Category : Guest post

Guest post

Supporting children with Autism

I’m delighted to announce that Mrs M (author of A Slice of Autism: What’s normal anyway?) is starting a new series of blogs for me here. The first one focuses on behaviour, particularly with respect to school and parent partnership. You’ll find plenty of sensible, reliable advice, written in Mrs M’s very enjoyable style.

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I have been privileged to spend many years of my career working within the primary education sector and early years settings to support staff who work with children on the autism spectrum. It can be one of the most rewarding jobs and yet also one of the most challenging too, as each individual child on the spectrum is unique, and therefore they all have such different needs.

Add to this the fact that many children’s challenges are hidden from the outside world and it becomes easy to see why people can focus on the things children with autism can’t do, their deficits if you like. Instead of us looking at the child behind the behaviour, we can find ourselves stuck in a cycle of negative reaction strategies that actually serve to aggravate the child even further.

boy's fascinatedMany approaches I have seen over the years tend to ‘treat the behaviour’ and focus on the child’s problems. But we should be taking the time to find out what makes these very special children tick, what their strengths are, how they learn, and how we can make reasonable adjustments to the environment in order to meet their needs.

So often children on the spectrum are treated like round pegs in square holes. Our environment and demands to conform to our view of the world can chip away at them and doesn’t take into account their individual needs.

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Guest post

Spring thoughts

Spring is certainly in the air now. My poor daffodils have coped with snow, gales and hailstones – but have come out the other side bright and sunny.
It is a time of year for marvelling at nature and giving thanks in many ways, so Mrs M.’s blog this month is suitably Spring-like. You’ll she has had an amazing year, and I hope that you’ll join me in congratulating her on her achievements, (including her book publication) as well as anticipating the new things to come.

 

As I sit here writing this, the spring sun is piercing through my window and the birds are chirping away in my back garden. New life is popping up all around me, and I have to say that I am excited at what the coming months have in store.

Yet naturally this also makes me reflect on the last 12 months as it’s been a heck of a ride.

So I’m gonna sit down with a nice cuppa and reminisce…

Let’s see, well my son has settled into his new school. He is happy and flourishing there and as a result he is much happier at home. I can’t believe how calmer he is now, and his generalised anxiety is under control. Fighting for the school he now attends was one of the best decisions we ever made.

My two girls are happy and growing up too fast. They amaze me every day with how independent they are becoming. I am learning to let go of the apron strings a little with them (being a mum to teenagers is a much of a challenge for me as it is for them I think).

The hubby is happy in the new ‘man shed’ he’s been building that the bottom of the garden these last few months. I see less and less of him as his man cave grows ever bigger! He pops in every now and again for a fresh cup of tea and a biscuit. But as he’s reached 40 his passion for fast rides and adrenalin seems to have been replaced by tools and drill bits?!

And me…

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Guest post

How the long wait for a diagnosis affected my journey as a mum

This week the House of commons will be debating Autism Diagnosis Waiting Time (for details see here), so it seemed very fitting that Mrs M. should share with us her journey as a mum, waiting for a diagnosis. I thinks she shares some very good advice here and, as ever, gives a moving and valuable insight into how this can affect every facet of family life. 

I vividly remember all those years ago when I first became a mother in my early twenties, nervously holding this new little life in my arms. She was so tiny and vulnerable that I became completely overawed at how much she depended on me. I was meant to have all the answers. I was meant to know what her cries meant, what to do when she wouldn’t settle and how to relieve her colic. I was overwhelmed with it all in those early days settling in at home.

mum-and-babyHowever there was one thing I knew for certain back then; that I loved my little baby more than life itself and so instinctively I learned to know what she needed. I needed no guidebook or lessons to tell me what to do, it just happened naturally.

Then in my late twenties, we were blessed with another daughter and a son. Life had become full, crazy and yes at times a little chaotic – but we had such hope and dreams for the future.

My girls were happy carefree little things, full of laughter and smiles. However my little man worried me. Because even though he was hitting most of his developmental milestones he was hard work. Many aspects of his behaviour didn’t fit any checklists or tick boxes for kids of his age. He was a handful as a toddler and ran rings around me at times I have to say. And initially I dismissed my worries, thinking he would soon grow out of it.

However I was soon to realise that it was far more than just your typical boisterous behaviour that was testing my skills as a young mum. I didn’t know it all those years ago, but I was at the start of a new phase of motherhood. One that would turn our whole family life upside down, and my role as a mum would take a whole new road completely.

So fast forward to now – Here I am, older and wiser. I’m now in my mid (to late)-thirties and my son was diagnosed with Autism last year at the age of 10. After all those years.

Altogether it took almost 5 years on the waiting list for him to be assessed.

