Worth a thousand words……

Back in May I wrote a very personal post about mental health. About how receiving a life long diagnosis such as Autism for your child is shattering and how little support parents are given to come to terms with what it means to them, as a family, as parents and as people. It was an important post to write. I was, and still am, incredibly proud of it.

Any who shortly after publishing it on the blog I was contacted by Spectrum Inspired; an American based not for profit, whose mission is to:

“give [ASD] families a platform to voice their struggles, celebrate their victories and share their story; all the while, removing the stigma and stereotypes of what is thought to be representative of Autism and show the world just how broad and beautiful the spectrum is.”

I’d been following Spectrum Inspired (via their blog and Instagram account) for some time, and was so flattered to hear that they really appreciated what I’d written. And I was bursting with pride when they asked if they could use my post as an article for the next edition of their printed magazine 😱.

I agreed immediately, just happy that my thoughts and support might reach more Autism families across the globe. I then had a completely unexpected email back from Melissa, asking me if we would like a session with a professional photographer, to provide some images to go with the article. She explained they had a partner photographer not far from us and would be happy to arrange a session, with all images gifted to us at the end. Well! Who could say no to an offer like that?

We prepared Oscar for the session with Redhill based Amanda Dalby, by showing him the very useful social story that Spectrum Inspired provided. The idea was to capture our lives, as they are. It was suggested we be natural, relaxed and just ignore the camera. I can’t tell you how difficult that was for me on the day! But after an initial reticence from the boy (“NO not me, photograph my family“), he turned out to be a pro!

© Amanda Jane Dalby 2017

The lovely Amanda came to the house early one Saturday evening and Oscar was keen to show her all his toys and especially his new Lego train.

© Amanda Jane Dalby 2017

He then quite randomly told us he wanted to bake a cake! Of course he did !

© Amanda Jane Dalby 2017

After an hour or so we decided that, as the evening was so beautiful, we’d go and see if we could get some good shots up at a local National Trust beauty spot, The Devil’s Punchbowl. And boy am I glad we did!

© Amanda Jane Dalby 2017

© Amanda Jane Dalby 2017

© Amanda Jane Dalby 2017

We had the most amazing hour running here, there and everywhere. Basically, following a very happy little boy. Going where he wanted, playing his games and dancing to his tune. I tell you, Amanda certainly earnt every shot she got that day!

A few weeks ago the magazine was released. And my copy arrived today. There are my words in print. And there’s Oscar. And I can’t tell you how proud I am of both of us.

 

Thank you to Melissa, Amanda and everyone at Spectrum Inspired for such a beautiful gift. For seeing me, for seeing us and for trying to ensure the world sees us too. And not just my little family, but the entire Autism community.

After all what’s the point of awareness, if we are the only ones who are aware?

© Amanda Jane Dalby 2017

 

The Benefits of Hiring People with Autism

interviewThere are more than 700,000 individuals with Autism in the UK. However, less than 15% of these are in full-time employment. This is a dispiriting figure when you consider the many skills and talents autistic people have, skills which are highly beneficial in the workplace.

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a disease or illness to be ‘cured’. The unique elements of autism are an integral part of the person’s make-up. As it is defined across a spectrum, those with a diagnosis will all experience it in a unique way. However, it often has some effect on how individuals communicate and interact with others. It is often referred to as an ‘invisible’ disability.

In 2010, The Equality Act made it unlawful for any employer to discriminate on the grounds of disability. One would hope this would have encouraged employers reassess their approach to employing those on the spectrum. However, employing those with a disability is not just a matter of filling a quota. Instead, the focus should be on the value each individual can bring to the prospective role. Autistic people have just as much to offer companies as their neurotypical colleagues. Some may be excellent problem solvers; others have outstanding concentration and memory skills; they may be able to pay great attention to detail; and be highly dependable. Surely these are traits any employer should be looking for?

While every applicant should be treated as an individual, there is common ground amongst autistic people that, when recognised by companies, can make the hiring process run much more smoothly. Things to consider:

Communication

Some individuals with autism will find understanding body language and facial expressions difficult. This can sometimes hinder communication. Be patient and clear in your communication.

Repetitive Behaviours

Autistic candidates may need the security of familiarity and routine. This is a positive trait in a working environment, but perhaps offer them an opportunity to visit the building prior to their interview to reduce anxiety.

