How Do You Connect?

Ever wonder how to connect with your child or student? Do they seem to be in their “own world”? Will they not make eye contact with you, hug you, play with you?

One thing that I have used with my own daughter but also several students of mine is the Floortime Method. And I have to say, it has worked each time! Keep in mind, every person is different and I’m not saying that this will 100% be your strategy to finally connect. But, it’s worth a shot isn’t it?

The Floortime Method/DIRFloortime was created by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. On his website you will find a free assessment and parent course. I purchased one of his books many years ago and if you’re interested, you can purchase it on Amazon.

I don’t want to make this post too long and there is so much to explain, but if you go to the websites, there will be a wealth of information there for you to read. BUT, I know how busy you guys can be!! So to make things super easy and simple, in a nutshell, you literally just get down to the child’s level and start engaging in the activity that they are doing. Is she spinning? You spin with her. Is she banging cars together laughing? You bang cars and laugh along with her. Is he flapping his hands looking at an object with his head at a certain angle? You do the same! Every time I’ve done this, the child has connected with me in some way. They have always smiled and seemed thrilled that I was joining “their world” and doing something they love to do! After connecting in this way, you up the stakes a bit by not just joining their world, but literally going in their world. If Gracie was throwing bean bags down the stairs, laughing, I would run down before her to grab the bean bag, run back up the stairs as quickly as possible and throw it down again, laughing my head off! If a student was rolling a car down a track fast so it could crash, I would start by stepping in front and saying “my turn” and I would roll the car down the track fast and react in the same way he did when it crashed. At first, the kids were like “Whoa, what do you think you’re doing?” but very quickly when they realized they had a turn next, they would join me in play. They seemed excited to play with me.

This method of play therapy is very specific with a certain amount of time during the day, a certain step by step process in a sense. But for me, as a parent at home who just wanted to connect with my child as quickly as possible? I started with what I’ve mentioned above. I took their idea and did what I could.

That’s what we do with EVERY professional we saw. Take their advice and use what we thought would work best for our family. I’ll do a video on this soon and will link it here.

I hope this helps you and your family!

If you have any other questions, feel free to email me at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com

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Be Prepared For Changes

This first couple of weeks of school can bring many changes for our children. Teachers, classrooms and Educational Assistants can all change. And change is hard for our kids! Change is inevitable though. Nowadays, principals don’t know who all of their teachers are going to be before the school year begins. When a teacher is off on sick leave, maternity leave, personal leave, etc. their position must get filled. However, interviews don’t always happen until the week before school and sometimes, during the first week of school! So they will have a temporary teacher for a week or two until the hiring has been complete. And it’s a process that the schools need to follow. Try not to get too upset with the principal if this happens, because he/she has no other choice but to follow the process. However, I have worked in a classroom where we had 5 different teachers over the course of the school year! It happens more often than you think! Obviously, things need to change, but that’s a whole other blog post! For now, I just wanted you to be aware of some possible changes. The school staff and board staff can’t control when someone gets hurt, pregnant or ill. But we as parents can try and be as prepared as possible. I know our kids like routine. And absolutely, stick with a routine as much as possible. But every once in a while, I think it’s important to throw in a “change” to that routine. If we practice at home where they feel most safe, after having that experience, it may make change easier when in other environments such as school.

We used a ‘Change of Plans’ card. We would keep these cards at home and in our car. We used a 2×2 Boardmaker card (most schools have this program so ask your child’s EA or teacher if you need some visuals) but you can easily make your own with a cue card. Cut the card in half. Draw a star in the middle or add a sticker of your child’s favourite character and write Change of Plans on the top. Keep the card in a little baggie with some of your child’s favourite treats and tiny toys. Anytime you practice a change (especially where you said you were doing one thing but all of a sudden have to do something else) hand the child the card while telling them plans have changed, while offering them a treat at the same time for accepting that change so well. Eventually you can wean to just showing the card and then the goal would be to just verbally tell them.

I know this won’t work for everyone but it was successful for us so I thought I would share. Feel free to adapt or come up with your own strategy, but I highly recommend you incorporate some “changes” into your day. The more we stuck to a schedule (which our kids need to feel safe), the harder it was to do something different. This just allowed our changes to not be so hard for everyone!

