Saturday, 27 August 2016

Gravity Force trampoline park (Review)

Last week we were invited to try out the very first adaptive jump session at the new Gravity Force park. Both girls were so excited to have a trampoline park like this much closer to home finally, and they couldn't wait to check it out.

Now I'll just say that the trampoline in our garden has definitely been one of our best buys; the girls both love it and have spent many happy hours on there, both apart and together. To be fair it has been the scene of a few spats too... but that's siblings for you, eh?!

However you can't beat the excitement of many trampolines all together (around 60 apparently), especially when they go vertically up the wall too, and at Gravity Force there are a nice couple of extras which the girls really enjoyed.

Long track trampolines and a special wavy one were given a huge thumbs up, as were the dodgeball courts and the basketball runs, but the main event was the foam pits, which you could launch yourself into from various heights and trampolines. Easily the favourite part of the park for my girls!

The park was of course lovely and clean as it's brand new; the cafe area is huge and has some great views over the trampolines (for those lucky adults who are actually allowed to leave their children down there alone). It costs £10 per person for an hour of bouncing but you do need to wear their special bounce socks, which cost £2 to purchase. They are offering Gravity Force parties at £16.95 per head including food, and I'm sure this will be a popular option. Then there are sessions for tots and teenagers (separately!) and some Gravity Fit classes, which I would love to go to but can't (my maximum time on a trampoline before needing the toilet is around 2 minutes...).

I'm pleased that Gravity Force are planning on running adaptive sessions for those with disabilities; initially I believe they are planning daytime sessions but of course I'll be hot on their heels to arrange some after school times. We were lucky that the trampoline park was very quiet when we were allowed in, and that made all the difference to our autistic girl. She had a great time but was very red-faced and totally shattered before our time was up.

Sasha is finding it increasingly difficult to cope in any place which is busy or noisy and we've been struggling to leave the house of late. Of course our house move and the hot weather haven't helped us in this regard but I'm hoping she'll feel more settled soon. I know she'd happily agree to a return visit to Gravity Force, but I'm pretty sure she wouldn't last very long if the noise and heat levels were high or if she had to wait in queues for the foam pits, or if other children were bouncing on her trampoline. Eldest will of course cope with anything and has already decided that's where her next party will be... probably!

Disclosure: we were offered free entry in order to review this new trampoline park, however all opinions in this post are honest and our own.

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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

House Renovation 2016 - Part 6

I seriously couldn't wait any longer to give you the news hot off the press, to bring you bang up to date.... we finally found a builder to do our work - and he started this week! Can I hear a whoop?!

Anyhow the clip below is just me, explaining the whole story so far - all 20 months of it (8 of those actually owning this house).  I'll never claim to be a natural behind the camera, so to deflect from that I'll tell you what Sasha said when I came back to our rented house after filming this short clip at the new house....
'Mummy, why are you dressed all in black? Have you robbed a bank or something?'

Seriously, thanks to the cost of building, the thought has crossed my mind (but if anyone 'official' is reading this post then honest guv, I never would).

What I was actually doing, apart from filming (on the lovely flowery sofa left to us by the previous owners), was wallpaper stripping AGAIN. There's still more of that to be done, but this was the wall I managed in those three hours:

If you've watched the video above, you'll know that I included lots of photos from the garden. It's given us a lot of joy (and raspberries) over the last eight months, and we are very grateful to the previous owners for creating something so wonderful. There's a lot of hours work in it of course, but we really hope that it will give the girls lots of pleasure over the coming years too.

Here's a few more snaps of some of the work done over the first two days - and let's just pretend none of it involved a hole being dug through a water pipe....

Next week we move to our new rental home, just to keep us on our toes, so soon I'm sure I'll be back to playing catch up with my updates...

Hope you've enjoyed this update though; if you'd like to go back to the beginning, here's my other related posts:

House Renovation Part 1

House Renovation Part 2

House Renovation Part 3

House Renovation Part 4

House Renovation Part 5

Life With Munchers
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Learning with Education Quizzes (Review)

I know it's the middle of the summer holidays, but that doesn't mean you can't think ahead a little... we've been asked to review the website Education Quizzes and let you know what it's all about, so here goes!

The Education Quizzes website is full of hundreds of educational questions with multiple choice answers. These are all broken down into sections split by topic and by key stage age (with a very helpful explanation if, like me, you keep forgetting the difference between KS1, KS2, KS3 etc). Other subject areas include 11-plus, English as a second language, and Specialist topics - questions on a variety of subjects, such as Flags of the world, Nature and Art.

