Gracie’s School Experience

Gracie started out with receiving Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) from the age of 3 to 6yrs. of age. I’ve mentioned it before, but in case you are new here, we didn’t know if Gracie would ever walk or talk. So being able to walk, talk, go to the washroom independently (sort of), sit at a desk for a period of time, get dressed and follow direction was just a few of the skills she learned to do before heading off to school. She needed a lot of one on one support when she first got to school and eventually that would get cut back, especially once she got to high school. Fortunately for us, Gracie’s EA support getting cut back later on was a blessing for her (much to our surprise). She was able to learn to do things on her own as she had become very dependent with having constant help. A little bit of learned helplessness I would say. But, I wouldn’t change anything because she DID need that support for the time she had it.

Elementary school was amazing in the primary grades and then the gap started to get bigger and bigger. Gracie went from fitting in socially and academically (to a point), to not fitting in anymore. Her quirks, meltdowns, honesty, sensory issues and stimming were no longer cute anymore. Her “special needs” became more apparent but she didn’t look like she had special needs. The harder Gracie tried to fit in, the weirder she seemed to her peers, the further they backed away and this awful cycle of her trying to fit in got even more awkward. Her confidence plummeted. She started to see the difference between her and her peers and was embarrassed to have an EA. By the time grade 8 came, she was such a sad girl with zero confidence, no true friendships and began to push the EAs away. She was trying to figure out who she was and where she belonged.

High school began with excitement and fear for both of us. The fear of having all new people try and get to know her. How she learns, interprets the world around her and what type of support she would need, not only academically but emotionally as well. With team meetings, we figured out a good routine on how to inform all staff about her learning style and de-escalating her frustration. The social aspect of school was difficult at first but I’m happy to say, she found her way. Gracie tried the first few days of school to fit in with the “cool” kids. She sat at the table with them at lunch, talked to them in the halls and they were great with her.

Now that she was older, her “special needs” was showing up again. She was now a little girl in a young woman’s body. She became more “accepted” as it was clear she had autism. It’s funny how different humans treat one another if they know you have a diagnosis or not. People seem to be much more understanding if they can see your disability versus an invisible one. This is why it is so important to be kind to one another all of the time. You just don’t know what someone is going through.

One day, Gracie came home and said she was sitting at the table in the caf with some of her friends. They were nice to her but she couldn’t understand a word they were saying. She said “I know they were talking about boys and stuff, but they talked so fast, I just couldn’t keep up”. We had a discussion about her having autism, the challenges but also the blessings. We discussed the special needs room and the kids that are a part of that community. We told her having just one friend that truly gets her and loves her for who she is, is way better than having a 100 friends that are just “there”. We suggested she get to know some of the kids in that community and see how she makes out. Finally, she took our advice and found unconditional love and friendships that lasted!! This was the first time she had kept friends for a long period of time. I mean, we’re going on 4 yrs. now! And I mean, really good friends. I tear up or flat out cry every time we got together (before covid) for a birthday or gathering. Watching their friendship warms my heart like no other. Hearing the kids talk to one another, treating each other with respect, not noticing or being phased by each other’s quirks, stimming or challenges is something I can’t even describe.

So this my friends, is why it is SO important to embrace their diagnosis and make it a positive thing! I know it can be hard as a parent to see your child’s struggles. But they aren’t defined by those struggles. They should be defined by the strength and perseverance they go through. The little things in life that they find blessings in that most of us take for granted. The little miracles that we get to witness, seeing them accomplish something that we didn’t think they would be able to do. Being happy, loved and accepted. That’s what I wanted for our girl. Academics will come. But feeling like you belong…nothing tops that!

First Day of Grade 12

Continue Reading

Mental Health

Mental health has been a hot topic these days with the pandemic and online learning and oh so much more time spent together! Isolation and some losing the social skills they once had. It’s a tough time. No question about it. Anxiety and depression are increasing, children who were receiving support in person are now doing it by phone or video (or not at all), some people have lost the social skills they have worked so hard to gain and some are having more positive experiences of feeling less overwhelmed by crowds and expectations. We all deal with stress in our own way and as many of you know, our kids can show their frustration, sadness, anger and fear in so many different ways! Here are some links with resources to help your child, teen, adult or…yourself.

https://www.headspace.com/articles/how-to-reduce-anxiety

Breathing Exercises – Once your child knows about “smelling the flower and blowing out the candle” breathing, you won’t need the videos and you can do this anywhere. The trick is to practice them when they aren’t at a heightened moment.

