Let them play

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Let them play!

My heart is happy. My son is sitting on the living room floor with a large canvas bag and a pile of teddies. He fills the bag full of teddies, takes them out one by one and then refills the bag once again. It may seem very different to what other seven year old boys do but he is playing.

So I let him play.

Sometimes I get right down on that floor beside him and name those teddies. ‘This is Elmo’ and ‘This one is a panda’ and so on. I almost feel pressured to turn his play into a learning experience or a speech and language therapy session. When your child has significant disabilities and delays the pressure to use anything to ‘bring them on’ is overwhelming. But sometimes they just need to be children. Sometimes we need to allow them to explore and learn and enjoy being in their own world.

So let them play.

When the weather is more favourable we like to go to parks. Sometimes we walk about, or have a swing or venture down a little slide. I have to be so careful that any places are fully enclosed and have equipment that can take the weight of an older child still using frames build for younger, much lighter, children. But mostly our biggest problems is the general public who see my child licking the equipment, or flapping or running around in circles and they mock. And while he knows no different, I do. So he loves the baby swings, so what? He takes a whole lot longer than other just to climb up a few steps and manoeuvre his body down a slide. So what? He is enjoying the park, the fresh air, and learning from others.

He is playing.

I can’t let him be in the garden alone. He can’t join a football team or a drama club. He can barely balance enough to run never mind ice skate or dance. But boy does he love a good tickle! Or some rough and tumble play on the bed. He loves nursery rhymes with actions even if he can’t do any of them himself yet. He loves stories and videos and Peppa Pig. He loves sensory activities like lights and repeating sounds. He likes buttons to press, tummies to squeeze, toys that pour out and anything with water. His toy collection is all things for under three year olds. I am totally fine with that because they make him happy.

And they enable him to play.

We haven’t reached the imaginative play stage yet. Or the social play. He can’t read or write or even speak. He can’t kick a ball or throw and catch. Cars are just something he puts in his mouth to chew on. But fill a ball pull full of toy plastic food and he will sit there for ages exploring, looking and rummaging. He loves his iPad. He loves a DVD player. But most of all he loves his mummy.

So before he gets bored of those teddies I am off to play with him. It is one of the most important and most beautiful things a child can do.

However they do it…let them play!

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The less they get, the happier they are

imageIt is the day after Christmas Day and if social media were to be believed my children have been pretty hard done by. Except they haven’t.

By society’s standard in the country I live in we are considered to have little income. But in actual fact we are very rich indeed.

This Christmas my children received less than many others. Much of what they had yesterday was second hard or given by family. Yet this truly has been our best Christmas ever.

Both of my beautiful twins have a developmental neurological condition called autism. Despite being seven year old my son is unable to speak and has significant communication difficulties. He can not ask or show me what he would like as a gift at any time of year and only plays on rare occasions with toys suitable for infants. My daughter has zero concept of peer pressure or current trends and instead likes to re-enact things she has seen on TV or a DVD. She likes simple, small toys that she can line up.

So I decided this year to give them the Christmas THEY wanted. I was brought up as one of four children with extended family of uncles, aunts and grandparents and a minimum of twelve people at the table for Christmas dinner every year. I loved it! My children would hate this!

So we socialised less. We had less people here; in fact we had no-one around on Christmas Day at all and we all stayed home.

We ate less. The kids had no selection boxes or sweets at all and instead had some fish bites and chips for lunch and sausages and mash with baked beans for dinner later on. We never even had pudding. Not because we could not afford it but because no-one was bothered.

We were at peace. We were content. The less we got and did, the happier we all were.

imageIsaac loved a simple book. And a toy toaster that only just cost marginally more then the wrapping paper I used to wrap it in! A family member bought him a plastic jar of magnetic letters. It brought him huge joy and despite being described by professionals as ‘own agenda’ and ‘in his own world’, he gave me eye contact and smiles and vocalised to get me to tell him the letters and numbers as he showed me them. An inexpensive item bringing priceless moments of love, communication, connection and education.

imageNaomi had a new DVD and some small characters. But one of the things she loved most was a small game of bowling which she used her new characters to play with time and time again. Turn taking, fine motor control, imagination and maths skills all coming into play in a toy that cost just a few pounds. And together we spent some beautiful time together playing a game of dominoes that cost half the price of a roll of sticky tape bought to wrap the gifts in! Gran bought her a tub of Lego and she helped me make a pencil. That pencil became a magic pencil that wrote letters and passwords all over the house.

A few days before Christmas I came back from a meeting at my sons school to a note through my door. All it said was there was a parcel in the bin for me. When I went to retrieve it I discovered two bin bags of wrapped gifts for my children.image I have no idea who did this but it was such a beautiful act. One box was full of second hand transformer type toys. My son has fiddled with these and my daughter is fascinated by the moving parts. Another gift was a craft set my daughter loves and another was some children’s make up which Naomi says will make her even more beautiful. (I don’t believe that is possible!)

