Prioritize Friendships

I had an amazing day today with my best friends! I often forget how good this is for my soul. We all have busy lives. Especially if you live in a ‘special needs’ world.

I’m grateful that we are in a place now where Gracie is more independent, making it easier for me to make this a priority. But, I remember when it wasn’t as easy. My friends were always so great to continue inviting me, even when my answer almost always had to be “no, sorry.” But making the time to say “yes”… That is priceless and healthy in so many ways, and I wish I had said yes more often. It would have taken some figuring out, but it could’ve be done.

I am very fortunate that I have friends that I’ve known since we were in diapers and friends that I made in elementary and high school. There’s approximately twenty of us who get together at least a couple of times per year. Friends that I may not see for months on end, but when we are together, it’s like we’ve never been apart. They are friends who will always be there for one another especially in times of need.

I want to encourage those who are reading this to find your people and prioritize those friendships. If you can spare even 5 mins. to drop off a tea to your friend (even if your child is in the car with you), schedule a lunch or dinner date, a quick phone call, a walk, swim, craft night, wine night, book club, concert, or even have your friends over. Regardless of what your house looks like, regardless of how tired you are or how early you need to wake up in the morning (or in the night). Short visits are better than none. And I promise you, your heart will be full.

I understand it can be hard to remain friends with others who don’t understand your situation and the challenges you face. Or if you’ve lost your friends because time has just flown by without you reaching out and you feel too much time has passed. Try reaching out anyway. If you were once friends before, I truly believe they would happy to hear from you, regardless of how long it’s been.

You can also try attending support groups or skill building classes with your child/adult and meet other parents. If anyone will understand that plans may need to be altered, rescheduled, or even refused, it’s someone living a similar experience as you.

Remember that you can only take care of others, if you’ve taken care of yourself. And the people you surround yourself with, that love you and bring out the best in you, help you be the parent that you need to be in those challenging times. It’s not selfish to make this time for you. So here’s your gentle reminder…

You deserve to have a life filled with love and happiness that isn’t always provided by your immediate family. You deserve to take the time you need to recharge. You deserve to have time with others who fill your cup.

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Independent Play!

Does your child struggle to entertain themselves? Do you find your child following you around the house like your shadow? Do they constantly complain about how bored they are? Or do they not want to leave their room? Are video games an issue? Are you working from home and can’t have too many distractions? Boredom can present in all sorts of ways and this can affect the whole family!

Here are some ideas to help you make it through the summer months!

Video games can be very addictive. There are several benefits such as fine motor development, problem solving, imaginative play, and communicating with others. It can help increase social skills, math and literacy skills. But it can become very problematic when our kids don’t want to do anything else.

There are ways to limit the access to wifi and gaming which can help with making sure responsibilities and healthy habits are accomplished. Using the games as rewards can be a wonderful incentive to completing other less enjoyable tasks as well, as long as it is not such an obsessive choice that you cannot redirect them to something else when the time is up.

If you are a Rogers customer, you can use their app to turn the wifi on and off, for any device in your home. Or take a look at the Qustodio app for online safety and usage. I’m sure other companies would have something similar.

Here is a little book I created to share with you. It is designed to help you teach your child to be more independent with their play especially if they have a hard time leaving your side.

The instructions are posted in the book and the supplies you will need can be purchased at any dollar store. The supplies needed are: velcro strips or dots and a timer.

Reward systems/token systems can be a topic to discuss further. Many professionals and some families believe they are helpful in teaching new skills. And some don’t like the idea of using tokens or rewards. But since this is a blog post where we share what has worked for us, I will leave the data for another discussion at a later time.

