Monday, 14 April 2014

The Andrex WASHLETS challenge Steph vs Chris

A little while ago, Mr C and I were given a little challenge/something to amuse us on a Friday eve. Well, I say 'us', but Mr C grumbled his way through it all and swore he'd never join in something so much fun again.

So here it is, our Andrex WASHLETS challenge (for more details see

Apparently, Andrex Washlets surveyed 2,000 British adults to analyse their conversation and found that nearly half of Brits (47%) shy away from having conversations about difficult subjects – more of us shy away from talking about bathroom habits than mental health and sex! The survey also found that women are generally much better at broaching difficult or embarrasing topics.

As you'll see if you click the following Tots 100 link Who's better at talking tricky topics?, Chris was overall Runner-up with 7 points - but I challenge that as I was the one who got the 7 correct answers!!

I'm still not sure what our clip proves - that Mr C is not so good at guessing, or that I am better at guessing, or that my words were more difficult?! ;) What do you think?! And how would you describe the word 'tense'?!
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Friday, 11 April 2014

Siblings {April}, #CountryKids and Linkys or Linkies?

Too many Linkys (or is it Linkies?!), too little time.

For my non-blogging readers, a linky is a post where the writer suggests a theme and invites others to write posts based on that theme. All posts are then 'linked up' in a wonderful technological way and shared so others can enjoy reading about them too.

In the great big Blog-o-sphere, there are literally hundreds of these Linkys now. Today I need to do one super-duper-lots-rolled-into-one Linky post. I'm very much hoping that is not frowned upon by the Community, and that no-one is affronted or feels left out... but I only have limited time, so I'm sorry but love it or leave it will have to be my motto for you today!

My post is all about the fab day out we had yesterday at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

My favourite Linky this year is the Siblings linky, which involves taking a photo of your siblings on the 10th of every month for a whole year, to document their relationship with each other. Here's my shot for April - the girls trying to stand taller than the #orbittower:
dear beautiful
I figured that despite being based pretty much in Inner City London, this post can fit into the wonderful #CountryKids linky, as the main thrust of that is to spend time outdoors with your children, and that we certainly did. Fresh air galore, with playgrounds and sandpits and views across all of London thrown in.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 
I think our day also sits under the Small Steps Amazing Achievements linky, as Sasha ordered and ate her very first shop bought '99'. Ice cream is a very recent achievement for a girl who no longer likes to try new foods - it may seem like a funny achievement to you but it brought a lot of happiness to me!

Ethans Escapades
Hence this post also fitting into Reasons To Be Cheerful (technically a Blog Hop rather than a Linky, but love them all the same) held over at Lakes Single Mum's blog and co-hosted by Ojo's World. I'm cheerful that Sasha tried something new, that I got to spend time with my lovely parents, that it was a pretty well-balanced family day out (with the sad omission of Mr C who had to be at work) and that the weather was just perfect for it.
Ojos World

Finally for now I'm also going to try and add this to the wonderful #PoCoLo linky this weekend, run by the fabulous Vic from VeViVos. I'd definitely appreciate a little comment love and will return the favour I promise!

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Saturday, 5 April 2014

Cra-Z-loom Bracelet Maker fun

Have you heard of Cra-Z-loom yet? If not, I'm sure you soon will. It's a craze which is sweeping the nation, apparently.
We received a set to review recently and I can confirm it has definitely swept along into this house, and looks set to stay. Proclaimed as 'the ultimate rubber band bracelet maker', the box contains the loom itself (a plastic strip with hooks on), a weaving hook, 600 rubber bands and 25 plastic 'S' clips (to join the bands and finish the bracelets). Also included is a full colour instruction booklet with plenty of ideas and easy instructions.

It's quite a simple idea - you stretch the elastic bands onto the plastic loom in whatever pattern you fancy, then hook them over or under until eventually they are all interlocking and the bracelet can be gently prised off.
Tamsin and her friend (aged 8 and 9) were initially slightly puzzled with the set, and needed some help to get going. They skim-read the instructions as they were keen to just get started, but soon realised they couldn't quite work it out. However, once they were helped with the instructions, they were well away and quickly produced two cute bracelets in colours of their choosing.
Since then, word has gone round the playground that there are great YouTube clips showing how to make different designs, and so Tamsin has branched out into some more complicated offerings for her friends. 
I think it's great that this has given her something to concentrate on and enjoy, and which also leads to pride in a finished product. I'd definitely receommend it as a gift for any girl over the age of 8. I've even heard that the boys quite like it too, even if some of them won't admit it in public!

