Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Hertfordshire Heroines: The ADD-vance Ball

A new website has just sprung up all about Hertfordshire's Hidden Heroines (www.hertshiddenheroines.org.uk) and I instantly knew exactly who I would like to add to the list. Anne Ross and Pamela Reitemeier, you can see your names up in lights at ADD-vance; two Herts heroines in one!
Stephs Two Girls ADD-vance autism
Anne Ross and Pamela Reitemeier (credit ADD-vance)

Their 20th Anniversary Ball was recently held at the stunning Hatfield House to celebrate the wonderful Hertfordshire charity ADD-vance.

ADD-vance was started back in 1996 by the inspirational Anne Ross, who was facing struggles with how her children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and Autism were being treated. She soon realised there were other families in similarly difficult situations and she began to man a helpline from her own house to offer help. As a Behavioural Psychologist, Anne also offered coaching to help families in their own homes.

There was such a great need for this help that over the years Pamela Reitemeier joined Anne to make a formidable duo who expanded the offering. The ADD-vance team also expanded, with more Specialist Coaches and Specialist Trainers. Anne has always maintained that her employees would be parents of children with Autism and ADHD themselves, in order to be able to pass on real personal experiences and a real understanding of the challenging situations experienced by many.

Anne and Pamela carried on with the original model of helpline and coaching but also began bidding for funding in order to offer their skills and expertise further, in the form of parenting courses specifically designed for parents and carers of children with Autism and ADHD. Free one-to-one consultations were then added to the offer, along with specific training for educational and leisure establishments and a variety of workshops. I was lucky enough to join the team for a year, at a time when I hadn't planned on returning to work at all, and I helped with general office admin including manning the helpline. From the lovely office with cows grazing by the windows I saw the dedication and passion that these ladies put into the business, and felt proud to be a (very small) part of it. They achieved charity status that year and became the ADD-vance Autism and ADHD Trust. The whole ADD-vance team have helped so many families and children in Hertfordshire by listening and understanding, by offering strategies and support groups, and by educating others.

The Ball was a celebration of the past 20 years and of the future to come. Anne gave an emotional speech in which she explained that 20 years ago there was  no wide internet usage and little information out there on Autism and ADHD - one book published in America which they had to send for. Some might say we've got to the other extreme of information overload these days, but that brings its own challenges of knowing which advice is the best. ADD-vance is targeted, proven information from experienced people and is invaluable.

Her speech went on to talk about how we need to get the message across that Autism and ADHD are massive ABILITIES not disabilities. It's a gift, and many people with these abilities such as scientists, inventors, comedians and actors have made huge beneficial changes in our world. We need to change perceptions of what these people can do.

Many parents of children with Autism and ADHD attended the Ball which the lovely Kacey Ainsworth compered, and we enjoyed the opportunity to relax in each other's company with the shared understanding of how difficult life can be at other times. I had tears (of laughter) running down my face as the comedian John Williams took to the stage; his stories are so real and at the same time almost unbelievable, told in a deadpan Northern way similar to how he writes his blog, My Son's Not Rainman. Descriptions of a Special School Disco and the suggestion that we should all experience one in our lives made total sense to me. We all need that kind of humour in our lives and John was a real highlight of the evening for me.

The other highlights were saying hello to old friends and colleagues, and sharing a table and a dance with other local mums of children with autism and ADHD who I have only met over the past year or so, but who I'm sure will be friends for life. You know who you are ladies, and you all looked stunning. You are all amazing too. Huge thanks to Annie and Anna for organising such an amazing event.

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Sunday, 22 November 2015

Should autistic children go on school trips?

The door was closing as I backed out of our youngest autistic girl's room tonight, and a little voice piped up:

'Mummy, will I have to go on the trip that the Year 6 children are doing tomorrow when I'm that age?'

I'd love to think it was bedtime delaying tactics, but sadly not.

This is a week long activity trip a 5/6 hour coach ride away that most (not all) of the Year 6 children are going on tomorrow. Including youngest's elder sister. Funny that youngest (Year 4) has shown no signs of emotion about it before that second; hasn't seem worried about missing her sister and hasn't wanted to talk about it particularly. Not even shown no emotion, just no real interest at all. Or so I thought.

'Errr, that depends, I guess darling. Would you want to?'

