My Half Term Artist

Half term has been and gone, and much as I kind of dread school holidays and how we’re all going to cope, this half term was super. I think a week, with enough distraction, is just enough for him. And it’s just enough that I don’t resort to the iPad all day every day!

Dont get me wrong he was on the iPad a fair amount. Especially in the mornings when he’d been up since five and mama seriously couldn’t be doing with “building a bigger track” right now. Am I the only one whose child seems to wake up fully ‘on’? It’s like he’s got some internal flip switch, that I just don’t have!

Anywho once I had come around sufficiently, we had some really great days this half term. Lots of joint interactions, some of which lasted ages. I did my heart good to see him really collaborating with me and really showed me how far he’s come since starting school.

We did all sorts last week, from trips to the park, to train rides, to hair cuts to meeting up with friends. All of which was wonderful. But really the things I enjoyed the best were the days when we turned to the art cupboard.

When Oscar left Nursery back in July, he still wasn’t drawing anything, despite his well developed fine motor skills, and the artwork that came home was only ever daubs of colour. As the Educational Psychlogist noted, he still wasn’t engaging in any “meaningful mark making”.

That all started to change almost as soon as he started school and over the last term the paintings and drawings have been becoming more and more recognisable. And not only is he now drawing things both he and others can identify, he loves it. And I mean LOVES it. So last Tuesday we spent a couple of hours with pads of paper and markers and he went for it. Each image he drew, I cut it out and he’d blu-tac it to the wall.

And before long the walls were covered.

The aquatic wall, including fish, sharks, “shark whales” and even a squid! All named by Oscar

Sodor. Can you see the steam and the tenders? So detailed!

Alllll of the rockets. Blast Off!

I worked out that over the course of the week (as he added a few more here and there over the week) he drew 44 fish, 31 engines and 24 rockets. And 4 ambulances, randomly. He’s nothing if not prolific!

Yes he has his favourite subjects, but these marks ARE meaningful. I kind of wish the EP could see them. I think they’re ruddy glorious!

Obviously when he went back to school I needed a bit of my own space back and yes I did take them all down. But never fear, I painstakingly transferred them to his room. The fish are swimming up the stairs and the engines hiding in an alcove. And he loves them.

The aquarium is now swimming up the stairs to his room!

And for that I’d have all the blu-tac marks on my walls in the world ūüôā

 

How I met Father Christmas – and why I wouldn’t do the same thing for my son


When I was a kid, going to see Father Christmas (because back then he really was just Father Christmas. I’m a bit more interchangeable with what we call him now. Father Christmas, Santa, I don’t really mind, Oscar knows they’re one and the same) was one of the highlights of my year. I can’t tell you how magical it was for me and that was due, in no¬†small part, to the Father Christmas we used to go and see.

If you grew up in or around Coventry in the late 70s/early 80s, I’m guessing you also went to see Father Christmas at the Co-Op, a¬†department store in the city centre. I say that simply because I don’t remember ever going¬†to see him anywhere else. And to be honest I never wanted to go anywhere else. I went¬†with my mum and Nanna (and probably my brother although I don’t remember him being there) and it was almost more exciting than Christmas Day itself. Almost ūüėČ !

It was super special to me and thousands of others over the years, because you see they didn’t just have a Santa in a chair that you queued up to see, oh no!¬†Before you went anywhere near a guy in a red velvet suit you had to get the sleigh to Lapland. Because you see we weren’t going to see any old Santa in a department store. No, we were travelling to Lapland to see the actual man himself.

My memory of 35(ish) years ago, is some what hazy, but I clearly remember that the experience began with queuing up and being taken through a door into a room. The room was small and dark and lined with benches all facing a wall, in front of which where two (models) reindeer! Once everyone was seated, music and jingle bells would start, as would a¬†projection of moving snow in front of the reindeer. It looked as though they were actually ‘dashing through the snow’. Suddenly we weren’t in just a room, we on a sleigh and we were off to see Father Christmas! My memory also wants to say that the seats moved, tilting as we dashed through the snow, but I honestly can’t see how that could have been and maybe I’m imagining it. Did it?

The most jaw dropping bit of the whole experience for me, was when we ‘arrived. The ‘sleigh’ would stop and we would be shown out of the room, but, and this is the best bit, everything outside the room was different to when we came in. We were in Lapland. As a three and four¬†year old that blew my tiny mind. It was the most exciting part of the whole deal. We had actually traveled to the North Pole! While I’m still not 100% sure how it was accomplished, I’m pretty sure now, that we were just taken out of a different door than we’d come in. But however they achieved it, at the time and for far too many years after I believed we’d actually traveled¬†somewhere. It was truly magical.

After all that seeing Father Christmas was just the icing on the cake. I sat on his lap and got my present wrapped in garish 70’s paper. I smiled for the photo.

