Monday, 30 March 2015

Fencing Success!

Over 5 years ago, I named my blog Steph's Two Girls because I was very conscious of the fact that both girls are equally important to me, and I didn't want all the focus to be on just one of them.
Gratuitous toddler photo of Steph's Two Girls ;)
I guess that having just received the diagnosis of autism for our younger girl, I instinctively knew that she would need my full attention in many ways, and that there would be many meetings and much talking about her ahead. I was adamant however that I didn't want our eldest girl to be forgotten, to only be the 'sibling'; she needs just as much attention.

Fast forward to now and whilst I review toys and blog about family outings with both girls, of course the majority of my 'serious' blog post writing is about autism and PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance). This plays a big role in our eldest's life too, but it isn't her life as such, and as she gets older it's possible she won't want to be included in the blog at all.

Tonight though, I want to share how super proud we are of our 'big' girl. She has had just five lunchtime fencing sessions at school, and today she took part in her very first fencing competition.

She attacked, she jabbed, she stood her ground - an all round amazing effort from a girl who would generally be classed as quiet and sensitive. She cheered on her school mates, and her team of three won Silver medals! 

Sometimes it's the achievements you aren't expecting which mean the most.























Linking up with the lovely Jane and Jeanette for Small Steps Amazing Achievements


“Our
read more "Fencing Success!"

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Nintendo Mario Party 10 for Wii U (review)

We were all very excited when the latest Nintendo parcel was delivered recently, especially when we opened it to discover Mario Party 10 was being released for the Wii U.


My girls are quiet Mario fans. By that, I mean that they wouldn't go round shouting about it, but they do love him, lots. Me too, if I'm honest - he's cheeky, and fun, what's not to like?!

Mario Party 10 appears to be a bit like a giant board game, on screen, with a seemingly endless variety of mini games to play as you travel along (over 70 of them apparently!). Each player uses the Wii remote and picks a character to be (Princess Peach is popular in our house), then you press to roll the dice and move along for the next challenge. Quick and easy to pick up, but still entertaining.


The Amiibo characters can be used to unlock extra themed boards relevant to each character, and also to collect special tokens to give you extra power-ups as you progress.

There are three sections; Mario Party, amiibo party and the Bowser Party section (a little on the scary side, which is why it has a PEGI rating of 7, but great fun as one person plays as Bowser to battle against up to 4 other players).

I like the fact that the games can be finished quite quickly, so it doesn't feel like the girls have been sitting in front of the screen for hours on end, and we all like the fact that you can have up to 5 players, so perfect for family or friend gatherings. Here's a quick Nintendo video to tell you more:


Mario Party 10 for Wii U is out now, what are you waiting for?!



Disclosure: we were sent a download code to trial this product, and all views and opinions expressed here are our own.
read more "Nintendo Mario Party 10 for Wii U (review)"

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

This is our PDA story (Week 10)

So can you believe that we're already up to Week 10 of 'This is our PDA story'? 



It may seem like a lot of stories, but I know this is just the teeniest tiniest tip of the iceberg. 

This is just a handful of brave parents who have found the time to tell their story about how living with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) is very different to raising typically developing (also known as NT, neurotypical) children.

There are so many more parents and carers out there who are not being listened to; who are being blamed for the non-conforming and often challenging behaviour from their children. They are sent on standard parenting courses and given strategies which only serve to fuel the fire.

We've watched programmes like 'My Violent Child' and recognised the signs of a family that are doing the best they can, and of a child who has undiagnosed symptoms. We've seen the thousands of judgemental comments and tweets suggesting that all the child needs is a good slap - in fact, that has been said many times, in person, to parents of children with PDA, even without using social media to hide behind.

The parents are often totally unaware of PDA; their child may or may not have been diagnosed with autism. They haven't yet stumbled across the right website, or the supportive Facebook groups where they can see they are not alone. This means they are sadly not being supported in any way, or offered the right help or advice, and my passion is to try and spread the word and help others understand, so that they and their children are not judged but are instead helped. 

The writer this week could almost have been dictating how I feel. We are about to go through the round of parent consultations with both girls; we have had Stampylongnose on repeat on YouTube for what feels like years, friendship issues are a high priority currently, and as Sasha went to bed tonight, she told me 'you know, the most difficult thing about my life, the thing I just can't do, is.... wait'. That came just after 'I just like to do what I like to do. The reason I like to be at the front all the time is that I can see better. And no-one is walking backwards, bumping me'.