So I think that’s what makes my journey, and many other mums like me up and down the country kind of unique really. Because I can’t think of any other condition where parents have to wait so long to get the help and answers they need. And I certainly found that my relationship with not only myself, but with my son and my family was pushed to the limit because of it. Because I feel like my early thirties flew past in a blur of stress and uncertainty. I got lost somewhere in between there and now. Let me explain-

boy-waitingI doubted myself constantly because I knew deep down that my son had so many hidden challenges and for years I felt like no one believed me. I knew it was more than the terrible twos, threes or fours. And it certainly wasn’t middle child syndrome. I could see that my son was increasingly struggling with so many aspects of his life, but he wasn’t able to express what was happening to him inside. So instead he would play up, resist, fight or become upset at the smallest of things.

And eventually I began to feel like every instinct I was having as his mum was wrong because I felt like I couldn’t help him and people were judging me as a bad parent that couldn’t control her kid. So many thoughts were swirling around my mind-

Why didn’t people believe me?

Why did they think he was just naughty?

Why could he be good all day at school then the minute I walk in the room he would lash out?

Was it me, were they right, and was I too soft on him… Is that what the problem was?

And this went on year after year after year. I became exhausted, confused and tired. There are even occasions I can remember when I had been on the receiving end of one of his meltdowns after school, and I would keep it to myself because I felt so alone and just couldn’t face the criticism from people who thought he was just naughty. I felt ignored as all I ever seemed to do was make excuses for him, desperately trying to make people see what I saw.

Because you see I knew.

I just knew that when the day came for him to be assessed that everyone else would finally see what I had known all along. That my son was Autistic.

And then when that day did finally arrive I felt such a mixture of emotions that I just didn’t know what to think. I was relieved on the one hand but deeply saddened on the other as there was so much finality in those words – Autism. All I could think about was that it’s a lifelong condition, and the future seemed so uncertain for him at that point.

But in the months that followed his diagnosis I came to see that there was truly no need for me to be saddened by the label that he got that day. Because it hasn’t changed him, rather its changed how others think of him and that the key to his happiness.

Yes he has a label now, but it’s the right label. Not the ‘naughty’ label, or the ‘spoilt child’ label. And it has freed me of the shackles I felt for years too. I felt like I walked around with a ‘bad parent’ neon sign flashing above my head half the time as people stared at us in the supermarket. Or I was the ‘pushy parent’ when he refused to go to school and I had to fight for accommodations to be made for him.

But you see now the world can understand my son due to his ‘label’ of being Autistic, he is so much happier as a result. It opened doors that allowed us to get the right support for him. Thanks to his diagnosis now other people can now see how much he has to offer the world too. And that is why a diagnosis is so important for children like my son. Because otherwise he would have continued being misunderstood and labelled in all the wrong ways.

So the bottom line is that the long wait not only affected my son, but it affected me deeply, and there is no easy answer I’m afraid to say, it sucks! The waiting lists in the UK are appallingly long and I wish I could tell you otherwise but I can’t.
light-tunnelBut mums what I can tell you is this – please believe me when I say that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I learned that I had to believe in myself, and you will learn that too I promise! You are a good mum and your gut instincts are always right, just like we instinctively know what to do with our babies, nothing has changed just because they have grown up a bit. And please know that your opinions as a mum are 100% valid and worthy of being heard, no matter what labels your child has been given or how long you are waiting for answers.

And if there are any professionals reading this, please try and see beyond the labels, both my child’s and mine as a mum.

That mum may be labelled as a pushy parent, or come across as defensive in meetings. But it’s probably because inside she’s feel intimidated by you all sat at the table like you’re ready to interview her. She may have had years fighting a system that struggles to view things from her child’s point of view. She may have sat at meeting after meeting having to listen to all the things her child can’t do when she knows how much he is capable of if they could only see it. Maybe she’s worn down by judgements and feeling like her opinion isn’t valid. And maybe all she actually needs is for someone to say to her that they don’t have a magic wand to make it all better, but that they hold value in what she has to say and that they are really listening to her.

Because after all she is just a mother. A mother doing her best. A mother who held her baby in her arms all those years ago with such hope and dreams for the future. And no matter what labels her child is given she loves him all the more, more than life itself.

Read more from Mrs M. at her brilliant blogspot here and vibrant Facebook page here.

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Guest post

Dear Mums in the Playground…

umbrella girl
This is the next in the series of blog posts from Mrs M, about her life as a mum of a son with autism. She has been sharing some of the roller coaster of emotions that happen behind the closed doors of family life.

This month Mrs M shares her feelings about her playground experiences. I think you will find them thought-provoking and moving, whatever sort of mum you are. Here is her story:

You may not know me well but I was that mum that skulked past you all with my head hiding under my umbrella, or under my hood just to avoid having to talk to you for many years.