GoNoodle Guided Relaxation for Kids! GoNoodle has some great relaxation and movement exercises for kids. Check this one out below!

Melt your anger, frustration or fears away!

The link below has information and strategies on several mental health topics. There are worksheets provided in a Module format. Go to Resources and Looking After Yourself.

https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/Looking-After-Yourself

BounceBack – Online or Coaching

The North Simcoe Family Health Team Counselling

Autism Ontario Adult Mental Health

https://www.autismontario.com/programs-services/adults/mental-health-matters

These are just a few of the resources out there. And as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! You can find us on Facebook at Well Balanced Life or email us at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com!

Continue Reading

Transition to Adulthood

We had a meeting with a couple of people at Gracie’s school a few months ago regarding the transition to adulthood. CLH, formerly known as Community Living Huronia, was present to go over the Developmental Services Ontario (DSO) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Basically we were discussing what we thought life would look like for Grace. Would she live on her own? How much support will she need? Will she qualify for support through DSO? What are her future goals? This was an emotional day. We used to think Gracie would need constant support. But today, we feel she could live on her own with weekly support, help with paying bills, budgeting, making sure the house is clean, etc.

Gracie has two siblings, both who are off to travel and begin post-secondary education. Gracie wants this opportunity for herself SO bad! And I don’t blame her! She has worked super hard all these years to get to where she is today! Her goal was to go to college and that has now become a reality. She will apply to the Community Integration Co-op Experience (CICE) program at Georgian College when the time is right. I contacted the school to see if residence would be an option for her (she really wanted to do this) as she would definitely need a bit more support, especially with someone looking out for her, and finding a roommate that she could be herself with. Even though they have a program that suits her needs, they unfortunately don’t have any type of support for residence to get the full college experience! So today, we are creating her own apartment in the basement of our house. A place where she can practice caring for her own space, budgeting, meal planning, cooking and entertaining. With the other two moving out and their understanding of Gracie’s desire to have the same experiences, Emma gave her room to Gracie so she can have access to the whole basement. We’ll share the before and after photos and take you with us on our journey to adulthood!

Our privilege to do this doesn’t go unnoticed. I know not everyone has the space, time, money, partner or ability to do the work that needs to be done. There are some funding options to do this with Passport/DSO and ODSP which I I’ll see if Aaron can talk about later on. But the cleaning, meal planning, budgeting etc. are all things that can be done within the home and I hope we can help inspire you in some way to help your teens/adult children with a bit more independence. I’m sure we’ll be making cleaning checklists and recipes and/or meal planning sheets etc. If you see something that may be of use to you but you need it in visual format not just text, let me know and we’ll see if we can create something that best suits you and your child.

Honestly, I can’t believe I’m even writing about adulthood! I know many of you have young children and I’ll be sure to still share those experiences as well. But again, feel free to reach out if you need some support!

Before

Continue Reading

Constant Change & Uncertainty!

Wowzers! This back and forth lockdown is challenging! My girl remembers the dates for EVERYTHING! She can even tell you what day of the week it was, let’s say, on April 4, 2015! As long as she has some memory of the activity we did on a specific day, she remembers the exact date. And quite often, she expects to do the same thing on that day each year. She’s makes “anniversaries” out of everything. So when Lecce says the schools will reopen after their April spring break, she knew it was a crock! She kept anticipating that the school would be closed because it was closed last March break. If something happened once, she believes it will happen again. As much as I’ve tried to teach her over the years that this is not the case (so she doesn’t need to stress about bad experiences happening again), this Covid year has totally made a liar out of me! For a girl who HATES change and needs warning, especially before totally turning her world upside down, I have to say, she’s handled it better than I expected. But, poor thing was eating an ice cream cone the other day, started laughing about something and broke in to tears! It had finally caught up to her. She had no idea why she was crying…but I sure did. This third wave has us all exhausted and frustrated. She doesn’t want to do online learning. She hasn’t been able to spend time in person with her friends. She is still waiting to see if she will get to go to camp this year. (She doesn’t believe it will happen because of last year’s cancellation). Even though Covid hasn’t changed her life too much (compared to others who work or go out all the time) to her, this is big. Just being told she can’t go anywhere, even though she rarely does, doesn’t sit well with her. Before it was on her terms. Now it’s not.