Reward systems for Gracie were fantastic for motivating her to learn. But it did cause its own issues where eventually she wouldn’t do a single thing without expecting a reward. But this too passed and without the rewards in the first place, I don’t think she’d come as far as she had. So the book above does include rewards but I also included pictures of a hug and high five with the reward pictures, just in case 🙂

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Meltdowns Episode 4 Follow-Up

On episode 4 of our podcast, Well Balanced Life with Grace & Mel, I share an example of one of Gracie’s meltdowns that she had at the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls, hence the picture above. But I also shared some strategies and resources that helped us along the way. If you haven’t heard the podcast, please head on over by clicking this link! https://www.buzzsprout.com/2123289

If you have heard the podcast, then you’ll recognize the information I’m sharing below.

To make it easy, I’m just going to list the links here:

Data Collection Sheets:

https://www.earlywood.org/Page/556

Social Stories:

Power Cards:

https://autismcircuit.net/tool/power-card

Pivotal Response Training:

https://www.autismprthelp.com/about-prt.php

Thinking of you and hoping you find the strategies and support that work for you!

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New Year, New You?

New years day is typically a day where we see all the ads telling us how to be thinner, healthier, calmer, richer, more successful. Some of you may be feeling the pressure to start a new habit to better yourselves and some may just be praying for a better year to come. Building in new habits that help you become healthier are not bad for you. But please know that you are wonderful just the way you are. You are loved. You are important. And those littles (or big ones) in your home, love you for you.

If you really want to make a new year’s resolution, reflecting back on the past year can help with determining where you want to go in the future. Yet, who has time to reflect? If you have the opportunity to have a quiet bath, or set your alarm for 5 mins. earlier before the kids wake up, or heck, even go to the washroom, grab your phone and just scroll through your photos from the past year. You’d be amazed at all of the things you did, or at the very least, see the things that inspired you enough to take a picture of it. Take a look and see what brought you joy. And maybe even what brought you stress. Do more of the stuff that brought you joy and see if there is a way to decrease the latter.

My goal is to let others know how much I care about them and how grateful I am that they are in my life. We don’t seem to hear this enough and at times, probably often, we question our parenting. We all have regrets, make mistakes, and struggle to understand how to best support our kids. Be let me tell you… I see you. I see the frustration, the lack of patience, uncertainty, fear, and even heartache. But I also see that this is usually out of fear and self-doubt. I see the strength, patience, perseverance, love, guidance, teachings, joy, and awe shining in you. You are doing an amazing job. You are an amazing parent. Your kid(s) are working harder than they should have to at times to keep up with society’s expectations, but man do they celebrate when they achieve their goals! They shine from the inside out what it means to love fiercely (even if this isn’t shown in the “typical” way), they see the beauty in the world in a way that is shadowed for us at times. Many of our kids can just “be”.

To those of you who have children who are hating themselves, struggling to fit in, having difficulty keeping up in school, and are frustrated more than not, they may need a little extra lovin’. Being there, just to listen, can allow for a stream of information to flow and understand them better. Just keep giving them the love and let them know you are there for them. No judgement. Just there.

And if you feel they need a little extra support, reach out to the school and see if they can see the counsellor. Contact your family health team to set up counselling. Check in with Autism Ontario to see if they can connect you with counsellors qualified to help.

Here is a list of resources you can reach out to:

Kinark: https://www.kinark.on.ca/

New Path: https://newpath.ca/

Catulpa Community Support Services: https://catulpa.on.ca/programs-and-services/

Youth Wellness Hub: https://youthhubs.ca/en/sites/north-simcoe/

Chigamik: https://www.chigamik.ca/your-health/mental-health-and-addictions-counselors/

Chigamik Traditional Healing: https://www.chigamik.ca/your-health/traditional-healing/

Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre: https://www.gbnfc.com/programs

Métis Nation of Ontario: https://www.metisnation.org/programs-and-services/

Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County: https://cfssc.ca/locations/midland/

Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County Online Groups: https://cfssc.ca/mindself/

2SLGBTQ+ Gilbert Centre: https://gilbertcentre.ca/

Waypoint Child and Family Services: https://www.waypointcentre.ca/programs_and_services/family_child_and_youth_mental_health_program

North Simcoe Family Health Team: https://nsfht.ca/childrens-mental-health/

Lastly, I am grateful for you! Keep doing you and know that you aren’t alone! xo

Wishing you all the best in this new year to come!

