is in fact, the way forward.  The only way, in my opinion.  No team of therapists in place for two kids who need extra support.  

Stuck.  Blocked.  I know how my kid feels.  I tend not to write about the frustrations of our globally mobile lifestyle.  I try not to bite the hand that feeds our family.  But not having an onward assignment at this point is devastating to a family in our situation.  It takes time and effort to set up for our kids’ educational and therapeutic needs, wherever we end up next.  

Still, we’ve proven we can do this, and we’re ready for another try.  Pudding keeps mentioning going to Brazil, so maybe she knows something we don’t.  I’m frustrated, angry, and all out of patience with things far beyond my control, but we’ll get through this like every other challenge we’ve faced: squeezing out one more day at a time.  

Yes, I feel better for writing that out.  That girl of mine really knows how to handle this stuff.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 6, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Worried

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I’m not worried.

Pudding is coming up to the last month of Kindergarten.  She has been supported, praised, held and loved.  And now it is time for her to move up to first grade. 

I’m not worried.

She has made friends, in her own way, and those kids have accepted her and liked her.  Perhaps some will stay in the same class with her.  Maybe she’ll make new friends.  I’m not worried.

Her current teacher is arranging for us to meet the next one.  She will prepare social stories and prep Pudding , and maybe even the new teacher, as best she can.  I wonder if she is worried.  I’m not.

Just as we’re looking at the next step with Pudding, our eyes are also a little further on the horizon.  It isn’t just next year we have to plan for, in the same school, but our next move.  Our next country.  Maybe even a whole new continent. 

And still, I’m not worried.

Because I know she can do it.  I’ve seen her, time and time again rise up to new challenges, and develop resilience, confidence, and the skills she needs to succeed.  I know now, I know, that with time, supports, and preparation, she is equal to anything.

I think I knew it even before we moved to Johannesburg- this was just testing our hypothesis.  Being prepared to run other experiments if we didn’t succeed the first time.  Knowing that there is always another way…we just had to find the best way, for her.  And we did.

And we will again.

I’m not worried. 

I’m grateful.

I’m experienced.

I’m prepared.

I’m ready.  Just like my girl.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

April 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Feeling Included

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So today was finally the day.  My nerves have been wracking for weeks as I faced up to the challenge of public speaking.  I’d been asked to participate in a conference on international inclusion, and as much as my instincts have me running away from such opportunities, I decided to follow the example my girl sets me every single day: I got out of my comfort zone.

The conference had started yesterday, but Pudding was down with what turned out to be a double ear infection, so she took priority.  Spectrummy Daddy took today off work instead so I could still do my bit.  I got talking to the lady at the table next to me, a principal of an international school.  Before long she revealed that her daughter is also diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and now doing really well- not just in college, but spending a year abroad in Paris.  I felt that feeling of connection that we spectrum parents always feel when we meet.  We’re never alone.

Part of the day the conference participants were divided up into groups to see learning support in action, but I wasn’t placed in  group, so I did the “mummy tour” of just the bits that were relevant to Pudding’s education.  I got to check out “Pudding’s office” which is also known as the sensory room.  There I learned how Pudding manages her sensory needs in school (just the same as at home, really) and the awesome Ms. B reiterated how much she loved working with Pudding.

I had a bit of free time, so I sat near Pudding’s classmates as they ate lunch.  The teaching assistant for Pudding’s class was there, and we’d recently discussed how she was hoping to continue as the teaching partner in her classroom next year.  Not only that, but she was fighting with a few other teaching partners who also had their eye on working with Pudding next year!  How far we have come, from schools that wouldn’t admit her and teachers who couldn’t work with her, to a place where she is accepted and loved for who she is.

Next I moved to Pudding’s classroom, where her teacher presented a slideshow of videos about Pudding and how our inclusion project is working out.  The video ended with one of Pudding’s classmates sagely noting that “she learns from us.”  It kind of sums up inclusion in a sentence.  What this little girl hasn’t realized yet, though, is that she is also learning from Pudding.

One of my favourite parts of the day was the student panel.   A group of middle and high school students talked about their experiences of inclusion: the diversity here included South African children on scholarships, as well as those receiving learning support.  These students were incredibly articulate, and could detail the many benefits they received from an inclusive education.  It was a showcase of all that is great about the school, and fascinating to me considering that not long ago some of these kids wouldn’t have even been admitted to the school.