I wish I knew what the answer was. I wish I knew what the outcome will be so I could give her warning. But I don’t. So today, I think we will go over several possible scenarios and come up with a plan for each one. A list of fun things we can do, know matter what the outcome. It’s the best way I know how to prepare her. I’ll post our list on another blog post once we get it done to share with you. At least this way, she can be prepared as best as possible. If you have any ideas on how you’re handling the lockdown and the unknowns, please share in the comments! It would be great to hear from you!

Continue Reading

Healthy Living

“You seem to be feeling really well lately! Exercising, walking…you have all of this energy I haven’t seen in a long time.”

“I know right?! It’s like I’m a whole new person!”

“No, it’s like you are back to being you again.”

That was the conversation between my hubby Aaron and I last night. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I have lived with an unknown autoimmune disorder for about 15 yrs. now! I had years of tests, seeing specialists, yearly visits to the MS clinic in Toronto. It was exhausting. Both emotionally and physically. I was in pain everyday, heavy limbs, numbness, tingling and fatigue. One symptom at a time, I could handle. Having them all at the same time, put me in bed for sometimes weeks. I had difficulty walking up and down stairs, doing one chore in the morning was all the energy I had. Raising 3 little ones, and one with some pretty high needs at the time was almost too much some days. But we have to push through. We have to put the pain and fatigue and everything else we are dealing with aside. Looking back, I wonder how I made it through! Although I did have a lot of support from my husband, family and friends. I don’t know how I would have managed without them. For all you single parents out there, I am in awe of you! But, even if you have just one friend, one family member…give them a call. You don’t have to do this on your own.

It was very difficult to admit I needed help let alone accept help. But over time, I learned to say no more, accept the help when I needed it and take the time I need for self-care. Self-care is what will help you get through the tougher days. Even if that is waking up 5- 10 mins. earlier than normal to have a cup of tea, read a chapter in a book or journal. You deserve it!

Here are a few things that help me manage the day to day responsibilities:

Miracle Mornings by Hal Elrod

The Secret Slob/Fly Lady System

The Minimal Mom

Joshua Becker – Decluttered

Erin Stutland – Soul Strolls and Workouts

The Fitness Marshall – he’s so funny and super fun to dance with!

Take a look and see if some of these might work for you! I have to say, decluttering is a big job but can be done in small steps. We are still working on it, but I am starting to see some improvements. Cleaning and tidying has become easier because we have less stuff to manage. Less items to move in order to dust or wipe counters. Having less is refreshing and declutters my mind as well! What are some areas of your life that cause you stress? Can you find just 5 mins. to work on it? Mark it on your calendar!!

Continue Reading

Feel Your Feels

I posted on our Facebook page yesterday, asking if anyone else felt like crying. The response was amazing and this community inspires me everyday. Just knowing others are with you and support you means everything. I struggle with admitting or asking for help. When you are used to helping others, you hear and see their struggles. I work in a hospital now where I see people hurting physically and emotionally every day, and it’s hard to accept that my little sadness of having to home school is anything worth complaining about. It was more than just about homeschooling Grace yesterday. It was feeling emotional because I can’t hug my dad on his 70th birthday. I can’t celebrate the life of a legend, my grandma, who passed away during all of this. Seeing the teachers trying to teach with their own little ones at home needing their parent’s help. It’s being tired of seeing the disconnect and arguments between those who believe in Covid and those who don’t. It’s the fear for loved ones and strangers alike who may not get their life saving surgeries and treatments because the hospitals are overloaded and trying to prevent the spread. The obvious racism in this world, especially within the US at this time and what happened on January 6th. The difference between what happened at the Capitol vs. the Black Lives Matter protest. It’s hard to not get caught up in the dysfunction and sorrow. It’s hard to not cry about it.