Interaction

Interaction concerns how individuals with autism behave in the presence of others. For example, when concentrating or anxious about something they may sometimes appear withdrawn or insensitive. This can appear rude, but in reality is the result of misunderstanding, potential on both sides. Do not jump to conclusions and be conscious of potential for misinterpretation.

The Interview Process

People with autism can sometimes develop a keen interest in a particular subject and become hugely knowledgeable about it. If you can discover what this interest is during the interview, and encourage the candidate to talk about it, it can help put them at ease.

Sometimes jokes and sarcasm are not understood well by individuals with autism. Therefore, be straightforward and express yourself clearly. Also, if there are gaps in the conversation don’t rush in to fill the silence. The candidate may just need a little longer to formulate their response.

The Induction Process

Once an autistic individual has been hired, there are a few simple steps that can make their first few days as positive an experience as possible.

  • Send induction material to the new employee early so they can take the time to read through and absorb it before they start. This will help to lessen first day nerves.
  • If possible, try to seat the person away from noise or people passing by regularly, as this can be unsettling. It’s also important to build structure into the day so individuals know what to expect.
  • People with autism can be perfectionists so it’s important to give regular feedback on how things are going and provide reassurance where necessary.

Individuals with autism can have very strong skills in particular areas, often outperforming their peers in these capacities. It’s important therefore to tap into these strengths and allow the employee the freedom to utilise their skill-set within the working environment. When this happens employers are able to increase there understanding of Autism and recognise what a valuable asset the individual is to their business.

For more information click here.

Oscar’s Haircut at Little Locks

I try and find the joy in the everyday, well, every day, because that’s what make up life; the little things. But if you follow me at all on social media you will know that this week we’ve had what might be a little thing to many, but to us is a massive cause for celebration.

Oscar’s autism hasn’t shown us too many sensory issues as yet, at least not those you may recognise as typically autistic. He’s OK with sound and pretty cool with new places and crowds. If anything he’s under (hypo) sensitive to things like pain and he looooves to run. But one thing he can’t stand is very typically autistic. He hates, and I mean hates, having his hair cut. We’ve found a way to get him to have his hair brushed (just and only on a good day) and his nails clipped, but despite trying any number of things we just couldn’t get him to have his hair cut.

Oscar hates having his hair cut

Oscar hates having his hair cut

Then at the end of last year a new salon opened in Haslemere. A specialist children hair salon, Little Locks was set up by Hannah Clements and her family. Hannah has many years experience in salon management and her niece, the lovely Georgia, is a fully qualified stylist, specialising in children’s hair. It seemed like a no brainer that the two should come together and open the kind of salon Haslemere was clearly lacking. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I found out Little Locks was opening just down the road from us. We’ve tried various salons over the years and, except his first two haircuts, they’ve all been pretty disastrous. We’ve tried having stylists come to the house, including friends he was familiar with, and even I had a go at loping bits off here and there but it made no difference. I got the feeling that if we could get him slowly used to the notion of a haircut, this might help. So when Little Locks opened I decided to discuss my idea with Hannah.

The Little Locks team couldn’t have been more understanding. Hannah’s son is also autistic, so she knew the angle I was coming from straight away. She told me one of the reasons they had decided to open a children’s salon was because as a family, they were acutely aware of the need for sensitivity around something as potentially anxiety inducing as a child’s hair cut. The salon on Weyhill is a large airy space, with a choice of cool chairs (Bat Car anyone?), TVs at every station, with a huge choice of DVDs to watch and a play area. But the thing that impressed me the first time I went in was how open and calm the environment was. One of my big dislikes about other childrens salons I’d been in was the amount of stuff everywhere. Hair products, toys and books to buy. Pester power purchases for some parents, but needless stimulation for my guy. I’ve also been put off other salons by how geared towards girls the decor has been. Little Locks has avoided this, with beautifully gender neutral decoration, and toys (to play with not buy) and cool touches designed to appeal to both male and female customers.

So at Hannah’s suggestion we started the process of familiarising Oscar with the salon back in January. Initially we just popped in to play. And he loved it. Then we made an appointment just for him to play with Georgia, all of which he happily did. He still wouldn’t even let her brush his hair though. This carried on regularly for eight weeks. We got to the point that he loved going in there. He would talk about the salon at home, he would even ask to go to ‘Haircut’, but every time we went in, he would refuse to have anyone touch his hair and just wanted to play. Usually with their train set!

