Monday, December 30, 2013

Intentional living

Do you make New Years Resolutions?  I never have in the past. 

This year I am not really making resolutions either, but I have decided to make myself this reminder poster of the things I wish to be intentional about over the next months. 

They are all about overcoming fear, doing things I enjoy, noticing beauty, focussing on positivity and looking after myself (and therefore my family). 

What things do you want to be more intentional about in your life? Why don't you make a list and put it somewhere you will notice so it reminds you what you want to achieve? 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Life is complicated and then you get depressed

The title of this post is not meant to be facetious or sarcastic. Nor is it a cry for help. It is a statement of fact for many. Including me. 

Depression is really, really common. If you have not experienced it yourself, you know someone who has. 

Not many people talk about it. This could be because of the stigma attached with mood problems. I think it is decreasing, but it is still there. Comments like "you're just tired" "snap out of it" "why are you down in the dumps? your life is not that bad" "just think of all the things you have to be grateful for" and so on are still pretty commonplace. 

Or in my case.... "well, it's no wonder you are so tired and stressed, you have 6 kids".

While well meaning, those types of comments are not really very helpful! 

There is a difference between being tired (exhausted, even) and being depressed. Over the years I have learned how to distinguish quite well between the two, and these days I don't have to get really sick before I know to do something about it. 

The first time I experienced depression was when our third baby was about 1 1/2 I think. It probably started well before that, but I didn't realise something was not right until I noticed I'd been staying in bed almost all day letting the kids watch heaps of TV, and then getting up an hour before Hubby was due home from work to straighten up the house so he wouldn't know how badly I was feeling. My mind was in a fog, and I couldn't easily make decisions. I was snappy with the kids. I was not just tired. I was unwell. Over time I managed to pull myself out of it, not realising that I could actually go and get some help. In hindsight, and after discussing with my doctor, it seems likely I had a case of undiagnosed post natal depression. By the time he was 2 I was pretty much OK again. 

The next time was after baby five was born. Around the same time we made a 100km move, Hubby was diagnosed Bipolar. MasterL was experiencing huge anxiety issues and was finally diagnosed Aspergers. I had very little support in a new town, Hubby was studying and working, and I slipped into depression quite hard. This time though we were seeing a great psychologist for MasterL and she noticed what was happening. Hubby noticed too this time, and between them they talked me in to trying some medication. I am so glad they did. I went from being anxious, stressed, angry, disorganised, unable to enjoy things I usually loved and just plain miserable back to my normal content, slightly organised, mostly relaxed and tolerant self in the space of a few weeks. Over about 18 months I learned some new coping strategies and slowly reduced the medication under the supervision of a doctor, until I didn't need it. I've been off it and coping well for about 3 years now. 

Until about 2 months ago. When I first noticed some of my tell tale signs appearing I put it down to stress from Uni work load. Of course I should be stressed... I had assignments due and a baby to watch. Of course I was a bit snappy.... the baby was teething and so I wasn't sleeping.  Of course I was tired.... I have a lot to do every day and a lot on my mind. Overtiredness leads to anxiety, anxiety leads to sleeplessness, sleeplessness leads to grumpiness..... it all made sense.

Then Uni finished for the semester. And I am feeling no better really! 

For those of you who know me for real, please don't worry. And please don't make a big deal. I am OK right now. My mood is low, yes, and I am struggling a bit. But I know what to do. I have had tests to make sure it's not just my thyroid playing up again (it does that!), and I am off to the doctor next week to have a chat. I am exercising when I can. I am eating well. I am not lying in bed all day. I am OK. I just know myself well enough now to know that the way I feel at the moment is not my usual, and I need to look after myself a bit now before it gets worse. I'm not worried about it. I'll go talk to the doctor and see what she thinks. If she recommends some meds again, I'll take them. 

Depression is not the end of the world. It is a common condition, often a reaction to stressful circumstances, and is very treatable. 

If you, like me, struggle with depression, please get some help before you get really sick. Maybe you can just start by talking to a friend you trust and and asking them to help you think through what would be smart to do about it. If you don't want to talk to someone you know there are places you can seek help. Beyond Blue is a good place to start. If you are already in a pretty bad way, please don't wait. Call your doctor and make an appointment. Tell them how you are feeling and ask for help. Please remember that depression is just part of the normal range of human experience. Don't be embarrassed. Get some support and get well. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

one thing at a time

I made it through another semester of Uni.