'No.' came back the very definite reply. 'I'd be sick on the coach anyway.'

It's not just the long coach trip which would raise problems though; there are so many other issues to consider for an autistic child. Having to hold her hand until she drops off to sleep most nights is only one small part of it.

I'd offer to go with them, and drive her there myself, if I thought it was something which would be welcomed and make her enjoy the trip. She wasn't keen on that suggestion, and asked 'can I just stay home instead?'

Knowing what has happened when we've tried that before (see my previous post about School Trips), but not wanting to get drawn into a huge discussion about it, I gently replied that she may have to go into school instead, but she instantly refused, saying the teachers wouldn't be there. I pointed out that the other teachers from lower classes would be there, but she said that she couldn't work in a lower age group class, she wouldn't fit in with the younger children.

Although I know this isn't an issue for me to worry about right now (it's 2 years away still, God knows what will happen in terms of school in that time), it does obviously bring up lots of emotions and questions. S is obviously starting to express thoughts she has - who knows how much more is swirling round in her brain?

The post title is a rhetorical question to be honest - of course autistic children, and any other children with any form of additional needs, should go on school trips, if the trip is suitable for them. Whilst I'm all for inclusion, to me that doesn't mean making all the other children go on a school trip 20 minutes down the road just because my autistic child can't cope with a coach ride or with being away from home. I do wonder though, how many other children in a mainstream class of 30 there are for whom the trip is also not ideal - should there be a second 'fun' option/alternative rather than staying back at school and working maybe? Yes, I know that would create a LOT of extra hassle for the school and teachers - but the alternative is children being left out (=not included). I'd love to know if any schools already do something like this? What are your thoughts?

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School trips... should they be compulsory or not?

A few months back, our autistic girl's year group were booked to go on school trips on two consecutive weeks. First was planned to be 30 minutes by train to London, and the second was by coach to some other destination, also not very local.
A few people reading this blog may enjoy this image..... ;)

For the first trip, I kept her off school as she was refusing to go and had extremely high anxiety about the travelling as well as the format of the day (it was to be a walk along the River Thames and a river boat trip back,geography or topic education I believe). As her Mum, I knew there was likely to be little about this trip that she personally would learn from (great for all the other children though), and that there could also be safety issues. We would struggle ourselves to do that kind of trip with her, so to make it along with 59 other children, even with individual support, was asking a lot of her and the TA.

We were then called and asked to take her into school for the day of the second trip, after we explained that her anxiety over any sort of travel longer than 20 minutes would just lead to refusal anyway. I'll admit to not being keen on the idea, as it seemed strange to me for her to be in school and the two classrooms where none of her other peers were, but our girl definitely preferred that idea over the school trip one and so we agreed to give it a go. There were many other issues around this, such as how strange and out of routine the whole day would be for her, who would she eat lunch with and play with at lunchtime when her year group had a separate playground at that stage etc.

However, the whole day ended up being remarkably successful. Could possibly have been because she had amazing individual support, and was given choices over what she could do.... she mingled with the older children in school and achieved that day more than she had any other day in that school year. What does that tell you? Well, what she told me was that it was so much better without all the other distractions, and that in essence the flexibility of the day worked well.

If only she could have individual teaching and do what she wanted every day, hey?! That sounds ideal for children with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance), who struggle with high anxiety levels over too many demands placed on them. Is mainstream school the best place for those difficulties?

Thought I would end by including this great mind map which gives ideas and strategies on how to approach children with PDA (these could also work well at home):

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Friday, 20 November 2015

Siblings Part 2 {November 2015}

Time for Siblings Part 2. Still some lovely happy pics, but a little story to go with them this time...

Yesterday our eldest girl (Yr 6) was on playground duty with the youngest ones in school (Yr 3s). She told me how the other two Yr 6 girls with her had not let her join with them, and a younger Yr 3 girl who had been idolising Tilly this week was dragged off to play with someone else.

Then she told me the bit that broke my heart.

'A few of the Year 3s came rushing up to me Mum, and asked me why Sophie always howls in the toilets. I just shrugged, they went away but a different group came back and asked me why Sophie makes funny noises in the toilets. I just laughed and said I didn't know why.'