It may not be easy for us as parents or carers, but it's definitely not easy for our children either. We just want to help them as best we can.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It’s the season of parents’ evenings, and Facebook is filled with lots of proud posts – and rightly so, raising any child is challenging enough and successes should be celebrated. But when the success I’m celebrating is that K hasn’t hurt any of his classmates or any of the teaching staff for a few weeks, and is actually joining in for some of the lessons (rather than running around or hiding under the desk) – that doesn’t feel like the kind of post that might get multiple ‘likes’.  I KNOW Facebook is a lie – nobody’s life or children are perfect. And sometimes I wish I was more open about the challenges our family faces, but when you have a child like K your world tends to shrink and you end up lurking only in the places you know you are safe and accepted.

K has really struggled at school this year, and we’ve been lucky to have professionals that all recognise that he has a very PDA profile (his official diagnosis is high functioning autism, or Aspergers as it once was). The recent successes at school are down to the head, his teacher, the SENCO, the Autism team and his paediatrician all devising and implementing PDA-specific strategies (making it feel like he can choose if he joins in or not; not forcing him to if he says no; more 1-2-1 support).

A lot of families really struggle to get the help they need – and often the most useful advice isn’t from professionals, but the stuff you seek it out for yourself (at 2am, in desperation); and it’s mainly on the forums, discussion boards and support groups that are set up and run by parents who have been through this themselves. When I tentatively posted about my concerns about K at 18 months I was advised that I would have to fight for any support he might need and only I would have his best interests at heart – ‘Surely not’, I thought, ‘if he needs help he’ll get it’. But it’s one of the best bits of advice I’ve ever had. I often wonder how the parents of PDA children must have felt before the internet existed to connect us all together. It must have been so lonely out there.

In certain situations, when he’s calm and happy (and mostly when he’s with me), K can be absolutely charming and lovely. This is the real K – the K that well meaning friends say ‘well he seems fine to me’ about. But when his anxiety is high, he’ll avoid most demands made of him. I’ve become like a professional poker player over the years, watching for his every ‘tell’ - the glint in his eye that means he’s heading to sensory over-load hyper mode, the build-up to a massive refusal meltdown. Even before I’d heard of PDA I’d realised that certain strategies; make it a game (that he always must win); make it a race, worked better than others. But only sometimes!

K has always found waiting for anything impossible – so slowly I’ve adapted our home life to accommodate this. I know how to time a request so it coincides with the end of a ‘Stampy Minecraft Let’s Play’ video (arg!). Adapting our home life has caused heated debates between my husband and I – he thinks it’s creating an unreal situation and real life is not like that – it doesn’t bend to your will and accommodate around you. But at home K is far less stressed and less PDA-like than at school. Often PDA children mask at school and then explode at home –but K is the opposite. In a way this has meant that we’ve been able to access support that others have to really fight for – but day-to-day life is still challenging as he struggles to stay in control all times, and I can’t help wonder how long mainstream school will be able to accommodate this. And he really hates school; just getting him there can be a challenge in itself.

What K really struggles with is friendship. He wants friends, but doesn’t really know how to conduct a friendship (he’ll just talk endlessly about his current obsession), and he also becomes possessive over (perceived) friends, and can be aggressive towards other children he sees as trying to take his friend away – he wants them all to himself.
He can also develop negative fixations on other children, where he becomes annoying and provocative towards them, and once he’s entered into this cycle it can be very hard to break it.

As a parent of a child like K you have to develop a tough skin, which is one thing I’ve really struggled with. It’s hard when you know that other parents have been into school to complain about your child, when you’re doing absolutely everything in your power to access help for him, and read every book going in the hope of a magic solution (there isn’t one). But it also makes you into a fighter. I’ll always be there to defend K.

I would like to end positively, and say that parenting K has opened my eyes to many things. I was a very compliant child, and meekly did everything I was asked to do. K challenges everything and therefore forces me to question things too – especially when it comes to the education system and why things are done in the way they are. The system works for the majority of children, but K is a square peg in a round hole – and why should I force him to be something he’s not? He sees the world in such a unique way and in later life we encourage and embrace this – think out of the box! – but we expect all children to fit one set mould.
K is very bright, but PDA has meant I have adjusted my hopes and dreams for his future. My main priority is ensuring his mental health stays robust, that the anxiety doesn’t win and that he’s never, ever made to feel as if he’s a failure or wrong for having a brain that likes to do things its own way.

Ultimately I just want him to be happy – which I’m pretty sure is what every parent would wish for their child.

And I am very proud of him.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



As always, please do leave any comments of support below as they are much appreciated, and really help to let the writer know they are not alone, and not being judged.

For more reading, and different experiences, please check out previous weeks in this series by clicking below:

Week 9

Week 8 

Week 7

Week 6

Week 5

Week 4

Week 3

Week 2

Week 1

Please do also visit the website for The PDA Society, www.pdasociety.org.uk, where there is much more information, and also www.thepdaresource.com.