Oscar loves the trains at Little Locks

Oscar loves the trains at Little Locks

Despite all the haircut episodes of cartoons we were watching (I particularly recomend Dora and Team UmiZoomi!) and the amount of children he’d seen having their hair done at Little Locks, I started to worry. Had I gone over board with the ‘letting him get used to it’ shtick? Would he ever understand that Little Locks was a place to actually have a haircut, and not just to play?

Things have slowly come to a head over the past few weeks. We are going to Devon for his birthday/Easter holiday this week and his hair was getting so long and so heavy over his eyes that he actually couldn’t see properly. I decided I was just going to have to take the horse by the reigns. Even if I was going to have to pin him down, he had to at least get his fringe cut. It was starting to be dangerous to leave it any longer. So I made him an appointment on Tuesday. Hannah and I found a time when the salon would be as quiet as possible and they booked an extra long time slot for him.

The morning of the appointment I drew him a very basic visual timetable, explaining he was going in the buggy, to Little Locks, that he would have his hair cut ?? and then he could play with their trains ? and go to Dylan’s for ice cream?. He was NOT happy with this plan, but we went over it several times and I calmly explained that while I knew he didn’t like it, that it was going to happen. When it came to leave we went through it again and he screwed up the timetable, but got into the buggy without a fuss. The fact that he did that, I hoped bode well for the rest of it.

We arrived at the salon without incident and he immediately tried to run to the toys. I gently explained that these would come after the hair cut and led him over to the chairs. It became quickly apparent that he wasn’t ready to sit in the car chair alone yet, so we headed to the other end of the salon to the more grown up chairs and he sat on my lap. Georgia set up Ben and Holly (Oscar’s choice) on the DVD and I held on tight as she started on the fringe.

Yes he shouted (a lot) to begin with, and squirmed but nothing like as much as he has done on previous attempts. Last year he struggled so hard I pulled all the muscles in my back trying to hold onto him. This was nothing like that. Yes he didn’t like it. And that’s ok. Once he realised that this really was happening he focused on watching Ben and Holly, laid his head on my chest and stopped wriggling. With just an occasional protestation to ensure we still understood he wasn’t enjoying the situation!

Georgia worked quickly and thoroughly giving him as neater a style as she could manage without needing to get too close to the ears or to use the clippers. One step at a time after all. She was even able to use the thinning scissors to take some of the weight out of his hair. As soon as she finished, he jumped down and I stripped his tshirt off to ensure we got rid of as much hair as possible (as I thought trying to get him wearing a gown was probably a step too far yet). And we were done.

He looked AH MAY ZING darling!

A super smart boy plays with the long awaited toys

A super smart boy plays with the long awaited toys

We ran and found the trains and the toys and he played happily. He even found a box of deelyboppers the salon use when they host one of their popcorn and pamper parties and put one on!!! This from the child who would refuse a hat in the depths of winter! He laughed, he showed us toys, he even asked to get in the Bat Car and had great fun ‘driving fast’.

DeeleyBopper time!

DeeleyBopper time!

"Drive fast mummy"

“Drive fast mummy”

Afterwards Georgia and I were both genuinely a bit emotional. All that planning and perseverance and patience and here he was like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I was full to the brim with pride and gratitude. Georgia told me that it’s times like this that make her job worth doing and that really touched me.

We let him play for a while and then I explained it was time to go and without question he got in the buggy and wolfed the lolly Geogia gave him. I left feeling so proud. I felt like everyone on the street must be able to know by looking at him what monumentous event had just happened in our lives.

So I want to say thank you. To all the team at Little Locks for baring with us all these months and never making us feel anything less than welcome. To Georgia and Hannah for being patient and caring and truly understanding what we needed from you.

And to Oscar. I know you didn’t enjoy it my darling. I hope playing with the trains, and the magazine, the Rocky Dog, the ice cream and the Rocket Ship I got you on the way home helped make up for that. But thank you for trusting me. And making me feel like what I do for you, everything I do for you, is worth it.

My beautiful blue eyed boy

My beautiful blue eyed boy, with his smart new hair.

 

 

 

Thank you so much to Hannah and the team at Little Locks Haslemere. I know your business will go from strength to strength. I was not paid to write this review and I paid for Oscar’s haircut with my own money.

You can book an appointment with any of Little Locks stylists on their website. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram

 

 

A Cornish Mum

 

 

The Application – applying for schools from an SEN perspective

Last Friday was, if you have children starting school in the UK this September, the deadline for getting your school application in. Did you get yours in? I did, just! I applied to three (I could have applied to four but there wasn’t a fourth I particularly wanted) local schools, online, same as everyone else. Only my application wasn’t the same as everyone else’s.

