Do I have Autism mummy?
I have to say I wasn't prepared for this question. I didn't even see it coming. I didn't feel awkward about speaking to my 5 and a half year old son about his Autism because of taboo, fear or denial - which are the main things tackled when reading awareness and educational articles... for me it was knowing 'how' to speak about it all with him in terms he can process.
For the most part, my son is blissfully unaware of some of the things he does that people on the outside of our life may look in and see as different. He doesn't read people's emotions or social cues very well, so doesn't tend to see the side looks of confusion often put his way when he reacts to his peer's greetings for example. He doesn't see the desperate look for help directed to me when somebody can't understand what he's frustratingly trying to explain to them, or the bemusement when he has seemed to be partaking in a conversation with someone but actually is just repeating back parts of his favourite video or game scripts.
Starting school was a big step for him. He had never enjoyed socialising with kids of his own age. One of his only friends during his time at preschool was a little girl with selective mutism, they would communicate through side-by-side play and sometimes holding hands. If things got too much for either one of them, they'd go and sit under a table together. My son often helped his friend communicate in ways she felt unable to and the same for her. It was lovely seeing his potential for friendship back then and that has definitely blossomed since starting school.
Along with these positive steps forward, comes a lot of baggage for a five and a half year old to carry around. He wants to make friends, build relationships and form bonds with peers but alongside this he is starting to realise that he processes certain things in different ways and sometimes behaves and feels differently to most of his friends. He is an intelligent lad and with our support using social stories, visual aids, child-led activities and positive reinforcements over the past 18 months he has been able to bring his social functioning up and reduce some of his anxieties down. During school he wants to fit in, so he 'masks' some of his neurodiverse behaviours. At home he vocally tics. A LOT. If he's concentrating, talking to you, listening to you, watching something, reading something... in any break or chance he gets, he is usually humming, grunting or clearing his throat. He repeats things and motions a lot. He also flaps his arms regularly when he experiences stronger emotions. However at school he doesn't tend to do these things. I've never really spoken to him about this at length as if you try to talk to him about a subject he doesn't want to speak about then it can be a very distressing situation but just recently he's been bringing it up himself.
He spoke about his humming on the way to school a few days ago, expressing to me that he enjoys it as it makes him feel happy and safe but he doesn't feel like he wants to do it at school because:
It's not something that normal humans do, mummy.
I can't lie. It broke my heart to hear him even slightly think he has to change how he is because what he wants to do isn't 'normal'. It was really hard to talk to him about this as his parent - as in a way, he's also right even though his chosen words or terminologies (due to being small) are incorrect. To some extent we all have to curb aspects of our personalities to be able to function within society's demands - this shouldn't be for anyone else, it should be for us alone. Just because he has Autism, shouldn't mean that he doesn't have to do that too or that it is bad to want to do that. At the same time I want him to know that there may be things he wants to control or curb but can't and that's fine too. I want him to learn about his Autism and how things affect him if he wants to, and to live his life how HE chooses to do so.
It's really difficult to talk to a 5 and a half year old about stuff like this when a lot of the time their little life views (especially my son) are very black and white. How do I explain what Autism is? How do I explain that some of his behaviours are neurodiverse but that's not a bad thing... but that if he wants to work at changing some of those behaviours then that's ok... but if he doesn't want to then that's ok, too. It's confusing for me to think about let alone for a small boy who's world usually revolves around things being yes or no, real or pretend, good and bad...
So I guess I don't really have an actual point with this post today, only that this is one of the many things that as a parent of a child with Autism i'm having to face unprepared and blindly. I'm guessing there will be many more along the way, too. I will never know how it feels to be him but I do know that I want him to feel 100% supported and loved by me whatever he's feeling, whatever he is going through and however he chooses to live his life.
Do you have a child/children with Autism? Do you have any tips to share for talking with your children about their Autism? I'd love to read your comments below.
I'm a few days late again with this week's #hellomakers post, sorry about that! This weekend we had to pick up our very first family car (yay!) and then we celebrated Mother's Day. I was treated with gifts, sweeties and this gorgeous orchid. We also got takeaway pizza - because it's always pizza time here - and had a ton of laughs and jokes just hanging out together as a family.