I'll know in a few weeks how successful I was, but for now I am just enjoying not having the constant pressure of needing to be studying. I spent much less time than I wanted to with my text book in my hand, but the subject material was never far from my mind.

During the semester I had a few other major things on, as I usually do, and the kids were their usual time consuming selfs.

I guess I was looking pretty tired after a few nights of being up with BabyR teething, and a friend asked me if I was OK. I did a bit of a stress dump on her..... you know, the one where you blurt out all the things that are on your mind and what you have to get done in the next week.

She said, "I don't know how you do it all! You must be a little bit crazy".

This has been said to me numerous times over the years.... but for the first time I totally agreed. I was completely overwhelmed and had reached the point of being unproductive because of it. I had finally bitten off more than I could chew and having someone else notice was sobering in a way. There was nothing I could get out of without letting someone down, so I just had to get things done. And I did.

One thing at a time.

It's not the first time I've had to do it, but the first time I'd put myself in the situation. Previously I'd had to deal with things that had just landed in front of me, where as this time all the things in front of me I'd chosen to do. I will remember in future to pace myself a little better. But it was a good reminder that I can get through overwhelming situations.

I can stay calm.

I can prioritise.

I can ignore the less important and focus on the task at hand.

I can get through the tough times.

One thing at a time.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mirror..... a free verse poem

when I look in the mirror I see
lines on my face
that weren't there before
and if I think back through the years
to remember all the things
that were difficult
or stressful
or distressing
it would be easier to let myself resent you
than it is to be thankful

when I look in the mirror I see 
grey hairs
that weren't there before
and if I think back through the years
to remember all the things
that were hurtful
or confusing
or undeserved
it would be easier to let myself remain fearful
than it is move on and enjoy now

when I look in the mirror I see 
tiredness in my eyes
that wasn't there before
and if I think back through the years
to remember all the things
that were upsetting
or exhausting
or just plain unfair
it would be easier to speak of my life with you as a struggle
than it is to be positive

it would be easier
and people might excuse it
or might accept it
or expect it
or prefer to hear the story of the pain and difficulty

but I don't want to tell that story

it is only half the story

and it helps no one to retell the bits that explain how sick you were

unless it helps to explain to those who cannot have seen

how hard you have worked
how brave you have been
how much you have sacrificed
the battles you have fought
the victories you have won
the demons you have faced
how far you have come
how it all shaped who you are now

how knowing you has changed me for the better
how journeying with you has helped me be stronger
how partnering with you has brought out the best in me
how remaining with you has been a privilege
how planning with you fills me with hope and expectation

so I will choose to tell the other half of the story
against all the odds
laughing at the statistics
flying in the face of the expected
making our own reality full of triumphs and joys
deciding daily to act with determination
and in love
and to persist
with thankfulness
with courage
with mindfulness
with positivity
with contentment
to continue to look forward
not back
to work hard
to smile
to laugh
to remember all the good things
and to make more good as the story unfolds

when I look in the mirror I see a woman who is
not in spite of 
but because of 
the journey with you
I am happy with my reflection

This post is part of The Blogfast Club organised by Kate at kate says stuff

Monday, August 5, 2013


She covers her ears as the ambulance rushes down the street, sirens wailing.

She cries in discomfort as she runs inside to escape the clatter of the lawn mower.

She rocks in agitation to cope with the sound of the cutlery clinking and clashing at the meal table. 

She wears her ear defenders to muffle the sound of the loud music when she is in the school hall.

But when it rains.

When it rains!

When it rains she presses her face up against the glass and looks out into the sky.

Will it? 

Will it!!

Her body is tense and coiled like a spring.

Will it?


When it thunders she squeals as the sound ricochets around in her head. She jumps up and down as the pressure explodes through her chest. 

Squeals and jumps with delight.


The thunder echoes. Reverberates. 

She dances. She flaps. She spins. 

......She slows.......

She stops. 

She waits.

She returns to the window and presses her face up against the glass and looks out into the sky.

Will it? 

