Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Little Live Pets interactive toy

There's a new interactive pet in town, perfect for anyone whose children are asking for birds. Luckily as we've just got two kittens, my girls are sorted for now, but I agreed they'd love to trial a Little Live Pet from Character Options anyway!

There are six different birds to choose from, and two bird cages they can live in. We were sent Sweet Sophie and she very quickly became a part of the family. The best thing about this pet? It doesn't need clearing up after. Although the casing is plastic, it's covered in some soft rubbery material so she feels very soft to hold.

On the top of Sophie's back is a touch sensor pad, which makes her whistle and tweet when you stroke her. Almost as if she is growing, the more you stroke and pet her, the more singing she learns to do - there are around 30 different songs to 'achieve'!

There is also a button on her chest which you press to record your own voice. This recording then plays back when you press the button again - so you can pretend to make the birdie talk! When I say you, I mean your child obviously (cough, ahem). There is an on and off button which is always a bonus to help save batteries; this toy takes two AAA batteries, which are not included.

These are only £9.99 retail, available on the Character Options website, and I think they'd make a great gift! My girls both love her.

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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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Center Parcs Family Bloggers! Yay! #CPFamilyBreaks

You know how we've been entering a Tots 100 competition to become a Center Parcs Family Blogger every month for the last, like, forever? 

Well..... drum-roll please.... we've only gone and done it!

Yes, yippeeee, woo-hoo, yay-hay and so on, I am very proud to announce that we are now part of the Center Parcs Family Blog Club 2013/14. I feel almost famous. Definitely happy - in fact I'd say ecstatic was a better word!

This means that we will be getting the chance to review a short stay at one of the Center Parcs locations. We've chosen to visit Elveden Forest and our trip will be later in the year, possibly when Winter Wonderland has started in the village. We'll be sure to bring you an update on it all, and even more excitingly (is that even a word?!) you will get to see a family video of our break there!

In honour of our win, I've decided to group all of my #CPFamilyBreaks Center Parcs competition entries into a page of their own, which if I've done it right, you can hopefully see up there at the top under the words 'We love Center Parcs'. Even before we go, I know that Center Parcs is a fantastic place to have a relaxing family break, so I'm thrilled to be able to spread the good news!
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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Nothing is safe.....

Sometimes it feels like Sasha is just a large toddler. 

I say that with the utmost love and affection of course, but out of sheer exhaustion from the constant 'watching'. And running back and forth. And tidying up.

I know, I know, you're all thinking I should just do less of that for her, she's too used to it, and it's my own fault.

Don't you think I would stop if I could?! Give myself an easier life?! Let me let you into a little secret. I would if I could. Or more to the point, if she would let me.

Last night we came close to having to go to hospital. That's not a usual occurrence in this house, surprisingly; in fact we've only been once before with Sasha, when she had tonsilitus and pneumonia and refused to take any medicine (as always). The cause of the screams last night? This:
Sasha had asked for one of these sweetie dispensers for her birthday. Until fairly recently she rarely asked for anything in particular, and so I was pleased to oblige; it seemed like a 'fun' thing to get for her.

As Mr C and I caught up on yesterday's news in the kitchen, she managed to sneak in behind us and take this dispenser to her playroom. She then proceeded to fill it with marbles and Bananagram letters (google them, they're good!) and was trying to make them pop out via the corkscrew at the bottom which pushes the sweeties out. Sadly though, some of the marbles are slightly larger than others, and so at some point Sasha must have thought it was a good idea to stick her thumb in through the exit point. What happened next was, probably due to accidentally brushing the touch sensor pad (bad idea, manufacturers), her thumb got stuck and crushed.

That's just a one-off thing, I hear you say, and plenty of that happens to accident-prone children around the country every day. Yes, I can see your point. Not sure they're all aged seven and still 'exploring' things though? Like putting everything in their mouths, from hair clips and paper to blu-tack and scissors? Yes, scissors. And it doesn't matter how many times you 'tell her off' or reprimand, gently or otherwise (though shouting has the knock-on effect of a major meltdown, so I do try and avoid that on the whole), the message doesn't seem to get through. I can repeat myself like a parrot until I'm blue in the face, but I know it, or something similar, will happen again. Probably the next day, but possibly even later on the same day.

Take our sofa for example. This is what happened to it last Friday, when Sasha was off school sick and complained of having sore lips. I took her one of my lip salve sticks - the slightly rose tinted one I keep in my bag. Then I went to make her lunch, and sadly forgot that I had left it with her. Until 3 hours later, when I discovered the empty (totally) casing of my lip salve on the floor in another room. 'Where's my lip salve, Sasha?' I asked. 'Errrr, on the sofa mummy' she replied, with no qualms. I returned to the room to find the arm of the sofa totally and utterly smeared with said rose-tinted lip salve. Have you ever tried getting that stuff off anything? Not even baby wipes can save you there!

