Regular readers will know my youngest son Sullivan was diagnosed with Autism back in December 2016. This was a long process with a multi-agency type approach including his pre-school, primary school, educational psychologist, Speech And Language and Occupational Therapy services. I have talked about this in my previous posts, most recently in my post about mental health awareness and anxiety in children, all of this lead us to take the big step that we had always held in our minds as parents of an autistic child with social anxieties; home education.
Why home educate?
I'm a firm believer that individuality needs to be embraced in every part of our society. It's a simple fact that the traditional education system doesn't work well for all children, so those that it doesn't work well for should be allowed the chance to try something else. It's really that simple for me. We tried. It wasn't working for Sullivan at this point in his life. Without going in to too much personal detail, the school were fully supportive of our decision and knew that with the financial restrictions placed on them that Sullivan would receive a more suited education away from a traditional setting at this time. The law reads:
'The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full time education suitable a) to his age ability and aptitude, and b) any special educational needs he may have, either by attendance at a school or otherwise.'
Now, 'otherwise' in our situation is home education. It is legal and recognised as a perfectly valid way to make sure your child is receiving the education they are both entitled and legally obliged to have. There are many ways people choose to home educate. It is sadly another trait of our society that only the extreme situations are covered (often badly and extremely biased) by news teams and social media, so people's views of home education can be very outdated, negative and forced in to a big box of dangerous taboo. I personally have no knowledge of un-schooling or families who have never entered in to any type of traditional-type schooling system so I won't be talking about that, just my own experiences. I will, however, state that I will not put down any families who participate in that kind of lifestyle just as I will not put down any families participating in traditional education system lifestyles.
We de-registered Sullivan on the 29th September 2017. It has been just over a calendar month now, so we are still relatively in the home education honeymoon I suppose but the difference in Sullivan has been, without doubt, amazing. It was as if the stress fell away from him, like the Autumn leaves from the trees. We follow structure and routine at home, alongside the general curriculum for KS1, pretty much as his previous school would be doing. This works for Sullivan but again many families choose to do their own version of education which doesn't follow traditional curriculum or 'sit down' work.
We have found some lovely local groups of families home educating children of different ages and regularly meet up to socialise. The local library has been an amazing source of support, not only for my Home Educator library card (which allows me to borrow up to 12 books at a time for 2 months - great for topics and long projects!) but for socialising too. We attend Stay And Play every week, then each weekend there is either Lego Club or Craft club, each time Sullivan gets to bond with peers and other adults in an authoritative role too. The pressure release from not attending full time traditional setting school has allowed him to start to embrace making friends and socialising rather than cower away from it, which is such a pleasure to see.
A practical benefit for us has been being able to focus more on the areas he needed help with on a one to one basis, which the school couldn't provide. His handwriting has improved tenfold and so has his ability to concentrate on tasks. He is choosing to do dexterous activities and is gaining confidence each day rather than it trickling away.
will we ever go back?
We'll never say never. We de-registered Sullivan with the idea of bringing him back in to school when we all feel he is ready to transition. When this will be, we are not sure yet. We've only been home educating for a month so time will tell I suppose. My main realisation as a parent was that we weren't actually tied to a situation that was making life horrendous for us all. There are other options out there and it's valid, legal and a-OK to try them out. If we decide to move Sullivan back in to a traditional school setting as a family, then that is also OK.
We're off to do some learning now. Sullivan has been fascinated by the use of fireworks for Diwali and Guy Fawkes night so we are researching into these topics this week, alongside some core curriculum work and a healthy dash of parks, soft play and socialising! We're both excited for a fab week and this makes me happier than I've been in a long, long time.
It's world mental health day today.
