The truth about autism parenting

Search for funny memes, quotes and cartoons about parenting and you’ll be inundated with an expanse of choice. Type in ‘funny autism parenting memes’ and the selection is somewhat depressing.

Autism isn’t funny, some of you might be thinking. Autism parenting is really hard and shouldn’t be laughed at. Well…this is where I obviously differ. Finding humour can make things feel more normal. It’s important for me to find humour in all aspects of my parenting. I don’t discriminate between my children – they’re both equally irritating.

I don’t see my son’s autism as bad thing, nor do I see it as a superpower. My innate operating system is Windows 8. He runs on OS X. I basically understand OS X, it just takes me a while to sometimes ‘get’ it. He thinks Windows 8 is fucking idiotic and makes no sense whatsoever. Perhaps he has a point.

He also has biological toddler genes, so sometimes it’s really hard to tell whether he’s being a massive pain in the arse because of his operating system or because of the psychopathic toddler personality winning through.

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me or think I’m somehow admirable for how I manage. Because of my boy, I have developed some amazing skills and gained invaluable knowledge that I will be forever grateful for.

Ninja skills: I have the ability to predict a strike and intercept with lightening precision. 86% of the time. Not only could I catch a fly with a pair of chopsticks, I could also put a jumper on it, get a pair of trousers on, not bother with shoes and get it strapped into a car seat all whilst blocking blows to the face and keeping a calm demeanour.

Running skills: I was never one for sports at school, least of all running. Now I can go from zero to sprint in 0.4 seconds at any given opportunity. Even from a sitting position.

Language skills: I don’t bother with silly, quirky language any more and say exactly what I mean. If I don’t want to have to break out the ninja skills, I say the dinner is ready when it is exactly ready, not five minutes after I’ve finished faffing arranging the food perfectly symmetrically on the plate. I also show what I mean -for example, what is five minutes? Is it a ‘Dad’ five minutes going for a quick poo which is in fact twenty minutes? Or is it his sister’s five minutes putting her shoes on which is actually an eternity? Neither. It is the exact amount of time is takes for the last grain of sand to fall through the hourglass.

Detective skills: Like a Chief Superintendent scanning a crime scene for evidence, I have the ability to hone in on possible clues to indicate reasons for a meltdown or an incident and will immediately log it in my memory bank to ensure that it never, ever occurs again. It’s not always obvious and can sometimes take a great deal of investigation. Other times, seeing two kids and one Thomas The Tank Engine toy, it’s a no brainer. *Breaks out ninja skills.

Planning skills: Taking into account all previous incidences that have been permanently embedded in my brain, I have to carefully execute meticulously thought out plans and have a back up contingency plan for any unforeseen circumstances that may have been impossible to predict. Not only could I perfectly carry out a counter terrorism hostage retrieval operation, I could grab a 6-pinter of milk from the shop and still be home to watch 40 episodes of Thomas before bedtime. Or the same episode 40 times. It varies.

Those toddler genes have a lot to answer for.

Pair of pliers with tea. Standard. Nothing to see here.
The pliers was his idea. Not part of an emergency backup plan.

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A smile is all it takes…

I’ve almost entirely stopped caring now about the judgements I receive when I’m out with The Boy. He is a fairly sizeable 3 year old and it’s not unknown to receive a disapproving look when I’m carrying him or pushing him in the buggy. I don’t care that it looks like I’m carrying a 15 year old boy like a chimp baby.

He rarely has shoes on. This is mostly met with amusement and bewilderment at how he walks across sharp gravel like it’s soft grass. I’m passed caring about that.

The ear-piercing scream and lurching towards me to swipe at my face or bite me? Yeah…sometimes a little harder to take but all in all, I don’t care about everyone else. I’m just concentrating on trying to make things better for The Boy. Mostly for my sake – I’m no angel – but a little for him too.

Today was one of those days. I’d taken him to his favourite place. Did everything he liked in the order he liked it. Made our way to the highlight of the day and all was going swimmingly. We arrived at a short queue for the steam train but all was good in the world because I’d pre-purchased the ticket. It was a minute maximum to keep him from losing his shit and becoming angry hulk boy about not getting on the train instantly. Then the big decision…whose poor carriage do we get into knowing there was going to be some ‘social issues’ whenever other human beings are involved.

Carriage full of kids. Avoided. Carriage with a small space left. Avoided. Carriage with chairs that can be climbed over (despite people sitting on them). Avoided. An end carriage, closed in, only two other people – an older couple. This will do. In my head I’m already feeling sorry for them and apologising for The Boy. I know I shouldn’t but I do do this.

