If only…

With all of the back to school posts, university and college students moving away and last summer weekend fun shown on social media, I became very mindful of the comparison that can happen when scrolling through those sites. I enjoy sharing trips and accomplishments and photos as well, as this makes it an easy way to share with friends and family. Even our Well Balanced Life posts are meant to share, inspire and support, but this too may have someone comparing their own life or child or situation to what we experience.

I just wanted to remind you that you, your child, and your family, are perfect in your own imperfect ways, just the way you are. I wanted to remind you that communicating (even non-verbally) for the first time, is just as big of an accomplishment as going off to college. Tying your shoes at the age of 15 is just as successful as moving away from home. Hearing the words “I love you” for the first time, stepping bare foot in the sand, going to a mall, swimming, even sitting calmly for more than a few minutes, can be such a big accomplishment for our kids. And they grow at their own pace. They mature. And they may still struggle as adults. But it’s important that we don’t compare them to others because they have their own path. Not one person is the same. Don’t we teach our kids this all the time? How boring life would be if we were all the same? Dare to be different. Don’t worry what others think. It’s funny how we, as adults, do this often.

As I age, I care less about what others think. But I’d be lying if I said I never cared. It’s human. We’re human. But it can make us lose sight of what’s important. And makes us forget how far we’ve all come.

If things are tough right now, please know you aren’t alone. This too shall pass just like every other challenging time you’ve experienced. You’ve got this!

And, if no one has told you yet today, let me say: You are an amazing mom. An amazing dad, sister, brother, person! You are appreciated. Loved. And respected.

We are wishing all the best to the kids starting school, parents, homeschool parents and all of the siblings out there. You are ALL amazing!

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Keep Being You!

Gracie & Bluey

I was thinking today about Gracie’s different developmental stages she seems to have. At times she can seem as young as four, sometimes she’s a total teenager or trying her best to be like one, and at other times, she’s so insightful you’d think there’s an older, wiser woman speaking. This can make things difficult for others to understand her struggles. Especially when it comes to teaching, either at school or training at work. Masking, often common among autistic girls/women, is another symptom that can prevent others from knowing their autistic peers’ true selves/abilities. Gracie can have a very mature conversation with someone, describe a situation or answer a question at school but not fully understand what she is saying. Even when it’s in the proper context of a conversation. Her expressive skills are much higher than her receptive skills. In some ways this has helped her to fit in or get the job. But at other times, when her younger self appears, this can cause looks, misunderstandings (including at home, which will turn to mom, yep that’s me, getting frustrated), or contribute to Gracie’s own self-doubt. Luckily she loves herself and self-doubt creeps up very minimally, but on the way to meet Bluey today, she was a bit embarrassed because she’s 19 and going to the “little kids zone” at Wonderland. I reminded her how awesome she was and how many of us wish we still had that magic of our young selves still living inside us. “You be you” because “you are incredible”. She only needs to hear that once and she’s right back to her young self. Jumping up and down screaming about how excited she is to see Bluey, and telling everyone around her. There were a couple of kids who looked with curiosity, but no rudeness. Parents were smiling and engaged with her infectious excitement. And this made me wonder if times had changed. If people were becoming more accepting. Or, is it that she is older now and it’s more obvious. The “disability” isn’t as invisible anymore. I’d like to believe it’s the former.

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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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Developmental Age Is My Saving Grace

Patience. We either wake up with it or we don’t. Some say we choose it or we don’t. I like to think I’m patient, but I know I run out of it sometimes. I’m only human. As parents we have a lot going on in our lives. Regardless of whether we work full time, are a single parent or if we are a stay-at-home mom or dad. We all have our own busy lives.

The last post I wrote was on our child’s developmental age vs. their birth age. That post had more to do with how to teach and treat our children. One thing I didn’t add but wanted to share was how seeing your child’s developmental age can help us as parents, caregivers and teachers to have more patience.

Gracie will tell me she loves me a hundred times in a day. Seriously, I use a counter to track how often sometimes! It feels like a million times! She wants to hug me just as often. She wants me home. She follows me around. She is learning but still interrupts conversations to say what she wants to say. She gets excited over the smallest things. Christmas and Santa and the Easter Bunny and all other magical beings are the most exciting times in her world. She loves candy and anything sweet and always wants the first and biggest piece of cake. She wants to cuddle (and would get on my lap if I let her). She watches Treehouse TV and cartoons galore. She is completely innocent when it comes to sex, drugs and alcohol. She is emotional at times. Up until recently, she had meltdowns like a toddler. Imagine that in an adult body.

On the flip side, she listens to rap music. Has her sister do her makeup some days. Is able to have very mature conversations at times. She is very tall and grown up physically. She says swear words (limited to her bedroom only). She deals with all the same hormonal changes girls her age go through. She likes some name brand clothing and wants to fit in with others (although she seems to have gotten past that and is happy in her own skin). But, she posts selfies, some that include that duck face pose and likes the comments she receives! She has a boyfriend and best friend. She wants to be like every other teenager in the world.

Now here is what I mean by “her developmental age is my saving grace”. When I look at Gracie as her young 4-8 yr. old self, when I see the child inside her, I have much more patience when dealing with certain things. When I see her developmental age instead of her birth number or size of her body, her symptoms make complete sense to me. When I don’t realize that, it makes it much more difficult for me to understand and be patient with what she is doing. So give it a try. The next time you are starting to lose patience with your child or student, try seeing them at their developmental age and see if it makes a difference to you. How would you react to a 3 yr. old vs a 13 yr. old?