I have written before about schooling for those children with an SEND diagnosis and the weight of responsibility I felt to ‘get it right’. And I still do to some extent. I visited mainstream schools and a specialist unit. I saw what was on offer locally. And not once did I look at an Ofsted report. Call me crazy, but Oscar’s needs are going to be just that little different and what grades he’ll get an English and Maths, at least to begin with, don’t bother me in the slightest. I need a school, that’s going to, minimum, understand him and include him. How good the facilities are, or what grades other pupils are getting really aren’t that interesting to me.

So yeah I visited a bunch of schools. I didn’t get a bad impression from any of them other than the specialist unit. Call it a mothers hunch, but the woman running the unit was so uninterested in the children and more interested in herself that I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. The school is so oversubscribed that she didn’t need to ask me my son’s name or anything about him. She would fill her places whether we chose to go there or not, twenty times over. It just gave rise to an impression of complete ambivalence to the children and that made me want to cry.

Anyway back to the application process. We received a letter to confirm Oscar would be considered for an Educational Health Care Plan (the system that has replaced the old ‘Statement’), back in November and he’s had extra Educational Psychology and Speech and Language reports done to that effect, but we have still yet to hear whether he has one or not yet. It’ll be discussed at a forum some time this month is all I’ve been told. Which is great, but not particularly helpful for the application process, the deadline for which was 15th January. It means I had to apply like all other parents, but then fashion some form of evidence to back up that the ECHP was (possibly) in the pipe line. The reason for needing to do this at all is that having an EHCP would put him in a different place in the admittance list (even though where in the list seems to vary from school to school). As we live in a really weird corner of three counties and various catchment areas, we have applied to two schools we are technically out of catchment for. However, if the county take into account his SEN, this might not matter.

Do you see? I’m living in a world of “ifs” and “buts” right now. But (hahaha see what I did there), what is done is done. The application is in, the evidence written, the EHCP decision in the hands of someone else. So we wait. Same as every parent. And hope we’ve made the right decision, hope we get the place we would like, hope the forum agrees to support him in the way I believe he needs.

Not worry. Hope.

Not to mention the fact that this all means my baby will be starting school in September. School! Arrrggghhhhh!

No let’s not think about that at all. Let’s just go back to focussing on the process. Yes. That’s much less frightening! ?

 

 

 

Savage Christmas 2015

It’s January. How can it possibly be January? Already? We spent so long looking forward to the Christmas holiday and just like that it was over. Sad Face. Or rather that should be Happy Face, because our holiday was perfect! It was everything I had imagined and so much more and for that reason I can’t possibly be sad!

I wrote here about our Christmas plans to hire an apartment in our childhood home town of Plymouth. About how we wanted to spend Christmas with our family and friends, but how due to Oscar’s Autism, we all needed our own space. And I was right. All the planning and the organising meant the holiday, because this was so much more than just a Christmas celebration, was totally worth it!

The drive down to Plymouth was OK, with only minimal delays. The boy spent the whole four and half hours watching Thomas the Tank. God bless Apple! When we arrived at the Royal William Yard, the owner of the property was there to meet us. She even helped us carry our luggage up to the 2nd floor apartment, bless her. She showed us around, what turned out to be a much more spacious apartment than I had envisaged. I had spent some time in the weeks leading up our stay showing Oscar pictures of the flat, taken from the website, but you’re never sure how similar a place is going to be to a promotional photo. Well, I was thrilled to see it was identical, even down to the radio channel playing on the television. I could have hugged her just for that, never mind the milk, coffee, flowers and mince pies she’d bought for us! I knew then this was going to be a good holiday!

Taken from the website, the lounge looked exactly like this picture. I was so grateful!

Taken from the website, the lounge looked exactly like this picture. I was so grateful!

My first impression of the place was it is SHAMAZING!

My first impression of the place was ” This is SHAMAZING!”

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The view as we arrived. Breathtaking!