If you need anymore help with changes in routine, send me an email, I’d be happy to help!

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Facing Your Fears

This past weekend I went on a short camping trip with my husband in Quebec at the Grands Jardins National Park. Aaron was going to join a two week french immersion program through Western University. We were just going to have a relaxing few days up in the mountains before he started school, reading books, hiking and sitting by the campfire. However, we decided to sign up for the Via Ferrata. We chose the 3.5 hour “beginner” course since heights are one of my fears. But I was eager to face that fear!

For those of you that know me, know that I have been dealing with some health issues over the last 15 years. For those that don’t know me, that’s a story for another time if I haven’t written about it already. However, this summer after getting help from my family doctor, rheumatologist and naturopathic doctor, I feel better than I’ve felt in a very long time! There were some days where I had a very difficult time walking and moving my arms. So to do something like rock climbing, was a pretty far reach. Physically and mentally!

We really thought it might be 30 maybe 40 feet high, maybe a bit more. It was a course that kids could handle! Boy, were we wrong!! We were up at about 720 meters at one point. I have to say, I handled it way better than I thought! After about 5 mins. I said to Aaron that I thought we were in the wrong group. I mean we must have been! He half jokingly, half serious asked our guide. Nope. We were assured we were on the right course. The intermediate group did about 1/2 – 3/4 of the course we were on and then continued up higher. Regardless, we were on that rock and I had no where to go but up!

There were moments of total fear, some excitement, so much concentration that I didn’t realize how far I had gotten until a real tricky spot came up, negative self talk about what would happen to our kids if we both fell and died (but that was short lived – I managed to shove those thoughts aside pretty quickly), along with lots of smiles, laughs and wtf did we get ourselves into faces! Thank god Aaron was with me to encourage me. Between him and our guide, I had this! It was one of the most frightening, yet rewarding experiences of all time! The view was spectacular and I was able to be very proud of what I had just accomplished. It’s pretty hard to put it in to words.

I know that we encourage our kids to face their fears all of the time. But when do we ever show them that we can do it too? I don’t know how many times we’ve worked with Gracie over her fear of spiders, or friendships, or math, etc. etc. All these years, pushing her, encouraging her, yet I hadn’t faced a single fear of my own. I didn’t realize the thought process and different ways we handle ourselves when under pressure. But I can now say, it’s not as easy as it seems. The great thing is, it can be done and the gratification you get when facing something terrifying is pretty powerful. It doesn’t matter how they face what scares them the most, as long as they have our support, guidance and encouragement. Take it step by step, at the pace they feel comfortable with. It may be a very long process. But it is so worth it at the end!

If your child has some serious worries/fears, give this book a try! It has some great strategies! It uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for kids and is very visual and interactive.

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Honesty… it’s not just my story. It’s theirs too.

It’s been a very long time since I published anything on here! Almost a year! I’ve been struggling a bit with what to write for so long because I don’t want to write anything but the truth. The good, the bad and the ugly! I feel that writing about our life story is the best way to help others understand that we are all in this together. If I can’t be honest, then what is the point? Social media is affecting so many people in wonderful ways but can also be so unrealistic! When I was dealing with health issues and feeling like crap, I could not even look at Reese Witherspoon’s IG posts! Her perfect outfits and perfect hair in her clean house with her happy kids and well behaved dogs! You know what I’m talking about right?? My house seemed to be in complete disarray and I didn’t have the strength to even do my hair for work let alone cook a delicious healthy meal for the family AFTER work! Are you kidding me?!? Seeing her posts plus the many others (even from real life people I know) was too depressing! The guilt I would feel for not being like that! It’s crazy, I know! Don’t get me wrong, I love Reese and I’m sure she’s had her fill of struggles too. But the perfect persona shown on social media was just too much for me to handle at the time! I also see many moms on social media who post videos of their toddlers and lives, and I LOVE their honesty! That’s what keeps me coming back to read their blogs or watch their videos. The problem for me is that my kids are teenagers and have a more “shy” personality. Mine get embarrassed if I show people their baby pictures let alone post it for the world to see! I’ve wanted to post about many things over the past year. Where Gracie was and where she is at today. The struggles that all 3 of my teenagers have faced over their high school years. The problem is, it’s not just my story to tell. It belongs to them too. I’ve talked to Gracie about how telling her story can help others, especially since she’s come so far. She shouldn’t be embarrassed by the things she’s done in her past, the choices she’s made or the struggles she’s faced because that has made her who she is today. And to us, she’s pretty incredible! She has agreed to share some things now and I will post them (with her permission of course) as often as I can. But for now, what are some things you would like to know? What are your biggest challenges and how can we help? Shoot me an email or comment below and we will do our best! I just wanted to let you know that we’re back. Hopefully with some inspiring info. that can help you and your family live a well balanced life!! Or at least somewhat balanced!