At £14.99 this is definitely good value, and you can see where to buy here:

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We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

What is Autism, and what is PDA? Hoping for Autism and PDA Awareness, Understanding and Acceptance.

Today is World Autism Awareness Day and I thought now would be a good time to let you know what autism means for our family, and how life is for our 6 year old girl diagnosed with autism.
Today is also being classed as #OnesieWednesday by the National Autistic Society to highlight autism and spread awareness, so here's my pic of my two superheroes!

Having worked for a great local charity who support families living with autism and ADHD in our county (ADD-vance, in Herts, check them out as they offer so much help), I can tell you a lot about all the different ways which autism presents in children. I've met, and spoken with, a lot of parents (and adults) who are on this journey. Each child is unique, and yet they all share some features. They belong to a 'club', and this club is different to the group that typically developing children fall into.

Autism is a lifelong disability which affects the way people communicate and relate to others around them. It is a Spectrum - and by that we mean that each person has diffculties in different areas of life, to differing extents. For example, some are super-bright but are not actually verbal (see the wonderful Carly Fleischmann), whilst others are of average intelligence but don't understand social rules. Others struggle with an overload of sensory inputs, and some cannot break the rules or tell a lie. One person with autism could be all of these things, and more, whilst another may only have difficulty in one specific area.

The American Psychiatric Association recently decided that all types of autism should just be classed as  Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Previously a diagnosis would be given as either autistic disorder, Asperger's disorder or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS, catchy, huh?!). I think we may see a move to call this Autistic Spectrum Condition in the future (ASC) as many believe that 'disorder' doesn't sound very nice. 

Previously, in this country, Great Ormond Street would give a diagnosis as follows:
Classic Autism (difficulties with learning)
Asperger's Syndrome (average or higher intelligence)
High Functioning Autism (HFA; late onset of language, IQ in or above 'normal' range)
Atypical Autism (similar to Classic Autism but no difficulties associated with special interests, sensory interests or flexibility)

You can probably tell that those individual diagnoses cover a wide range of people, and I can understand why people become confused about what autism is, or how you can help people with autism. I think the biggest factor linking them all is the lack of social understanding - a huge part of life which 'typically developing' children are not verbally taught, but which they somehow 'pick up' and become aware of. That still amazes me everyday, that the majority of people just 'get' why you shouldn't stand so close to someone, or call out whenever you feel like it.

We've never queried Sasha's diagnosis of autism. Saying that, I've not yet met another parent who has a child who sounds exactly like Sasha.

But I have found a closer description of her characteristics than the standard autism explanation. 

Sasha had a language delay, she obsessively resists demands, she appears sociable on the surface but lacks depth in her understanding, she has excessive mood swings, switching suddenly (often described as Jekyll and Hyde), and she is very comfortable with role play. All of these characteristics point to a lesser known sub-type of autism called PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance, another mouthful).You can read much more about this on the website, under 'PDFs, Books etc'.

It may seem like Sasha is just not doing what she's told through choice, and it may appear as if I just didn't spend enough time teaching her right from wrong, but that's not the case. I'm grateful that we have a gorgeous older daughter who proves I was capable of 'good parenting'. The thing with Sasha, and with all PDA children, is that she 'can't help won't'. Demands completely overwhelm her and lead to further anxiety and an inability to pull herself back from that.

Sasha's older sister and I had a great discussion last night. We talked about stress, and how if we are rushing to get out of the house I still somehow manage to stay completely calm and happy with Sasha, acting as if we are not at all late and about to miss the start of school. That is not how I feel on the inside; I want to rush her along as much as I do Tamsin. I've learnt though, that rushing or shouting not only achieves nothing, but it's very detrimental and culminates in total meltdown and inability to calm down for a long time. Tamsin came up with a great analogy; for typically developing children, their emotions are like the Jumping Jack ride at Paulton's Park. They take a long time to build up to that top level of high anxiety/upset, but once up there they can quickly blow over and then drop back down to the acceptable level again. With Sasha, it's more like the Ice Blast ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach (used to be called the PlayStation back in my day!), where her emotions go from 0-10 in superfast time, and once up there it's a long process to calm her back down to the ground. 