Chances are you've seen a plethora of posts on social media raising awareness about today specifically and of course mental health importance throughout our lives in general. I am always overwhelmed at the outpouring of love and raw honesty most wonderful people on my friends/follow lists show at this time of the month. I recognise that there are still massive stigmas surrounding mental health and for some it's still a taboo subject to talk about but I'd like to think that things are getting better, more open, people are becoming more supportive and understanding. Perhaps I've been luckier than most. I have been able to access counselling through my GP when needed, I had friends and family who were supportive even if they couldn't understand my situation, workplaces have been flexible and kind, my online community have been amazing. I still felt alone, scared and awful at times but I also felt a lot of love.
What about the kids?
One thing I have personally noticed is the idea and opinion of children's mental health seems to be a lot more changeable. As some of you may know our youngest son has Autism. We decided to home educate him a few weeks ago. This may seem like a sudden decision but believe me it's been a long time coming... we just didn't feel like we could talk to many people about it properly.
Back in the day, most toddler groups we went to with him were a disaster and would begin or end with a terrified or stressed out meltdown of emotions and tears.
For most mornings of his year of pre-school sessions he was a crying anxious mess. This only began to change slowly in the very last weeks before we left for him to start his journey into Reception but most of it was a raw and hard emotional roller coaster.
For most mornings of his just past Reception year he was again a crying anxious mess. He hated going in to school and slight changes to that routine would be yet another thing to tip him over the edge. We knew what to expect this time but it didn't make it any easier. He started to form a few friendships but for the most part was pretty solitary and very quiet at school... and easily overlooked due to that. In a busy class of 29 other children, merged with another class of 30 other children and often only two or three amazing but stretched adults looking after them all, he was easily missed when upset or injured. Some of the friendships forming were not of his choice, nor positive due to his social communication issues. He was having most of his work done by other children, he had to leave a lunchtime SEN club due to the disorganisation stressing him out more than it was supposed to help, he was coerced in to social play situations he was not comfortable with repeatedly, he withheld toileting, becoming obsessional about more and more things and his mood swings were severe at home. Without guidance and support all of this and more was continuing and severely impacting his mental health. We had the summer holiday break and it was like we got our little boy back. He was so stress-free, the anger and tears subsided within a few days, his anxious routines fell away from his brain, his body relaxed, his health and energy increased. It was a joy to see.
Going back into Year One after the holidays was nothing short of horrendous. We had to miss his first week back due to him suddenly coming down with a severe and terrifying 'allergic reaction' a few days before the start of term which now seems to be related to stress levels (we've got an emergency appointment with an allergy specialist at the local hospital in December) which left him like this for days, even with steroids and antihistamines on the case:
When he eventually did manage to go back, it was so rough. Practically every night was filled with begging not to go to school the following day, him trying to explain to us how it makes him feel and how desperate he was not to go back, the walk to school feeling like every step came with a ton of concrete attached to us, each morning filled with tears and prising his little gripping fingers off of every available part of my body/hair/clothes. Both my husband and I would spend all day worrying ourselves sick about him, riddling our hearts with guilt-fired texts between ourselves about how he's doing, what we should be doing, what other people think etc filling our brains with research, techniques, coping, ways to help him. It was driving us all in to the ground as we knew it wasn't working. We knew it wasn't right.
If it was happening to me...
The thing my husband and I both kept coming back to was it if was happening to either of us, we would be taking serious steps towards self-care, seeking support and trying to change our situation to get us out of something so emotionally toxic. A lot of the feedback we received however when talking about our son and his experiences of severe anxiety relating to school and social situations was that it was just a phase and that we should all have to persevere through it and wait for things to settle down. Kids will be kids and most of them don't like going to school, they just have to suck it up. When you've already felt like you've been doing that for two and a half years, and your child becomes so ill with mental anguish that it physically alters their body, it feels like a bit of a kick in the teeth to say keep calm and carry on.
what about friends?