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Waiting For the First Day of School

Every year our G goes through a bit of a rough time a week or two before school starts. This year we got her school supplies at the beginning of August and she thanked me because she had been worrying about that for a month (which would be the beginning of July) but she knew I would say that was way too soon to worry! lol I had know idea she was worrying for that long. And I guarantee you she has worried like this every year of her life! She just didn’t show it until a week or two before school. Or maybe she did show it. Looking back, our summers were a big struggle. She would have meltdowns ALL the time! I remember going camping in Ottawa over the July 1st weekend. I  had to put her in the car and drive around while she screamed and kicked the windows so she wouldn’t disrupt the other campers trying to enjoy a relaxing time. We used to think it was the change in routine. And maybe it was. But now I think we can add in the unknown of the following school year for her. Not seeing her “people”, her teachers and peers everyday. For a child with adoption issues, this can be traumatizing in itself. People coming and going in her life.

This year has been one of huge success! Instead of crying and screaming and laughing, she has directed all of her anxieties into singing and playing her guitar. She makes up songs as she “plays” (she strums incredibly well so we’re going to start guitar lessons in the fall). Her songs are all about her starting school, who her EAs and teachers might be, and how she would like the year to go. Right now, she’s singing about how it will be ok. She had a good year last year and this year will be the same. She is singing whatever she needs to in order to feel better about it. The guitar is going non-stop, ALL DAY LONG. I wanted to take it away yesterday, but that is when I realized, she is directing her anxious fears in a healthy way. I can’t take that away from her. I would much prefer to hear her playing the guitar and singing, rather than screaming and laughing hysterically. And when I can’t take it anymore, I leave. I go for a walk or a drive. Some might think she should do something else in her day. Wonder how I can let her do this all day long. Well, for G, she needs to let all of this “out” before she gets to school, otherwise, it will all come out AT school. She told me she had her big cry yesterday too. She’s like a volcano ready to erupt and she will. I would just prefer she do it at home instead of at school where she would be embarrassed. A couple of days playing guitar in her room is the healthiest thing for her at this moment.

So whatever your child needs to do to prepare themselves for their new school year, especially if they are starting a new school such as high school, let them do it. In a safe and loving environment. Trust that they know what they need. If it’s still aggressive behaviour like it used to be for us, it will pass. You will get through it just like you did the last meltdown. And the one before that. And the one before that. You just need to do what you need to do to keep them safe.

You aren’t alone. Several families are going through similar situations as you are reading this.

So to you, I am sending a big hug, strength and love! You’ve got this!!

 

Mel

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Friendships

Well this is a tough one! In all honesty, I think that certain skills can be taught on how to be a good friend, how to have conversations with people, play skills, how to connect with non-verbal children who seem to prefer to play independently etc. etc. But what it really comes down to, in order for all of those teachings to work, is for your child to find someone who accepts them for who they are.

GG has always connected more with adults than children her own age. The adults seem to enjoy her enthusiasm and even more, her honesty. Not all teenagers can handle that kind of honesty.  I would say her biggest struggle right now is not understanding the conversations that her peers have. Plus developmentally, they are at a different stage than she is. She is wanting to go to parties or hang out with friends on a Friday night yet still loves treehouse tv. She listens to the typical rap music her peers listen to and then mixed in with those playlists she has the wheels on the bus, etc.  She can’t be unsupervised so this makes things very difficult! She can be easily manipulated to do something because she wants to fit in so bad. She’s been in tears over this.