This weeks challenge for the Blogfast Club was to write a fictional piece to the prompt 'thunder'. Go to kate says stuff to find out more. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Likeness is normal

Last week I wrote a blog post called Difference is normal. I wrote it because it seems to me that we are all different from each other in so many ways, and even though being different is normal, we hold each other at arms length because of perceived differences. I was thinking that if we could accept that difference is normal, that maybe we could get on with accepting each other, just as we are, and celebrate those differences as being something that strengthen us as a community. I was thinking that it would be great if realising we all have our differences meant we could accept that difference is normal and maybe have more empathy for other peoples differences. 

I've been doing some more thinking. And it seems to me that we are all alike in one way or another. And I was thinking that it is just as important to realise we are all similar as it is to realise we are all different. 

I was thinking about it after I wrote last weeks post. Then I read a post called Not Different by Brenda from Mama Be Good. After pointing out that her Autistic son needs the same things as any other child-  "..... to play, to have fun, and to feel good about himself.... connection, guidance, and people who get him..." Brenda closes her article by saying "Autism does not equal Different". She is right.

In our difference, there is always similarity. 

You might think this is a contradiction in terms. Let's think about it together.

We may all jump differently, but we are all still jumping.
Photo credit Mell Mallin Photography

I have blue eyes, you have brown eyes. We both have eyes.

I have short hair, you have long hair. We both have hair.

I like chocolate, you like ice-cream. We both like sweet food.

I am interested in psychology, you are interested in mathematics. We both have interests.

I live in Australia, you live in England. We both belong somewhere.

I get worked up about rights for disabled people, you get worked up about dangerous workplace conditions. We are both concerned about justice.

My Son and Daughter are Autistic. My Husband and Daughter are Bipolar. I am neither. We are all people just trying to get along in this world and do our best with what we have, challenges and all. 

Let's recognise our differences. Let's accept them as being normal. Then let's look for our likenesses. They are there. Let's find them and talk about them. Let's focus on ways we can relate to each other instead of looking for excuses to drive wedges between us. 

Monday, July 29, 2013


The baby is crying.

It is still dark.

I pick him up from his cot and bring him to my bed. We snuggle in close together so he can feed as I go back to sleep. I doze off to the sound of Hubby breathing beside me.

The toilet is flushing.

It is still dark.

I hear MasterL moving quietly around the house beginning his morning routine. He is always first to be up. I think he likes to start his morning routine in the dim light and silence of the sleeping house and just stirring neighbourhood. He follows the same routine every morning. I doze off to the sound of the garbage truck in the next street.

The shower is running.

It is still dark.

I remember that Hubby is working a morning shift today. I will be getting the 3 little kids ready on my own today. I hope MissG slept well and is not starting the day in sensory overload. I really should wake up and start organising my thoughts, but it is so warm in here and the baby is sleeping on my arm. I shouldn't disturb him yet. Just a few more minutes. I doze off as Hubby turns off the shower.

The blender is whirring.

It is still dark. Except for the stream of light coming through the bedroom door from the living room.

E is making her breakfast smoothie. What time is it? I can hear Hubby's voice, so it must be earlier than 6.45. I reach for my phone and check my calendar. Only one appointment to keep, and its the Psychologist, so I have an easy day today. I might even have time to do some reading for Uni while the baby naps around lunch time. Hubby comes in and kisses me goodbye. Baby stirs. I hug him close and drift off again as I hear Hubby drive out of the garage.

The girls are giggling.

Light is filtering through the curtains.

The baby coos at me as I meet his gaze.

Spoons are clinking in breakfast bowls.

MasterI is making his lunch.

MissG raises her voice..... something about the cereal box being in the wrong spot.

I sit up and reach for my robe.

I sigh a little.

It is morning.

This post is part of the Blogfast Club Challenge. Head over to kate says stuff to find out more. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Difference is normal

I got to thinking this weekend about how we seem to like sameness. You know, we hang out with people who have similar interests as we do. We like to talk to people who hold similar opinions to us. 

A lot of what is reported in the news would seem to confirm we are afraid of situations we are not familiar with and people who seem different than us. 

But really, when you think about it, we are all different from each other in one way or another. In fact we are all different from each other in many ways when we really look into it. 

to have a closer look at this image, click on it

It seems to me that if we are honest with ourselves
difference is normal.

So what are we afraid of?