We talked this over, and I asked if it upset her. She replied that it did at first, and it made her feel a little weird but that by after school time and her telling me the story, she realised it didn't really matter so she wasn't bothered by it any more. She went on to say that she didn't quite understand though, because she thought all of the Year 3s knew that Sophie had autism, so why would they then ask her about Sophie doing unusual things?

The 'Sibling' issue has been on my mind for years now and I've worried lots about the effect that a sister with autism is having on our eldest. There is a national website at www.sibs.org.uk but local support can be a bit patchy. I wrote in a recent post about how Tilly has just started at a great monthly after school session for SIBS, and is really enjoying it.

A couple of years ago I read an amazing book called 'Being The Other One' by a lady called Kate Strohm (available at Amazon if you click the link but most likely elsewhere too!).

It made me cry. It was written by a lady who also has a sibling with special needs (Cerebral Palsy in her case). She interviewed many other siblings of various ages, to let them talk about how it had affected them growing up. It's not an easy read, but it is a good one in terms of trying to understand what might be going on under the surface, particularly of a young child who has not yet learnt how to talk openly.

The author looks at the siblings' feelings of isolation, grief, anger and a huge amount of anxiety. That anxiety is not just over the embarrassment of being seen as different because of that sibling sometimes, but can also be a worry about making life any more difficult for the parents. The book also offers lots of practical advice around what parents can do to help their neurotypical children (long word, basically means those who are developing typically).

Just last week I posted a story on my Facebook page about one particular school day:

'While I was brushing my teeth, our amazing eldest girl took it upon herself to try and motivate youngest (PDA) girl to get dressed for school this morning so we wouldn't be late.

She knew exactly how to do it; eldest is having a friend over for a playdate after school, so she offered youngest the chance to play with them both in her room for half an hour if she got herself dressed. I'm actually quite amazed it worked, but it did, obviously because there is nothing more youngest wants than to spend some time with eldest and her friend. Which is quite sad in itself.

The issue will be after school, when eldest suddenly twigs that she is going to have to carry through with this reward; when she really wants to play with her own friend in that way that 'typical' children can, and without having to be extra careful to make sure all goes OK for youngest to avoid a meltdown. Sigh. I'll be around (and by that I mean right there) to offer alternatives and ensure all goes as smoothly as possible of course, to make sure eldest isn't in tears before youngest...'

It was such a lovely thing to do to try and help, and demonstrates not only how well eldest 'gets' it, but also how well she can use the PDA strategies - she told me she made it 'fun', used light-hearted phrases etc and that she knew it might not work but she'd let her play anyway (not what would usually happen!). Kind of sad that she needs to, really; I know how stressful it is to always be one step ahead and I don't wish that stress on any other parents, let alone a 10 year old child frown emoticon

As you can see from the pictures though, it's not all doom and gloom around here. They have fun, they fall out, they play Minecraft together, just like any other siblings. I wouldn't have it any other way.

This week I'm linking up with the lovely Victoria over at #PoCoLo.

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Thursday, 19 November 2015

Siblings {November 2015}

Hardly any words to go with this one.. but do watch out for Siblings part 2, coming soon....

Siblings Nov 15

Linking up with:

dear beautiful
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Inclusive Dance: after school club success

So today we had one of the best, most inclusive experiences with our younger autistic girl at a dance class, that I just have to tell you about. It reminded me of a post I'd read at Diary of A Mom earlier this year: A Place To Dance. Our whole class was an equally uplifting and memorable occasion and I'll admit it brought a little tear to my eye.

Image is of Sasha in a huge field, spinning to her hearts content :)

I saw a local Dance class which had been organised for children under 18 with special needs  advertised this morning and figured it could be worth a go. As I picked her up from school, I discovered Sasha hadn't had a great day (think meltdowns and a very sucked, wet tie indicating huge anxiety), but I decided it was worth asking anyway. To my amazement she said yes! So many issues to think about; new place we'd never visited, new people, not knowing what the rules were, what music might be playing etc and yet her overwhelming love of dance took over.

Unfortunately we walked up to the wrong place as we arrived so the class was a little late starting (it turned out it was just us!) and that was nearly enough to send us home before we'd even started. Sasha doesn't do waiting; you can see her anxiety sky rocket in such a short space of time.

Once in the dance studio though, the full length mirrors were a big hit and the happy, bubbly dance teacher quickly made up for the wait. She put Sasha at ease by simply listening to her and being interested in what she had to say - even when it didn't make any sense! The excitement caused Sasha to turn into a huge chatterbox and at one point I was worried there wouldn't be any time left for dancing.