I know some of you have children who continue to struggle with peers and developing friendships. My advice to you is to keep working through them as they come along, but also throw in some teaching moments whenever possible.

*Disclaimer! LOL  I haven’t researched this in a long time! We learn as we go. So most of my suggested book list is probably outdated! However, they still worked for us so that is why I’m sharing them. If and when I come across some new material, I’ll let you know! 

Here are a list of books and programs we have used and love:

The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome written by Jennifer O’Toole. This book is written for your child to read themselves. They have to be able to comprehend it and it is a bit on the challenging side. It was too complicated for G to read so I read it myself and explained some of it to her in a way she would understand. It’s a great way to really understand where our kids are coming from and how they see the world. It was written by a woman with Aspergers. Who better to learn from than from someone who has lived with this struggle!

More Than Words: Helping Parents Promote Communication and Social Skills by Fern Sussman. This book was given to us at a workshop for parents. It was suggested for parents whose children were non-verbal. It was a good program, especially to meet and connect with other parents. Ask your speech pathologist for a course near you. (If they still run them)!

I am a huge fan of the Pivotal Response Treatment manuals from the Koegel Autism Consultants. They have books and manuals on their website that I highly recommend.

Pivotal Response Treatment® is a highly acclaimed research-based intervention for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). PRT® is a naturalistic intervention model derived from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) *

Space Travellers: An Interactive Program for Developing Social Understanding, Social Competence and Social Skills for Students with Asperger Syndrome, Autism and  Other Cognitive Challenges: Space Guide Manual. This is a program that can be done in school with their classmates in a fun space theme.

The Circles Program teaches social boundaries. Your school or school board should have a copy of this program. Ask your Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) if they have one available and if they can incorporate it into their school program.

The American Girls Care and Keeping of You Books are great for teaching hygiene and body changes, etc. Let’s face it, hygiene is a big factor in whether or not our kids make and keep friendships! The Feelings Book is also another great one to check out!

The Greenspan Floortime Approach website has a free online course and resources for parents. It’s been years since we incorporated this method in our home or with some of the children I’ve worked with and what I remember is putting myself in “their world”. If a child was spinning in a circle, I would join them. If they were flapping their hands and making noises, I would join them. If they were lining cars up, you guessed it, I joined them. This allowed the child to see that I was interested in what they were doing. I was amazed at the eye contact I received and the smiles because I was joining their play instead of trying to direct their play. We connected which eventually led to trust. I could then add to their play. It was incredible! And very rewarding.

Throughout the years, we have met some pretty incredible people and families. Especially in our autism community. If you ever get the chance to go to any social groups through Autism Ontario or other programs, take the leap and go! Even if you have hesitations. I promise you it will be worth it! The parents get it! They will support you and offer assistance. You won’t get the stares (even if it is just out of curiosity and not judgement), and you and your children will connect with other parents and siblings and friends that can possibly last a lifetime!

We have gone on some overnight trips through Autism Ontario and they have been some of my favourite moments that provided some of my favourite memories. If you are in the Georgian Bay area, check out the Kinark Outdoor Centre. Look under Autism and see their family respite weekends (definitely one of my favourites) and family camp programs. We attended the Family Respite Weekend and it was incredible! Hubby and I got about 2-3 hours a day to ourselves to do what we wanted while G was with a one on one worker and her siblings were off with a group doing activities with other siblings. It was amazing!!

Again, this is just a small list of books/sites and I could go on and on but each child is different and only you will know what works best for them. This will hopefully get you started! If you need more specific strategies, send me an email. We’ll help each other out!

 

*Koegel Autism: Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) Training and Services.

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Dating?!? Oh boy…

GG’s biggest struggle with her peers is not making friends, it’s keeping them. She is a very popular girl at school! Everyone knows her and is extremely kind to her. Yet she never gets invited to hang out with them outside of school. Like I said before, this would be complicated to arrange making sure she had the supervision she needs, but we’ve never really had to worry about it because she doesn’t get invited.