Not being in control is likely to send Sasha's emotions sky-rocketing, as is insisting she carries out demands/follows instructions. This doesn't mean that we let her 'get away with' anything, or that we haven't taught her right from wrong. Funnily enough, Sasha is rarely intentionally naughty - if she does something wrong, it's often not with the intent of being naughty, but more likely because she's forgotten what she shouldn't do (scribbling on the floor is a great example of this - how many 6 year olds would do this and not realise the consequences? Toddlers of two, three or four maybe....).

This why we spend much of our lives feeling as if we are walking on eggshells. It's exhausting, and yet we are the lucky ones. There are over 1,400 members of the PDA Facebook group (#PDAarmy!) who share how this condition affects their lives every day, and it can make for emotional reading. This is real life, this is how autism is for them. We can relate to that too. Our girl is generally fun, curious and happy as long as she is not being forced to do something not of her own choosing, and she melts down/withdraws (noisily!) rather than turning to violence. We are lucky to have her in our lives.

There is more info on PDA on the National Autistic Society's webpage.

Please share my post so that others may understand more. Even if just one more person is enlightened or understands a little more how different autism can be, that could help Sasha's path in life to be a little easier. Education is key; why shouldn't Autism be part of the Curriuclum I wonder?

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Thursday, 27 March 2014

BritMums Live 2014 - time for Blogger chat!

So the lovely Mari from Mari's World has suggested a linky for BritMums Live 2014 so that we can recognise some others when we get there. There will be hundreds of bloggers there, so I'm hoping to meet some new ones alongside my old favourites - always happy for a random stranger to come up and say hello to me as I love a chat! So here's goes with answering the suggested questions:

Name: Steph
Twitter ID: @stephc007
Facebook page: stephstwogirls 
Height: 5 foot 5.
Hair: Short-ish, brown with hopefully no grey bits on the day.
Eyes: Hazel/greenish, but I'm guessing you won't be gazing into them for long as there's so much to do at these events! Anyhow my pic (with my two girls) is quite obvious on my blog so I'm hoping I'm recognised by that - would love it if at least one person came up to me and exclaimed 'oh, I know you, you're Steph!'

Is this your first Blogging conference?
No, I went to BritMums Live 2012 and Mumsnet BlogFest 2013.

Are you attending both days?
Oh most definitely. Just a little bit of childcare to sort first (Mum?!)
What are you looking forward to most at BritMums Live 2014?
Naked waiters. Oh, OK, semi-naked.
Also amazing speakers - from Katie Piper, Kirstie Allsopp and Emma Freud to Jane Blackmore, Emma Bradley, Penny and other experts. So much knowledge to be gleaned I feel!

What are you wearing?
No idea yet but I'd hazard a good guess at jeans and a T - comfort is key! Possibly may even invest in a cross shoulder bag for a real 'hands-free' experience.

What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live?
Some fresh inspiration on how to 'manage' my blog - creating interesting and appealing content is my focus this year.

Do you have any tips to pass on to others who have not been before?
The best thing I ever did was arrange to meet someone (the lovely Steph from Was This In The Plan?) before I went into my first conference. Courage in numbers; very important if, like me, you are the sort of person who finds it hard to hover and 'butt in' to other people's chats.

So if anyone fancies dropping me a tweet or a comment and would like to meet up with a friendly face beforehand, please do and we'll face the world together (or something)!

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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Yoshi's New Island new DS game

We are super excited in this house to have been chosen to be part of the Nintendo Family UK Blogger Network!
We've now got quite a few Nintendo products, and the girls love them all. The Wii U is used almost daily by the girls (and supposedly by me, to do Wii Fit, ahem...), and it's been lovely to see their teamwork and co-operation when they're on it together.

Recently we were welcomed 'to the fold' with a gorgeous box of Nintendo biscuits, and the promise of some future reviews to bring you.