We get on. The Boy instantly wants to stand next to the window. It’s where he always stands. Shit. “Ted, sitting here.” I try knowing it’s futile. He tries to push his way to the window again. “Ted, sitting here.” Desperately trying to redirect him knowing it’s pointless. In my head I’m hoping the couple get it and offer to move, but they don’t. He tries again. “Ted, sitting here.” Aaaaaaaand….meltdown.

There’s the scream. Oh, and here comes the biting. Now he’s smashing his head against the bench. Still screaming. Perfect.

The couple just look at me, horrified. “Ted, sitting here.” Utterly pointless but I try, mainly to show them that I am trying. Still they stare at me, waiting for me to ‘do something’ to stop the noise. The Boy lurches towards the woman’s leg and grabs her ankle. “Owwwwww!” she shouts as The Boy buries his nails into her skin. Fuck. I wasn’t expecting that. “I’m so sorry. He has autism and doesn’t understand why I’m stopping him standing next to the window, where he always stands.”  Still nothing. Just a stare boring into my soul, whilst leg rubbing. They’re looking at me like I’m the most abhorrent parent in the universe.

In a second, it flashes across my mind. “Get out. Just apologise and get out. It was a fucking stupid idea bringing him here today.”

As I’m visualising taking him off the train, my mouth opens and what came out even surprised me. “Would you mind if we swapped seats?”

She looked at me like I’d just asked if it would be okay if I pulled my knickers down and take a dump on the floor. She didn’t answer me – just stared. After an excruciating five seconds, she and her husband stood up and let The Boy stand near the window, making their annoyance well known with their audible tuts and sighs.

The train moved forward. The Boy was calm. Sweaty and red, but calm. I held him on my lap and kissed the back of his head. Inwardly, I was laughing. Laughing at the lunacy of the situation that I find myself in so regularly. Laughing at the rage The Boy must have felt when he gouged the poor woman’s leg. Laughing at how the carriage was eerily silent after what had probably felt like an eternity of screaming.

About halfway into the train ride, all was still calm. Everyone had resumed normal business. The kids were chatting busily with their parents, asking a million questions and dispensing a million facts. The traumatised couple sat next to me had relaxed into the ride and were chatting about the flora and fauna. All was well.

As I looked up, I noticed the mum sat opposite looking at me. She held my gaze and then she smiled. She continued to look into my face for a few seconds before we both looked away. In those few moments, she had said a thousand words:

“It’s okay.”
“I understand.”
“I don’t judge you.”
“It hasn’t bothered me.”
“You’re doing great.”
“We’re in this together.”

I don’t know what her experience of autism is, nor do I care. She just got it and wanted to tell me. That’s when the tears unexpectedly erupted. I buried my head into the back of The Boy’s mass of tangled hair and let a few tears fall. I’m sure she wouldn’t have wanted me to have cried at her show of kindness, but it meant so very much.

We all have those desperate situations as parents, regardless of whether your child is impaired or not. Those moments when you think, “what the fuck am I doing? I have no idea what to do next.” You know you’ll get through it. You always do, but that bit of recognition speaks volumes and makes it feel okay.  A smile is really all it takes to make things feel a little better. Thank you to her. I will always be grateful for that smile.

Is it really good to be different?

For World Autism Awareness Week, I wanted to share some photos of The Boy, celebrating what it is to be different. I wanted to highlight his quirks and nuances and be proud of all the things that make him different.

It seems being different is celebrated in a way to help children that don’t quite fit in feel better about themselves. But should we really be celebrating difference?

I’m a persistent over-sharer, not because I get to hear people congratulate me on being brave for being different, but because I seek solace from those that say they feel exactly the same way. How many of you have felt relief after reading something that you could relate to on many levels? How many of us belong to groups and join forums just to be among like-minded people? Is that a bad thing? It’s human nature to want to belong, to fit in, to be accepted and to feel comfortable around those that are similar. It is what helped the human species survive in the first place after all.

My olive skin is a completely different shade to my daughter’s pale creamy tones. But we share the same DNA. My son learns and understands the world differently to me. But we share the same DNA. I have friends of all different faiths, backgrounds, colour and ability. But as humans, we are all variations of the same DNA.

Perhaps it’s not revering people’s differences that should be encouraged, but understanding and accepting that, actually, we’re not all that differentThere’s probably more that unites us all in our similarities than there ever will be to divide us in our differences.