In the fortnight we have been home educating, we have joined some smaller groups with children similar ages to our son. We have also been out to situations which would have been very difficult for him just a few short months ago. Having someone there in a smaller group to guide him with positive communication and social interaction is boosting his confidence above and beyond my expectations and it's joyous to see. He handled a very loud and aggressive younger girl a few days ago with just a little guidance (and a cuddle!), I can 100% say a few months back this would have been a breaking point for him and would have ruined his whole day, possibly longer due to his obsessional thoughts. He bowled in to soft play with confidence and made friends with another boy his age, also on the spectrum, due to being allowed the space, time and freedom to do so. He is asking to do work rather than hitting himself in frustration. He is finding absolute happiness in learning and life right now and my heart couldn't be more sure that we've made the right decision just by seeing this alone! Yet, we still have the odd few people claiming this isn't right for him, mainly due to the fact he's not away from us and with 29 other kids 9am - 3pm Monday - Friday.
This is an important decision and I can't stress how much we have researched, asked for help, gone to meetings and courses, spoken with school and outside agencies and just tried to 'wait it out' before making our decision (and having school agree with us, which was really lovely actually) but I would always urge any parent of a child struggling with mental health, especially revolving around attending mainstream school, that possibly wants to think about home education or other alternatives but is too scared due to taboo and opinion, to consider that there are alternatives out there. You don't have to just put up with a hard and potentially damaging situation for your family and your child if you feel it's not right for you.
I'd like to add too that if you do choose to stay in school when faced with similar issues to us then absolutely all power to you, too. I feel no way is wrong, just like when handling adult depression, anxiety and mental health issues. One of the reasons we have a mental health awareness day is to be more open about what you're going through and what works for you (as long as it is within the law, everyone is consenting etc) and to let others know they are not alone. It's OK to feel like this and do something about it, It's OK to feel like this and do something else about it. It's OK. Lets all try and support each other in the way we'd love to be supported ourselves. Lets build ourselves and each other up instead of finding ways to pick on ourselves or those we deem weaker or wrong, less important or making different decisions to what we'd personally make.
My eldest son is approaching 15. Every summer holiday of his primary school education we'd take part in the local library reading challenge. I had a break of about 3 years where he preferred to read his chosen books outside of the challenge, finding it a little too young for him, but now my youngest son is 5 and has completed his first year in primary school, I get to enjoy The Summer Reading Challenge all over again!
We are already members at our library in Penge. If you're not a member of your local library, I highly recommend signing up (usually you just need proof of address but do check beforehand) as it then means you can access things like The Summer Reading Challenge, classes and clubs (ours offers children's crafts and Lego build sessions to name but a few) as well as a wealth of books, graphic novels, digital media and internet/printing facilities. Our library also has a really nice chill out/comfy zone to have a coffee and watch the world go by next to huge windows and is also a Pokéstop. So basically, win.
So, what is The Summer Reading Challenge?
The official website says:
“The Summer Reading Challenge takes place every year during the summer holidays. You can sign up at your local library, then read six library books of your choice to complete the challenge. There are exclusive rewards to collect along the way, and it’s FREE to take part!”
On signing up, we got given a fold out card full of snippets of information about the characters in this year's challenge: Animal Agents. The aim of the challenge is to find out which suspect has been breaking the law by stealing a fish! After reading each book (we chose to do two at a time), you pop back to your library and your child tells the challenge rep all about their book.
As some of you may know, Sullivan has Autism and can really struggle with communication sometimes, especially when explaining things or talking to new people but the lovely staff in Penge library made it so easy and such a pleasure for Sullivan to tell them in his own special way about the books we'd read.
For each book your child has read, you're given a sticker to fit into your fold out card. These act as clues to help you eventually find out who the thief is. Two of these stickers we found to be scratch and sniff stickers! This took me right back to my childhood, watching Andi Peters in the broom cupboard, with my 3D glasses pressed to my little face, desperately smelling stickers to see what curious aroma Edd The Duck's hair had.