She is starting to see that as she gets older, the gaps are getting larger. She is realizing that the kids in her special ed department are pretty cool and she feels so much more comfortable with them. They understand. They accept her for who she is. Being “cool” isn’t what’s important now (sometimes). It’s having friends that genuinely like her.

The only problem now is, most of her friends are all in the same boat. They all want friendships or a partner so badly they go from meeting each other one day, being best friends within 5 minutes, to either dating or hating each other the next.

With the dating comes holding hands, kissing and you know the rest of the stages of a relationship. The problem with our kiddos is they go from 0-10 in a nanosecond. And don’t quite understand the boundaries and privacy. We are trying to explain that she  needs to learn how to keep a friend before she starts a dating relationship. Again, this is why it’s so important she still have supervision so they can help her navigate this part of her life. I’d do it if I could, but I don’t think she’d want her mama following her to school everyday!

With hating each other, it’s usually due to a misunderstanding. Someone could be giving her a compliment but she takes it as an insult. Or if she wants someone to like her so badly, she gets extremely anxious and her coping strategies come out. She laughs hysterically, blurts out words (usually in someone’s face), asks a gazillion questions and in all honesty, just annoys the heck out of them. Some of her peers have sensory issues too, so you can imagine how this goes.

We’re just going to take things as they come. Keep talking and working through it. Role play if needed and keep teaching. All I wish is for her to find a lasting friendship. I know it will happen. We just keep hoping it happens sooner, rather than later.

If you’re at the same stage as we are, feel free to connect! We can help each other out!

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It’s Common Sense, Right? Wrong.

I was at a conference a few years back and heard a woman speak about living with autism. Some of the things she said that I found so interesting revolved around her perception of things. She had told us that the first time she came to present at this conference, she was asked to put her speech on a disk or USB stick. She had no idea how to do that so she threw the computer across the room. She wasn’t trying to be defiant. She wasn’t trying to be aggressive. She just felt that if the computer was broken she wouldn’t have to do what she didn’t know how to do. Completely innocent in her mind. Completely unacceptable to everyone else around her.

She also mentioned that while she was looking out the window high up from her hotel room, she saw something across the street she wanted. In her mind, the quickest way to get there was to go out the window. Luckily she had people to stop her, but this was her way of thinking.

This was an adult who was capable of standing in front of hundreds of people explaining why she does what she does, even letting us know that she is obsessed with skating or gymnastics and trampoline so if she goes off topic, make sure one of us let her know, yet the most common sense things were not so common to her. As she stated, what makes the most common sense to us, are the hardest for our kiddos to learn. The more common sense it is, the more you have to teach it.

I’m not saying putting a speech or document on a USB is common sense, or even easy to do for some people. But what would come naturally to us is asking for help. Whether it’s with words, body language, gestures, sign language, etc. Communication is extremely important. In whatever way your child communicates. Did you know that 80% of communication is body language. So don’t get discouraged if your child doesn’t speak. We can still teach them what they need to know.

This holds very true for our G. When she was a toddler and not yet speaking, she would throw her plate across the room. Right off the high chair just missing someone’s head with her bowl and spraying us, the floor and walls with food. We did end up putting some food directly on her tray but that wasn’t teaching her anything. We started catching her just as she was taking that last bite and showing her the sign “All Done” and removing her bowl. It took a while but she got it! No more food baths for the rest of us! 🙂 Was she being difficult? No! She just knew that when she was done, she would remove her plate the way she knew how. Or more likely, that was her way of communicating to us that she was done.

This is just one of many examples of how it may seem like your child is being defiant, rude or aggressive, when in reality, this is far from the truth.  With a little love, understanding and investigating (mixed in with your confusion and frustration), your child will soar.

Really think of what you do in a day, and how many steps it takes to complete one thing. Even if your child is just in the room watching and listening to you do it, they are learning. Model, model, model. There is a great book by Jennifer O’Toole on helping to teach your children some basic life skills. She has AwEsOmE ideas and great tips and tricks! Check it out here.

 

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Gift Ideas

Shopping for your child may be a hard task. For GG her clothing has to be the right comfort and fabric, not scratchy or too tight or too loose. She has never really done the pretend play with dollhouses or cars and trains. Craft supplies and cooking/baking supplies require that I am available to assist her with these projects. She never liked to build with blocks or lego, play sports or and she’s not into video games.