So, today's post is the last in the March series #hellomakers which was started by the lovely Hannah of Hannah Hand Makes. Please take the time to pop over to her website too see her gorgeous cross stitch creations and kits, as well as her social media links and very own #hellomakers posts, too. Let's crack on with mine...
WHEN? When did you start your business? How has it changed? Would you do anything different if you could?
I started my business in June 2014, I'll soon be celebrating three years which seems crazy! It's a total cliche but it really feels like it's been a lot less time. I think this is because I started quite blindly and was still experimenting with my unique selling point and passions while setting the business up.
My style has changed and evolved a huge amount. When I first started the business I had wanted to use resin but I was scared of it. I had no experience of chemicals, how things worked, how things had to be treated before being preserved etc and for a long time I worked with plated metals and polymer clay as it's where I felt most comfortable. I took pictures with my phone with little to no lighting or editing help and I didn't really know what I was doing with social media.
After playing for a little while with shrink plastic, I got brave and decided to have a play with resin but the results were sketchy to say the least! After painstakingly picking flowers in the field in front of my around high rise flat I tried my best to set them without realising they needed to be dried of every bit of water and wet pollen. They went white and mouldy within days and I was sad.
Time went on and my style evolved. I wanted to present a brand and I wanted my USP to be hand crafted items with resin for the individual and the home. I watched tutorials, read countless articles, experimented and practised my butt off until I was finally able to relax and feel confident in working with resin and the new path Spotlesspinata Jewellery was taking. I worked tirelessly on product photography and graphics, I researched to get and make the most secure and on point brand packaging and put a big effort into social media. I feel as I approach my three year anniversary trading as a small business that I'm really happy with the direction I have taken things. I am always trying to evolve and branch out into new and exciting things such as my recent Evermore keepsake memorial range and using Sterling Silver components a lot more. The only thing I'd change in the past would be to take the leap and start my business sooner and also to trust myself more to experiment with things which were (at the time) out of my comfort zone.
I hope you've enjoyed this more detailed glimpse into my work and home life, which are tightly woven together, over this past month. Thanks again to Hannah for inspiring me to join in with this meet the maker style hashtag. I hope to see some of you over on my website or social media spots soon! Now, what should I write about next week?!
Happy Sunday! I have an apology to make - I missed last Sunday's #hellomakers blog as I've been very poorly with a perforated eardrum and infection. I've decided to be a sneaky cheat and combine last week's and today's posts into one. Lets start with 'why?'
WHY? Why do you do what you do? Where does your motivation come from?
I've always had a passion for accessories. I adored collecting jewellery as a little girl and loved being able to express my own little quirks and interests through jewellery. As I got older, I really enjoyed experimenting with making my own pieces from wire and household objects such as safety pins and buttons. At 17 I started to train as a body piercer as well as dabbling in body modifications on myself, which indulged me love for jewellery even more. After the birth of my first child I started working as a visual merchandiser for a jewellery company who sell on stands in large supermarkets. Being around other people's jewellery every day made me wish I could design my own! I saw very cheap mass produced items and very expensive custom items every day but I wanted to bring unique and custom ideas which I was passionate about to everyone, at affordable prices.
After the birth of my second son, my physical health took a bad turn. There are plenty of posts to look back on if you'd like to find out more but I basically became unable to work an average job. I still felt the need to create and to contribute to my family's income as I always have. I decided feeling how I felt, that this could be the perfect opportunity for me to take the plunge and start my own business, as I had been itching to do for years! My health has brought many sad and difficult times over these past 6 years however it was most definitely the catalyst for pushing me to take the first step in building my brand and for that, I'll always be thankful.
Moving on to 'where'?
WHERE? Where do you work? At home? A studio?