Sasha wasn't all that keen on learning dance moves initially, but she did do a little of what was asked, putting her own twist on it. One of the most successful parts of it all was that so little was asked, which meant that the PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) barely reared up at all. The teacher, Tamsin and Sasha all just floated and spun and grooved around to pop hits, with a bit of hula hooping, musical statues and taking a pose as they went. The teacher coped admirably with requests for specific music (that we listen to in our car every day) and thought on her feet about new ways to interest Sasha and keep her going.

The fact that our autistic girl no longer takes part in any after school clubs has been playing on my mind of late. It hits home more on those days of the week when we drive her older sister Tamsin to her four different activities (Guides, Jazz, Fencing and Drama, in case you're interested!). Sasha has tried joining a few different clubs or activities over the years; I wrote about our start at Brownies some time ago. It didn't last long though, it never does. Swimming lessons always needed me to be in the water with her and ballet lessons were equally challenging, with her lying on the floor, in the way of the others, when she'd had enough after ten minutes.

Sasha around the time of her first, and only, ballet lesson...
Then there's one extra monthly activity after school which Tamsin now attends; SIBS club. This is a special club, only for children who have siblings with Special Needs. It's a general session where the children just 'hang out' and have fun with others who understand the difficult parts of life. It looks like fun, and that's exactly what Sasha thinks when we walk in the door to drop Tamsin off.

'Why can't I stay Mum?' asks Sasha.

It's very difficult for me to answer that question. Part of me wants to say that she can, that it's not really fair her elder sister gets to enjoy yet another club after school and she's not able to be part of that either... but on the other hand I appreciate that it's time for Tamsin to let her hair down with friends without the pressure and embarrassment of having her sister around.

It's also difficult to answer for the obvious reason. How do I explain that the whole reason for this club is Sasha herself? That if she didn't have Special Needs then there would be no need for a SIBS club for her sister? Sasha doesn't even yet realise that she is autistic, as I explained in my recent post How To Tell A Child They Have Autism.

Back to the huge positives though. To see Sasha dancing with no inhibitions, just enjoying the music and doing her own 'thang', was priceless. But what really made my heart miss a beat tonight was when Sasha breathlessly asked, with hope, 'so does this mean I now have a Wednesday night club?' and 'will some other children come to be friends and dance with me?'

I hope so. Fingers crossed next week goes as well! Will be interesting, depending on the other participants and whether they can take Sasha dictating the music choices... or indeed whether Sasha will learn to compromise.... time will tell. But for now, I'm banking this huge success with a huge smile on my face.

Thank you SO much to the Hertfordshire Dance Association - A Social Enterprise to promote education, inspiration and equality in dance. Totally inclusive and I thoroughly recommend them to everyone.

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Monday, 16 November 2015

It's all about the money.

It's all about the money. Or is it?

You see, I've always been a grey, sit on the fence kind of person. That's the reason why I've never been any good at politics or writing contentious blog posts; even now, in my 40s, I couldn't tell you for sure which way I am going to vote. Some look on that as a weakness, and it may be true that if the country was full of people like me we'd never have any leaders, or progress anything at a decent speed. I like to look on it as a strength though; I'm a good listener and I can see both sides of most stories. This means any decisions or judgements I make tend to be rational and backed up with good reason and common sense. Unless everything else is getting on top of me and I make spur of the moment calls... see what I mean about that fence?!

Anyhow I've been trying not to laugh and cry of late at the news of David Cameron's letters to Oxfordshire County Council which have been published (I mean, seriously, had he forgotten everything gets onto the internet these days?!); read the full story via George Monbiot at the Guardian. In a nutshell, David Cameron was expressing his horror at cuts to local services on behalf of one of his constituents, seemingly unaware that it is his Government who is driving these cuts from above.

Everybody must be aware of these cuts; they are far reaching and affect both the able and the disabled in different ways. There is never enough money; if there was then in my mind every child would be given a suitable education, one which realises each child's potential and not one which appears to be a sausage factory, testing and squeezing all along until only the elite are left to pop out of the end. All children would be welcome, regardless of their abilities, and it would be acknowledged that new Super Schools are not the way forward as there are children who are unable to cope with such a large environment. I've talked about how we feel that will affect our girl in a previous post here. In this BBC article, we are told that secondary school numbers are due to peak in the next few years. Where is the planning, the forward thinking? In our county there appear to be no detailed records kept on every child diagnosed with a disability, and no database joining up Education, Health and Social care information. How is anyone supposed to plan without that kind of information?