As the research rumbles on into understanding autism, I hope that one day, autism will be viewed in much the same way as a personality trait or characteristic; something that is taken for granted rather than feared. I don’t want to cure my son’s autism anymore than cure his shaggy, light brown hair or round, green eyes. It’s part of him. Of his DNA. So, instead of celebrating my son for being special or different, I’m going to commend him just for being him; undeniably brilliant.

Photo credits to my dear friend, Maria.

Why can’t you be more like…

I thought having autism might free my son from my perpetual comparing but apparently not; as we all sat together in his group session for children with communication and socialising difficulties, I studied the only girl in the group. She’s a gentle soul, afflicted with over receptive senses that suppress her. She contorts her body to try and cope, making the space she is in and the world she struggles to understand as small as possible. She is completely silent apart from the delightful tinkle of laughter she emits when she’s being tickled and I’ve never seen a child so mesmerised by shaving foam. What I can see is a calm, passive, non-aggressive, quiet and amenable little girl – the very opposite of my boy – and for just a few guilt-ridden moments, I stare at her and wish that he could be more like her.

I see her for a snapshot of her life, once a week, and can only see enviable qualities that my son doesn’t have. What I don’t see is how long it takes to get her dressed. I don’t see her screaming in pain as she’s being washed. I don’t see her frozen in fear at the sound of a plane. I don’t see how very small her universe must be in order for her to cope. I’m guessing at these things of course. But we all have desperate moments.

Perhaps in a tiny snapshot of life, there’ll be someone looking at my boy and only seeing a passionate, curious, energetic, enthusiastic and happy child and perhaps wishing that their passive, introvert, quiet and shy kid was more like him. I wish that someone was me but it isn’t. In the fog of exhaustion, it is sometimes just too hard.

Now I’ve got it off my chest, I could make a solemn vow, from this moment on, to stop making comparisons when times get tricky…but I won’t. It’s a promise I know I will break and that will only add to the mountain of guilt that I was bequeathed the moment I became a parent. No…I will let the thoughts in. I will take a moment to look at them, accept their truth, and then let them float on by without further attention. I will remind myself that everything passes. I will remind myself that I am doing the best I can. I will remind myself that everything will be okay. I will remind myself that I am that someone (very nearly) all of the time.

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Strategies for spectrum children that might be useful for ALL children

There is a statistic that gets thrown about that dentistry is actually about 30% evidence-based and 70% anecdotal. I reckon that parenting is probably very similar and how I have made a five year old that only appears to have all the annoying traits of every other fellow preschooler is definitely more luck than judgement.

And then came my second born who turned out to have additional needs associated with autism. Everything that works for the neurologically normal child has no place in the universe with a spectrum child, mainly because they’re not experiencing the same universe. However, with a little gentle support and guidance (for me, not him), it all became painfully clear – I have to get into his universe. A world where things are literal and sometimes very overwhelming, to try and merge the two realities together.

Whilst on this journey, I have learnt many ways to help him (and me) cope and it became obvious how five main strategies in helping our spectrum child would also be enormously helpful to our non-spesh kiddo.

The Iceberg Analogy

Our boy is fairly non-verbal and his only means of communication presently is screaming, biting, hitting and physical positioning. Very antisocial behaviour which his father and I happily acccept (mostly) because we know he has no other way of dealing with whatever it is that is bothering him. However, we still have to be detectives to find out exactly what it was so we can (hopefully) avoid it the next time. I make this sound easy of course. A spectrum child may have an increased sense of smell, taste, hatred of lights and sounds, and many other things we take for granted that become overwhelming for them.

This got me a thinking. Just because my son has ASD, does this make his feelings more valid than my daughter’s? Ugh. No, I suppose it doesn’t. Which really means I have to stop dismissing my daughter’s feelings so readily just because she is sobbing her heart out, frantically licking chocolate spread off a spoon, because I didn’t do something in quite the way she wanted. I have to not focus on the behaviour being exhibited (as fantastically irritating as that may be), but look at the cause lying under the surface and see what I can do to help.

Take-up time

My son has no concept of time and sand timers offend him. Getting him to understand that something needed to come to an end so we could leave the house, especially when he was micro focused on his trains, or transfixed with Thunderbirds, was always a bit tricky. Then I was introduced to the idea of take-up time – a short amount of time for him to comes to terms with the fact that something will be ending and something new beginning. I have found that he likes counting so whenever his activity needs to end, I explain, “In three, this will be finished” and give him a countdown from three using my fingers as a visual cue. Not a lot of time, 3 seconds, but it seems enough to allow him to cope with it.