It has been a very simple Christmas, by choice rather than need. The children got less but in doing so we ALL got more. More in the way of quality time with them, more peace, more calmness and more appreciation of the things we so often take for granted. For the first time they were not overwhelmed or pressured and neither were we.

I love Christmas; I always have done. But this year my children taught me the true meaning of it all. Baby Jesus was born in the most humble and basic of circumstances and in our humble Christmas this year we found a closeness and a magic we have not had before. My children showed me that the less they get, the happier they are.

Well apart from love that is! You can never ever have too much love!

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So yes…I am doing it for ME!

imageIt’s the week before my twins have their seventh birthday. The invites are sent, the venue booked, cakes arranged and party bags all ready. This crazy mum has only gone and arranged a party for them!

And you know what? I am doing it all for ME!

There I said it.

I have invited children I want there, I have organised the cakes I want, and I have put what I want in the party bags.

That may sound very selfish. And it may well be. But for once I NEED this. I NEED my children to be part of some sort of ‘social norm’, I NEED them to feel ‘included’ and I NEED them to take part in society in some way.

So yes my son will not speak to a single other child. He probably won’t even recognise the children there or play with any other person. He won’t thank anyone for a present or open any cards and it is highly unlikely he will join in any activities. He has no concept of what a party or a birthday is even about now I think about it. So I can assure myself I am not going to all the effort of a party for HIS behalf. He would happily have spent a day watching lift doors opening or closing or watching hand dryers.

His sister on the other hand may like the concept of a party but the actual reality of it is a different matter. It will be hit or miss wether she speaks on the day, wether she will join in on her terms or not and she will certainly not be the life and soul of the party in any way. Social events are a bit of a nightmare for her and the noise and bustle of a busy room could sent her into sensory overload.

So why am I doing this to them?

Firstly they miss out on so much in life. They don’t ever get out to play with friends or get invited to a sleep over. They never get to go to brownies, or rainbows or boys brigade. My son has no friends (not that he even gets that concept) and my daughter has just one friend she talks to. Play dates just don’t happen around here. They are isolated and excluded from so much and for once I want them to be part of society. Is that such a bad thing?

Secondly, they may have zero social awareness but I do. All the other kids have a party on their birthday and I want my children to experience that too. I don’t want them to be ‘neuro typical’ or ‘normal’ but I also don’t want them to be bullied for being different either, especially when my daughter attends mainstream school. They may have no idea about peer pressure just now but I also want to protect them from cruel children who think nothing of bullying a child because they were the only one not to have a party. They are growing up in a non autistic world that sadly will not always be kind to them and sometimes I just want to protect them a bit. So I am doing it for ME so I feel they are just the same. Wether that is right or wrong is not up for debate. It is what I feel is right this year.

Thirdly, for just once, I want my children to be the centre of attention even if they don’t know it. They deserve their moment in the spotlight just as much as any other child. They rarely get to be called up at school for achievements and they never get awards outside school because they are unable to attend any after school activities. So while I am throwing the party for ME it is because I want people to notice my children, love on them and enjoy being with them. We just don’t get that much.

I just want to say I am not being cruel to my children. I have booked a centre for children with support needs. There will be a fabulous sensory room for my son which I know he loves. If it is too much for my daughter she can have as much time out as she needs. They won’t hate it all, they just won’t ‘conform’ to social norms on the day. And that is fine by me.

It is two hours of their day. Seven years Is worth celebrating. THEY are worth celebrating.

So we are having a party. And yes, I am doing it for ME. Is that really so bad?

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The effect on me…

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Having children affects everyone. You become less focussed on yourself and more focussed on another. You sleep less, go out a lot less and consider it a great achievement to get a shower without interruption. But as time passes the children slowly become more independent and confident and you little by little gain more of yourself back again.

Well that is how it works when you have typical developing children anyway. But what if that very needy, all-consuming, up through the night, needing a huge amount of time stage never ends?

It is well documented that parents of very young children are vulnerable and prone to depression, mental illness, and can easily become socially isolated. Health professionals are trained to look out for this and regularly check for signs that all is not well as research has shown that sleep deprivation and coping with the high demands of a baby or young child take a huge toll on parents.

But it is expected that season will pass as the child grows.

But for some, like myself, that season just keeps going on. And not because I went on to have another child either. It is because almost seven years after having my babies I still face the high demands, the daily intimate care needs, the lack of sleep and the stress of milestones not being met. My children have disabilities and the pressure parents of very young babies face is still very much the same as what I face daily. I still change nappies, I wash my children and dress them, I am still singing nursery rhymes and trying to teach one to say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’, I am still cutting food up and putting socks on that have been pulled off.