Now I know that this is the type of incident you've seen toddlers perform with the Sudocrem. Toddlers though, not seven year olds.

Of course I 'had words' with Sasha about that incident, about how disappointed and upset I was.... the very next day, I returned to find the sofa like this:
It was my mistake of course; I'd let her take the piece of birthday cake away from the kitchen, and I HADN'T WATCHED HER. Silly, really, you think I'd know by now. But then again, I do think it's important to try and get the odd bit of washing up and laundry done from time to time.

The day after that, more fun. A sensory session with the Play Doh and Skwooshi (again, google, it's great!) and of course, it's mummy's turn to clear up, on my hands and knees, trying to pick the bits out of the carpet. I go to put the materials away in the 'safe' cupboard (a-ha, I've learned my lesson, no messy stuff easily accessible!), then return to the room to find this:
Yes, it's the remote control, full of a secret stash that I had somehow missed. Let's just be clear, the remote was not just 'in the way' and had stuff dropped on it by accident; this was covered on purpose. It's a wonder it still works.

Oh I could go on, with photos of walls and carpets that have been drawn on, and items which have been touched a little less than carefully and are now in more pieces than they should be.... but I'm hoping you get the point. Maybe you're a little exhausted just reading this.

So if you come to my house, please don't turn your nose up at what a state it's in, whether that's rooms where Sasha has 'been' or just the general housekeeping kind of stuff. Instead, maybe you could offer to watch Sasha for me for just 10 minutes or so, and I could go and rest my head whizz around with a feather duster. I'd appreciate it, honestly.

Though I'm not generally one for talking on behalf of the masses, I'm imagining this is a similar story for all parents of children with Special Needs. Maybe, just maybe, they do a little more 'watching' than the average person (the children that is, not the parents). Even if you can't help, please try and understand.

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Friday, 18 July 2014

My School Days. Brilliant, but Different.

So today I cried.

I cried along with all the other mums, many of them good friends, who also have children in Year Two at Infant School. Their last year in that building before they transfer to the separate Junior School across the road, and for many of us the last time we will stand in an assembly in the Infant School Hall after seven years of our children being at that school. It's been a totally amazing school, one which I am proud to be a Governor of, and I feel so blessed and lucky that both our children were able to attend it.

Sasha does not like writing. But this is for the lovely staff who have helped her learn how to write her name.

But my tears today were different.

They were the tears of a mum who has a child who is autistic, a child who is different.

They were different tears to those that I shed when our eldest girl left the school, when we were sad she was leaving, and a little apprehensive about Junior School, but happy at the same time that she had enjoyed three lovely years there with her classmates.

Today, Sasha sat on my knee for the whole Last Assembly. This of course instantly marks her out as different, but was the only way she was prepared to be in the room on what was a stressful day for her. 

For Sasha, the occasion was too much. She squirmed and wriggled, enjoyed some parts of assembly but then asked to go home as it was boring (fortunately she has now learned how to whisper).

I managed to keep her there until the very end, when everyone present was asked to stand for one last song - the School Song. This is an amazing tune, written by a very talented teaching assistant at our school called Anna Baker. You have to listen to it (lyrics are at the end of my post) to understand how it can pull on your heart strings at the best of times - but particularly at a Leavers' Assembly. All parents want to video this very special moment where all the children sing together in beautiful voices, and I've done that on more than one occasion in the past.

That is to say, I've videoed it when Tamsin has sung it. I don't think Sasha has ever joined in with singing this song at school. Today she stood and decided she needed the toilet at that particular moment, and so it was me who had to take her back to her empty classroom. She sat in the cubicle, and as I leaned against the door frame and felt the tears trickle down, I could hear her sing one solitary word above the sound of the others singing in the Hall; '....friends' drifted out to me over the top of the toilet door. 

Sasha is different. That makes me different. 

I cried at the fact that she isn't able to join in like her classmates, I cried as I saw the pictures of all her lovely peers who have been so great with her flash up on the classroom whiteboard, I cried as I thought of the work I needed to do back at home reading through legal paperwork and writing letters and battling with people to get her the right support, I cried as I thought of all the fantastic teachers and assistants and school staff who have been flexible and understanding and provided her with the best start in life, I cried as I wondered how she would cope with the more formal setting of Junior School. I cried because I was alone in the room. I cried because they were different tears.

As her classmates filtered back into the room, and I left Sasha in the classroom, she whispered to me 'Mummy, at Junior School I'm going to always do what the teachers tell me. I'm going to be a big and good Junior School girl'.