I now use a similar strategy with my daughter. She is more aware of time as a concept, but has no clue what time means. So I use watches, clocks and timers as a visual way to give her time to come to terms with what needs to happen next. Yeah, I may still get the mind melting whinge noise on occasion, but on the whole, it really does work a treat.

No is a swear word

This has to be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Give up the N word. It’s not until someone tells you that you need to stop using it that you realise how thoroughly entrenched it is into daily life – especially with children. Every other word seems to be a teeth-clenched or exasperated, “NO!”

So what’s the thinking behind it. Well, spectrum children are very good at filtering things out, meaning that they can sometimes get mistaken for being deaf or ignorant. They’re merely having to bang the radiator repeatedly with a wooden spoon so they can focus on that rather than whatever it may be that is bothering them. Therefore, the word “no” gets filtered out too because it’s part of the background stimulation that is discombobulating them. Plus, they aren’t learning anything from the word. It doesn’t provide any information for the spectrum child. So what do you do instead? This leads me to the next strategy.

Say what you want, not what you see

The boy has particularly anti-social behaviour. Just saying “NO HITTING!” every time he hit or bit another child, made no difference to his intention because it provided him with no information on what to so instead. It also left me feeling very frustrated because I could see it meant jack shit to him. Therefore, giving him an instruction such as, “hands down” or “feet on floor” provides him with a clearer directive, and me a productive way to deal with the behaviour. He hasn’t stopped hitting or pushing but he definitely responds when he hears me saying, “hands down” meaning he’ll hesitate before sending a toddler hurtling off the top of a slide giving me enough time to catch them.

I think all children are very open to the power of suggestion, and hopefully now, my girl also benefits from clearer guidance focussing on the positive rather than the negative.

Backward chaining

Definitely my favourite. Spectrum children can disappear for hours in an activity that motivates them and have zero interest in anything else. This makes playing with a spectrum child quite difficult. Encouraging them to partake in other activities that might be a bit of a challenge for them is very important and how you do this is something called ‘backward chaining’. So you have a simple puzzle, for example, fill it in leaving just one piece out, then get the kid to put the last piece in, congratulate them and say, “well done for finishing.” The next time, you leave two pieces out and so on. This also works for getting dressed. Put all the clothes on, all bar one arm and then encourage them to do it. When they do, you say, “Well done for getting dressed!”

The thinking behind this is self esteem. We all know that sticking one arm in a jumper is not getting dressed but rather than laying out a pair of trousers and a jumper and saying, “get dressed and I’ll help when you get stuck,” by working backwards, it means there is less chance of failure; the child doesn’t get despondent because the activity is too hard and overwhelming therefore the activity always feels good.

So there you have it. Easier said than done. In fact, if anyone can give me ideas for alternatives to “NO BITING!” I would greatly appreciate it. “Kind mouth” or “soft teeth” just ain’t cutting it at the moment. Answers on a postcard….
Picture credits:

Now You’re Talking

It’s been a bit of a tricky and stressful year with Ted, hence my recent absence.

We’ve been working really hard on getting him to communicate with us; teaching him signs for ‘more’ or ‘help’. It seemed to take some serious repetition and time to get it but even then it would be hit and miss and meltdowns were violent and frequent.

Recently, my husband and I started a course run by the National Autistic Society which has revolutionised our thinking.

All this time, we were so stuck on trying to get him to speak ‘our’ language that we couldn’t see he was already talking to us. The power of non-verbal communication is key to development in babies and is the building blocks for verbal communication. It is what unfortunately gets a bit skewed with children on the spectrum. But it’s still very much there and now we have been awakened to it, it has started to change our lives.

Hello. My Name is Ted

Me and my Dor Me and my Dor

Hello. Ted here.

It seems there has been a bit of a communication break through between my parents and me. I have learned to understand some new words; some I like and others not so much. ‘Finished’ and ‘hands down’ are my least favourite.

But it seems something more than that has happened. Dor has started to pick up more on my language too. There always seemed to be such a lot of noises and hand gestures that I just didn’t understand and when I did understand, I would tell her my answer but she didn’t seem to get it. Sometimes I would tell her with my eyes. Sometimes I would tell her with a small gesture of my hand. Sometimes I would try and make my own sound but she wouldn’t respond to me and this would make me feel angry and frustrated.

I never…

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Consciously Uncoupling Facebook

It’s been one whole day. One whole day without flicking my phone screen, scrolling down and looking for a number to notify me of the amount of Facebook interactions that might be awaiting my attention.