The main subject headings are then broken down further, so for example within English quizzes are on Adjectives, Alliteration, Comprehension, Nouns, Spelling.... and the list goes on. Hundreds of areas for your children to delve into - mine found that they wanted to check out those that they felt confident in first, and then try some of the others. There's no time limit, or necessary order, just lots of quizzes for your child to dip in and out of to help underpin their school learning.

Here's an example question from Key Stage 2, English, Adjectives:

It all works fine on an iPhone too, so could be a good way to compromise when you're out!

The quizzes are written by experienced teachers and are a fun way to help your children learn without realising they are doing so - they pose just enough of a challenge that the children don't get bored or tired of them being difficult. Most children love the idea of a bit of screen time and get very quickly absorbed in a website like this, which offers variety in a very easy-to-use format. It also records previous scores, so I'm sure competitive children will like going back and bettering their score in certain areas.

I particularly like the fact that this website doesn't just focus on the core English and Maths subjects; it covers all aspects of the curriculum, from Geography to music, Science and D and T.

A subscription to Education Quizzes costs £9.95 per month, and I personally like the fact that you can cancel at any time, even after just one month. That way you have chance to try it out and see if your children engage with it - I'm pretty sure they'll enjoy it though! There's also a special rate for schools if they sign up for a lot of children, so may be worth considering chatting with your teachers about this. There are also test papers available to download for an extra cost if your children feel they need that extra practise.

Disclosure: we were paid to review this website but all views and opinions are honest and our own.

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Monday, 15 August 2016

Siblings ~ August 2016

What a day for it to be Siblings linky day - and yay, I'm posting on the right day of the month for once!
Steph's Two Girls :)
It's been a struggle to get Sasha to leave the house over the last few days - although she's struggling to express herself at all of late, I think it's the impending house move which is causing a fair bit of anxiety.

So anyway we decided to stay in, but I enticed her into the garden with one of her favourite things - water! Both girls always love a splash around in a pool so this was just the ticket on a hot day like today. I even joined them in my costume, but got as far as putting a toe in the water before I retreated - it was freezing! Didn't stop them slipping and sliding and playing around though, and even if only for a short time, it's always worth it to see the smiles on their faces. Here's some more of the action shots:

Linking up as always with the fabulous Siblings project:

The Me and Mine Project
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House Renovation 2016 - Part 5

So it's been a while... in fact the last House Renovation post I published was from back in February, so this is well overdue!

Reception 2
I'm saving just a little bit back for my next post (which will hopefully bring you bang up to date) but that means I've packed quite a lot into this video, which was all recorded back in March and April.

Good news on the school front, and quite a bit more stripping done. I hope some of you nosey lot enjoy this, but if not, you know I'm documenting it for us and the girls mainly... the next update is worth watching out for though, I promise!

Some photos of how the scenery has been changing along the way, and the girls enjoying the early sun in the garden with a spot of painting:

Bed 2

Bed 2
Bed 2: flowery curtains and plastic wallpaper!
Bed 2

Bed 3


Girls painting in the garden

Click here for the earlier posts if you'd like to see how the house looked when we first got the keys (way back in December, sigh):

House Renovation Part 1

House Renovation Part 2

House Renovation Part 3

House Renovation Part 4

Life With Munchers

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Thursday, 4 August 2016

To Blog or not To Blog?

Ever since the age of 23, I've periodically told my Mum that if my life unexpectedly ended tomorrow, I'd want her to know that I died happy.

That may sound a bit morbid but I absolutely mean it (may have shocked mum the first time I said it, but it's like our in-joke now). Life has been good to me; I've had many opportunities and experiences. My parents gave me the best start they could which I've totally appreciated. Becoming a mother has probably been the most rewarding part of it all, and of course I'm hoping that I've many years to go with that yet (and that the world's supply of Pimms doesn't dry up first).

So what does any of that have to do with this blog post title, I can hear you ask?

I've been writing this blog for over six and a half years now. For the past two years or so I've been asking myself the 'blog or not blog' question. And then, I came across this blog post written by a mother whose son drowned in the bath in an NHS specialist learning disability unit. If you've followed the Justice for LB campaign, you'll know how harrowing the whole set of events is.

The blogging mother blame is a critical look at what part social media, and the blog, may have played in the events which followed for that mother. At the very least, she was given evidence that she had been watched closely for some time. There have been many times when I've wondered what effect the writing of this blog may have on either of my girls, but of course the truth is that no-one can be sure, there's no real crystal ball.