I work at home, predominantly in my kitchen! I have a glass table by a large window which is where I make all of my pieces. It's fantastic for natural light and reflecting light back into my work. My table is scarred with resin spills and drill holes and usually has 4 or more projects on it at one time but It's my space and I love it. I recently bought some large storage drawers from Aldi which were an utter bargain and hold all of my findings and charms.
My flowers are kept in containers too, which you can see above on the right (and inside, below). It's a gorgeous smell opening them up each day! It's important for me to try and keep as organised as possible although a naturally unorganised person, this sometimes proves very difficult for me!
I'd love to work from a studio or space one day, or have my own shop. That's always been the ultimate dream. Working from home is fantastic for me as I really get to look after myself and work in the comfortable environment my body and wheelchair needs. I have everything at my fingertips. It comes with a downside for someone like me, and many small business owners, is with everything right there it's often hard to stop. I find myself looking at unfinished projects or pending work at 11pm at night or through dinner time/play time with my kids, wondering if there's a way I can fit one more piece in or finish something off. Its hard to step away.
Regardless of that, I'm extremely blessed to have such a workable situation for my personal circumstances. I'm on hand to get to my youngest son's school whenever he needs me, I can make all of our families health appointments and the sometimes relentless ringing around and chasing up that comes with it all, I can work in as much comfort as my body needs on a day to day basis without having to worry about pain levels, inaccessibility or travel... all while doing something I absolutely love. True #lifegoals
...and so it begins. I have a 9 year age gap between my sons so I had a few glorious parental years where my eldest was pretty much doing homework solo and my youngest was still learning things like rolling over and how to put Thomas trains in a straight line.
Now my youngest is over halfway through his first year at primary school, the suggested homework has started up again. "This time it'll be different, we'll enjoy it!" I desperately try to comfort myself.
My eldest son always hated homework. He had a very limited scope for imaginative work, so creating 5 small sentences with chosen keywords became a marathon through the lava-burning grounds of hell. Back 8 years ago it was less known that homework wasn't actually a compulsory part of school life, nor did I feel confident enough to approach teachers in a pretty unapproachable school to discuss how it wasn't working for my son. I didn't want him to fall behind or have to miss out on his cherished playtime, so we struggled through. Don't get me wrong there were good times as well as bad with homework. As my eldest grew, he always had a passion for his stories ending with the protagonist, or often everyone, dying a usually comedic or utterly surreal death. Should we have found them as funny as we did? Probably not but we're a bit dark like that.
So most parents, whether you choose to educate your child in a school setting, home setting or completely un-school will probably know the struggle of trying to encourage a child to engage in an activity they just do not want to do at that time. In my personal experience, all homework (and really, any activity that isn't a video game, YouTube or a pretend play about Mario, Sonic or Minecraft) falls into that category for us, no matter how much you think as their parent they might enjoy and benefit from it.
Our homework today was to bake some biscuits. YES! I've got it easy here! Or so I thought... Surely he'd enjoy this? Cracking eggs, spooning sugar, whisking and getting gloopy - plus of course the delicious eating after watching our golden brown Jammy Drops baking to perfection through the warm-lit glass oven door.
Things started well before we, you know, actually did anything...
...until he really didn't want to wash his hands. Or dry them. And then refused to stand anywhere but the kitchen counter. Eventually we settled on him sitting safely next to me but that brought it's own problems as he couldn't reach anything that he wanted to do and when he could reach it, he didn't want it after all.
He wanted to put the butter in the bowl. The butter was gross and slimy. "Why did you make ME put the butter in the bowl, mummy?"
He wanted to sieve the flour into the bowl. The flour made his eyes hurt. "Why did you make me do that mummy, it goe'd in my eyes! This is rubbish."
The whisk was too loud and 'bits' went on him.
I couldn't stir with the wooden spoon as that was his drum stick.
He wanted a drink.
He wanted a snack. (This IS your snack, dude!)
He wanted to play Lego.
I finally wrestled the balls of uncooked biscuit in to the fridge with one hand, the other brushing away the very persistent 'bits' off of my youngest and grabbing him before he threw himself off the side in a last ditch attempt to escape to the living room to ask for more snacks.