Linking up with the lovely Jenny from Let's Talk Mommy for #ShareWithMe.

read more "This is our PDA story (Week 10)"

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Race For Life

I think I'm still in denial. Then again, this has happened, so I can't really hide it any more:



Yes, I've only gone and joined the #PinkArmy - also known as signing up for the Race For Life.

Following the success of my six hour danceathon for Comic Relief, I must have gone a little crazy. Someone suggested I sign up to run, and I did. RUN?! 

Let me tell you now, I am NOT a runner. Never have been. A few years back, after having two babies and deciding I needed to shift some extra weight, I visited a personal trainer once or twice who tried to convince me that running was the best thing for me. I protested, lots, but he made me run a mile once. I never went back to see him again.

Dancing is easy, and fun. Running is not. Simples. I know my good friend Steph (who blogs at Was This In The Plan?) would not agree with me... I think she's lost count of the number of marathons she has run! She's amazing. My younger brother is about to run his fifth London Marathon this year, but I'm not entirely sure he would say he likes running. He's just crazy too.

Anyhow, it's done now, and I'm telling you so that I can't back out. I'm also spreading the word in case there's anyone out there who would like to tag along with me at the back, whispering motivating and inspiring phrases (but expecting no reply). You can sign up too, at raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.orgI've got a special discount giving £2 off for the first 20 people who sign up using the code RFLSteph.



There's all sorts of fab merchandise - I have a hoody and a T-shirt already, but there's also jewellry and lots of other ways you can support Cancer Research UK. Just check out the website page.

I know I've only just finished fundraising for another very deserving charity, so I'm not going to push this (yet), but I do have to let you know that my fundraising page is at www.justgiving.com/stephcurtis. Every Little Helps as they say (ha, see what I did there? Sneaky mention for the sponsors...).

My motivation for all this includes an uncle of mine, my mum's youngest brother, who was taken from us far too soon at the very young age of 50. He was a fabulous, funny man, who is still dearly missed of course, and I think of those he left behind often. Other family members and friends have since been affected in different ways, and I'm doing it for all of them too.

My race will be at the end of July, so plenty of time to train; I decided to try the 5k for my first time around but there are longer distances on offer if you're feeling brave. What are you waiting for?!

Linking up with the fabulous VeViVos blog and her #PoCoLo linky:



Post Comment Love
read more "Race For Life"

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

HOME the movie and products review

Last weekend we were invited along to the Premiere of the new Dreamworks film about to be released, called HOME.



v

It is an amazing animation; proof of that is that Sasha stayed in the cinema to watch the whole movie. That is nothing short of a miracle for a girl who struggles to maintain attention, and whose viewing is normally limited to short videos which she can skip through as and when she chooses. 

It was admittedly a gamble to take Sasha there as we'd never normally frequent the cinema, but I knew how much our older girl would enjoy it. So I was prepared to exit in a hurry with our youngest when necessary (I always have a plan B).

It was a 3D movie, and Sasha obviously struggled with the viewing in 3D, but after about 10 minutes she just removed the glasses and carried on watching anyway. I tried that myself, and some parts looked the same, but others looked slightly fuzzy, so I'm not sure how the whole experience was for Sasha! She suggested leaving half way through as I think the noise and sensory issues had become almost too much to bear, but she hung on in there and I was so pleased for Tamsin's sake.

The film is a great feel-good animation with the usual morals behind it. I loved the fact that the lead girl (Pip) wasn't at all girlie and had a great attitude, and that the main alien (called Oh) was different, and not one to follow the crowd. Remind you of anyone?!



Before the show we walked the purple carpet where there was an amazing entertainer - SamSam the bubble man, who holds lots of world records apparently. The girls loved his giant nets; I'll admit to being slightly nervous as they darted around a very busy Leicester Square trying to pop the bubbles....



We had also been given some of the merchandise related to the film to review, and these products were all a big hit with the girls. We were particularly impressed with the Colour Changing Figures which change colour when you rub them; they're also great fun in the bath. Both girls wore their Boov (the name given to the race of aliens) Ears headband before we went into the cinema - you can twist the 'ears' into different styles according to your mood.







The favourite toy was probably the singing and dancing Oh, who 'put his hands in the air like I just do not care' - we have a little video of him in action for you here:




I've already seen these products out in the toy shops and they are very reasonably priced - you can see the whole range at www.flairplc.co.uk.

So it's a big thumbs up from us; hope you can get out there and see this fab movie very soon!


Disclosure: we were given tickets for the Premiere showing of HOME and a selection of related products to review for free. All opinions on these are our own.


read more "HOME the movie and products review"