Monday, July 22, 2013

*Not* losing my writing mojo

So, I'm getting back into my psychology study, it's week two of semester and I'm already behind! Life continues to march along, even if I have extra things on my plate. Never mind.... I'll get into a new routine and things will fall into place. I am thinking I'll make myself a weekly routine of sorts so I don't forget anything important. Then today I saw a good idea to help me keep blogging regularly. I was visiting kate says stuff, and saw she is running a challenge for bloggers. So I'm going to join in. Now I am guaranteed to post a blog at least once a week for the next month! Yay! And I'll hopefully have time to read what others who join in are posting and get to know some new blogs. Double yay!

So each Monday you'll see this picture and a post that fits whatever topic Kate sets. I'm looking forward to it! 

While you wait for next Monday to roll around to see what the first topic is..... why not head over to Aussie Mum Network and read my July article over there? It's a follow up on the story of BabyR's birth I posted back in February. 

And don't forget you can click the links at the top of the page to see what I am writing about Autism and Bipolar, and to check out my new Facebook page, Square Peg Pictures, where I share photos of things that catch my eye and make me happy. 

See you next Monday!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

At the end of my comfort zone...... again

Image source

At the beginning of 2012, I had completed half of a degree in Psychology. I was doing OK, making reasonable grades, but had reached a point where I needed to improve my grades if I was to be considered for an honours year when I finish the degree. 

2012 was the year MasterL started High School, and the year before MissG started school. They are both Autistic and this sort of change is hard for them. In order to have time to properly support them through these big transitions, I decided to apply for leave of absence from my studies. 

It turned out to be a really good thing, as during 2012 I fell pregnant, and my oldest, E, became ill and was diagnosed with Bipolar. Hubby also suffered a back injury at work during 2012. It was a pretty full on year. 

The changes to Disability Support funding in our state schools left everyone even more nervous about MissG's school entry, and Baby R was born right at the beginning of the school year, so I extended my leave of absence through Semester One of this year as well.  

It's now been 19 months since I did any study. 

MissG is doing well at school, with the help of a wonderful teacher. MasterL has successfully navigated 1 1/2 years of High School (not without problems, but with some tweaking of the arrangements at school he's now doing really well). We've settled MasterI into High School as well. E is learning to manage her stuff with great maturity and grace. MissK continues to float happily through life. And BabyR is a very content 5 month old. 

So, it's back to some study for me. I'm looking forward to learning some more about Psychology, and to thinking about things other than what goes on in our house. I am also nervous! I've not studied with such a young baby to tend to at the same time. And I still need to get good grades. Yet, here I am facing the decision.... "do I just keep going along, finding a good excuse to put off what I want to be doing because I am nervous about it, or do I  get on with my life and chase my dreams?". So, it's toward the end of my comfort zone I inch.... again......and hope that life moves on in a way I can manage. 

Wish me luck! 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Around the house

 Sometimes I find the funniest things around the house.......

Teddy bear sandwich anyone?
"laser hands " and "laser feet"

An entire row of encyclopaedias turned around the wrong way........
Me: did you do this MissG?

G: yes *big smile*
Me: did it take long?
G: no
Me: are you going to put them back? 
G: no
Me: why not?
G: *huge smile* they look good like that!

Book in a basket and
donkey in a box
on the kitchen floor!

Poor Dolly!

Decorated glove
found in the
lounge room

Friday, June 7, 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

This is why I advocate

This. This is why I advocate. This is why I go on and on and on about the right supports. This is why I get all worked up about accepting people who are different than us. 

click here to watch the video
My kids have another difference than these kids, but they live in the same society- one that holds such strong prejudices that these kids see themselves as different and therefore less and bad and ugly simply because that is what society tells them. This is horrifying. 

This is why I advocate.  Because when I fight for "disability rights" I am really fighting for human rights. Because when I stand up for justice for my kids I am also working towards making a change that will support all kids who are treated unjustly simply for not fitting the "norm". 

This is why I advocate. This is why I will never stop.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hard lessons for my ego

My oldest daughter is 17, and was diagnosed with Bipolar last year. I do my best to be supportive of her, and to be helpful as she learns to navigate life with this new information. I am learning the hard way that intent does not always equal success. 

I organised for my daughter to attend a group therapy type activity after school one afternoon each week of this school term, thinking that it would be helpful for her. She went the first week, even though she was nervous and reluctant to go. 

She came home and told me she didn't want to go again. I began trying to convince her that this group was going to be great and helpful and that she just needed to give it a bit longer. 