This tells me that Sasha is becoming more aware of her own limitations. She may be saying now that she will do what she is told once at Juniors, but the reality is that she finds it so very hard to confirm, for all sorts of sensory, social and other reasons. I hope the pressure doesn't become too much for her.

Just once in a while it's important to let people know how things really are, so that you don't end up carrying the weight around by yourself the whole time. Not everything is easy. There are many 'different' mums out there whose lives are not what they expected them to be, and sometimes they need a hug, or just a bit of understanding. It's tough being different.

Look at the sunlight - it's shining on me!
Here's where I go to be - with my second family.
Here's where I go - with my friends, and I know
They'll be with me 'til the end……. 
Shadows and photographs - dance on the walls,
Pictures of children - who've learnt before…,
Remember those names, playing their games,
And be sure - to catch them if they fall……
This is my playground - where I stand tall,
And this is my classroom - my writing on the wall,
Here's where I go - with my friends, and I know
They'll be with me 'til the end.
My school days - my school days
The best days - of my life - so far (REPEAT last 2 lines)
Here's where I go - with my friends, and I know
They'll be with me 'til the end……
All those around me, they know my name,
Teaching us harmony - their aim's the same,
Here's where I go - with my friends, and I know
They'll be with me 'til the end…..
And I know - they'll be with me 'til the end……
Repeat Chorus…
And I know - they'll be with me 'til the end…..
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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Siblings {July}

Short and sweet this month; one simple photo which says it all I think. The love is there.
Stephs Two Girls
The best of friends
We had a fabulous family day out today; not without its stresses and strains getting out of the house, but worth it to be there. Tamsin was performing on stage at a local festival, as part of her Jazz group. She loves both ballet and jazz and is always full of natural smiles when on stage dancing. We had a bit of a wait for her turn, and then disaster struck when there was a power cut half way through. The show must go on though, and after a good 20 minute wait power was restored and the routine started from the beginning again. So we got to see it twice! 

Sasha struggled today as she always does with anything which involves crowds, and hanging around waiting, but she did her best and was rewarded along with Tamsin with the enjoyment of the bouncy trampolines afterwards. Sadly her difficulties meant that we couldn't hang around and chat to other people socially as we might have liked, but at least we enjoyed some quality family time together. We've learned to take what we can get. And OK, I fibbed about there being just one photo.

dear beautiful
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Thursday, 3 July 2014

School Summer Concert: To Be, or Not To Be?!

Last week Sasha's class teacher called me in to let me know that Sasha hasn't 'exactly' been participating in rehearsals for her class summer concert. The concert features a fair amount of singing and dancing, which Sasha actually loves; she's just not a fan of the waiting around, listening to other people, being herded into lines and having to repeat things over and over. So she 'opts out' (refuses to join in) and reads or plays in the classroom instead. The teacher told me, in a very nice way, that she thought it was unlikely that Sasha would take part in the concert later this week, and she didn't want me to turn up, sit through the whole concert and wonder the whole time where Sasha was.
Random pic of Sasha trying on a hat at school open evening
I did take the positives from this; it's refreshing that the teacher had thought of my feelings, and not just battled on trying for 'inclusion'. I can't tell you how many assemblies, or plays, or masses, or sports days, or other events I've had to sit through, watching other people's children participating, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes joyfully, but always there, but Sasha has been missing. Or there, but not taking part. Such as the last assembly I attended, when the Head asked Sasha's whole year group to stand up and sing the school song. The others all did, and they sang beautifully. Sasha remained seated.

I've wondered many times whether there was any 'point' in being there, and I've often pretended there was something in my eye, as the tears threaten to spill.

After the teacher spoke to me, Sasha sang through all the songs from the concert during a play date with a friend. Turns out that even though she hadn't been rehearsing, she still knew it all off by heart. It's amazing what she can pick up from a distance when it doesn't appear that she's paying attention! 

So this week it's been on one minute and off the next, as Sasha struggled to cope with various aspects of the rehearsing. One of the biggest barriers for her was wanting things to be exactly how she wanted them. For example, the teacher originally rehearsed with them all in a line for one song, which Sasha loved, but when the teacher changed her mind and put them in a square (for good reason), Sasha couldn't get past the fact that she had enjoyed it in the line and so she wanted the teacher to change it back. The teacher, meanwhile, was busy trying to direct 120 other children to sing and dance on cue; no mean feat for her and she certainly couldn't alter it to fit Sasha.

So yesterday Sasha appeared to have been convinced to take part, and even this morning as I took her to school she seemed to be ready for it. I still had my doubts though. By the time I arrived at school along with all the other parents for the show, Sasha was adamant that she was not going to join in. It was agreed that she could sit with me for the performance instead, and we found a spot on the floor at the front where Sasha could see her classmates perform.