It has been made easier by the fact I have just worked a twelve hour shift where my fingers have been needed elsewhere; expertly removing six months worth of detritus that had calcified in periodic layers like the sediment of an oceanic lake. Had I not been gum gardening, my fingers may have been twitching desperately over the Login icon.

It has come to represent the ticking clock to an insomniac. The sleeping husband to a mentally unhinged new mother. The chocolate profiterole mountain to a gastric band recipient. For me, presently, it is like a window looking out on all the fun the world is having whilst I’m stuck in my bedroom, grounded. 

When I couldn’t conceive, I wanted tell to every pregnant patient that walked into my surgery to fuck right off. When I miscarried, I wanted to whole world to eat shit and die. When I had PND and mothers were telling me how great motherhood was and how much they loved it, I wanted to scratch “you’re a complete wanker” into the side of their car. I’m just not that good at being happy for people when I’m feeling utterly miserable. 

It’s not really Facebook’s fault that everyone only posts the best parts about their lives and not the drudgery and despair (some people do but they get blocked almost immediately – who wants to read their boring whiny pissy pants statuses?). It’s no-one’s fault either that my spectrum child, my spesh little boy, has a universe the size of a pea and that I have to squeeze in their with him. 

So I’ve switched off from the torment of family holidays, road trips, laughter and happiness because most of these people are my friends and family, all of whom I love dearly and I really don’t want to start vandalising their property just because I’m a bit bitter and twisted. I’ll just hunker down, ride out the storm and wait for my boy to feel ready to join the world again and I’ll be there with him, holding his hand, not sporting a criminal record.

Room for one more in there, Boy?
Room for one more in there, Boy?

There’s no triumph quite like a parenting triumph

Hairwashing. Quite a big triumph in my household.
Hairwashing. Quite a big triumph in my household.

Sometimes, when I’m in the depths of motherhood, I feel like I might be the only one that has ever felt a certain way. But then I realise that it doesn’t really matter what family you’re in; single parenting, step-parenting, special educational needs parenting, surrogate parenting, foster parenting, adoptive parenting, LBGT parenting or just plain old bog standard parenting, we all feel the same triumphs and tribulations. They may just be to different things.

Very recently, my son was diagnosed with ausomeness. Nothing his Dad and I didn’t already suspect. The last twelve months have been hard. I’ve had a chronic low level grief for not having the ability to be able to automatically understand and connect with my son.  I’ve had to work hard at it whilst the rest of the family stood and watched, just waiting for their turn to be able to connect. 

I wanted to write down a few of his triumphs for him to hopefully look back on one day. It wasn’t until I started writing down the relationships that have been unfolding between him, his Dad and his sister that I truly felt it. The paradox of heartbreaking joy. I hadn’t realised how I ached for a lost companionship, especially that his sister could have been having with her brother. But it was never actually lost. I just hadn’t been able to see it for what it was.  Here is the letter I have written:

Dear Ted

It’s your Mum here. I wanted to give you an update on how you’re doing. Your Dad has a few words to say too.

You are now exactly two and a half. These last few months I have seen the sparkle in your eyes ignite a fire in your belly. It seems you have started to open the door to communication and this has opened your world up to new and wonderful possibilities. 

You have discovered that if you point at something, you will generally get it. Unfortunately for me, this is usually at the crisp cupboard but I also take this as a general hunger cue. That and you raiding the fridge dragging out anything you can, carrying it triumphantly into the front room. I can (sometimes) distract you with a banana but on the whole, it’s all about the crumb covered fish products, monster munch and raisins. You did eat some butternut squash risotto the other day so hopefully those vitamins will last you out till the end of the month.

You have given me a name. A high pitched “DOR!” I like my name a lot. You have chosen this name out of your few sounds you like to make. I’ve always fancied myself as a Dor. You have named your Dad too. You have consistently called him “Dada” a number of times now and this has literally made him cry with happiness. 

You instigate games. Your favourites are the Freeze Game and the Blowing On Your Tummy Game.  The Freeze Game consists of me being dragged, usually by the neck of my jumper, into the garden whereby you shout “eeeeeeeee!” at me. This is your word for freeze and I know I have to copy and stand still. Then you make a roaring “dadadadadada” noise and I have to run and grab you, fling you upside down, tickle you and land you on your feet again. We run around in circles until you shout, “eeeeeeee!” and it starts all over again. The Blowing On Your Tummy Game is pretty self explanatory. However, you let us know you want this by pulling up your tshirt and sharply inhaling with a massive cheesy grin on your face, knowing that at any moment your body is going to be alive with tickles. Your giggles and squeals lift the roof. You have an insatiable appetite for tickles shouting “goooooo!” with all your might before collapsing into laughter again.