As the week went on, I could tell she was becoming more and more anxious about going back. She felt like I was forcing her to go. She felt uncomfortable there, and the anxiety she was experiencing over it was far outweighing any possible benefit she could gain from being there. 

I was wrong.

It was tough to admit. But it was true. I had made a judgement on what would be good for her based on what had helped me in the past. And I had been wrong. 

I spent some time thinking through it all. I started with thoughts like "of course, what would I know?" and "I'm probably making a mess of everything and not being supportive of her at all" because I was feeling defensive and I was overtired at the time of the conversation during which I realised I was wrong. 

My thoughts gradually moved around to things like "well, fine then, if she thinks she can do this alone she can stop using me as her get-out-of-jail-free-card when she's not coping" because my pride had been hurt and I was thinking irrationally. 

Then slowly I became more rational. What if she is right? What if she can do this on her own? What if she is more like her dad than me in this regard and she actually doesn't find it helpful at all to talk things through with a group of people? Just because I do well with that sort of thing doesn't mean she will.... or should. I realised that she needed me to let her make decisions like this so she could own her support mechanisms. I had to concede that there is no point me pushing things on her that she doesn't want. I had to admit she is competent. She is capable of making choices like this and I needed to let her do that.

So I had to swallow my pride. I had to admit that it was not my decision to make. I told her it was entirely up to her whether she went back or not. 

It was hard to do. I really do like to think that I know what I'm doing. I like to think that I am helpful and supportive and can contribute positively to my daughters journey. It was hard to admit to myself that I may not be achieving this goal. But following her lead released her from a huge load of stress and was the right thing to do. I am glad I realised before I caused her much hurt for the sake of saving my ego. 

Maybe all she needs from me at this stage of her life is for me to be her get-out-of-jail-free-card when she realises she has been wrong. And I can be cool with that. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The one big worry

I'm a bit of a worrier.

I try not to be. I tell myself I am just being organised and planning for the future, making sure that if things all go pear-shaped I have a plan ready to go. Sometimes that's true.

But mostly I am just a bit of a worrier.

I can usually talk myself out of a worry session pretty easily. I just go through the situation I am worrying about and remind myself of how simple it would be to deal with. I have found this works better than telling myself not to worry because it wouldn't happen. All trying to convince myself my worry won't happen does is get me stuck in a circle of thought that goes something like
....  Somehow having a strategy makes me feel OK again, and I can think about something else.

There is, however, one worry that I can't shift. The strategy method doesn't work. I can't convince myself it is not possible. I tell myself I will just have to do my best and hope it works. But I still worry.

What if, despite my best intentions, I am making a complete mess of raising my kids?

I'm trying hard here. I'm doing what I think is my best. But I am very aware that intent to do right doesn't always mean actually getting it right. And, to be honest, I am actually always making it up as I go.

I don't really know if what I am doing to support my Autistic kids is the right thing to do. I am not Autistic myself, so I don't really know what life is like for them. What if I am making mistake after mistake and they will tell me later that they resent the control I had over their lives?

I don't know at all what it is like to be Bipolar. What if the things I say to encourage are just making things more confusing and inducing anxiety?

What if, in all my efforts to advocate for my kids who have disabilities, I am causing my other kids to feel overlooked and less loved? Are they going to tell me later that they felt unimportant?

Please, don't respond by telling me that you are sure I'm doing fine. I'm not looking for reassurance or compliments here. 

I know that the kids seem happy and pretty well adjusted. Outward appearances indicate that I don't need to worry about this.

I know that it's OK to make some mistakes, that it's inevitable and I just have to do my best. I get that.

I know that I just need to do my best with the information I have at the time and then live with the consequences. That no one can expect more of a person than that. I tell people that all the time. 

But I still worry about this. And I will worry about it. Probably forever. 

The thing is, I'm actually OK with worrying about it. 

Worrying about making a mess of parenting is what motivates me to keep learning, to ask questions, to seek advice and to get help from people more experienced than me. It's what made me swallow my pride and find an excellent psychologist to help me be confident to try new things and keep an open mind about what is important and worth putting effort into. It's what sends me into regular periods of self reflection that result in me changing the way I do things when I feel pushed to my limits. It's what causes me to make time to rest when I feel stressed so that I can keep a clear head as I make tough decisions. 