So now we can let you know all about Yoshi's New Island game for the 3DS system (this also plays on 2DS). There's a great trailer for the game which gives you an idea of what it's all about.
This game is described as a 'magical journey with Baby Mario and the Yoshi clan in a quest to find Baby Luigi'. The idea is that the player can use giant eggs called Mega-Eggs to destroy blocks and pipes, revealing hidden secrets like keys and coins. The more things you destroy, the more lives you get and the bigger the egg grows - a giant egg just like this one, which is waiting to make an appearance at Easter in our house...

Tamsin (who is 8) has been playing this avidly on her 2DS, and her view is that it is the perfect balance of fun and just enough frustration, as it's not all so easy you can do it in one go. You need to persevere sometimes, but not to the point where it gets annoying! A good life skill, I reckon.
I'm sure all Nintendo fans will love this - but equally as good for those who have not yet been introduced to the world of Mario/Yoshi.

We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
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Friday, 21 March 2014

Tots 100 and Center Parcs March Challenge - Flower Painting!

As soon as I heard about the March Bloggers Center Parcs Challenge from Tots100, I just knew we had to join in. Not that there's any chance of us not taking part in any of these monthly challenges... but what I mean is that the challenge itself sounded right up our street, one of my favourite activities to do with my girls (unlike poetry, which I had a stab at in a previous post but actually quite surprised myself with!).

This month's challenge was Painting Flowers. We were so lucky with the lovely mild Spring weather last week that I knew it would be the perfect time to get out into the park to gaze at flowers, then into the garden for some painting.
We laid an old sheet and a mat down and the girls spent a very happy hour in the sun experimenting with different pictures and styles. 

Center Parcs' Creative Crafter, Emma Hull, gave some brilliant tips for painting flowers in her post. We liked this tip of hers the best: 
'find materials around the house to add to the painting, giving it a 3D effect.' 
As you can see, we managed to include twigs and straws, and could actually have kept going all day with tissue paper and crafty bits and pieces.

Fingerprint painting was voted the most fun by Sasha, who did both a blossom and a daffodil picture, and all paintings were topped off with some very special fairy glitter!

Earlier in the day, Sasha had already decided to make some tissue paper flowers, and so with Tamsin's help she did just that. Then they found and decorated some old tubes to turn into vases to put the flowers into. Their creativity always amazes me!

Sasha turned her playroom into a cafe and served food to all her soft toys at their tables with flowers! Such fun.

Meanwhile, Tamsin had produced her first flowers painting - a lovely watercolour of daffodils in a vase. Loved it!

This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 March Challenge. If I'm chosen, I would like to visit Elveden Forest.

All my previous posts about the fabulousness that is Center Parcs free smileys :
Center Parcs Family Blogger Club 
Center Parcs November Challenge 
Center Parcs December Challenge 
Center Parcs January Challenge 
Center Parcs February Challenge 
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Monday, 17 March 2014

Siblings {March}

So I'm a little behind again (who me, what, that almost never happens.. ahem) and it was thanks to spotting a couple of other posts that I realised it was 'Siblings' time again.

The idea behind this is to have one photo of your siblings every month this year. This was the brainchild of Lucy who blogs at Dear Beautiful and who is an amazing photographer. She shares the linking-up joy with several other bloggers. I think it's a great way to catalogue the love and changes as they grow up.

I've actually had chance to snap quite a few of my two girls together lately, so below will be another collage (one pic is never enough). As my main Siblings photo I've decided to choose the one taken closest to the linky date of 10th March:
This was the girls on a day they were about to go out and enjoy some Daddy time, while Mummy was off reminiscing with some old school friends. I love this as they look so happy - there was also a silly face version just before this.... It's a bit blurred, think Daddy needs to brush up on his photography skills.

As promised, here's the obligatory collage - in fact, two of them, so much fun this month!

dear beautiful
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Sunday, 16 March 2014

My Style Super Loop Bands Review

My Style Super Loop Bands is a great new set from Interplay which we recently received to review. We've enjoyed a couple of their other craft kits before, and so we were keen to give it a go.

In the box there are 125 silicone loops in five different bright colours, 5 metal 'S' clasps and an instruction manual. That's enough to make five different bracelets.