Having just attended the CDC (Council for Disabled Children) conference where the forthcoming Spending Review was mentioned by representatives of the Department for Education in almost hushed voices, I do feel that a sense of foreboding has been passed on to me; after all, who would hold their hand up and say they are happy to see cuts applied which will affect them directly? If cuts are necessary though, where would you take the money from?

Last night I had a nightmare in which I swam past someone who was being drowned; a parent holding their child's head under water. It followed on with me being attacked in my own car and I screamed so loud that I woke my husband up. Were those subconscious thoughts directly linked to me being at that CDC conference yesterday, an event I attended as part of my role on the Herts Parent Carers Involvement board, where I was representing the views of not only our family with a disabled child, but hundreds of families of disabled children in this county? Signs of stress maybe, at the thought of what's to come.

Is it years of money being spent in the wrong places which we are now making up for? Is it a huge increase in population which has just not been planned for properly? Any other number of reasons? One thing is for sure, we can't change what has happened in the past. And sadly, unless you are one of those leaders up there, you can't change exactly what is going to happen to the country as a whole. Well, you can, by voting the 'right' way... but who has that crystal ball and knows which way is right? Which politician has worked out the numbers properly and fairly, and which one is not lying about it? Do you trust any of them? Some people seem to think they could be doing a better job - but then they aren't putting themselves forward or persuading people to vote for them, so the truth is that they aren't doing a better job right now.

Education is where I would like to see more money spent... but then there are other areas which other people consider more important, such as spending on the elderly, the health service, the roads, the transport system, animals... The list is endless, and everyone has different priorities. Is the real answer just that better decisions could and should be made, regardless of money? Does change for the better always cost? Does it always boil down to money? What do you think?

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Disney Frozen Fever Dolls and Lego Ice Castle Review

Frozen was such a fantastic Walt Disney film which both my girls really enjoyed - and I'll admit I would watch it again quite happily too! It led to instant success for branded merchandise, and even now, some time later there are still new product options coming out. Well, it is nearly Christmas...

My girls were delighted to review the Frozen Fever Anna and Elsa doll set. These come from the animated Frozen Fever short film which came out last year alongside the new Cinderella movie and they do look adorable.

Both dolls have poseable arms, legs and head, and realistic hair. They are in beautiful summer dress outfits with matching shoes. As usual, my girls found the shoes a little fiddly but I'm sure for those children with patience out there (where are they?!) they are a welcome addition.

My one top tip if you are buying these as a Christmas present for some children would be to try and get into the packaging and loosen the dolls yourself first. It was quite a challenge... and maybe one which would wear any patience thin. Worth it for the contents though! The set is fairly priced at £25.95 and available from www.disneystore.co.uk.

The second item they had to review was one of the toys from the Dream Toys Top 12 list; Elsa's Sparkling Ice Castle by Lego. This item looks so impressive in its packaging, and really doesn't disappoint once you get it out of the box. It's a three storey castle with a secret staircase, bed and icicle tree, then a separate ice crema bar, sleigh and ice hill. Queen Elsa, Princess Anna and Olaf mini figures are included, along with lots of other small accessories such as skis, ice skates, stickers, tiaras etc. The children are kept entertained by building it initially, but it also does have lasting value as a playset. It's always lovely to see children's imagination running overtime when they have such a brilliant set to start from.

Commanding the usual slightly high price to be expected from such a well known, in-demand brand, Elsa's Sparkling Ice Castle by Lego retails at £34.99 on shop.lego.com. You may want to search around for a bargain on this before Christmas though...

Disclosure: We were sent the above products for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own. 
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Thursday, 12 November 2015

How To Tell A Child They Have Autism.

It's a question I've had in my mind for a while - just how DO you tell your child that he/she has autism/ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) or that they are autistic*?

For the past couple of years I've wondered when the time would come, and if I'm honest I probably thought it would have happened before now. We are very open about autism generally, and discussed it with our eldest girl way back. It's not that we have tried to keep it secret from our youngest, but 'it' just wouldn't have made sense to her before now. Tonight we edged ever so slightly closer to THAT conversation.