As I just explained to Gracie, she is a teenager but still has that “small kid inside her”. One that she is so blessed to have! How many of us have grown up wishing as a child to be an adult? We couldn’t wait to grow up and our parents would tell us not to rush it. She has the luxury of growing up, but still has the innocence, excitement and magic of a child we all wish we still had. That is something she is so fortunate to have! And we as her family and friends are so fortunate that we get to see life through her eyes. Her excitement, energy and belief of magic is contagious. Holidays will always be exciting because she will always hear that bell ring, because she will always believe.

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What is Your Child’s Developmental Age?

What is your child’s developmental age compared to their birth age? This is something that I think is important to be aware of and remember. They usually aren’t the same or in our case, Gracie is 17 in birth years, 17 in some developmental stages, yet can seem as young as 4-8yrs of age, give or take a few, in other developmental stages.

I know I was taught in College to treat everyone I worked with at whatever birth age they were at. To make sure they didn’t stand out and help them fit in as best they could. To hide their visual schedules in a binder or even more creatively in a CD case, back in the day. We were also told to not let them carry around their favourite stuffed animal in high school or as an adult out in public, and so on. But is this really fair to them? How do we balance teaching them to be proud of who they are and wanting them to fit in and not be made fun of? It’s a tricky thing. But over the years, I think we’ve managed to balance both ways. It certainly hasn’t always been easy. Gracie loves certain things that most teens her age wouldn’t enjoy or would be very embarrassed for anyone else to know about.

I remember when Gracie first started listening to rap music as a teen. Her playlist included songs with bad words that made me cringe and the next song would be The Wheels on the Bus! She was in this middle stage that we all go through of wanting to grow up and yet not wanting to lose the innocent things that bring us so much joy. She was made fun of in elementary school for liking Treehouse TV. Which by the way, she still loves and watches to this day! (She did give me permission to share this with you and I’m so very proud of her for getting to this point of loving herself just the way she is). She still does struggle with the fear of someone making fun of her for what she loves. But she holds her own and doesn’t hide as much as she used to.

I think part of the reason Gracie has accepted herself is that she allowed herself to get to know others who have special abilities and they accept her for who she is. I think I’ve mentioned before that Gracie didn’t want any part of the special ed. department at school or the people in it when she first got to high school. She wanted to hang out with the “popular” kids. But she just couldn’t keep up with their conversations, couldn’t fit in, and couldn’t be herself. After talking to her about the great qualities many people have and what it takes to sometimes be popular, and the importance of being herself, her whole life changed. By accepting the other kids in her program, she began to accept herself. The friendships she developed are filled with acceptance and this unconditional love that I’ve never really witnessed before. And I have to say, she is extremely popular at school!

I believe what my professors taught me was what they thought was best at the time 20 years ago. We are constantly learning and finding new ways to teach our kids and students. The way some things were done many years ago, we wouldn’t even attempt today. But if we teach with a kind heart, open mind, creative ideas, and most importantly, accepting our children/students for who they are and allowing them to be themselves is the most important gift we can give them.

I find that seeing Gracie’s developmental age helps with my patience level as well. I’ll write another blog post and link it here when I do to explain more of what I mean. But for now, ask yourself what your child’s developmental age is. Can you meet them there? What are your thoughts on this? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to share in the comments section.

Wishing you a wonderful night!

Update: Click here for the developmental age post.

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Study Tips!

Exam time is upon us! If you have seen Gracie’s video on Facebook about being stressed and you aren’t alone feeling this way, you know it’s a pretty stressful time in our household. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you follow us on Facebook at Well Balanced Life.

Here are a few study tips from Gracie and I:

Make or buy cue cards. Write the word on one side, definition on the other. If your child is a visual learner, write each card in a different colour. They may not only remember the definition but the colour it was written in! (The colour helps them remember).

Take your child’s favourite song and change the lyrics to teach them the topic! You don’t have to be a great singer!

Use bitmojis, favourite characters or whatever they are obsessed or fascinated with and be creative! How can you incorporate the one thing they think about the most into a learning experience?

Practice writing a test. Don’t forget to include, and teach if needed, the different types of questions – multiple choice, matching, short answer and essay questions.

Here are some things to think about and discuss with the teacher:

Does your child need extra time, less questions or a quiet space to write?

Can you chunk the test/exam into shorter “mini tests” and write it over more than one day?

If your child/student gets overwhelmed just by seeing so many questions on one page, can you cut the paper into strips and allow them to do a few at a time, with short breaks in between if needed?

Does your child do better writing their answer, having someone scribe for them or verbally giving the answers?

Can they write with their favourite writing tool whether that is a pen, pencil, markers, technology, crayons, etc?

Can your child have an open book or “cheat sheet” for more difficult tests?

What happens if they fail or do poorly on their test/exam? Can they have a rewrite opportunity?

If your child is creative, can they do an art piece to show what they know?

If your child/student is able to get their knowledge known to you, does it really matter how they present it?

If you are unsure what works best for you child/student, ASK THEM! If they can communicate… ask them! Some kids are great at knowing exactly what they need and how they learn best.

And if the school can’t accommodate them, ask them to create an IEP (Individual Education Plan). If they already have one, go over it and gently remind them what needs to be accommodated or modified.

Wishing you all the best on your studying and exam writing! As Gracie says “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” And as I say “YOU GOT THIS!”

Mel & Grace

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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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