As she’s gotten older, it’s getting easier to buy for her. She now has an idea of what she wants and doesn’t want. She loves Roots clothes (I swear we should own a share in this company since it’s all she would wear for years). She is very much into Apple products/electronics and she is still obsessed with elves and christmas itself. I can’t share what I got her this year, at least not before Christmas but I can share with you some neat toys that your children might like.

Here are my favourites:

The Tranquil Turtle is a night light turtle that projects and under water effect and also plays the sound of the waves and a melody.

They also have other turtles and ladybugs that project the constellation on the ceiling.

Trampolines are always great fun! You can get many different types of mini trampolines instead of just this basic one. There are some with handles or you can even get one with a net around it.

Hanging chairs/swings can also be hung in your house if you have the room. We even got a chin up bar that fits between the door jam so we could hang it up and take it down whenever we wanted. I don’t remember the name brand of the bar we had, but this gives you an idea.

Ikea has a well priced tunnel and tent that can collapse down so you can tuck it under the bed or behind a dresser. I’m pretty sure you can find these at Walmart as well. Ikea also has a circus tent and play kitchen with soft fabric food with your child would prefer this (and doesn’t put everything in their mouth). They also have real looking miniature size kitchen utensils and dishes. This is great for teaching them how to cook and serve in the kitchen.

Bean bags are a nice gift too but check out these Crash Mats! I haven’t bought anything from Hippo Hug, but I’m loving that it’s Canadian based and there is a video about the benefits of weighted blankets. They are pricey but if your child or adult calms with deep pressure, check it out! I love their mermaid bracelets and chewlery too!!

National Austism Resources share a whole bunch of ideas! It’s an American company but just google any toys that peek your interest. You can get just about anything online these days.

I hope this helps! Have fun shopping!!

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Fetal Alcohol Disorder

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is caused when a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy. It is a spectrum of disorders.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE), Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS), Alcohol Related Neurological Disorder (ARND), Static Encephalopathy Alcohol Exposed (SEAE), and Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD).  To go over each one would make this a very long blog post so check out the resources below.

The FASlink Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society  is a busy looking site but has a lot of information if you would like to learn more.

My absolute favourite resource and the one workshop where I learned the most was from Jeff Noble. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, make sure you do!! You will not be disappointed! You can check out his website here. He has a Facebook page called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Forever w/ Jeff Noble. Jeff also has a couple of great books. They are the first things I would recommend you read. Check there out here!

If you are a birth mother, one thing to always remember is that you did not intentionally hurt your baby. Jeff Noble makes it very clear in the beginning of his workshops that no mother ever intentionally hurts their child. Don’t be afraid to seek help and speak to him. He is non-judgemental and very understanding.

G got a diagnosis of ARND. She will always need an external brain (support people) to help her throughout life. It’s not easy. She is so very aware of her surroundings and how a “typical” 14 year old behaves. What they are able to do and what she struggles with. It’s heartbreaking. But as she gets older we are coming to a common understanding of what she can do on her own and what she needs help with. She is appreciating the help more often than she used to. She doesn’t like it, but when she thinks of how life would be without our help, it frightens her.

Fetal Alcohol Syndromes are extremely hard. Hard for the child/adult diagnosed and hard for the family and those assisting them. There are success stories for those who have the support. Don’t give up and don’t be afraid to ask for help! You don’t have to do this on your own.

Here are a few other resources you can check out.

FASDCHILDWELFARE.CA

FASDCHILDWELFARE.CA  Caregiver Curriculum has 6 Modules from the effects of the brain, living with FASD, caregiver self-care to symptoms and working with professionals.

The Government of Canada has many links to other supports in our country. Check them out here.

*For all of you caregivers out there, you will need some respite. That break that allows you to recharge your batteries.

Here is a list of Respite Services in Simcoe County.

Click here for the link of respite services located throughout Canada.

Our Ontario Government website explains how you can qualify and apply for respite services and who to call.

If you need anything else, send me an email at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com

Remember you aren’t alone!!

 

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