When your child has finished their 6th book, the challenge has been completed! You get your final sticker to find out which suspect is the dirty rotten scoundrel and your child also receives a great quality medal and personalised certificate. My son felt such a sense of pride in finishing this reading challenge. He loves reading so it wasn't really an effort to encourage him to join in with this summer activity but for those with children who may be wary of books for various reasons, this could be a really fun way of introducing reading and regular library visits.
On each visit to our library, we also got to do a themed activity such as a character hunt, word searches/drawing sheets, and join in with a finger-painting competition. The focus was very much on fun, creativity and exploration. There were no limits as to which books you could take out or indeed how long we could hang around for.
I highly recommend popping along to your local library to investigate the Summer Reading Challenge as there's still time, especially for younger children, to join in and complete the challenge. There's no official end date however I suspect most libraries will be phasing it out around the 2nd week of children returning back to school.
Let me know below if you're currently enjoying or have completed Animal Agents this year!
No matter how much you approach disability with a winning smile, positive attitude and hope, there are always times, for me at least, that feel unfair and upsetting.
I made my way through a pub today, eyes following my every move and whispering. I'm almost used to it now but it affects those around me who are not. I wonder why it's acceptable to stare, whisper and even point at someone just because they are rollin' on wheelz? People often completely stop on the pedestrian pavement when I'm moving towards them, almost as if they are scared I'm going to run in to them at full speed or that I should get a completely free path to walk on like the Queen - again - just 'cos my legs don't work as well as they should. Parents have scolded their children by saying I'll run them over if they don't stop running/walking around/being generally kids. I'm getting kind of sick of people pushing their thoughts and behaviours on to me, when I've got absolutely nothing to do with them or their lives.
Today, two women shouted at a couple to move out of my way. I believed the couple to be Muslim as the woman was wearing a Hijab.
"Get out of the way! Move! Can't you see this woman is obviously disabled? (she jabs her finger towards me) The disrespect in this country is disgusting!"
The couple pushed themselves against the shelves, looking worried. The other women stayed put, taking up most of the aisle I add. The man apologised to me. Twice. He called me madam.
I stopped, flustered and embarrassed. Now everyone was looking at me and expecting me to move. I felt like I had accepted these women's horrible accusations towards the other couple. They made me (and can I just point out I was actually waiting patiently for room to pass through, whilst browsing the cleaning products!) the reason for their thinly veiled racist passive aggressive rant and it was awful.
As the man apologised twice, I apologised too. I said "Thank you, sorry, no no, thanks, sorry..." like an attention-starved pet parrot. I wanted to be brave and tell these women that actually no, I wasn't inconvenienced for waiting a little while to move just because I'm in a wheelchair. That no, I didn't think the couple weren't showing respect by taking position in a laundry aisle in bloody Wilkos whilst they tried to move to another point of the store LIKE WE ALL WERE. But I didn't. I looked at the man and woman as I went past and they looked at me back, all of our eyes tinged with sadness, embarrassment and anger. I feel ashamed for not speaking up and this is something, especially in the society we are living in at the moment, I think is really important. I will be more brave.
As I said earlier, I try to approach my life with an overtone of positivity and happiness. I strive to see the good in people and I try to make the best out of quite a crappy hand myself and my little lovely family have been dealt but I'm sick and tired of people talking for me, taking action for me and assuming I want things that have nothing to do with them.
Now for something to celebrate that positivity I yearn for. Today, myself, my husband and our five year old bought some super soakers. We went into our shared garden after school and had a massive water fight. It didn't matter to anyone that I was in a wheelchair. No one assumed anything for me. We just dowsed each other in as much water and bubbles as possible and it was amazing!
Do you have anything that gets you down, no matter how positive you strive to be? Let me know below.
Meet the veggies *uh!* we're the veggies *uh!* oh, they grow here in my nursery...
My CBeebies posse will have sung that in their heads but for those of you who don't regularly watch Mr Bloom and his crew of tasty chums, (what are you doing with your life?) I apologise.