In this instance my worrying serves a good purpose. And, unlike the worry about what I'd need to do if a solar flare wiped out all our electrical devices, this worry serves my family well too because it works to help keep me in a state of mind that is conducive to self improvement. I make a conscious decision to keep learning, keep trying to do better, keep pushing through the hard stuff. 

I'll probably still find myself looking into at least one of my children's eyes later in life and apologising for stuffing up. But at least this worry has me making a plan for that, too.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Being content

Today I managed to sneak in an afternoon rest! 

I often feel like I’d like to have a nap in the afternoon, but I don’t often get one. Today things are pretty quiet, so I sneak away to my room with BabyR. I try to sleep, but my mind is busy. 

Life in a family of eight is pretty hectic. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say it is at times chaotic. Getting us all out the door of a morning is a task that requires military precision. Especially on a morning when MissG starts the day in a state of sensory overload.... everything must be done just so and very slowly, quietly and calmly. Getting us all fed of an evening can be just as tricky. Especially if BabyR needs feeding just on meal preparation time. 

We have had an especially full on 6 months just pass. On top of the usual housekeeping (minimum two loads of washing a day, dishes, cooking, etc.), food providing (3 kgs fruit, at least a loaf of bread and 2 or 3L of milk a day just to start!), dropping off and picking up of kids for school and after school activities, and the usual doctor and specialist appointments that are normal for us as we negotiate life with Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder and Bipolar...... we have also added a baby to the family (by unplanned caesarean), had 2 of the kids start at new schools (and done all the necessary preparation beforehand) and had one of the kids go through a diagnosis process. I think it is fair to say it has been one of the most stressful 6 months of my life. 

Do you know what was great about it though? It gave me a chance to realise some things. 

I realised I am stronger than I thought, and I can cope with more than I thought. This realisation has given me confidence that whatever else is coming up in life, I will be OK. 

I realised how fortunate we are to have Hubby working so close to home, and to be in a position where we can afford for him to work part time. Having him home as much as he is gives me so much support as a primary caregiver for our kids. In fact, it means that he cares for them only slightly less than I do. He is available to come to appointments and meetings - so he knows what is going on first hand. He can come shopping with me (especially great post c-section) and plan and cook meals. He can be available to help with the night time routine most nights. And he does all these things, on top of going to his paid work and managing his own health issues, without complaint and with a smile on his face. 

I realised how awesome my kids are. Honestly, my kids don’t always have it easy. Three of them are diagnosed with things that have life long implications for them. Living in a society that favours the “normal” majority is hard work when you are not part of that majority. And living with siblings who are different from you in many ways is not always simple, either. But for the most part all of my kids just get on with things, despite the tricky stuff. They are all persistent, resilient and strong people. And they are all kind and sensitive toward the needs of others. Of course they have their selfish moments and, yes, they do fight. They also forgive quickly. And they are friends to each other when it really counts, without fail. 

I realised what a great community we live in. There were times I just disappeared from the social scene for days, or weeks. People checked up on us. Offered to mind the kids. Looked after them at short notice if I was late back from an appointment. Were always ready to catch up when I reappeared. Laughed with me. Cried with me. Waited with me. Just sat with me. 

I realised I am not alone. I am surrounded by support and help. From Hubby, to friends, to professionals..... I have an amazing support network. This is definitely not a one woman show! I am immensely grateful for this. Being strong is OK. Being part of a great team is so much better!

Now, at the end of this huge six months, we are coming to a place of calm. The year has started well. Not without hiccups, but very well, all things considered. We are managing our extra challenges better than before. We are settling into a good, healthier routine. We are communicating better with each other as a family. We are becoming comfortable with our normal in a way that only time, experience and increasing insight can bring about. We are walking our journey, and becoming comfortable with who we are. 

I am thinking about all this during my sneaky afternoon rest time. Lying here, beside the most beautiful baby boy in the universe, I can just listen to the sounds of my family. Oldest daughter is playing guitar. Youngest daughters are playing together, telling stories with their new magnet books and singing a song (the highlight of which seems to be the phrase “almost naked animals”!). I can hear Hubby moving around the kitchen preparing dinner while chatting with MasterL about the xbox repair project he has undertaken. Way in the background I can hear the soundtrack of the video game MasterI is trying to finish. And as I listen to the calm sounds of my life, including the happy coos and mumbles as BabyR gets ready to sleep, there is no stress in me. 