From almost the start Sasha was enthralled and the look of delight on her face at watching the others was priceless. She was moving my hands to get me to clap along at relevant points, and she sang all the words of the songs out loud. She would tell me what was coming up next, and when it was the turn of her class to perform their special song, she got very animated. She joined in confidently with all the singing and the actions, from the comfort of my knee. When the song was over, she sighed slightly and said 'mummy, I wish I could have joined in.'

There was no point in me saying 'but you could have'. It's true that the school did everything to try and include her, but it was a mountain that was just too big for her to climb. Enjoyment and disappointment were mingled together for us both.

The finale song was 'Counting Stars' and this put us both back in a buoyant mood. It was a fabulous concert; the last one for us in that school as Sasha leaves the Infants to move onto the Junior school after this term.

Once back in the classroom with Sasha ahead of her classmates, she quickly got changed and then proceeded to treat me to a very special solo of the finale song, and then a repeat with actions. I'm sharing these videos with you (they're really short, promise!) as proof that she could do it, and to highlight what a big achievement it was for her to even stay in the room for the concert. I will treasure these clips always.

I'll be honest, I did think twice about writing this post, as I definitely don't want to take anything away from all the other mummies who got to watch their gorgeous children perform this afternoon. I loved watching them too, particularly Sasha's classmates who I know so well now. I just wish she could have managed to get up there with them.

Linking up to the Small Steps Amazing Achievements linky over at Ethans Escapades. It may not be quite the same achievement as all her peers but to me it's still pretty amazing.

Ethans Escapades
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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Transition challenges with autism: Junior School next!

Preparations for Sasha's transition in September to Year 3 at the Junior School are well under way. The school is linked in spirit to the Infant school, but it is a separate site and the teachers/assistants will be mostly new faces for Sasha. Children with autism often have a much more difficult time adjusting to anything new than typically developing children, so we are aware the change will be a significant challenge for her at first. The increase in 'serious' workload may mean that even more challenges come once she is settled there, but for now we're taking each step as it comes. Meanwhile I continue to search for a Plan B - but more on that another time.

We are very pleased and impressed that the school chose to involve us with the transition planning. Sasha has visited the Junior school a few times since half term; there has been some autism training for all staff; I've been for a trip round with Sasha to help get her used to the building, and members of staff visited the Infants school to see how Sasha reacts in the classroom she is currently in. 

We've given the school a 'passport' for Sasha - this is a one-sided sheet of A4 (see below) with key information about Sasha, such as her likes and dislikes, and anything she may not be able to articulate for herself. These are often suggested for children with Special Needs and can be displayed in staff rooms so that any temporary member of staff can also be forewarned about what does and doesn't work!

Lunchtimes are probably one of the most difficult times of the day for Sasha. She eats well enough, but only certain types of food and her diet has become very repetitive. I'm a little bit ashamed to say that 'chip shop' at the weekend has become part of our routine.... Sasha basically has a fear of trying anything new - that stretches across most walks of life for her, not just food.

In the school dinner hall there is so much which stresses her - she doesn't cope well with a lot of noise, or strong smells, or queuing, or 'jostling'. It's definitely not the right time or place for her to try new foods, but I was always adamant that Sasha should try the school food as I was never sure she'd eat a packed lunch either. The school cook and her team have been amazing, and they really took Sasha under their wing.

Last week Cook waited for me one morning to let me know that she'd made a trip up to the Junior school herself, to have a word with the cook in that school. In fact it wasn't only a word, it was an A4 sheet full of tips of how she has been 'managing' Sasha; the foods Sasha does (potatoes) and doesn't like (pretty much everything else - 'will not eat cake, fruit or yoghurt'), and how it should be cooked (lightly, crispy but not at all burnt etc). There's also an issue around crockery - certain bowls which Sasha won't eat out of, unlike all the other children. We think it's the smell of the plastic, but she's not quite able yet to articulate what the exact problem is, so Cook has tried work-arounds. All of this information she passed on in detail, and I'm sure it will be such a great help for Sasha when the new term starts.

It warmed my heart to see how much time and effort Cook has put into looking after Sasha, and to see how much she wants the transition to be a success for Sasha also. At the bottom of the sheet she had typed: 

'Thank you for looking after Sasha.'

Ever since I haven't been able to stop thinking about Paddington Bear:

 - 'Please look after this Bear. Thank you.' 

So sweet, and so helpful, and I'm so grateful. It is a tiny bit bittersweet, as I know none of the other children need this kind of information sheet or support; however the positives far outweigh that feeling and this act of kindness has definitely made me smile this week.

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