This week is National Vegetarian Week! A thing I never knew existed until today, which is quite funny to me as two weeks ago, completely oblivious as to what was coming up, I decided to start eating a vegetarian diet.
Why choose veggie?
Personally, the choice to stop eating meat came from many different pathways leading to the same end. I had already started to cut down on meat consumption for a good 4 or so months previous to my big decision. I have a number of systematic conditions that affect how my body react to stuff such as food and digestion and I'd definitely noticed a correlation between feeling ill with gastric issues and syncope and eating a meat-heavy meal. Alongside this I'd recently been reading into the meat trade and feeling more and more like I wanted to really reduce my consumption for ethical and environmental reasons. On top of all of this though, I just wasn't enjoying eating meat any more. It became the part of the meal I looked forward to least or would often throw away entirely, which made me feel even worse as I try to avoid waste as much as possible.
What is there to eat?
I'm lucky enough to enjoy a wide range of non-meat based foods. I love fresh fruit and veg, I still eat dairy products (although this too is something I have cut right down on due to health reactions and ethical reasons) so there are a ton of options available to me. It's a jokey stereotype to think of Linda McCartney foods when thinking of vegetarian meals but they are actually extremely tasty, well balanced meals when you want something quick and easy. This mushroom and spinach burger from the frozen range was amazing. I actually enjoyed a burger with no stomach ache or fainting spells and it was delicious (brioche bun, fillings and sweet potato chips made separately). I have also yet to be disappointed by any meat substitute products - Quorn's Turkey Stuffing Style Slices for example are perfect for a quick sarnie lunch. I can taste no difference at all.
Why don't you go vegan?
This is a question I ask myself a lot. I don't like a lot of things about the dairy trade but I'm not educated enough on the topic to start a debate. I don't like the mentality that drinking cow's milk is completely normal yet breastfeeding is still such a taboo subject. I don't like how the animals are treated not just for their consumables and wearables but for their whole being, things like captive zoos etc. I just know what I feel, and it makes me feel uncomfortable and sad. Dairy also negatively impacts my health through gallbladder issues, so as I said further up I have made a conscious effort to really reduce my dairy consumption. It feels too big of a step for me at the moment mentally to try a full vegan lifestyle but I would never say never. Five years ago I would have never have considered I'd be vegetarian.
Will your children be vegetarian?
It is entirely their choice. I have spoken to both my sons about mine and my husband's decision to eat a vegetarian diet and they are age appropriately aware of why we are doing what we're doing. They have both decided to carry on eating meat for the time being and I will continue to support them in their personal choices. My five year old has been curious and tried a few new things which has been amazing (veggie pasta and meatballs was a roaring success!), anything that gets more veggies into our kids and get them talking about healthy food has got to be a good thing.
Are you partaking in National Vegetarian Week 2017? Do you have a favourite meat-free meal you'd like to share? Drop me a comment below!
Do I really need to say more? It wouldn't be much of a blog if I didn't though!
If you're a parent, chances are you've heard of YouTube and the likes of slime, surprise eggs. the finger family, Stampy, DanTDM and more. So much more. So... much...
My littlest, Sullivan, has autism and one of his calming techniques and deep interests is YouTube. He loves watching his favourite content creators, often watching the same videos each day to the point he can re-create and build on them in his own imaginative play away from screen time. He loves finding new interests and exploring related videos and ideas that sit alongside his favourites. When he's feeling super stressed, these guys online - as repetitive and loud as they can be sometimes - really help my little guy when he's feeling tired or super anxious and also fill him with ideas, conversation starters and positivity.
I suppose it was always going to be a natural progression for him to then want his own channel and to create his own videos. "Sure poppet!" I exclaimed in response to him asking to create a "Let's Play" type video, with an excited enthusiasm that would soon fade and be replaced with exhaustion and desperation.