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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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Sibling Love

Our Christmas this year was spent at Lake Louise with the 5 of us sharing one hotel room and spending every minute together. We didn’t know how this was going to work out. They love each other. But let’s be honest, they each have their own needs, likes, dislikes, and routines. And one of them (miss Gracie) can get very excited and anxious over a change in her routine. And no matter how much we try to prepare her, there are always unexpected mishaps that occur. A lot of patience was needed in order for this trip to go smoothly. And smoothly it did. For the most part. I was so amazed at their level of patience and friendship with each other. I don’t know if it’s because they are all growing up and maturing or just plain luck. I’d like to believe they’ve matured.

Gowing up wasn’t always easy. Having three kids and only two hands made it difficult to be there for all 3 at the same time. The screaming and meltdowns, refusals and challenges were at their peak when Gracie was younger. Screaming in the middle of night and waking the entire house up made it difficult to get a good night sleep which made dealing with those challenges even harder. For everyone. The kids got good at going to their rooms and shutting the door to minimize the noise. Emma was more of a helper if she thought she could help calm her. She became Gracie’s go-to person at school. And when Emma graduated from high school, Josh took on that role.

I know we can worry about siblings having to grow up faster, feeling pressure to behave more or do well in all areas of their life, taking on more responsibility than a child should, and we worry about not being able to meet their needs when they have a sibling whose needs exceed theirs. Especially if there are health related concerns that require you to travel to doctors appointments and hospital visits. But what can happen is each sibling becomes more patient and understanding. Non-judgemental and kind to others, helping those who are in distress. My kids aren’t perfect and I know as they were growing up, they’ve said or done things that I wouldn’t be proud of. But behind the scenes, they’ve done some pretty amazing things that have helped others who didn’t feel like they fit in or were struggling with life, in tremendous ways, and little ways, that know one else will know of.

I have another post called “Sibling Sanity” that shares some strategies on how to best deal with challenging times and how to best support those siblings. Click on the link above to bring you there.

Please know this post is meant to share with you the growth and positive outcomes that can arise as the kids get older. It will be okay. You’ve raised great kids! Trust that all you’ve taught them will present itself. And if they can’t stand each other right now, they will soon enough!

If you haven’t been told this yet today….YOU are a GREAT parent!

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A-ha Moment! Teaching vs. Correcting

Ok, I know I just posted a new blog post yesterday. And I still feel the same way and true to what I wrote. BUT…I had this a-ha moment as I was doing the hashtags on the Facebook group when posting the link. Specifically the hashtag #whenisteachingtoomuch…the same wording as the title. My first thought was, “Am I teaching or correcting?”

I’ve always seen it as teaching her. Helping her grow. She has to learn these life skills if she’s going to live without me someday. She has to know how to PROPERLY do these things. But does she really? If she manages just fine when I’m not with her every single moment, does she really need to do them properly? And what does that even mean? Properly. My way? My way of doing things doesn’t mean that she needs to do them the same way. Even though I like the dishwasher filled a certain way and she may leave cups facing up that get filled with water, but hey, they are still getting washed, even if a little bit LOL Does that spatula need to go in the drawer that I’ve allocated it to? It’s still put away, even if it’s in another cupboard. Looking at these sorts of things and picturing her in her own home someday, I realize that she will be just fine! The kitchen, living room, fridge, etc. are not her space. But, she knows where everything is in her own room and manages to do a fine job of keeping herself organized.

She is keeping track of her work schedule by printing it out and adding it to her calendar. She plugs her phone into its charger each night so it is ready for the next day. She makes sure her uniforms are washed and clean and ready to go for her next shift. She showers and uses soap, even though we are starting to notice she’s not rinsing her hair long enough, so that is something I can teach her about. The constant correcting is probably equivalent to constant put-downs. And I get reminded sometimes by Gracie that “I’m on her a lot today”.