Our 8 year old was keen to have a go but initially found it quite tricky to hold the loops in place whilst trying to bend another loop round. She got over that quite quickly though and once she had got the hang of it, she needed no further help and was quite happy to make herself a few different bracelets. The instruction manual is very clear and was a great help.

Our girl thought the fact that you could undo them and start again was a big bonus, as you can change your mind about colours and patterns! At a suggested retail of £9.99 I think this makes a nice gift and will keep your child entertained for an hour or so initially, with chance to go back to it at a later date.

We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.

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Thursday, 13 March 2014

What is Inclusion? Should all schools be Inclusive?

What is Inclusion? 

Is Inclusion what we should all be striving for?

If you are parenting a child with no particular special needs, you most likely have not given this a second thought. Those children are automatically 'included' everywhere and for you it's a case of trying to choose what best suits your child.

For us, Inclusion is one of those big topics that gets swirled around when you have a child with a disability (a bit like 'Outcomes Focused Planning', but I'll save that for another time...!).

Schooling is now on my mind all of the time. More specifically, secondary schools. We are really lucky with our current schools for both girls and they are both happy and progressing. With one daughter in Year 4 at Junior School, we are only six months away from the time when parents are advised to visit schools and start to form an opinion on where their child might go at the end of Year 6.

Locally there are some great mainstream schools, and for our eldest daughter we have a few good choices. Possibly subject to moving house within our current town. However, for our younger girl with autism, we seem to be faced with very little choice at all locally - in fact it boils down to Inclusion in a mainstream secondary, or attending a 'Special School' intended for children with Learning Disabilities.

When I say locally, I actually mean in the whole of our county. We know that in neighbouring counties, there are secondary schools with autism bases attached or even integrated. Partial inclusion you might say. Possibly the closest thing to Inclusion that Sasha could manage. I'd like to have this option, and have spoken to a Local Councillor about it recently (not something I ever thought I'd be doing as a mum!).

If Sasha was to attend a local mainstream secondary, we are already certain that she would need full-time support. Sheer numbers of other children in these schools is the first issue, and sensory issues with all that noise and changing classrooms during the school day would be a big problem. Lack of understanding of Sasha's disability would also be a huge hurdle to face - whilst I'm confident that schools these days do receive general training on autism, we are sure that there is very little information about the specific subtype of autism that we feel Sasha has (PDA or Pathological Demand Avoidance; for more information on this see Our school has been wonderful at implementing the strategies which work for Sasha, but could a large number of teachers, who see hundreds of students, really manage this consistently in a mainstream setting?

As we established from the recent testing Sasha went through at GOSH, her cognitive abilities are in the top 5% of her peer group. She doesn't have a specific Learning Disability, but it is probably fair to say that her disability is a barrier to her learning in the same structured way as her peers. Should we be forcing her to learn in this one-size-fits-all kind of way though, or should we be approaching it from the 'what works best for Sasha' angle? I know which would get the best results, both academically and socially.

Inclusion is intended to help with that social gap though. Hiding Sasha away from the world would not help her socially, but equally it wouldn't help her peers be any more understanding. It's a true fact that a very high percentage of children with autism are bullied at school. Sasha is not quiet, and I'm not sure she would allow bullying in the traditional sense to take place. It could certainly lead her to school refusing though, something I'm desperate to avoid. Home educating may be a way of life or a passion for some, but it's not what I would hope for, for either of my children. That's personal choice (and another whole separate discussion!).

Inclusion is a way of educating others, but at whose expense?

When speaking with parents whose children are attending Special Schools, there has generally been a sense of happiness that their child is in the right place. A setting which supports them, looks after their individual needs, and can really help them progress to the best of their abilities. I realise that if everyone whose child had a problem at secondary wanted to send them to a Special School, we'd have to build a whole lot more of them, very quickly. There is a fine balance between which children can or can't manage in mainstream, and I think it comes down to the individual child, and the individual setting, and the parents trying to make the best decision for them.

A throwaway comment from someone today whilst explaining my predicament has got me thinking hard. Am I for, or against, Inclusion? Should all children be in mainstream schools? Is there a right or wrong answer? What do you think?
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