Fifteen minutes of baking prep had turned into a headache-enduing frustration fest on both our sides which felt like it lasted hours. I knew I'd lost all hope of re-engaging him when I had to chill the mix for 10 minutes before popping the jam in and bunging them in the oven to cook but instead of getting majorly stressed by his lack of enjoyment and total disinterest in our homework baking bonding session, I decided to let it gooooooo, let it gooooo.
I added jam and baked them to golden brown loveliness myself, while my little man played Lego with daddy.
I can feel the homework cog ticking away as year one approaches, increasing the pressure and decreasing the time until we are expected to make sentences with keywords and develop original and imaginative stories just like 8 years ago with my eldest but I think this time round I've learned to be more chilled with it. I will still strive to achieve the tasks we're set and we're both going to hate it at times but I look forward to the good times too. I am more knowledgeable around education, expectations and more confident in myself to step in and express if something is just too much for my youngest.
Most clouds, even stressful dark crappy homework ones, have a silver lining. Ours today was consuming these and having my little man say they were delicious... and of course that he did all of the hard work.
Wow, Sunday rolled around quick this week here in our house. I'm back again to bring you my second post in the #hellomakers March challenge and this week the theme is :
I've always wanted, actually needed, to create. Without the vent of mentally thinking of ideas and physically creating them I feel extremely frustrated. With my health and mobility having taken a turn for the worse and my youngest son going through ASD diagnosis, a return back to the traditional world of work was no longer viable for me or my family. After research, worry... a LOT of worry... saving, more researching, some panic and some testing I decided to take the plunge and launch my own business around my lifelong passion of jewellery and accessories. That was three years ago and here I am today, happy, confident with my ranges and so glad I took that first step.
I start my working day off here. This corner of the kitchen is mine. I am lucky enough to have a huge swathe of natural light practically all day and a 3rd floor view over Penge and Beckenham to inspire me for my nature and colour collections. I am also lucky to be able to pick and choose my working hours to fit in around my youngest son's school drop-off and pick-up hours and any hospital appointments we may have. And there have been a LOT of those over these past few years. I tend to work in shorter bursts, giving myself time to rest my body or gently complete physio in between resin pours and construction of jewellery. Plus, you know, Netflix.
Here are some current pieces on my work table, taken this morning. I'm working on a gorgeous custom sterling silver piece, some galaxy style pendants, some special mother's day pendants and two more orbs in an ice and fire theme. I'm currently done for today as these need to cure for me to add the final details and a second resin pour to finish them tomorrow. I tend to stay away from a strict Monday-Friday routine as a lot of my orders or market events come in or happen over the weekend.
Another large part of my day is devoted to packaging up each piece and parcelling them up for posting. A strong brand representation has always been important to me, as is a feel of luxury. I wanted my customers to know it was a Spotlesspinata piece coming through their door and to feel that pang of excitement and luxury when opening their parcel. I use a wonderful business called Neoito Creative to help me bring my ideas of packaging to life. Laura also designs a wealth of stationary for every aspect of your business and home life. My personal packaging obsession is Washi tape. I have a bit of a collection and I try to match the tape on the outside of each parcel to each individual person's order. Why? Well, it makes me smile and that's very important.
I've recently added keepsake memorial pieces, prints and homewares alongside my jewellery collection, all inspired by my signature real flower style, so every working day has the possibility of being quite different to the next. I absolutely love what I do and am so thankful for the ability to be able to bring my customers unique products that I also genuinely adore myself.
Whether it's a small pair of silver plated earrings or a large complicated order using a customer's personal specifications, I strive for perfection and attention to detail every time. I love each piece I make and feel sincerely happy when my pieces are 're-homed', especially when I'm sent pictures by happy customers wearing or using their items purchased from me. It makes my day.
I hope you enjoyed reading my 'What?' post, next week I'll be talking about 'Why?', so if you'd like to find out more, I'll see you next week!
Who is Julie?
30 something, mother of two gorgeous boys, lover of one gorgeous husband, perpetually living in a dream world full of wine, chocolate and artsy crafty things.