Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘South Africa

Wordless Wednesday 17 Apr 13

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grandparents

 

Take grandparents for a lunch with a difference…

elephants

 

you get to feed three very special (and very hungry) guests…

squash

 

Take a LOT of butternut squash.  Even this doesn’t come close to the almost 800 tons an elephant can consume per day!

 

deseeding

 

Pudding conscientiously removes all the seeds…

Pudding and Grandpa

 

Have Grandpa hold on just in case…elephants are vegetarians, but they are VERY hungry and impatient for their butternut squash!

trunk

 

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

April 17, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Gestures

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We were traveling in the car to a village called Clarens for the weekend.  The kids’ grandparents have been visiting, and Spectrummy Daddy thought his parents would like to go to this artists’ haven in a valley in the Free State surrounded by mountains.  I agreed, because I thought is sounded like heaven for all of us.  It was.

But we were late setting off.  I had a work event that day which included Spectrummy Daddy getting hit in the face with a whipped cream pie (I have a weird job).  The event had run late, and then with picking up the kids and getting stuff ready for a weekend away…later still.

We finally set off and hit all the rush hour traffic.  I was getting panicky, because much as Johannesburg has street lights and paved roads, that wasn’t going to be the case where we were headed, and this just isn’t a safe country to be driving at night.  Especially with all the men-folk in a different car with the GPS.

Actually, we did have Cubby with us in the beginning, though I’m not sure he counts as a man yet.  He wanted to be in the girls’ car at least.  As we crawled along in the traffic, I noticed Pudding was the wrong kind of quiet.  I looked back and her face confirmed what evidence supported a few seconds later: she was car sick.

Pudding has been car sick a few times before, but this was bad, and it was already getting dark.  We found a small shopping center off the motorway, cleaned up as best we could, changed clothing, and allowed Cubby to switch back to the boys’ car, which had become much more appealing by virtue of being vomit-free.

Traffic was even worse as we got back onto the motorway.  We inched along, and with cars cutting in and out, were positioned further away from Spectrummy Daddy and the rest of the gang in the boys’ car.  I was trying my hardest to keep their car in sight.  I knew how vulnerable we were without a GPS, especially as it got darker and harder to navigate.

I was more concerned with Pudding getting sick again, and kept checking my mirror to see that she was still okay.  I barely had time to react as a white car swept in from the side, almost hitting mine in his attempt to enter the motorway.

I was furious.  Already upset from the turn our trip was taking, this car had almost caused us an accident before we’d even left the city limits.  But feeling vulnerable already, I tried to keep the road rage in check, I brought the car to a halt so it could enter in front of me without hitting.  I didn’t need to lose what was left of my cool. 

But the man in the white car had turned back to me and was gesticulating, but I didn’t understand what he was saying.  He is saying words too, but I can’t hear them, and the movement of his lips means nothing to me.  I doubt he is speaking English.  

Then he started clapping at me…but slowly.  The hairs on the back of my neck were raised.  He is starting something!  We’re stuck in this traffic, and this guy is trying (and succeeding) to intimidate me!

Or is he?

I can’t understand his gestures AT ALL.  Is he being apologetic?  Does he feel bad that he almost crashed into us and is saying so, but there is a cultural divide?  Is it possible that the slow clap could not be sarcastic?  And a woman is in the passenger seat, maybe I’m getting this wrong.

So I don’t react at all.  I don’t smile.  Or nod.  I don’t shake my head.  I keep my eyes focused ahead as though I’m oblivious.  The traffic is bumper to bumper and not much safe space to manouever myself anywhere, but if he stops, if he is going to get out of the car to hurt us, I’ll pull off onto the hard shoulder and speed my way around.  I’m mentally prepared for highjacking.

But for now, I just need to remain calm and alert.  I don’t need to overreact.

Yet this man seems desperate for my reaction.  He won’t stop with his gesturing and clapping.  Then his wife gets involved, doing the same thing.  And it is dark, and I’m not sure where I’m going, and my kid is sick, and I can’t see my husband’s car, and I’m scared and WILL YOU PEOPLE JUST STOP TRYING TO PROVOKE ME???!!!

And then the wife works it out.  I don’t understand!  So she tries a different gesture, and I breathe a sigh of relief as she chooses a thumbs-up sign, one that even a white western woman like me would be able to understand.  

And I do.  With a large smile I return the symbol, and the man and his wife do the same and we are all smiles and thumbs and nobody gets hurt.  We move on.  Slowly.