First came the realisation I had to actually get my crap together to do this. I needed to *gasp* tidy the living room, as no matter where I put Sully and pointed the camera, there was junk. After about 5739275 hours (probs like, 30 minutes) of rearranging I finally found an angle that would work. I then realised, like the good parent I am, that it probably wasn't such a good idea to film him in his pants and put it out for the whole world to see, so I had to convince him into an outfit (Sully wears basic white leggings and a gorgeous hand-made mono cactus t-shirt by the wonderful Molly over at Hey!Moko).
Filming wasn't actually too bad. Our first attempt was scrapped as Sully decided to read every single instruction and text painfully slowly and detailed that came up on screen whilst he was playing. We'd hit 10 minutes of footage and he hasn't even started.
So along came version 2. We had a quick chat about thinking about what others would like to watch, what his audience would find useful and entertaining and what he'd like to see if he were watching. He understood the concepts really well and decided he wanted to complete the Minecraft tutorial level, which meant he could teach people and have fun too.
Filming him as a silent observer and just letting him do what he wanted to do was really eye-opening. He had no worries, no insecurities holding him back like I would do if I were vlogging for the first time, he was just having a complete blast. I decided to let him do exactly what he wanted and then step in to edit the piece into a somewhat watchable video suitable in length and content for YouTube afterwards. This is where the exhaustion and desperation comes in!
Honestly, all props to the content creators who do this every day or even just a few times a month. The dedication, funding and time/energy that goes into creating a basic video is pretty immense. I'm a perfectionist so it erks me how wobbly the video is, the fact I can't fix the cracks in sound where I accidentally move a finger over the mic, that I can't for the life of me make an animated intro or outro without signing my cash and life away to a monthly subscription I'm not even sure I'd use, not to mention the lengthy rendering and upload times. I'm pretty computer literate and was able to make original images myself with my graphic design knowledge and it was STILL all really hard.
I was determined to do it though, as tucked up in bed was my little 5 year old who's dream it has been for about a year now to have his very own YouTube channel. He really wanted to be a part of the thing that has helped him so much in so many ways and I was going to make that happen for him. And boy am I glad he was tucked up in bed by this point, as sitting in a sweaty heap with a migraine in head, Gin in hand desperately willing my movie maker animation to work with my free dubstep-style sting was definitely not one of my highlights as a parent or role model.
We did it though and you know what? I think we might do more! YouTube gets a ton of negative press with screen time being blanket labelled as bad for kids and sadly some content creators abusing their position and making inappropriate videos tailored directly to children filled with their favourite characters being violent or sexual. There's no condoning that at all but with parental guidance and protection, it can be such a creative place to help flourish and grow young minds.
If you have a YouTube account and like his video or channel, a 'thumbs up' or subscribe would mean the world to him. Let us know if there's anything specifically you'd like to see us create!
Tiny toes tiptoeing their way into the small of my back. Little fingers winding their way into my tied hair. A sweet and hot flush of breath on the nape of my neck which turns into a deep yawn. "I love you mama" he says in his sleep.
Gentle snores and flickering lids hypnotise me closer to my own slumber, as I watch him dream. I squash into the plushy blue hedgehog who shares our space each night and I sigh, tired and weary from a great, yet hard, day.
There are days I long for his bedtime. There are points where I reach my absolute limits. But each time it's my turn to roll my bones to bed I can't help but feel so full of love. Those tiny toes instinctively reach for my back again. His fingers, spreading out to find a lock of mine to twirl, and once more, I'm at peace.
My mum is pretty much my best friend. We speak every day and talk about practically everything in each other's lives. She's still my mum first and foremost though and she still, with me approaching 36 years old, tells me off.
The thing she tells me off most for is overdoing it, pushing myself physically more than I should and as much as it frustrates me, I totally understand why she does it. I'm exactly the same with my own boys (and get glared at regularly for it!). The second biggest thing she tells me off for is for putting pressure on myself to always do more, be more, achieve more.