I was that mum that the class teacher always wanted to come and talk to at the end of the day, with a knowing look that something had happened that she needed to tell me about.

I was that mum whose child who stopped getting invited to parties.

I was that mum that never came to the PTA meetings or mums nights out, who wasn’t part of any mums ‘group’.

I was that mum who was often running late in the mornings, looking hassled and exhausted at drop off time so never had the time to say hello to you.

I was that mum who ‘let’ her child hit her whilst trying to get him in through the school door in the mornings kicking and screaming.

I was that mum who you would whisper about to each other that should discipline her child better.

That’s me. I was that mum.

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Guest post

How we can help alleviate the build up of stress at school

I am very proud and pleased to present the third in the series of guest blog posts, written by Mrs M, who writes ‘A Slice of Autism’. I am publishing these once a month.

This month Mrs M gives us some very practical ideas for how to support children with autism in the classroom. These do not need massive changes in routine or environment, but simply viewing the school from a child’s perspective. Here is her third blog:

Many children on the spectrum can have huge anxieties about school, and if we think about it it’s no wonder really; the hustle and bustle of the playground, the unwritten rules and complex friendship groups, and the language and sensory demands that bombard our kid’s fragile nervous systems is bound to take its toll. And that’s before we even think about our kids sitting still in a chair and actually ‘learning’ anything formally.stressed-boy

I worked for many years within the Primary Education sector with Autistic children, so I have a good understanding of what daily life for many kids on the spectrum can be like. I also have an 11 year old son who went through Primary school as a very anxious child with High Functioning Autism and sensory issues. He would often cope at school and reflect all his anxiety inwards, only to explode once at home. Until finally during Year 6 it all just became too much and his mental health deteriorated due to prolonged anxiety. He now attends a specialist school in Year 7.

So I kind of feel like I am positioned well to see things from the perspective of both school and home when it comes to school related stress and anxiety. Some parents can feel that their concerns aren’t really taken seriously, and that they can come across as paranoid, overprotective parents as they often see a different child that the one that school sees. And that can cause conflict and tension between home and school which is helpful for no one (especially the child in the middle of it all). And with the new SEN Code of Practice it’s even more important than ever that schools works collaboratively with parents as that will lead to the best outcome for children

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Guest post

Home and School … We are all on the same team

I am very proud and pleased to present the second in the series of guest blog posts, written by Mrs M, who writes ‘A Slice of Autism‘. These will be published once a month.

The first blog ‘The Delayed Effect’ had a massive response, with many readers saying how they could relate to the blog. This month Mrs M focuses on how effective partnerships between home and school can be made, for the benefit of all involved – most importantly the children. Here is her second blog:

schoolyardI want to share a story with you. A story about ‘that mum’. A mum who found herself on a journey. A bumpy journey that she hadn’t really planned to take.

Now you may be read this story and think that mum sounds just like me, I’m so relieved that I’m not alone. Or you may read this story and think I know that mum and I never realised that’s why she stands in the playground each day looking down at the floor, maybe I’ll go and talk to her.

Or finally you could read this story and think I hadn’t realised how much courage it took for that mum in my class to pat me on the shoulder and ask if she could have a word with me at home time today.
So here is my story of…..
How I became ‘that mum’
Once upon a time on a sparkly autumn morning there was a playground full of nervous little children. All looking so grown up; wearing their crisp clean uniforms, and squeaky new shoes. Their parents were beginning to smile and nod at each other in a knowing kind of way. Then the awkward silence was broken by the bell ringing loudly, a signal to everyone that it was now time. Time for all the anxious parents to let go, and time for the children to start on their journey of discovery…..as it was their first day of school

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Guest post

Autism and the delayed effect

I am very proud and pleased to present the first of a series of guest blog posts, written by Mrs M, who writes ‘A Slice of Autism‘.

This will be a series of articles about being the mum of a child with autism. They are ‘warts and all’ accounts, often very personal and always very moving. They will make you laugh and make you cry.

I hope you will find it both interesting and supportive:

Tonight my son walked through the door from school and immediately I knew. He didn’t have to say or do anything….I just knew!

Call it mothers intuition, or call it years and years of practice, but I knew something was wrong. It was the delayed effect. My son has had a tricky day at school. He has held it together for nearly 7 hours. He walks through the front door…..And bam!!
Pressurecooker

He’s somewhere safe, familiar and he can’t contain the pressure anymore.

It creeps out of every fibre of his being. His face is tense and he has red cheeks. His body is stiff and awkward. His words are fast and loud, and he’s agitated. He’s hungry, he’s not hungry. He wants a snack but not what’s in the cupboard.

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Guest post

The Parent Representative

Partnership with parents is a crucial part of every setting’s daily life. 