We crawl on into the traffic and a night that gets darker and darker.  I have hours of driving to reflect on the incident with the white car and my reaction to it.  I wonder if this is how it can be for Pudding- when you struggle to understand body language and gestures, when communication is both basic and foreign at the same time, does she feel this afraid?  Does she misinterpret smiles as threats?  If an olive branch looks like a loaded gun- how do you ever trust this world enough to make relationships in it?  I’m profoundly aware, once again, that if I faced Pudding’s challenges, I would be curled up in a corner and refusing any interaction.  She takes my breath away with the simplest of actions.

When we finally get there, it is Pudding’s turn top be anxious.  She won’t let me go out of sight in this unfamiliar place.  I try to calm her with my words, and then abruptly realize that she won’t be able to interpret them if she is already feeling vulnerable.

So we climb into bed together, and I offer her my hand.  She recognises the gesture, and moments later falls asleep, her hand still holding mine.  One sweet gesture at least, we both share and understand.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

April 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Wordless Wednesday 10 Apr 13

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holding hands

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

April 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm

On Safari

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We went on a safari.  Yesterday we woke up even earlier than the kids to drive out to Pilanesburg, which is a game reserve about 2 and a half hours from where we live.  I wasn’t holding out much hope of success.  We’ve done a few self-drives before, and the kids just got bored in the car.  Now with driving for hours on top of driving for hours…I didn’t see that they’d be in the best of moods.

I wondered if we were ready.

Cubby likes giraffes, and along with zebras, we seem to have had lots of opportunities to see them.  I wondered if he was even bothered any more.

As for Pudding, well- it isn’t like you see Hello Kitty on safari.  She hasn’t shown much interest in animals at all.

It was a hot day, so we smeared on the sunscreen to the disgust of both kids- but tactile defensiveness doesn’t defeat African sun.

I’d hoped to set up my tripod on the seat next to me, but Pudding soon let me know that she was sitting next to me and nowhere else.

Was it going to be worth it?  

Then we started moving.  Maybe it was the bumping of the safari vehicle that appealed to her senses, maybe it was the warm African wind blowing in her face…perhaps both…but Pudding was happy. Not content.  Not just smiling.  Whole body fizzing in excitement.  Her feet were stamping, her arms were flapping, she was shaking with glee.  It was sheer joy- and as always when I get to witness such perfection- I was grateful that she feels in such a way that the whole world gets to share it with her.

Just movement and wind- we hadn’t seen an animal yet.

Just inside the game park, the ranger came to a halt.  I wonder how she’d react but she took it in her stride.  The ranger wanted to know what animals everybody wanted to see.  The kids at the front requested lions.  Cubby requested giraffes- I guess he still likes them.

I asked Pudding which animals she wanted to see.  Silence.

I still sometimes take that silence as a lack of response.  I should know better.  After a few seconds, she knew what she wanted: an animal that we hadn’t seen yet on any of our self-drives.

Hippo.

And what do you know?  Right after some impala, we got to see some hippos.  Most were submerged in the water, cooling off from the hot day.  But there was a baby hippo just standing by the shore.

hippo

Meant to be- just like someone else I know.  We lasted out three hours and took in elephants, lions, zebras and lots more.  Yes, we were ready, and yes, it was worth it.

I’m supposed to be writing a post about autism awareness today, and I have nothing.  This girl hasn’t changed who she is.  This world hasn’t changed for her.  But she is taking on more and more of it, and I feel along with her every fizzy, frothy sensation of glee just for being here.

Watch out world- aware or not- here we come!

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

April 2, 2013 at 6:26 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.

Wordless Wednesday 23 Jan 13

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IMG_3950

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 23, 2013 at 5:02 pm

First Aid

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Last week, I went along with the Consul General and the Community Grants Coordinator for a ceremony to mark the handing out of the very first Autism South Africa First Aid Kits.  I got to introduce my boss to the dedicated team that brought this idea to fruition.  We also toured an inner-city school for children on the spectrum.  I was immediately recognized by a member of staff as Pudding’s mother- she is such a superstar!

These First Aid kits are packages that Autism South Africa will send out to communities and schools in need to support their autistic learners.  It isn’t an autism unit in every school.  It isn’t specially trained teachers and therapists such as the wealthier amongst us can afford.  This is the most basic toolkit for those with nothing else, for true communities in need: rural, isolated, impoverished.

We got to meet some of the recipients of these kits, and I don’t know how I managed not to shed a tear as they talked about how tools as simple as a laminator and velcro were going to change the lives of children there.  Each kit contains strategies and tools, with a guide to producing developmental toys with limited resources and no impact to the environment.

The US Mission to South Africa provides the Self-Help grant that funds 80 of these kits, but the impact of these strategies is beyond measure.

Beyond measure…just like the potential of those given the right support.  This first aid may not be saving lives, but it is definitely changing them…for the better.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

November 20, 2012 at 5:25 pm