I am completely and immeasurably content.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April update and recent writing links

Although things have been a bit quiet here at Different kinds of normal lately, I have been busy!

We got through term one of school relatively unscathed.

MasterL and MissG settled into their new classes well. Both have struggled with tiredness, and MasterL has felt the effects of the loss of his Disability Support Funding. You can read more about both of their stories at Amazing Adventures.

12 year old MasterI has enjoyed his first term of high school. He likes the challenge of the work, and is making friends. A great start!

MissK continues to be a great student, and negotiated the challenges of living with a broken arm quite well, though we are super glad it has healed and she can get back into sport, karate and being able to ply on the equipment at school.

Our oldest daughter, E, has been working through some significant health challenges for the past 6 months, and I am so proud of her persistence and strength. She will be writing with me over at Being OK with Bipolar over the next few months, and we hope to be able to share some of her art works with you there too.

And we added BabyR to the family! You can read his birth story at Aussie Mum Network by clicking the link "A birth story" further down this page.

Life is certainly not without it's challenges here, but we keep moving forward. I find my fortnightly visits to our Psychologist incredibly helpful. It is so good to have someone to talk to, bounce ideas off and ask for suggestions on how to manage some of the more tricky things.

We are currently enjoying some time out of our normal routine, as it is school holidays for two weeks.
We have been bushwalking, and spending some time resting. Over the next few days we will be able to spend time with extended family and friends, and go on some outings together. Hubby has some time off work at the moment too, a rare treat for us to all have holidays at the same time!!

So- there you are... all updated! You can find articles I've written over the past few weeks by clicking the links below:

"Grieving Autism Accepting Autism"

"This is Autism Acceptance"

"Awareness vs Acceptance"

"I am still thinking about Every Student Every School"

"A birth story"

Friday, March 29, 2013

Meet me half way

April is becoming widely known as Autism Awareness Month. I will be writing a fair bit about this at Amazing Adventures over the next few weeks, so if you are interested in that go over and have a look. I am focussing specifically on Acceptance of Autism. I am going to devote one post to Autism Acceptance here too.

A wonderful Autistic lady recently shared some thoughts with me. She used percentages to explain something very significant. She was telling me about a phrase that has been said to her that she finds particularly troubling -

"Meet me halfway"

I'll do my best to explain why she finds this statement problematic. You see, when you are Autistic, there are a lot of things going on that Allistic people (people who are not Autistic) do not experience.

Let's imagine for a minute.

Consider what it would be like to go to school with all your senses on high alert. Lights are too bright. Sounds are too loud. People jostle up against you and it causes you pain and distress. This happens every day, so you get to anticipate the experience before you go, which makes you feel anxious. The whole time you are there you feel uncomfortable. People expect you to interact with them and look them in the eye. They want you to engage in conversation and join in with their games on their terms.

You want to go to school and learn, and be included, but it takes a lot of effort, and even when you try your hardest you are still seen as different and weird. Sometimes people laugh at you. Sometimes they won't include you. Sometimes they call you dumb. But you keep trying and trying. It makes you exhausted. (If the situation I am describing here is a new concept for you, a good place to go to read more on this is Mama Be Good)

Then you can't cope any longer. You might raise your voice at someone, or have a cry, or refuse to do an activity when you are asked to. When that happens you get in trouble. You are told to try harder.

My Autistic friend has been told numerous times in her life (by people she was supposed to be able to trust) that they are trying to help her, but that she needs to "meet me half way" if things are going to improve for her. I have come across this attitude as well in the short time I have been advocating for my kids. I was told by a teacher that she "couldn't" do any more for my son because she had other kids in the class and he would need to figure out how to cope better.

What people don't realise is that with all that an Autistic person has to manage and cope with, before they even leave the house to come out and be where you will see them, they have already done at least 75 percent of the work needed to interact with you. They have dealt with the stress of getting themselves out of the safety of their house and into your environment, dressed in a way that is considered socially acceptable (as opposed to how they feel comfortable- for example my son finds his school uniform shirt incredibly scratchy and irritating). Then they put themselves into a loud bright environment, talking to you and conforming to your expectations in order to keep you comfortable so that you will accept them. This covers another 15 percent of the distance. You are left with 10 percent of the distance to cover to help them in the interaction. And many people still want Autistic people to cover 50 percent of that last 10 percent. Can you see how ridiculous this is? How insulting? How invalidating?

how important is it to make eye contact?