So, I was fascinated when Kim Benham, Senior Manager at Sparkles and Millies Pre-School in Croydon, told me they have a Parent Rep at her nurseries. Here, she shares the story behind the creation of the Parent Rep, as well as their role in the Nursery.

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Guest post

Sustained Shared Thinking: Children and Trauma

My new online course on Sustained Shared Thinking is now available. You can get it at a special price here…
>> The Sustained Shared Thinking Online Course <<

Sustained shared thinking tipsToday’s guest blogger, Jane Evans, has specialist knowledge in a much under represented area of early years – trauma and domestic violence. She is the creator of the ‘Tuning In’ Parenting Beyond Trauma, Parenting Towards Harmony and Happiness Programmes, and the ‘Tuning In’ Beyond Trauma Training for professionals.

Statistics from the womensaid organisation are shocking:

At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence. (Department of Health, 2002).
In 75% to 90% of incidents of domestic violence, children are in the same or the next room.

This is a subject which desperately needs discussion.

I’m very excited that Jane has written this blog post to promote such discussion about the subject. Do add your comments!

Tend and nurture a child’s emotions and they will grow to reach for the sky.
by Jane Evans, Specialist Parenting & Behaviour Skills Consultancy

Reading Kathy’s article on Sustained shared thinking gave me an ‘aha’ moment.

It prompted me to think about all the children, and parents, I have worked with, over a 15-year period, who have lived through trauma. Those people who so badly needed someone who could spend the time to help them to find the tools to expand on their thinking.

All children clearly would benefit from this, but the children I have known have experienced a variety of traumas in their short lives. Most of their experiences were of living with domestic violence and abuse, along with other forms of abuse and neglect.

As a Parenting Worker in a range of settings with families with complex needs, I often began my work with the main carer, usually a mother. I then did some 1:1 work with a child or children and used this to inform my work with the main carer.

I observed first hand the effects of trauma on the child’s development and the complex pattern of attachment between the main carer and the child, and the ways in which this impacted on the child’s social and emotional understanding and skills – and this is where practitioners need to focus their skills.

Taking part in ‘sustained shared thinking’ with traumatised children needs an extension of most practitioners’ skills. Knowledge and understanding of the effects of trauma on:

• brain development and function
• impact on behaviour
• speech and language
• social and emotional skills

would need to be the foundation for this.

Why? Children who live with, or through, trauma rarely develop the ability to access and connect with their feelings. There is often very little input from their carers who are preoccupied by their own stress and trauma and may not be able to offer this.

Therefore, it is crucial to take time to start this journey with young children by gently suggesting feelings they may have or thoughts so as to put ‘pennies’ in the empty slot machine.

Then, when they are asked, as they will be in life, how they feel about something they can ‘pay out’ with a response that they feel and understand. This in time will also give them the ability to empathise and understand that others have a mind and a set of feelings too.

Practitioners can gently suggest without jumping in too soon, “I saw what happened with you and Alfie, I wondered how you were feeling about it?

(Pause for child to respond), I was thinking that maybe you felt anxious, sad, confused etc.?”

Pennies are put in so they can later be ‘paid out’. Thinking can be expanded and built on once the child begins to feel that it is safe for them to look inwards as well as outwards. The practitioner is there to support them in doing this.

Traumatised children will often present as ‘falsely fierce’, fearless and overly confident.

Life experience has taught them this is how to survive and it needs an attentive, focused practitioner to pick up the subtle signals they throw out that all is not as it seems. These children do not have the ability to think things through, but are often only able to react on impulses to survive, as that is what has got them this far in their difficult lives.

‘Sustained shared thinking’ seems to be the first step in offering a much needed ‘attachment figure’ to children who have lived through trauma and the importance of this is inestimable!

More insight into, and understanding of, how parenting is affected by trauma, such as domestic violence, can be found during my training in Bristol in September.

Click here for my Tuning In Beyond Trauma Training

click here for information about Colette Winters training

About Jane Evans:

I have extensive experience of direct work with parents, carers, children and professionals who have been faced with the effects of trauma, such as domestic violence and abuse, child safeguarding issues, substance dependency, homelessness, mental illness, learning difficulties, school non-attendance and loss.

The families and professionals taught me that a different approach to supporting parents and carers was needed and that it had to be about emotional intelligence and empathy so this has been the corner stone for the parenting programmes, professional’s training, 1:1 parenting and consultancy work which I now offer.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 07946318404
Twitter:JaneEvans @janeparenting
http://parentingposttrauma.co.uk/

My new online course on Sustained Shared Thinking is now available. You can get it at a special price here…
>> The Sustained Shared Thinking Online Course <<

And to read my ultimate guide to Sustained Shared thinking, click here:

>> The Ultimate Guide To Sustained Shared Thinking <<

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