We settled in immediately. Oscar ran from room to room and we moved the few delicate looking objects (a beautiful model of a tall ship and some glass vases) out of the reach of curious hands. That done Ben collected the Christmas shopping, while I unpacked. Poor old hubs had to carry all the shopping from the car to the apartment alone as I had to stay with Oscar, but once it was done he was rewarded with a large beer, a child who settled down to sleep straight away and a feet up relax on the sofa with pizza. You couldn’t do that staying in someone else’s home 😉

Christmas Day itself was fairly quiet. We had present opening in the morning, in our Christmas jammies. Oscar was incredibly lucky again this year. He has such a generous family. And I breathed a sigh of relief to see no one had given him anything that wouldn’t fit in the car on the way home. ‘Tis always a worry 😉 While he played with his Tidmouth Shed playset, I cracked on with the lunch. One of the best things about the apartment was, without a doubt, the kitchen. It was an open plan layout but the kitchen was raised giving the feel of a bar, or in my case a stage! I loved it. It meant Ben could help from the other side of the worktop and not get in my way and I could talk to my mum as I prepared the veg. We drank, ate and generally relaxed all day. The boy wouldn’t sit with us at dinner, which was a shame, but wasn’t something I was going to force and cause a melt down over. Instead I plated him some food, which he moved around the room but didn’t touch. Until later when I heard him say something was ‘mmmm it’s elicious’ and realised he had wolfed the roast potatoes and later on some turkey 🙂 Good lad!

The big FC was tres generous this year!

The big FC was tres generous this year!

My candy cane boy

My candy cane boy opening his presents

Tidmouth Sheds was a hit!

Tidmouth Sheds was a hit!

Facetiming Aunty Laura

Facetiming Aunty Laura

Prosecco for Brekkie!

Prosecco for Brekkie!

The Maple Based Turkey was a hit. And not at all burnt (well a bit singed maybe!)

The Maple Based Turkey was a hit. And not at all burnt (well a bit singed maybe!)

Me in my 'cooking like I'm in a cookery show' element!

Me in my ‘cooking like I’m in a cookery show’ element!

Got to use my Christmas linen for only the second time since it was bought in 2010!

Got to use my Christmas linen for only the second time since it was bought in 2010!

Yeah Christmas day was a hit , but this holiday was so much more. Before we even started our holiday, we had worked out something of a schedule. What we were going to do and who we were going to see everyday, and do you know I’m so glad we did. It meant we knew and could prepare appropriately. It also stopped any dithering, messing about wasting time, trying to decide what to do and potentially missing something important out. It also meant I could prepare Oscar. I have no idea how much the pictures of the people I showed him or the explanations I gave helped, but he coped brilliantly all week and I can only surmise it helped a bit! We visited family, had family visit us, hosted parties, went for meals, went walking in the fog up on Dartmoor and the boy loved it all. He loved playing with his cousins. They are all a similar age, but the older two, Jessica and Lucas, were just amazing with him, including him and listening when I explained why he was or wasn’t doing this or that. Whenever Oscar got frustrated or upset his cousin Lucas would just say, ‘hey Oscar come on lets run’ and off they’d go, sadness forgotten. In fact the only melt down we had all week was after his cousin Lucas had to leave. And even that didn’t last long as he collapsed into bed, jiggered from such an amazing day!

Love this crazy. My oldest niece Jessica

Love this crazy. My oldest niece Jessica

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Partners in crime! Oscar with his cousin Lucas

We just had so much fun this Christmas. And the fact that Oscar coped so brilliantly, only made it all the better for Ben and I. We treated ourselves too this holiday with dinner at River Cottage on Christmas Eve (with babysitting provided by Nanna!) and a night out (for Ben) and in (for me) with our friends we miss terribly and don’t get to see nearly enough of.

River Cottage on Christmas Eve

River Cottage on Christmas Eve

Ben and Lee reliving their youth. Ben behind the 'bar' and Lee propping it up!

Ben and Lee reliving their youth. Ben behind the ‘bar’ and Lee propping it up!

But the best thing about this trip was undoubtedly the apartment. It was stunning and practical. It gave us everything we needed and was in a fantastic location. I knew the idea to hire somewhere was a good one. I just couldn’t have asked for more and none of us wanted to leave. Oscar loved watching the boats from the windows, I loved the kitchen and Ben loved the calm quiet of the place. One of my favourite memories of the place though was the lift. Within a day Oscar had learnt how to press for the lift, get us to the right floor and to hold our hands when we needed him to. Just watching him learning like that was worth staying there for alone.

Watching the boats

Watching the boats

Walking to the lift wearing his backpack for the first time!

Walking to the lift wearing his backpack for the first time!

Would we do it again?

Absolutely!

But do we really need to wait until Christmas??? 😉

 

 

 

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