And that long-term intensity has to have an effect on me.image

It takes it’s toll mentally in that some days I could just sit and cry. The doctor could give me tablets but the pain and stress would still be there. Some days the effort to get dressed and get out the house just seems too much. Except unlike parents of babies who don’t have to leave the house and can go back to bed, my children have school to get to even if one of them still only functions at the level of a 1-year-old.

It takes it’s toll socially in that going out at night is impossible. Besides the fact I have huge caring responsibilities and am permanently exhausted, baby sitters are a rarity for families like mine. Who has the physical ability to carry a large six-year-old out of a bath and dry him and dress him? Who has the emotional strength to deal with a little one having a panic attack because her mum has left the house? Even if I did find that special someone I have no motivation to get dressed up and make myself presentable when my body just craves sleep.

It takes it’s toll physically. The lifting and carrying of a baby can make a mum’s arms ache but when the ‘baby’ is two thirds of your height and a quarter of your weight how do you manage? Seeing to personal needs of a toddler who decides to crawl away is a challenge. Seeing to the personal needs of a child who can bite, punch, kick and climb is an altogether harder challenge. When they are long past the age of using a baby change in public and you have to find a way to meet those needs in public toilets not build for that purpose your body aches and bends in ways you never thought possible.

It takes it’s toll financially. Babies cost. I often hear parents complaining at the cost of essential items like prams, car seats, cots and nappies. Second hand is sometimes an option though. But not when you enter the ‘special needs’ market and you have to look for elastic waisted soft trousers for a child who can not dress himself yet aged 6. Or you have to think about paying for private therapies not available on the NHS. Then there is the cost of hospital trips, the fact the schools are miles away from home and special needs sensory toys come at a huge cost. And I still have to buy wipes, and bedding and nappies and other ‘baby’ items six years on.

It just all takes it’s toll on me.

The days of people ‘popping by’ to see if I am ok has long passed. The excitement of coming to see those new babies has long gone. The phone calls from friends to hear how the babies are stopped many years ago. Yet the reality of my life never changed much.

Yes, my children have changed me for the better, but full-time caring for a disabled child takes it’s toll.

Please, if you know someone who has a child with any sort of disability, think about and do what you can to help the child. But have a think what you could do to help mum or dad too. Believe me they need support more than you may ever realise.

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This is my ‘normal’

This is my ‘normal’

The intense sadness is beginning to ease now. Waves of heaviness still creep up on me at times but I cry, wipes my tears away and face another day with a smile.
Maybe I am getting to that point of acceptance?
Maybe I am realising it isn’t the end of the world and I still have two beautiful, amazing children?
Or maybe it has all just become ‘normal’?

I looked back on some old videos and photos this week. There were happy moments of my children playing, flapping moments at lifts, lovely memories of my daughter singing, and too many photos of my children eating! Reminders of how things were and a stark reminder that in many ways things are just the same.image

My son still has his chubby cheeks, big brown eyes and cheeky smile. My daughter has stunning golden hair, piercing blue eyes and beautiful petite features.
And my son is still not speaking…

This is my ‘normal’.

Since my children were months old I have been trailing them regularly to hospitals and clinics. We have so many professionals involved they have to add extra chairs at every meeting. If we decide to change something, if my children have medical issues arise or don’t eat their dinner for a couple of nights I feel I have to call everyone to keep them up-to-date. I have phone calls from schools, people dealing with our children, and others who have just received referrals about them on an everyday basis. We have to take our mobiles everywhere and be available to pick our children up at short notice at any time. Every week I have to discuss with transport about times my child will not be at school due to appointments.

This is my ‘normal’.

I have visuals in every room of my house, we have regimented routines, I read the same bedtime story every single night. I make the same dinners, in the same way, at the same time every week. I buy my children the exact same shoes in the next size hoping they won’t notice I have changed them as their feet grow. We visit the same places we have been to before. I use google street map to show places before we go there and I have become an expert at knowing where every single lift is in every shopping centre within travelling distance of my house. I spend hours watching hand dryers with my son because it keeps him happy.

This is my ‘normal’.image

I can’t tell you if, or when, my son may speak. I can not tell you if, or when, my daughter may overcome her severe anxiety or be able to speak in school. I can not say if, or when, my son will ever stop wearing nappies. I do know my son is unlikely to ever attend mainstream school in any capacity. I have no idea if he will ever learn to read or write. I have no idea if his tumours will grow anywhere else in his body or if his seizures will remain stable.
I live with uncertainty. But I also live with intense gratitude.

This is my ‘normal’.

I am thankful for everything. I celebrate the mundane. I kiss and hug my children in private and in public without caring what anyone thinks. I smile because I have a thousand reasons and more to cause me to. I laugh with my children. I treasure life and find enjoyment in everyday moments. I take pictures of my children like tomorrow is not guaranteed. I love with all my heart because my children have taught me too.

This is my ‘normal’. And normal is good.