Realising this made me wonder how important it is that my kids look me in the eye when we are talking. 
how important is it to dress "right"?

It made me wonder how important it is that they dress "right". 

It made me wonder how important it is that they follow some of the social conventions that exist purely to keep everyone feeling comfortable and unchallenged. 

Let's talk about stimming as an example of behaviour that challenges social conventions. 
Here are a couple of explanations of stimming.

Nick Walker defines stimming this way-
"To stim is to engage in movement and/or in other activity that stimulates one or more of one's senses, for the purpose (whether intentional or purely instinctive) of regulating one's own sensorimotor experience and/or state of consciousness. Examples of stims include (but are certainly not limited to) such activities as rocking, hand movements, humming, drumming, touching a surface, or gazing at running water. Functions of stimming include (but are certainly not limited to) self-calming and self-soothing; inducing, enhancing, or responding to experiences of sensory pleasure; regulating sensory input; integration of information; and accessing specific capacities and/or states of consciousness."

"It is a message that says that I have so much to express and cannot hold it all inside and I must show you right now.
It is joy.
It is an all-encompassing feeling that touches every part of me, from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.
What it isn’t is shameful."

FY Stimming! gives definitions and examples of stimming, including this quote from About Autism-
"Stimming is almost always a symptom of autism, but it’s important to note that stimming is almost always a part of every human being’s behavior pattern. If you’ve ever tapped your pencil, bitten your nails, twirled your hair or paced, you’ve engaged in stimming.
The biggest differences between autistic and typical stimming are (1) the choice of stim and (2) the quantity of stim. While it’s at least moderately acceptable to bite one’s nails, for example, it’s absolutely unacceptable to wander around flapping one’s hands.
There’s really no good reason why flapping should be less acceptable than nail biting (it’s certainly more hygienic!). But in our world, the hand flappers receive negative attention while the nail biters are tolerated.
Like anyone else, people with autism stim to help themselves to manage anxiety, fear, anger, and other negative emotions. Like many people, people with autism may stim to help themselves handle overwhelming sensory input (too much noise, light, heat, etc.)."

Why should I discourage my kids from stimming if it helps them regulate the sensory input they are experiencing? Should I stop them from stimming so others don't feel a bit confronted by their "unusual' behaviour? The thing is, in our house stimming *is* usual behaviour, and it serves a valid purpose. So perhaps, other people can cover a bit of that distance and cope with it? Maybe they can even cope with it without making faces and comments behind my kids backs?

It is not an easy thing as a parent to confidently let your child be who they are in public, even when you know that is the right thing to do for your child, when you know the result will be other people judging your child as less, wrong, broken, defective or something needing to be cured. It takes a lot of resolve, and a very thick skin to weather the looks of judgement and sometimes fear when your child has a meltdown in public. And as my kids get older it will take strength and courage for them to be themselves in public as they become aware of what society in general makes of them.

Acceptance of Autism, true acceptance- where my kids are seen as being fine the way they are- would help with this problem. If people would be open to the thought that Autism is not a defect or disease that needs to be cured, my kids would be seen differently by society than they are now. I would not be asked things like "are you worried your next child will be Autistic?"if Autism was Accepted. I would not have to fight for adequate support for my son in school if Autism was Accepted. I would not have to worry what kids are doing to my son and saying to him if Autism, and differences in general, were Accepted.

Autistic people are not the only people who have this struggle. Many people with Mental Illnesses experience the same thing. Assumptions are made based a persons diagnosis. For example, a person with Bipolar will be asked "did you skip your meds?" just because they get angry about something. Never mind the fact that their anger might be justified- it made others uncomfortable so it is dismissed as a symptom of  their disability and ignored. How demeaning! How rude!

So, when you come across someone who strikes you as being a bit different, or "quirky", or "individual".... please take time to consider the possibility that they may have already come a great distance to meet you where you are. Think about the distance you are prepared to go to help them feel comfortable in your presence, in your environment. They might already have done more than half the work needed for you to find in them a valuable friend. Are you prepared to put in the effort to really get to know them?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Introducing BabyR

Photograph Copyright 2013 Mell Mallin Photography
Introducing BabyR, the newest addition to our family. 

BabyR was born early in February, by unplanned Caesarean Section, and is a happy, healthy little boy who is fitting into our family very well.