This may sound like she's trying to stop me reaching my full potential but really it's the exact opposite. I have this thing, this feeling, that has followed me through life. I've always wanted to please people and do the very best for them. It makes me SO happy to see others enjoying themselves, feeling loved and special. doing amazing things, having fantastic and unique experiences. When I had my children and found the love of my life, this feeling intensified and it became really destructive for me. During my firstborn's early years I had just enough money to get by but was in a pretty dire financial mess. I was in a flat I hated because of my external surroundings (noise, drugs, violence, infestation etc) and I had no spare money, no real nearby friends or any other means for fun activities, trips out or treats - physically I was already starting to struggle with pain and severe fatigue which made everything feel ten times harder. Every half term and summer holiday became a nightmare for me as alongside the sheer joy of having my son home with me (I've never been one to wish the holidays away due to stress, the total opposite!) I was constantly thinking and worrying that I was failing him as I couldn't give him the experiences and things I wanted to. I'd get angry, self-destructive, frustrated and upset and here's where my mum would step in and tell me off.
She'd tell me it's the little things that matter. She'd tell me the love and support of a mum like me would be enough for my son. That being responsive to my son's emotional needs and being a good role model for him to look towards would be the making of him. That the games we could play for free, the local parks we could visit, the trips to the shops, fort building and silliness would fill his heart more than fancy trips out, holidays and dining out could do alone. I had no real choice but to accept this. I can't deny the fact that It was still a destructive feeling for me even after chatting with my mum and knowing deep down she was right from an emotional and logical point of view... we all know that money can't buy happiness... that our possessions aren't our life... but it's also fact that these things do make life a little easier and a little more fun.
My financial situation improved a little and along with that, so did my living situation. I had my second son, during the pregnancy and considerably afterwards I became quite ill. The story is spread through other health-related posts in here if you'd like to read back but to cut a long story short, my body broke down on me with hormonal/immune issues and physically through muscles and joints. I was diagnosed with some life-changing stuff and by the time my youngest son was 3 I'd been referred to NHS Wheelchair Services for an electronic power wheelchair to avoid back surgery and further crippling injury. Those feelings of anger, despair and self-loathing came back stronger than ever. I felt a failure for having two children and instead of worrying about holiday activities and days out that I couldn't afford or get to, I was now facing an inability to do basic things like being unable to walk to the shops with them. To bathe them and carry them into bed. To walk into the kitchen to get them a drink or make them dinner. At my worst, my kids dress me into my underwear, trousers and shoes. I felt so strongly that I was letting them down so much in SO many ways, it was devastating to be inside my own head at that point.
Around 18 months ago was my lowest ebb. My mum was there again, to tell me off. This time, I listened harder and stronger than any other time before.
I realised at that point, I don't have to be, nor did I want to be, a supermum. I was forever striving for the things I longed to give my family but in doing so I became less of a person for them as it was so destructive to my mental health. It was never about not being able to give my eldest the things I wanted to give and experience with him. It was about my own negativity and pressures inside my own head. I wanted to be a positive mum. I wanted to be a resourceful mum and a realistic mum. I wanted to be a gentle mum and a happy mum, responsive to my children's needs and truly happy within myself. Approachable about anything and able to make mistakes yet move through them, without hanging on to so much self-hatred. Being able to have bad days and feel low but come out of it stronger or wiser.
I learned that it really is those little things that matter. Letting go. Less pressure. Less negativity. Loving ourselves, so we can love others. Mindfulness. Peace.
Yeah yeah, I'm a big hippy.
I'll always be thankful for my mum telling me off, as without her gentle nudgings and words of advice from her own experiences and feelings, I think I'd still to this day be in a more destructive and less happy place than I am now. I also know I have more telling off's to come in the future as no matter how much I aim to be a zen-like positive person, there are inevitably gonna be issues y'all.
I hope if you're feeling how I've felt in the past, that you can too find a balance and pile up all those little things on one side of the scale to at least balance or over-tip the self-destructive sides to get you into a healthier and happier mindset.
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?!
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.