And then it was my turn.  I’d love to say that I conquered my nerves, but that isn’t the way these things work.  I did, however, acknowledge those nerves- it is just part of who I am, and as I neared the end of my presentation, I found that the shakiness in my voice had almost disappeared.  I talked about our experiences- both positive and negative- with special education, I talked about how this school had initially rejected Pudding for pre-K, our conditional acceptance into Kindergarten, and the incredible successes we have enjoyed ever since.

Everyone at the conference responded really positively to what I had to say.  The director of the school hadn’t known that we were initially rejected from his school, and wished to speak to me privately.  He reiterated that the school was developing and learning how to really build a community.  International schools can only really do that when they’re allowing all of us to be part of that community.

It was time to leave, but not before more I met with more educators and faculty members who told me that our story further resonated because they too were parents of children with learning differences.  We are all connected, in some intangible way by our experiences.  Here in South Africa they call it Ubuntu:  a philosophy that can be summed up by ‘I am what I am because of who we all are.’  I think these international schools are going to be whole lot better because of who we all are.  And including us- as parents to speak at conferences, and as children to be educated- is going to make them the best that they can be.

Happy Holidays

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Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays- treasure your most precious gifts!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 25, 2012 at 11:18 am

Freedom of Speech

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Sometimes my life seems to have very separate compartments, and you can divide them up quite neatly.  There is my life in the foreign service: as an employee of the State Department, and the wife of a diplomat.  Then there is my home life: as a wife to my husband, and mother to my children.  Then I suppose there is the side where I write and advocate.  Most often I wrote about my children.  Sometimes I write about autism and special needs.  Other times life in the foreign service.  But this is wrong, because I’m always writing about all of those things at the same time.  If they are my experiences, they are a unique blend of my past and my present, personal history and present geography.  In moments of clarity, I understand that the world isn’t black and white, but several shades of grey (not fifty though- get your minds out of the gutter)!

On R&R in England, foreign service life seemed far away.  We visited Durham Cathedral on September 11th, and I showed the kids how we light a candle for those who can’t be with us.  Our children are too young to understand much, but I told them that when things are dark, we have to light the way.

That same day, four of our colleagues were murdered in Libya.  Over the next few days there were violent protests directed at other US embassies and consulates.  It was a strange disconnect, being away from our foreign service community at that time, but seeing images, and reading friends’ status updates on Facebook as the action took place around them.

My brain wants things to be black and white.  It makes things easier to understand  if there are sides and good guys and bad guys.  This is how Cubby likes things to be.  He needs to know who is good and bad, who is right and wrong.  But it is more complicated than that.  It is wrong to make provocative movies, deliberately dubbed to offend religions and communities, to destroy the peaceful efforts and relationship-building that Ambassador Stevens and others lived for; then died for.  And yet without freedom of speech, what do we have?  Every time I post a blog, I exercise a right that many in this world don’t have, may never have.

So too, do those who are hurt or offended have a right to protest.  It isn’t wrong to protest- it is a democratic right.  Another kind of freedom of speech.  But violence against innocents is wrong, even if done in protest against abuses.  When protests came last week to our consulate, I thought more about the fear and potential threat- the dark- than the light of living in a society that permits and encourages the right to protest.

Freedom of speech is an interesting concept to me.  Words come easily to me, and I’m safe to express them.  What then, about my daughter, whose speech does not flow so freely?  How do I protect her rights?  One way, is respecting her expressions of protest.  Pudding can refuse, or dissent, or stay quiet, or walk away.  I’ve explained to her therapists before that her needs should always be respected, rather than corrected.  At times she can articulate those needs quite clearly, when she is overloaded, she cannot.

I’m mindful that this right I have is actually a privilege.  A power not extended to all.  And so, if I abuse that power, intentionally or not, others have a right to protest.  The grey area gets murkier, because words, particularly from those in power, can have unforeseen consequences.  Every time I write about Pudding, her autism, and our lives, I’m mindful of the fact that I’m balancing my freedom of speech with hers.  We’re all Ambassadors, all the time.  When things get dark, we have to light the way.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm