Friday, 22 November 2013

Lessons in life, from kittens and doors

Some times - when I am well rested and not stressed beyond thinking - I wonder about the many things that seem to come into our lives just to teach us things.

Are we particularly good at learning through experiences?  Do we (as a family) just have a lot to learn?  Is something else behind it all?

Right now we have kittens - you may have noticed ;) - and they seem to have a lot to teach us.

Each of the younger children have bonded with a different kitten, which is quite convenient really :)

A loves Tabitha.  A, being really rather girly by nature, loves animals and cuddly toys.  I think she has been getting just a little muddled with how to treat real animals, and has been pulling Tabitha around a bit - not maliciously, just lots of squishy hugs and carrying her about.  Tabitha is the calmest kitten, easiest to stroke, most chilled out.  She is reminding A - gently - that it's not on to be too rough.  There have been a few hisses and swats of paws with no claws.  And it's working in a way that me reminding A never has.

J likes Jet.  Jet is the fastest, the explorer, the smallest and most likely to squeeze into small gaps.  J has a tendency to stroke and pet Jet, but then forget he is there.  Short quick contact seems to suit these two best, and they are both thriving on it.

M is fascinated by Tortie.  But Tortie is standoffish, snappy, the most likely to hiss, bite and scratch.  She "telegraphs" her feelings very clearly in her body language, and will not tolerate being mishandled or prodded.  M on the other hand is not good at reading peoples body language, he used to dive for the kittens, and grab whatever bit he could reach.  Tortie has the most to teach M, and he has the most to learn.  She is showing him that her feelings matter, that he has to approach her just right, that he can't over-do it, that he needs to keep track of how she is feeling.  Like Tabitha with A, Tortie will reinforce the lessons with a paw and a hiss, but her claws are always out and M gets scratched. 

The thing is, for years I have been trying to get M to calm down with our dog.  Telling him hasn't worked, talking it through did nothing, but now Tortie is helping him listen and learn.  Will he be able to translate this learning to human interactions?  I have no idea, but it's a start, it's something more to build on.

There are other lessons that the kittens are teaching us.

I am the only one cleaning out the litter tray (no real surprise there) but the rest of my family are realising that if they don't give me time to do that job then it all gets a bit wiffy . . . They are seeing that all these "mummy jobs" that they keep interrupting actually matter, there are consequences if stuff isn't done.

Until now the kittens have been living in our spare room with the door firmly closed.  Next Tuesday uncle N is coming to stay, so the kittens need to move into the rest of the house.  Yesterday we opened the door and left it open for several hours, but apart from a few brief forays into the living room (next door) the kittens resolutely stayed put.  They were born wild, and roamed a long way before we ended up with them, but now after three weeks of incarceration they are afraid to venture beyond their perceived boundaries.  I hope that with time, and more leaving the door open, they will rampage through the whole house, but it is clear that their metaphorical wings have been clipped, their urge to explore has been dulled, and in so many ways that saddens me.

I wonder if this is an allegory for this generation of children. Born wild and free, exploring and conquering their world, only to be caught, incarcerated, confined and tamed by schools, to the point that they feel unsafe venturing outside the box they are put into.

I want our children to explore beyond the edges of their view, to cross the horizon, to find new ways to be and never stop.  Maybe the kittens came along to remind me to open as many doors as I could find.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

More on support

So, one of the reasons that half term was crazy was because we met up with a lovely local ASD support group.

The first session was at a local(ish!) soft play palace.  The group had exclusive use, and it was an evening session, with all height / age restrictions removed.

I have no idea how many children were there, but we took M, J and A.  It is one of the few times we've been somewhere like this and not had issues with other children, or complaints about ours.

The feeling of acceptance was overwhelming, I was able to relax and not worry.  My husband and I had a coffee / hot choc and a natter.  It was lovely :)

The kids had fun too - they all made friends, and there was a mass game of freeze tag going on up in the netting.

We met the same group at the end of the week too - to go bowling.  Again it was an exclusive use, which helped a lot!

Bowling is awkward for us - there is such a spread of ages - 14 down to 6 - and abilities that the scores are always well spread.  Seeing them all up on the screen it is very hard to encourage J and M not to compare and compete. 

We often have upsets because one feels useless compared to the others, or someone decides to try and beat their Dad's score . . . and this session was no different really.

Because we are mad (!) we went from the bowling alley to do a very quick bit of shopping (two things!!) and then on to a home ed Roller Skating session.  A made a new friend there, which was lovely, but M caused a bit of an issue :(

Often when we've been before the main lights are off and disco lights are on.  This time the hall was lit by the main lights, so once he had his skates on M went to ask the leisure centre staff to switch the lights off.  I hadn't noticed that he had gone, because I was still helping A get her skates sorted.  Suddenly the hall went dark - the disco lights weren't on, and now neither were the main lights . . .

There were already people skating, and now it was very *very* dark.

Someone hurried off to find out what was going on, and M came back.  We were then told that the main lights take at least TEN minutes to warm up and come on.  The disco lights came on, but they weren't very bright and a lot of the bulbs seem to have been blown.  So for the next eternity (or so it seemed) the kids skated in semi-darkness.  Eventually the lights came on, slowly, but how daft!

It's nice to know that M feels confident enough to go and ask random adults to do things, not so sure about the staff switching all the lights off without checking . . .

The craziness continued, as when we got home L had a friend visit, then M went out to chess club, J to a social club and A to visit some friends . . .

Pretty indicative of our terribly isolated (!) children's lives really.

A little late . . .

Life snuck up on me again.  Time to think has been at a premium, let alone time to write or post here!

I meant to post about Hallowe'en, so I'd better get on with that before it's more than a month ago :(

When we lived down in Nodnol my Mother in law used to "do" Halowe'en stuff with the kids.  It was a big thing for them, a tradition was born.  We'd go to our in laws, there would be sweets, pumpkin carving, dressing up, cake . . .

Then we moved.

Now we're an hour and a half away from our in laws, and we've moved on to a different - far more muddled - tradition.

Mostly we play a few games - flour towers, jelly worms, donut dangling, apple bobbing, balloon stomp - carve the pumpkins, and the kids dress up.

L (at 14 3/4) is really growing out of it all, but the other three still expect something fabulous.

This year was a mess, quite frankly.  M and J were out doing their Bikeability course the day before Hallowe'en, and the day itself.  That meant I had to be out too.  The day after we had more manicness planned. 

As things turned out that week - it was half term locally - was crazy.  The kids understood that we didn't have time to do anything much, and so when the opportunity to go to a "glow party" came up, that filled (most of) the gap.

The party was interesting - loud music, junk food and glow sticks, what's not to love?!?

J didn't like the level of noise, but he coped OK.  M took about an hour to "warm up" but was then dancing and having fun.  We met up with some of A's friends, so she was sorted.

We'd bought pumpkins a few days previously, and finally managed to find the time to carve them on the Monday after Hallowe'en, and they looked fab - please take my word for it as  I've accidentally deleted the pictures!  L didn't carve a pumpkin, but he did make pumpkin bread, and then some soup.

On the whole I think I prefer this Hallowe'en - less for me to organise, and as the children grow up they can just drop out of things and stay at home.  Maybe next year though it can be during a quieter week!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Some days

Some days I want to call in sick, let the rest of the team pick up the slack, and just *stop*.

Today is one of those days.  But there isn't anyone to call, the team would be my family - Hubby and the kids - and whilst I know they would do their best, unless I was somewhere else I wouldn't really get much of a rest.

So it's time to grit my teeth and get on with it all.

Last night M had four night terrors - the worst he has been for a very long time - and I didn't get much sleep.

He has a cold, and I think that disturbed his rest, with the screaming and panic that the night terrors cause in him, M was finding it very hard to breathe.  That caused more panic.  It was actually quite frightening to see my son pacing and gasping for breath, but there was nothing I could do.

Yesterday was an odd day too.

We were due to go to a local fire station with a lovely group of home edders.  J didn't want to go - after an upset on Monday and a cold.  I knew L wouldn't want to go.  So in the end instead of five of us, there were three.  We had a great time, and came home happy.

Then Hubby and I took M out to look at potential Christmas presents, with barely a pause between the two.  That was okish - though M had so many questions and anxieties along the way that it got frustrating.

Then a fifteen min break and kittens out to the vets . . . they are doing well, just need to get rid of their watery eyes and they will be discharged.

A bit of a longer break, and then a dog walk, trip to the doctors / pharmacy to pick up more medication for me, and then time to get A ready for Beavers and J for Cubs.

J couldn't find shoes he was happy with.  There was some shouting and stress on all sides.

Then the Tuesday night yo-yo for hubby - 6 pm drop off for A, 6:15 for J, 7 pick up for A, 7:30 drop off M pick up J, and finally 9:15 pick up M.  Not enough time to relax between journeys, but too spread out to stay out.

At some point Ruby, our Jack Russell had a hedgehog.  She managed to corner it, and when she was brought in there was quite a lot of blood on her face.  We brought the hedgie in, but couldn't find any injuries, and once we put it back out it seems to have wandered off eventually.  Ruby has some cuts in her mouth, but nothing major.  You'd think the daft pup would realise that the snuffle pigs have spikes!

So, today.  Tired.  Dealing with snotty monsters who didn't have enough sleep.  And it's a short day for us too - Hubby, L and M will be going out at four to their games club.  Not sure I can fit much in to the space in between now and then, especially as none of us are dressed . . .

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Cycles and stress

One of the many things to happen in October that I haven't managed to blog about was a Bikeability course.

We had the opportunity to book our guys on a bike safety course - I guess it's a newer version of cycling proficiency - organised by a local home ed mum via our County Council.

Since L has grown out of his bike and A isn't old enough only M and J went.

The first issue was sorting out their bikes . . . the paperwork said "roadworthy bikes" were required.  Personally I had no idea what that actually meant or what condition the bikes were in, so my husband and I set about checking over the two bikes.

I have never actually owned a bike.  He hasn't had much to do with bikes since he learned to drive decades ago.  Maybe we were not the best suited to do this?  But since we'd left it to the evening before the first session, we had little choice but to give it a go.

Brakes needed to be changed, tightened, realigned.  Reflectors needed fitting, seats sorted, lots of other stuff was erm . . . well . . . fiddled with.

We managed, between us, to get things sorted.  So off we went with two boys and two bikes squeezed into the car.  The sessions began near a community centre - in the tennis courts - and then if the children were safe enough there would be three sessions "on the road".  They had morning and afternoon sessions two days running.

The plan (ha!) was that I would find a bench nearby and read / knit / keep a vague eye on what was happening.  The group was small (six children), the instructor was fully aware of M and J's issues, what could go wrong?!?

Each session was to be 2 hours, and then half an hour for lunch, and parents would be supervising their own children at lunch.

I backed off, had a wander around and discovered there were no benches within clear sight / sound of the tennis court, the grass was too wet to sit on, and it was cold. Just as I was trying to work out where to be, things began to go wrong.

M and J needed helmets tightening, and with their sensory issues they couldn't manage that themselves.  So I stepped in to give them a hand, and then to help two more kids who needed help.

Then the instructor began checking brakes - earlier one of the other Dads had spotted M's brakes needed attention as he was dropping his children off, and *very kindly* sorted out the mess that we hadn't spotted. Things became calm again, until somehow J managed to detach the entire rear brake cable.

Remember how I said I'd never had a bike?  Yeah.  So, ten minutes of looking at the other bikes, and trying to work out how on Earth it had to go back, and we were fixed :)

At which point on of the other kids managed to break the brakes on his bike . . .

I spent a while trying before figuring out I just couldn't fix it, and the poor lad was in tears.  I helped him to calm down, then we needed to negotiate some sort of bike share so he could still join in.  That shouldn't be so hard, apart from the fact that the two children his size in the group are both Autistic . . .

The instructor was focussing on the other children, on getting through the program, so somehow all the talking and fixing ended up being left to me.  I'm *really* glad I stuck around, because otherwise I think it would have been a very stressful time for the whole group.

The children managed to share their bikes well, there were a few sticky moments, but by keeping a close eye on things, and being very encouraging we made it to lunch :)

The helpful Dad came back - and thankfully was able to fix the bike.  The kids relaxed and ate.  Then off the whole group set over the road into a small housing estate.

I went to wait in the library - warmer, dryer, but still close enough if things went wrong.

When the group got back - 2 hours later - the instructor told me that J had been a bit tearful and was very tired.

We went home, warmed up , and chilled for a bit.  Then I spoke to J about what had gone wrong.  He sees his bike as an escape - a way to get out on his own and release tension.  When was on the road, the group they were practicing various turns and junctions, and J kept forgetting to look the way he was being told to.  He had to keep repeating things that the others had mastered.  He felt as though his escape route was no longer a safe thing. He felt that he was stupid compared to the other children.  His last concern was that he wouldn't pass the assessment at the end of the course.

We had a long talk about how he was learning new things, how long a day it was for him, how he was one of the youngest in the group.  I gave him the chance to drop out of the next day if he wanted to.

In the end J decided to go back - as long as his father brought him hot coffee to have with his lunch . . .

At the second days lunch break I checked all was going OK with the instructor - she said both boys were hungry half way through, but otherwise all was good.

We gave them lunch, tea and coffee, and snuck a chocolate biscuit bar into their pockets to stave off hunger in the afternoon.

When they got back from the final session, J was in tears again.  He was worn out and it showed.

Both boys passed their level two bikeability, which made J cry even more.  He had been convinced he was going to fail it. The tears were happiness, relief, and exhaustion.

M was bouncy - very tiggerish -  and the instructor told him to focus on listening rather than telling everyone else what to do. 

As we were leaving M bounded over to give his dad and J a hug - it went wrong, because M nearly pushed the other two over.  That caused M to breakdown too.

Two tired boys, lots of learning, and a pair of certificates.  A bit of a rollercoaster, lots of sitting around waiting for me, but now we can feel a bit more confident that they are safe on their bikes.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Cats update

Well, on Thursday mummy cat moved on - she was a lovely cat, very hungry for attention, very loud and purry.  But she kept going for the kittens, and we were having a hard time keeping them apart.
So, here as promised are some pictures of the kittens . . .

Can you spot the hiding Jet?
J with all three
J with Tabitha
L with Jet
L with Tabitha

Rugby rocks

Today M played in a rugby tournament at the local professional stadium. In itself that would be a cool event for any 11 year old.  For M though there is a history attached that makes it a triumph in many ways.

When we moved to this area four years ago, we knew no one.  Over the first few months we networked a lot, and met a group of local home educators, one of whom coaches at a (fairly) local rugby club.

M was invited to join the club - and after a lot of discussion we encouraged him to do so.

For a while things were OK, but it was clear that M had a learning curve to climb.  I had a couple of conversations with the coach about ways to help M integrate with the team, but I thought things were going in the right direction.

About a year after he joined the club I got a message suggesting that M was well and truly out of his depth, that he wasn't coping with the social interactions at the pitch side, and we were asked to pull him out of the squad.  Things - I was told - were way beyond the point of being salvageable.

We spoke to M.  My husband and I had long meandering conversations.  We felt that the situation wasn't all M's fault - in part the coaching team noticed him joining in with others messing about and targeted him unfairly, in part there was some bad blood on various sides, and in part M didn't understand what he needed to be doing or what he was doing wrong.

We asked M if he wanted to stop going to rugby - he didn't.  We asked if he wanted to switch to another club (my preferred choice), but no, he really didn't want that.  So we set about identifying what the issues were and doing our best to help M to work things out.

A major issue was personal space - at the side of the pitch, when queueing for warm up or training exercises - so we worked through some exercises and talked a lot about that.

We also talked about how M makes himself more visible than other children.  When there is a group messing about M is the most uncoordinated, the loudest, the one taking it a step further than the others.  So we talked about resisting the urge to join in with poor behaviour.  In some ways that felt unfair, but M often gets told off for doing what someone else got away with moments before.

The last part was focusing - and that we couldn't fix by talking.  M found it hard to stay focused for the whole training session, or for the match, and would end up away from the play with no idea what was going on.

It has taken a while, but between the work we have done, a bit of maturity, a slight change in the coaching set up, and the team learning to get along, M is now doing well.

With junior rugby there is a slow introduction of the physical elements of the game - they start off playing "touch rugby" (a touch instead of a tackle), then move on to "tag rugby" (pulling off a Velcro tag rather than a tackle) , then tackles are introduced, and then scrums.  M's age group (under 12's) play with full tackles and a scrum.

M has found a place in the scrum, and has settled with the squad.  There are still issues that an NT child wouldn't have, but he enjoys the game, and plays well.

Today the tournament had a limited number of players per team - and M was chosen - but more than that, he scored a try :)  When they got home M was so happy and proud of himself.

By persevering with rugby, instead of simply walking away M has learnt so much, and he is now a valued member of the team.  It might have been easier to pull him out, but I'm really glad we didn't!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

On the other side

All in all, this afternoon wasn't as bad as I anticipated :)

We met with a doctor and a nurse / play specialist.  We had met the play specialist before and M really likes her.  That made it all so much easier!

We spent a long time talking about M as a baby - which was a bit tricky, we've had two babies since, and M is 11, so the precise details of 10 years ago are a bit fuzzy.  Then we moved on to toddler years - not much easier!

At the start of the appointment Dr Z made a point of saying that if either of them asked a question we were not comfortable answering with M there then it wasn't a problem - he could pop out to the waiting room.  Mostly though we were happy for him to stay.

We did have about ten minutes with him outside, when we talked about a few things we don't think he is aware of, but the rest of the time M was happy to stay with us and correct us every now and then :)

Most of the questions were about how interested in the world around him M is, and how he interacts with others.  There were quite a few open ended questions - and I think I talked a little much at those points! There were also a good number of precise questions, which I guess were to ask about specific indicators and issues.

After an hour and a bit we were all asked to wait outside for a few minutes, then about five minutes later we were called back in - the two professionals had had a brief discussion about a potential diagnosis and the way forward.

Because we home educate they felt the need to be thorough in their assessments, and there is one left that they can use - an ADOS - so even though they both felt almost sure of a diagnosis they want to do that, and then have an appointment to let us know their conclusions.

I am glad that we are nearly there - knowing that we are looking at just two more appointments is a relief. I can see that by not having the school based observations we have thrown their usual way of doing things into disarray, so I understand their desire to be thorough.  As the Play therapist explained, this is a life long diagnosis, and their duty of care is to M, so getting it right is important.

Most of my worries of this morning were unfounded - when home ed did come up, it wasn't an issue at all.  I wonder if that is because the play therapist knew M from the group assessment sessions, and had already discussed it with Dr Z, or if it was never going to be an issue anyway.  M had the opportunity to back out if he wasn't happy, and I managed to remember enough details of his babyhood to answer most of the questions.  I still can't remember whether M was a "looking around" baby or a "snuggling in" baby . . .

I would have loved to get a diagnosis today, but I'm happy with how things turned out :)

Appointment time

Today we are off to see the neuro developmental psychology team with M.

The appointment has been a long time coming - we last saw anyone at CAMHS in April - and I hope we are on the home straight now.

I will post later about how it went, but I wanted to cover how I feel right now as well.

I am nervous.  I have spent the last two nights going over questions I think they might ask, trying to work out answers, trying to remember facts.

At an appointment a while ago we were asked about favourite toys at the age of two - my mind went blank, and I couldn't think of anything at all to answer.  He must have played with *something*, surely?  But what?  Now - months later - I am pretty sure M didn't have favourite toys, he just flitted from one thing to another, joining in with the other people around him, reflecting their interests, copying their behaviour. I don't want to be caught on the hop again. 

I also want to protect M.  The thought of him hearing us go over all his difficulties feels so destructive.  But previously it hasn't bothered him at all.  What if it does this time?  How do I help him?

Another side is that this is a meeting with two new people - will home ed be an issue?  Will I have to defend our choices, explain the social aspects, convince them that there really is an issue that would still be there if M had always been to school?

Too many potentials, too much I can overthink, really I just want to be on the other side of this one.

So, this process is a journey for me too - and I hope that sharing my own feelings and moments of doubt might reassure others.

Crazy days

It's been a while since I blogged - we've had a frantic couple of weeks, and there just hasn't been time!  So this is an apology post, and a catch up on one of the smaller happenings that has had a big impact.  The educational bigger ones deserve their own posts, but that will have to wait a bit . . .

The biggest things in our lives at the moment are four new friends living in our spare room (called the green room, because the previous owners had *really* interesting taste in interior design.  It is lime green - walls, floor, blind . . . just a tad overpowering.)

A few weeks ago some cute little kittens and their mum came exploring into our back garden.  Most of the gardens along out bit of road are just grass, with a few toys etc.  We have two plum trees, a lawn, another tree, some overgrown bits, and lots of bird feeders.  Which bit attracted the kitties?  I have no idea - we also have various things that trap rainwater, and once we spotted the kittens we put some food out . . .

They came back, repeatedly, munching the food and climbing the trees.  It was magical to watch them play :) As a family we spend a fair amount of time watching the birds in our garden - we have large patio doors that are at one end of our dinner table, so it's easy to sit with a cup of tea and watch the starlings squabble, or the goldfinches massing on the lawn.  Watching the cats was a natural extension of that - the birds even stuck around, and watching the cats watch the birds was cool too :)

After a few visits it was clear that the kittens weren't well - gooey eyes on two out of three, and odd shaped bellies.  We set about enticing them in, hoping to get a better look.  We asked if they belonged to anyone, and found that the neighbour whose garden they were born in had called the RSPCA, and the RSPCA were not able to help.  We called the CPL, but they had no spaces in their foster homes.

A couple of days later - when half the house were out at the weekly games club - Ruby (our Jack Russell) went mad in the garden. She had cornered one of the kittens (in the dark, under a tree, in the overgrown bit of the garden.)  When I managed to get to them Ruby had the kitten in her mouth.  I had no choice but to physically separate them and try to check the kitten over.  A short while later a second kitten was "crying" outside the back gate - I went out and managed to catch her too.

Both of them were sneezing, audibly wheezing, one had gooey eyes. We called the CPL, and they said the only option was to either hold on to the kittens and they would pay for vet care, or let them go.  Given the state of the kittens we felt we had to give them a safe warm home and get them well again. 

We let our neighbour know, and a couple of days later the third kitten was caught and brought to us.  A few more days and mummy cat was caught and brought to us as well.

As much as we tried to get someone else to look after the kittens, it just wasn't possible.  We couldn't let them back out - they were already pretty ill and would probably have deteriorated.  The littlest would probably have disappeared, he was the sickest.  Also, now they are under the CPL's care all four cats will be spayed / neutered.  If they had gone back out, how long until there was another litter?

So now we have a spare room full of cats :)  The kittens are getting over their colds - possibly cat 'flu but not confirmed - they had worms, which have now gone, and their eyes are clearing up. We have been spending time with all four cats  -getting them used to human attention, and calming them down - in the hope that they will be easier to rehome when the time comes.

But there ^^^^^ is the problem. 

The children are now really rather attached to the kittens.   And Mummy cat is lovely too,( but she keeps attacking the kittens, which is a natural instinct to drive them off once they are independent.)

When the time comes, will any of us be able to wave goodbye to them all happily?

Maybe we can find a way for some of them to stay?

Who knows.  But for now they are having fun climbing our bookcases, wrestling with each other, being hand fed, and generally just melting hearts all round.
I'll take some (more) pictures, so you can all fall in love with them too :)