So even though my difficulties may be small compared to what is happening in the world, I’m going to feel my feels. I believe we are all feeling things during these times. Albeit, different in comparison to others, we are all dealing with our own feelings. And that’s ok. So if you are like me and don’t feel like you have a right to complain or feel sad because in the grand scheme of things, you are fortunate to being living this beautiful life you are living, I’m giving you permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling. Cry if you need to cry. Scream if you need to scream. Laugh if you need to laugh. Then go and remind yourself what you have to be grateful for. Today, I am grateful for you.

Thank you xo

Continue Reading

Christmas and Covid

Well, I’m sitting here by my christmas tree, enjoying the peace it brings. I love the calmness of the lights. But, I’m also hearing Gracie participate with her Community Living Teen group on a zoom meeting, decorating christmas cookies with her friends, so I guess it’s not that relaxing at the moment lol, but it’s still wonderful to hear. Her group leaders have been extremely creative in bringing the kids together, in a different way than they are used to.

I’m sitting here, thinking about how Christmas will look a little different for all of us. As much as we have missed our annual family Christmas party, the large gathering of family over dinner, and travelling to visit family who are further away, I’m reminding myself that different is okay. How often do we tell our children that being different makes the world a brighter, more beautiful place? Sometimes we need to be resilient and go with the flow of life. Sometimes we can be in control (if that’s ever possible living in a special needs world) and sometimes we can predict and prepare. This year is definitely not one that we are used to! As hard as this year will be, instead of breaking traditions, I hope to create new ones. Maybe now that my teens won’t be able to socialize with their friends this time around, we’ll spend more time watching Christmas movies together or maybe tobogganing or hiking. I’m not sure just yet what it will look like but I’m sure we can come up with something to do that will be remembered for years to come.

I don’t know about you, but holidays used to be our more difficult time with G because holidays bring surprises and sensory overload and busy times and rushing times and socializing and lack of a schedule, unpredictability and sugar! But, this year might be more peaceful for us and for you and your family, for the simple fact that…well, Christmas will be simple. Quieter and hopefully calmer.

I don’t hide the fact that it’s going to be very sad that we won’t get to see family and loved ones in person. I’m struggling with not being able to hug people. I’m a hugger. I don’t hide the fact that this will be the first Christmas without my Grandma and that we have other family members who aren’t here with us anymore. I think of those who will be alone at Christmas, those struggling with their mental health and those who can barely put food on the table for their families. Maybe this year we can come up with a tradition to help or honour some of those people. Life can be challenging and boy are we being challenged.

To those of you who have lost loved ones, to Covid, or not. To those of you who are struggling with your child’s challenging symptoms. To those of you who are not able to work or have had to close your small business. To those of you who aren’t able to spend the holidays with your loved ones as you have every other year. Please know that you aren’t alone. Every person in the world is dealing with this pandemic. Every person has their own challenges and stories. So please be kind to yourself. And please be kind to others. We don’t know what others are truly going through. And most importantly…

…please reach out if you need a hand. To me, to family or to friends. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it. We all need some help once in a while.

Stay safe!

Sending love and strength your way,

Melanie

Continue Reading

Don’t Forget to Listen

I had a conversation with a parent the other day regarding some struggles they were having with their child. The first advice I give to parents, caregivers and educators is to ask their child/student. Talk to them. Ask them what they are struggling with and what they feel they are doing well at. What are their likes and dislikes? What makes them happy and what upsets or angers them? Especially as a teen, it is good to let them know that you see they are struggling and you support them no matter what. The question, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me? I’m here,” can go a very long way sometimes. Instead of us telling them what they should be doing (don’t get me wrong, I feel like I’m telling Gracie all the time how to do things), we can ask them what they feel they need right now. In this very moment. Just letting them know that you are there for them, and allowing them to make some of their own decisions (as long as they are safe) empowers them to make the right choice and you just might be surprised! All of those things you’ve been harping on your kids for, might just sink in. We tend to forget sometimes that our kids, no matter what age, can be very insightful to what they need. Obviously this is more difficult for some. Some of your kids may be non-verbal, or give you one word answers or a grunt. They may say things are fine when they aren’t. But just letting them know you are there for them, can open up the doors to communication. If you child is non-verbal but can point to yes and no or nod their head, get creative and come up with some things you think might be triggering them. Look at what they are playing with or what they are watching. Sometimes if your child is watching the same episode over and over, it might be on topic with what they are going through. Sometimes the answer is right there in front of us but we are too busy to really see it. And don’t feel bad about that! Just remember, the answer could be the knowledge your child/student already has. They are pretty amazing.