You have words. “Ah da” means all done. You use it to tell me when you have finished eating, when you want to get out of the bath and when you want me to pick you up. “Schrain” is your word for train, your favourite vehicle by far. “Lane” is plane, your second favouritest vehicle. “Car” your joint second favouritest vehicle. Basically, if it has wheels, it’s your favouritest.

You have signs. You sign thirsty when you want a drink. You occasionally point at your mouth when you want food. You are learning to use the sign to ask for help when you are stuck with something (normally something you shouldn’t be doing in your sister’s room. Shhh, don’t tell her that I let you play in there when she’s not around).

I never thought I'd be happy about you two getting up to mischief
I never thought I’d be happy about you two getting up to mischief

You have a bond with your sister. This has been the most magical of all things to watch materialise. Your sister loves you dearly. It was always heartbreaking to see her face when you didn’t reply to her morning greeting or reciprocate a cuddle she so desperately wanted. But she understands now. She understands you are different. She understands that you cannot use words yet but you are learning and she is happy to help teach you. She can be scared of you at times. You still take a lot of your frustrations out on her but her patience and understanding through her tears makes my heart ache. Her beauty is beyond bounds and I think you know it. You follow her lead, clearly not getting the same joy from an activity without her. You embrace her with a love that I know you feel deep down. I don’t think she really knows how much she means to you yet, but she will. In the meantime, I will continue to watch you two grow together and feel pride that I never knew I could feel.

You’re spreading your love outwards to your Dad too. He feels the bond between you is flourishing and it fills his heart when you sidle up to him for a cuddle on the sofa. You have special things that only he does with you. Like riding on the back of his bike with your new bike seat. You don’t like it when it’s stationary but it doesn’t take long for Dad to get up to great speed, blasting your face with gusts of air. He hopes to take you on many great adventures on that bike. Your Dad loves having you as his co-driver, watching you thrust your hand out the window the moment it is wound down to feel the cold wind on your fingertips. Or watching you sleep, mouth gaping wide open as you succumb to the warmth and motion of the car.

You’re amazing, Ted, and you’re about to embark on a new adventure. You’ll be starting at a special place where wonderful people will continue to help you thrive and blossom. Your sister too is starting her own adventure into school, on a different path to enlightenment. You’ll miss her, your sidekick.

I’ll end this update now by saying keep up the good work, Mister! It’s an absolute pleasure getting to know you and all your funny little ways. You fascinate and inspire me all at the same time. I also want to say thank you. Thank you to both you and your sister because ultimately, we really don’t care what either of you turn out to be, we are just so proud of who you both are.

With all our love, now and always,

Dor & Dada

Why I Called Time On Time Outs

I am head strong, stubborn and determined. I am flaky, fickle and easily influenced. I am a perfectionist and control makes me feel safe. I am untidy, lazy and easy going. I am a stickler for rules. I don’t like reading guide books.

These are just a few of the many contradictions that afflict my personality.

Sometimes, these cacophony of traits have worked in my favour. In motherhood? Not so much.

When my daughter was born, I knew that I wanted her to be happy and healthy. Then as she grew, she started to develop freewill.

That’s when I panicked. It quickly developed into wanting her to be happy, healthy and not the kid that everyone dreads being around, or the kid that everyone stares at whilst silently judging the parents.

Freewill started to really kick in around the age of eighteen months. “Ahhh,” I thought, “she’s starting to push the boundaries. Test my tenacity. Act out. It is now my job to show her the boundaries of acceptableness and I know exactly how. Time outs.”

Here are the reasons why I used time outs:

To show her who was boss.
To show her I was in control.
To show her acceptable behaviour in society.
To show her the consequences of not doing as she was told without resorting to capital punishment.

I was excellent at it. I never gave in no matter where we were. I had perfected the technique. My perfectionism, stubborn determination and stickler for rules were working solely in my favour.

There was a slight niggling feeling in the back of my head though, that something wasn’t sitting quite right with me. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Just before Christmas, I was getting my daughter ready for a Christmas event being held in town. I was struggling to motivate her but I’d arranged to meet friends and I really wanted to go. I managed to get her all trussed up in a Christmas outfit so we could take part in the Santa Dash. All she needed now was a scarf. I found one of mine – a silver one – perfect for her Christmas outfit. She didn’t want to wear it. It wasn’t her scarf. Her scarf was the pink one. “But the pink one clashes with her red Christmas outfit. It’ll look shit,” I thought. So I asked her sternly to just put the scarf on whilst wrapping it around her against her will. Needless to say, WW3 broke out. She was screaming. I was screaming. I was furious that SHE was making us late by not wearing the scarf that I wanted her to wear. She wasn’t listening. The only thing for it was a time out for not being compliant and not listening. So I gave her a warning. She stuck a big middle finger up to my warning so I put her on time out.