So far, the blog has brought us amazing opportunities, from special film viewings, to 'free' product to review (there's always a cost in terms of time), special eventsdriving lesson for our eldest and an award nomination for little old me - and that's just scratching the surface of what we've had. I can't deny all of that has made our life happier at different times.

But there's the dark side. The knowledge that some people don't appreciate what I write. Heck, some people don't even read it... but seriously, there's an issue with being online. Described to me once as 'a conflict of interest', the implication was that I shouldn't write anything negative, even if it is true. I'm an honest and open person, but I'll admit it's got to the point where I think twice before typing some of my experiences. That bugs me, if I'm honest.

I suspect I am already being watched. That the blog has put me on a blacklist somewhere. I'm not perfect; I've probably already written some things in error. I can honestly say that it's all been truthful though, and I'm not prone to exaggerating.

My original reason for writing was to share what our autistic girl was like with others, in the hope that they would understand and maybe judge less. It helped me, and I believe it helped family and friends. As time went on, I received emails and messages from readers who thanked me for sharing our story, as it made them feel less alone. Over a 15 week period I ran a series of posts on Pathological Demand Avoidance, to share stories from other families of how PDA affects their lives. I've wanted to write more and more about life in the SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) world, but I've found I have less and less time to do it justice. As life in a mainstream school trundles on for our youngest, there are likely to be more and more issues to contend with and probably not blog about... yet.

I can tell you now in brief about three memorable occasions over the past few years, which have stuck in my mind and brought tears to my eyes. In the early days, the very first 'professional' I told about our girl's diagnosis looked me in the eye as she said 'oh Steph, I'm so sorry'. I was stung; I didn't want her pity, I wanted her help with my daughter. The second phrase was a lovely lady telling me that 'your daughter will be alright, because she's got you as her parents'. On the face of it, this seemed like a nice thing to say, but the implication there was that there were many others worse off, who didn't have decent homes and loving and caring parents. True, but not what I needed to hear at that time. Again, I needed help. Finally, there was the nurse recently, who made a special trip back to my bedside while I was in hospital with our girl, to tell me that she thought I was an amazing mum. I'll never forget that, because it was clear that she meant it from her heart and she wasn't just saying it.

I can tell you those stories because the first two were a long time ago, and the third one is a heartwarming one. It's the other words I can't tell you, yet, which eat away at me. My mother always said 'if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all', but I'm all for telling the truth, in the nicest way possible. I think you'd be shocked by some of the things which have been said to me along the way. Unless you're a parent of a child with special needs yourself of course, in which case you may have heard some of them yourself.

So the other questions still ring round my head - if there's any chance the blog may have a negative effect, why not just stop it now? What is the blog actually doing for us?

Yes we've had those amazing opportunities, but I'd have given them all up in an instant to not have had the need to begin this blog in the first place. To not have our eldest daughter crying on my shoulder, sobbing that she gets embarrassed by things her sister does, and telling me that even classmates she would consider friends at school are mean about her sister and say unkind things. I'd also willingly go back to full-time work, in the chosen career that I worked hard at for several years, to not have to try and scrape small amounts together by taking ad-hoc poorly paid jobs because I can never guarantee being available, thanks to multiple school and health appointments, and the over-riding fear that one day our youngest will simply refuse to go to school at all.

Just recently, two other SEND bloggers whose blogs I've followed for some time, announced they were quitting blogging. Looking for Blue Sky echoed some of the concerns floating in my head, that what I've been tending to write of late may be coming across as negative. I'm not a negative person; as per my opener, I like to think I'm fairly positive and generally happy with my lot. It's not a complaint, just fact that there is a lot more to contend with when you are mum to a child with additional needs (not least the language - just edited that after initially typing 'special needs', a phrase I'm not wholly comfortable with. Therein lies another post). I say that with confidence, because I am also mum to another child without those needs.

The last thing I want to do, is to come across as a 'poor me' person. That is never my intention. Sharing our story to spread understanding and acceptance is still the main aim of this blog. The sad truth is that sharing only the positives is not likely to achieve that, so a balance is needed. I'll apologise now if it veers towards being more negative at times of stress, but please believe me when I say it's not for pity.

I'm not entirely sure I've come to any decent conclusion on the original question, but for now I'll carry on regardless. My need to share and to spread the word about PDA and the SEND system is currently stronger than the fear of what the consequences of being honest may be. Let's hope it doesn't prove to be a bad choice. I'm doing this still, as I was at the beginning, for both my girls.