Continue Reading

Thankful for the Little Things…

It’s been a whirlwind since Aaron and I got back from our trip a couple of weeks ago. My hubby’s appendix burst and he’s been in and out of the hospital since. Turns out he had two abscesses (infections the size of a couple golf balls) that were taken care of and now he is home and on the mend. Today has been the quietest and least busy day since we’ve returned home. Today is a day I am able to take a breath and reflect on all that I have to be thankful for.

Many of you are dealing with challenges every day and it can be hard to feel like you have anything to be grateful for at times. Life is hard. Yet, life is precious. When things are going well, it’s common to take those moments for granted. But when someone you love gets ill, (even if it’s minor) you start to realize all of those things that should not be taken for granted.

Today, as I have some quiet time to reflect, I have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my husband and all he has provided for us. I am thankful for my children who rallied together to tidy, clean up after themselves and set the house up for their dad to be comfortable in. I’m thankful for my parents who held the fort while I drove kids here and there and stayed with Aaron when I could. I am thankful for family and friends that are always there, just when you need them. I am thankful for this quiet moment to come to the realization that Gracie was worried about her dad because to her, any surgery is serious. She’s never seen her dad in an unhealthy way. I realize every one of my frustrations with her came out because that is how she deals with her anxiety, and I couldn’t see that. And I realize, I need to give the kid a break. So what if she left all the frozen fruits on top of the fridge instead of in it. So what if she asks me a gazillion questions a day that she knows the answer to, or sits/stands a foot away STARING at me. Non-stop. So what, if she is obsessed with food and constantly asking to eat, especially the sweets. So what if she is always there. Always. I need to get over it. I need to remember how far this girl has come!

Today I am grateful our family is healthy and happy. We have a roof over our head and food on the table. We have family and friends and teachers and EAs and coworkers who we are blessed to have in our lives.

What can you be thankful for today? If you don’t have family or friends around, or feel like you don’t have anything to be thankful for on this day, please know you have a wonderful group of parents who are living a life similar to yours. The special needs community is a fierce one! We are there for each other. You are not alone! If you are feeling that way, please head over to our Facebook group and join our crew! Just click on the Facebook icon at the top right of this blog. Send me an email and we can chat. We are here for you. I am thankful for you. And if you haven’t heard this in a while, you are loved.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving day. xo

Continue Reading

Is This Our New Normal?

I’m tired. Tired of wearing a mask. Tired of not being able to hug those I love or even those who just need a hug. I’m tired of knowing how many students are going to struggle with the changes this year and tired of not being able to go out in public and enjoy life the way we used to. I’m tired of knowing there are many people I love and many people I see at work who are on their own, isolating and living by themselves.

Today as I write this, I’m just feeling a little blah about it all. Tired. I want the life we had back. This is getting emotionally draining.

But… I know others have suffered so much more due to Covid and have lost loved ones. I know others are struggling to put food on the table and pay their rent. I know small business owners are working their butts off just to keep afloat. I know so many others are struggling with loneliness and mental health.

That doesn’t mean to say that my feelings aren’t justified. It just means, in the grand scheme of things, we are okay. I don’t know if this will be our new normal, but I do know it is our new normal for the time being. I know I am feeling blah at the moment, but in a few minutes, I’ll be grateful and feeling joyful for this Saturday spending time with the people I love.

Look for the things that bring you joy. Look at your child and smile because you know they are loved. Give someone in your close bubble a hug. Have a cup of tea (or other cool drink) with a friend. Look up at the sky and see the stars. Cozy up in your favourite blanket and watch a good movie, especially one that makes you laugh. Ask yourself, what are some of the small things that you can be grateful for in this moment?

Sending you all a big virtual hug!

xo

Continue Reading
1 2 3 5