After tea, I played Kirby with my youngest girl, but didn't do a very good job of it. I definitely didn't live up to her high gaming standards. When she got cross with me for being rubbish, I half-heartedly suggested that maybe it would be better if I didn't play that game with her any more at all... I should have known better. She threw herself onto the sofa with huge sobs and told me that 'none of my family are in my heart at all'* and cried that 'nobody understands how it is to be me, nobody knows what I need'.

As I picked my shattered heart back up off the floor, I wondered if the opportunity of a talk was arising. Sadly, she was too upset, and too tired, and wanted an excuse to avoid bedtime - but not if it involved talking. Or reading a book, sigh.
Stephs Two Girls
Gazing into space; lost in her own thoughts perhaps?
Tonight's outburst has made me think again about when might be a good time, and how to start the discussion... and here's a few tips which I'll bear in mind:

Listen to your child

The words I heard tonight were a definite hint that our girl is feeling she is different. It's important to wait until the child gives you this indication that he or she has already had thoughts about their difficulties. There's no point blurting out your news that they have a diagnosis (or even a suspected one) until they are ready to begin to understand it in some way.

Pick the right time

Luckily I'm not too daft to realise that bedtime, or during a meltdown (or especially when both are occurring simultaneously), is not the right time. When your child is calm, and happy, and not in the middle of another activity which they enjoy, is probably the best time. Of course, that specific time can be hard to 'find', but once you tune into routines and understanding how long that certain YouTube clip has left to run, you could be onto a winner.
In the bigger scale of time though, how will you know when the right time is, at what age? Instinct is what I will have to go off, and I'm already promising that I won't be too hard on myself if I get it wrong. Every child is different and so there is no fixed age by which you should tell them.

Use the relevant approach for your child

It's very tempting for us to revert to ways in which we ourselves are comfortable when trying to impart information, but there's that old saying 'treat others how they would like to be treated'. In other words, consider how the information will be best digested by your child - could be via a book, a DVD, a social story, a cartoon, puppets etc. It's probably most likely that the news is best coming from a parent/carer, but it may be that there are other trusted individuals who have a good time to introduce the idea. Siblings, practitioners, school staff or friends might approach the conversation in a briefer, matter of fact manner, which could be good as an introduction... but this should always be discussed with the main caregiver first.

Plant the seeds

Subtle drip feeding should be the way forward here. A good start would be to chat about differences and others' difficulties, autistic or not, rather than just using the word 'autistic', or 'autism'. I'm hoping there are some YouTube clips of this type of idea which I can leave playing for when our girl walks down in the morning - no point in us telling her what to watch, that doesn't work around here. It all has to be very surreptitious.
Sadly I'm very well aware that some of our girl's peer group already know and understand that 'autism' word, and they could have already used it when talking to her. I feel like we should be 'breaking the news' first; then I remind myself it's not a rush, the time needs to be right.

Remember the strengths

Autistic brains are amazing. We need to remind our amazing children of their strengths - it's all too easy to focus on the difficulties. Strengths such as brilliant memories, honesty, loyalty, attention to detail, engaging personalities - again, every child is different. Every child has a strength but they may not necessarily recognise that themselves at a young age, so talking about those strengths can be incredibly powerful. The difficulties can also be explored, but preferably in relation to others. So for example 'Child A is good at playing football and you are good at swimming' or 'Child B can write stories very well but you are better at using computers'. Comparisons, approached positively, can be really helpful.

After writing this list, I went off to search our trusty friend google, and picking up on the 'plant the seeds' tip, I found a great post which you should pop on over and read. Mama Be Good wrote Telling My Child About Autism and it kind of summed up how I'm feeling now. It doesn't need to be a Big Talk, but we have definitely reached the stage where there needs to be some talk.

The next few months could definitely be interesting for us... would love to hear any suggestions or ways you might have handled it differently if you've already been there?!

* for more reading on language choice of 'has autism' or 'is autistic', please do check out this most brilliant post by Diary of A Mom

** this harks back to a few years ago when she described to us very visually about how she has a big red heart for her closest people, those she loves and trusts the most, a small red heart for the next ones out, a pink heart for the next lot, then a grey one and finally a black one for those she really doesn't like at all.....