Whilst she was there – red-faced, angry, distressed, crying – I went and cried outside in the garden. I counted to ten, composed myself and went back to her. I wasn’t sorry. I was angry SHE had let it get this far.

Needless to say, my controlling, head strong determination and stubbornness meant we made it to the Santa Dash, but nobody was happy. She refused to take part and I had lost the Christmas spirit so I waved goodbye to my friends and weeped all the way home wondering why it had all gone so wrong.

I don’t think it really takes a psychologist to see how everything about that scenario was about me and nothing about my daughter. My perfectionism, stubbornness, determination and stickler for the rules had started to work against me. It had started to control me and my daughter. I had forgotten it’s purpose which was supposedly to help her become a better person.

Actually, let’s look at that again. “Not be the kid that everyone dreads being around, or the kid that everyone stares at whilst silently judging the parents” was in fact what I think I had said.

Nope, that wasn’t thinking about her. That was thinking about everybody else. This wasn’t working.

There were a few events that started to make me doubt myself. I got into an online spat with two very dear friends about my justification for the use of time outs. They were both against it and I hated being made to feel like I was doing something wrong. But the seed had been sown. My flaky, fickle and easy persuaded side was starting to sprout and shortly after, I read a couple of chapters from an Alfie Kohn book which confirmed for me that all of my own justifications for using time outs were utter bollocks.

If I truly wanted her to be happy, then stifling her when she was just expressing herself was not the way to go about it.

The major turning point though was this; her little brother. He, turns out, to have autism. No amount of perfectionism and control is ever going to change that. He is just free to become the person he wants to be because he has no idea about societal etiquette. He can’t be moulded, shaped or controlled. He just is. And I’m so jealous of him.

His outbursts are extreme but he has no way of understanding them and I have no way of explaining to him.
His meltdowns make it almost obligatory for parents to stare and judge.
He is THAT kid that parents steer their kids away from fear of him being too boisterous or a bit trigger happy with the pushing.

So that is why I called time on time outs. Because it turns out being exactly what I feared the most, isn’t actually that scary after all.

Stopping has been hard. When you have a seemingly gold standard, fool-proof way of dealing with situations that you feel out of control of, it’s very tricky not to fall on old comfortable habits. I’ve had a few slip ups. I hated myself for them because they were as pathetic as Christmas-gate. But when the time outs don’t give you the result you want, where do you go next? Smacking? I’ve been tempted and that was also part of the problem.

But whilst I can’t help my son (yet) to understand his emotions, I can help my daughter to understand hers. By giving them names so they become easier to express. I’m desperately trying not to care what other people think when they’re clearly judging my parenting whilst my son flails on the floor screaming in a pitch only a spectrum child can reach – it’s heart breaking. I’ve managed to let go of a lot of control. I’ve had to. It was useless. I have managed to bring out my more easy going side and choose my battles wisely. Ergo, deciding that there are very few battles that are ever truly ‘won’ when the opponent is a child.

The house feels calmer. It feels happier. Of course freewill is as annoying as ever but I can live with it. Probably until she hits puberty. Then I’ll perhaps just hide under my bed.

I’m so glad my second wasn’t born first

I’ve been having a lot of, “ahhhhhhhh, so that’s why…” moments of late, all concerning The Boy especially surrounding the first twelve months. I have a lot of (what I think) dark secrets about my boy but now I can make so much more sense of them, I think I want to share them, just in case someone out there relates.

My boy hasn’t *yet* been diagnosed with anything, however, he is in the process of assessments. I noticed things not progressing as they should when he was around 15 months old. Since he has started his assessments, I have had to answer (approximately) more questions than Andy Coulson has in the last several months, all relating to pregnancy, birth and beyond.

What I have discovered so far is that my boy may have a sensory processing disorder which means he is undersensitive to certain senses and over sensitive to others. The ones he is undersensitive to are very much related to touch and movement. This means he seems to need more of it. For example, liking to sleep with the top of his head pushed against his headboard/have his ‘draggy’ wrapped around the top of his head/his head pushed against a pillow.  It also means that he still constantly mouths and chews things, seeking out deep pressure in his mouth.