To end on a cheery note, I'm going to leave you with the fun fact that the most read post of all time on my blog is about making enormous bubbles. My one and only 'craft' post. If only I had more time...

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Monday, 1 August 2016

When going out is not so easy....

My previous post reviewing the London Aquarium originally had some extra words in it. I decided to edit them out and put them in this separate post as I felt it was fairer for the brand to leave the original review post as a happy, 'pure' account of what is a great attraction. However, it seems I can't leave the other words unwritten, so please do bear with me.

Recently I read this post: The parents who cannot leave the house with their own children.

My comment on it was: 'All so true. Six years down the line from diagnosis, we go out infrequently. When our girl was younger, it was very isolating to not be able to go to the toddler groups, and it made it very difficult to keep friendships going. We make an effort when we feel the time is right, and with much preparation, but we always have a Plan B and we just acknowledge that we most probably can’t stay out for a long time even if we do make it out of the door. We would love to do social things like eat out in restaurants, go to the school summer fair, just drop in on a carnival if the weather is nice, but none of this is possible. It’s a different life from the one we thought we would have, but we just do what we can when we can. It’s important to keep talking about this so that others without these issues can begin to understand though'

I'm sure that most people looking at my Instagram or Facebook feed this week will have assumed that we had the perfect, easy day out. The perils of social media. This sort of trip might seem like an exciting adventure to other children. A trip that the parents know would be worth the money, because they'd take their time seeing the sights, both outside and inside, and probably enjoy a leisurely family meal somewhere along the way.

Nope, that's not it for us. A trip that almost doesn't happen, a trip that causes travel sickness and extreme anxiety before you've even left the house, a trip that is whizzed through and 'enjoyed' at breakneck speed, while you tiptoe through trying to make it as accessible and 'fun' as possible for two very different children. A trip cut short for your non-autistic sibling who could be doing so much more. A trip that you wouldn't have made if it wasn't for the fact that you were gifted free tickets to do a review, because the thought of throwing that much money away if your child refused to go is unbearable.

We can never be sure that our girl with Pathological Demand Avoidance will agree to leave the house; she's not at all keen on travelling anywhere as she gets highly anxious at even the thought of being travel sick. Cars or trains, both equally unpleasant for her.

What may appear from a Facebook or Instagram feed as a fun day out in pictures may not be quite so simple in reality. For us, it means doing literally nothing except staying at home the days either side of a trip, to keep calm before and destress after. The trip has to be to a place that Sasha has an interest in - no Natural History museum or carnivals or guided tours for us for example. Luckily, Sasha loves fish!

On this occasion, it was straight to the Aquarium and straight back - a quick visit in the Aquarium itself with no chance of visiting any of the other amazing sights in London on the same day (the London Eye got a resounding 'no' when I suggested it as a different trip). I was extremely lucky to get a couple of posed photographs - in this one of the girls playing on the art benches, you'd never guess that Sasha was moaning about walking back to the station both before and after this shot, would you?! I don't mean just a bit of whinging, I mean that I was facing the full-on possibility that she wouldn't walk any further and I might have to carry her....

There's rarely an easy day out for a family living with PDA. I can appreciate how many places and activities I could access easily if I had two children like our eldest girl (by that I'm not in any way saying I don't love our youngest of course!). We did make it out this time, and it was well worth it. We have been lucky to experience some brilliant opportunities through my blog, but holiday times often bring home just how isolating and unlike everyone else's 'normal' our free time is. We manage, we juggle, and we do have support at times, which I know some other families don't have at all.

It's easy to get lost in the moment of what's difficult for your own family, especially if you suspect that all the others around you are having so much more fun. There may be many other reasons why other families are feeling similar; lack of money to access top attractions, poor health of family members, parents having to work in the summer holidays etc. I suspect most families have their up and down times. Another blog I'd urge you to read is over on Selfish Mother - The future I'm trying to change. Imagine not wanting to leave the house because you have no idea where you could safely change your child?

So anyhow, I'm not complaining, I just feel it's important to highlight the differences, for other families living with autism and PDA who may be less fortunate than us. Often, all they need is a little understanding.

Maybe you could ask if there's anything which would work for those families you know with autistic children? A short family visit to their house, some time out separately for the siblings, or a meet in a park which is local and known to them? Not everything is impossible, often it just takes a bit more thought and planning. That could make the difference between someone feeling lonely and isolated or happy and included this summer.

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