I am grateful she has the words to tell me that when I need to hear it. And if your child doesn’t have the actual words, watch their body language. The eye rolls, the vocalizations, stimming, ignoring, whatever they do that shows you they aren’t happy…you know your child best.

I think for myself, I’m going to actually write down the things that are my “pet peeves” list that won’t matter if Gracie does them when living in her own home. I will try to focus on the things that will make a difference if NOT done “properly” like hygiene, cleanliness, and safety.

This isn’t going to be easy! I’ve created a habit that will be hard to change. But I’ll do my best. I’ve also heard that for every negative comment a child receives, they need four positive ones to counteract that. So I best get my lovin’ on!!

Thanks for listening! Sometimes just saying things “out loud” or writing them out helps me see the bigger picture.

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When Is Teaching Too Much?

Gracie and her love of everything Christmas!

The last thing we want is for our kids to feel like they are not good enough. But I have to say, I was someone who, unintentionally, consistently crushed Gracie’s confidence, every time I tried to teach her the “appropriate way” to do something. I think I still do. I know I do! It’s just hard to admit. My heart was in the right place. If I could teach her these life skills and help her be the most independent person she can be, her life will be full. I just need to figure out what a full and happy life means to her. It’s her life. Not mine. I forget that sometimes.

Correcting her has actually become an automatic response, even though I’ve been trying to “teach” the same things for years! As a parent, it just seems to be in us to instinctually teach our young. Even when I make myself consciously aware, and tell myself I will let the small stuff slide, I can’t go 5 minutes!

I did become aware of this when I saw her sweet soul defeated. Grade 7 & 8 were the hardest years of her life. Not only did she have a mom that was on her at home, but she also had support staff trying to help her. Yet, she didn’t want to be different than her peers. She was embarrassed to need the help. That developmental gap between her and her peers had been growing since grade 2 and was at its peak! She was now considered weird for liking Treehouse tv, Scooby doo, and Santa Claus. The demands and expectations for someone her age grew and grew.

At times, I wish I had done things differently. I do, however, realize that my reactions were based on fear. Fear for her future and wanting the best for her. I needed (and need) to remember that she learns a different way. Her actions aren’t out of spite or a wish to push my buttons. (Even though it often felt that way!) But when I look at her “behaviour” as brain-based “symptoms” and see her at her developmental age as opposed to her actual numerical age, this helps me tremendously. I still need reminders though! It’s hard when you live this life of autism (or insert diagnosis here) day in and day out. It becomes your new normal. So if you are feeling guilty because you aren’t getting along with your child, or you are feeling more frustrated than normal and just don’t know what to do at this time, try looking at your child with a different lens. See their actions as symptoms instead of behaviour. Obviously, intervene when appropriate, especially when there is aggression.

Teaching our kids proper etiquette, manners, cleanliness, self-advocacy (in a strong, firm but kind way) are a few of the skills they will need to excel in this world they are forced to fit in to. We have to teach them because the world isn’t going to change for them. Just try and remember to meet them where they are at, try not to take it personally, and react in a frustrated way. But also, don’t be hard on yourself when you do react. You’re human. It’s okay.

This developmental age is something I keep coming back to because it helps me help her. Here are some links to past blog posts, when I’ve written something similar:

http://wellbalancedlife.ca/index.php/2020/07/25/developmental-age-is-my-saving-grace/(opens in a new tab)

http://wellbalancedlife.ca/index.php/2020/07/23/what-is-your-childs-developmental-age/(opens in a new tab)

I hope you have a fantastic day!!

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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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFdZXwE6fRE

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

https://bouncebackontario.ca/what-is-bounceback-youth/

The North Simcoe Family Health Team Counselling

https://nsfht.ca/mental-health/

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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