So what has this to do with my ‘dark secrets’? Well they are thus:

  • I co-slept. I co-slept in a way that was probably against the guidelines in order to get a good nights sleep.
  • I bottle propped. Especially at his nap times.
  • I stopped breastfeeding to suit me.

Actually…writing it down seems far more pathetic than the massive swirling guilt whirlwind that was in my head but I’ll carry on anyway.

Ted was a high maintenance baby. He was very kinaesthetic and so touch and movement played a big role very early on. He spent a very large proportion of his time attached to me, either in the sling or on my boob. Those first 8 months, I think he slept with a nipple in his mouth pretty much for the full 12 hours. He is still very much attached to me and I carry him around like a baby chimp, which has quite an impact on my spine as he is a tall, 3 stone, two and a half year old. I have a left bicep like Arnie and a right hip like a 90 year old. Not really a necessary part of the story but I thought if I martyr myself slightly, you’ll a) feel sorry for me and b) forgive me for my parenting fails *according to many parenting forums*.

He would fall asleep with his face pushed against my chest then I would have to have to move his face to the side once he was asleep

Had my boy been my first child, I would have definitely had a breakdown. The physical, emotional and psychological demands of having a baby attached to you day and night really takes its toll. But this was baby number two. And with that you don’t analyse anything. You’ve already paralysed yourself with analysis the first time round so second time, you just do it. I’m not planning on a third but I can only imagine I’d be practically apathetic.

So, I just got on and co-slept without worrying about smothering or suffocating. Just as well because unbeknownst to me, the boy required deep pressure when sleeping which often meant he would be wedged under my head or just sleep in the sling with the stretchy material over the top of his head, because I somehow knew he preferred it. I would have NEVER dared try this first time round.

Generally on a pillow, under my duvet, under my chin. NOT ISIS guidelines but we slept and that was all I cared about during those early sleep deprived months

Also unbeknownst to me, the boy seeked deep pressure stimulation in his mouth, hence the attached to nipple so often and also the biting – which for the record, was not a ‘phase’ anyone could work through. He would clamp through the nipple and not even care/notice the blood covering his face. I however did, and decided to stop feeding from source when he was ten months old. I’d previously put this down to his bottle chewing habit, but actually, it was all part of the same thing.

Then started the bottle propping. This is the bit that I feel most ashamed about. As soon as the full conversion to bottle happened, the boy no longer wanted to be held close. At the time, it seemed that he loathed being moved once he was asleep. I would lovingly cuddle him close with his bottle until he fell asleep then attempt the ninja-like transfer but he would become almost rageful at the disturbance until after just a few nights I just laid him in his cot, placed the bottle in his hand and left the room with a heart so heavy, full of self loathing and remorse. But he fell asleep and stayed asleep (apart from still waking several times a night for more milk but there was no rage at least).

There was a few days when he was about 18 months when I was ‘allowed’ to cuddle him with a bottle, and I hung onto every second, willing it to remain in my memory bank for all time.

I would sneak into his room and remove the bottle from his bed and stare at him. He is two and a half now and still so reliant on his bottles of milk at nap times. But instead of having to use my night vision to pick out the bottle shape from his bed, I now have to search on the floor as it generally gets launched across the room like a missile once it’s been drained. This is the time my husband and I become frozen to the spot, as the thud sounds and we try and determine whether he’s actually asleep or just silently playing, neither of us actually daring to go and check just in case we’re spotted.

There are risks of increased weight gain with prolonged bottle use, and this is definitely something I am witnessing with the boy. However, I know it is temporary. There will be a day he no longer needs a bottle and then I can just sign him up to a boot camp, or something. Ergo, I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

So all in all, I suppose by writing this all down, I can let go of the guilt over how I have ultimately fed the boy. I have a valid reason for stopping breastfeeding when I did (and quite frankly, after all I blog about, it is utter lunacy that I should feel that way). I can also feel proud that I followed his lead and didn’t become a crazed loon at the fact he was in my bed, sleeping on my actual body or trussed up in a sling/attached to my nipple for most part of the day.

I also want to say to first time mums out there. Don’t start panicking that you might have a spectrum child on your hands just because they’re a bit high maintenance, but trust them to know what they want and only you will know that. So no matter what the forums say is ‘right’, how the old school did it, what opinions people have, don’t be afraid to follow your child’s lead. You will not make a rod for your own back but can hopefully break up that rod and bury it when you discover it was just what your baby needed.