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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Disney 'From Our Family To Yours' campaign

Disney are such a big company that they don't really need me writing about them, but I think one of the qualities that makes them so great is that they do come up with good products and great marketing ideas, like their latest one called 'From Our Family To Yours'....

I heard about this recently and I thought it was a lovely, simple idea. It involves sharing a festive photo on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #DisneyStoreFamily. Each family that submits a photo will be entered into a competition to win a family trip to New York, including a private shopping spree at the Disney Store in Times Square. Wow. Excitement overload! Even better though, for every time a family photo is shared, a soft toy will be donated to a child by Disney*.

So of course the first thing I did was rush off to check out my festive pics, and spent far too much time being nostalgic. 

There are also various fun and free activities taking place in Disney stores to help boost the campaign, such as letter writing and card making, and people are being encouraged to take photos in store. For more information and the competition terms and conditions, please check out disneystore.co.uk/disneystorefamily.

So which pic do you think I should enter?!

*For every photo shared at #disneystorefamily between 01/11/2015 to 22/11/2015Disney Store will donate a soft toy to a pre-agreed charity. Maximum of 15,000 soft toys to be donated across the UK, Ireland and France.

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Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Dream Toys 2015

At about this time every year, the Toy Retailers Association announces their Top 12 Dream Toys for the year, and they're generally pretty good at predicting what will be on most Christmas lists. As my career before children was Toy and Stationery Buyer for a couple of big retailers, I do still like to follow what's going on in these areas and we enjoy doing product reviews when we get the opportunity.

Today's trip out was all about viewing these toys along with another fifty, and speaking to the companies involved. It made a pleasant change from sitting at my computer desk! I'm going to let you know the Top Twelve of course, but then I'll highlight a couple of my faves and those that I think the girls will be asking for...

So the top twelve Dream Toys are (in alphabetical order):

City Deep Sea Exploration Vessel                                   LEGO Company                RRP £79.99
Disney Frozen Sing-A-Long Elsa                                     Jakks Pacific                     RRP £39.99
IDO3D Deluxe 3D Design Studio                                     Flair Leisure Products        RRP £39.99
Little Live Pets Cleverkeet                                              Character Options              RRP £59.99
Paw Patrol Paw Patroller                                                Spin Master Toys              RRP £59.99
Pie Face                                                                        Hasbro                             RRP £19.99
Shopkins Food Fair – Scoops Ice Cream Truck                 Flair Leisure Products       RRP £19.99
Star Wars Bladebuilder Jedi Master Lightsaber                  Hasbro                            RRP £49.99
Star Wars Kylo Ren’s Command Shuttle                           LEGO Company              RRP £99.99
Star Wars The Force Awakens Millennium Falcon              Hasbro                           RRP £119.99
Thunderbirds - Interactive Tracy Island Playset                  Vivid Toy Group              RRP £79.99
Toot - Toot Friends Busy Sounds Discovery Home             Vtech Electronics           RRP £44.99

It's worth bearing in mind that these are suggested retail prices, and as most of these are widely available from a variety of retailers you can probably find yourself a bargain somewhere in the coming weeks (but don't leave it too long, else you risk stock selling out!).

Both my girls are huge Shopkins fans so we definitely have the Ice Cream Truck at the top of our list, and their Fashion Boutique looks fab too. Anything in that range will always be a winner!

Shopkins Stella Stapler... soooo cute!

Paw Patroller... this is a BIG item!

Youngest adores Paw Patrol so any of those branded products would be a hit too. The Little Live Pets Cleverkeet is indeed very clever and would be loved, and Pie Face looks like fun - as long as Daddy is the target....

Other toys which impressed today were the J.J. Jumpin' Pug from Hasbro (£49.99), Lego's Elsa Sparkling Ice Castle (£34.99), Peppa Pig Storytime Castle Playset (£19.99), Puppy Surprise (£24.99), and I'm intrigued by the 3D pen though I sadly didn't get to see it in action.

I know the girls would love some Kinetic Sand so that's now on the list (£19.99 for a great playset including a helpful tray!) and the two games from John Adams Leisure, The Greedy Sheep Game (£21.99) and Tipping Point (£19.99) are ones which I know we could have a lot of fun with.

Hope you enjoyed this round up; Good luck with your Christmas shopping!
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