1980s child with father christmas

Seeing Father Christmas at the Co-Op, Coventry, circa 1981. Note the reins. Oscar truly is his mothers son! Also who knew Father Christmas wore grey suit trousers under his coat?

Well I did eventually. The first year I was taken I was just one and having none of it. And quite right too. Now I have children I know how frightening that must have been to a one year old. But it’s still gone down in family lore that I wouldn’t sit on Father Christmas’s lap¬†the first time I met him and my mum had to sit in his chair with me instead.

child crying meeting santa

My first visit with Santa circa 1979. I was just one. I look pretty terrified of the man in red. I’m still not a big fan of beards now ūüėČ

Because the whole seeing Santa thing can be overwhelming. ¬†The experience I had as a child was so sensorially exclusive. There’s no way I could ask Oscar to do any of what I enjoyed (eventually) as a child. Because we are/were very different children. We have in fact only taken Oscar to see Santa once in his life, when he was 5 months old and it really was more for us as parents than for him.

425669_10152014401300616_324485287_n

Oscar meets Santa in 2012. He wasn’t fooled by the beard. He tried to pull it off minutes after this!

The following year he was already struggling with things such as waiting. And following his Autism diagnosis we stopped even considering putting him through an experience we were pretty sure he wouldn’t understand or appreciate and could cause him great anxiety. Like I said, very different children.

However, as he grows, his capability and understanding grows with him. He’s much more aware this year of who Santa/Father Christmas is and this year for the first time in years we actually feel we want to give him the opportunity to see Santa; for him, rather than for us. It is true that some places are becoming more aware of inclusivity or even just providing a range of experiences to meet all needs when it comes to big events, such as Christmas. Last year I even read about some shopping centres (unfortunately not near us) running Autism friendly Santa grotto experiences, which is fab. All children should be given the opportunity to meet the big guy if they want to. However we have plumped for a very different kind of meeting all together this year, one that hopefully speaks¬†to Oscar’s interests and needs.

Following our fabulous day out on the Watercress Line in the summer we have decided to take him¬†on the Santa Special where you “travel in a festive traditional train carriage, while Santa and his jolly helpers visit you in your seat with a special gift.” I have high hopes for this as it combines two of Oscar’s favourite things in the world; trains and receiving presents! It also removes any need to queue, something Oscar finds so hard to do. It also gives us our own space and we can take toys and snacks to help him if needs be.

I honestly can’t wait. But wait I will have to, because I’ve booked it for Christmas Eve. This may sound bonkers to some of you, but Oscar struggles with the concept of time. My concern was if we saw Santa too soon, he might want his presents NOW, and not cope with having to wait weeks to get them. I could be wrong of course, but that’s AutismMamas for you. Always trying to second guess, always two steps ahead!

Anyway, Christmas Eve it is. Who knows it might work out perfectly and bingo, we’ll have ourselves a new Christmas tradition. I mean it’s not as amazing as actually travelling to Lapland, like I did.

But I think it could still be pretty magical ūüėČ .

 

I have learnt

A week. I’ve been a school boy’s mum for a week. Or in fact over a week. And I can’t quite believe it.

Maybe I should write a ’10 things I have learnt about school age children/having an SEN child in a mainstream school/the school gate’ post. They seem to be popular. But to be honest I’m not sure I’ve learnt very much about any of those things.

I know I’ve learnt that sending my child off to school in tears breaks my heart in ways I was absolutely not expecting.

I’ve learnt I can hold my tears back when he really needs me to. And that they will engulf me when I let them go.

I’ve learnt that having a child beg to stay home while hiding under the duvet, a thing¬†he has NEVER done before, and yet staying calm and collected and kind but firm is ridiculously hard.

I’ve learnt I don’t care about what he’s actually doing in the day, as long as I hear he’s OK.

I’ve learnt how proud a silly little sticker can make me.

img_5964

I’ve learnt my capacity to stay on message is immense and, for Oscar, the very kindest thing I could possibly do.

I’ve learnt that when he’s ready to ‘tell’ me things he will.

I’ve learnt how amazing my son’s capacity for communication actually is, even if that includes play acting with his very favourite soft toys.

I’ve learnt that when Oscar¬†asks to take a bear to school with him, I will secretly squeeze and whisper to that bear to please look after him.

I’ve learnt about my son’s¬†capacity to find coping mechanisms quickly and appropriately.

I’ve learnt how quickly I can turn around a load of dirty uniform.

I’ve learnt that I was ready to let him go. And to have him come back.

I’ve learnt the joys of time.

I’ve learnt that¬†my mind will still automatically jump to how to manage a situation for Oscar, even if he’s not there.

I’ve learnt how much people are rooting for Oscar.

I’ve learnt how supportive my community is. And how much I truly appreciate that.

OK, so maybe I have learnt a few things. Unexpected things, learnt through painful lessons. But learnt none the less. ¬†I cried every day last week.¬†But¬†only one day so far this week. I didn’t cry yesterday. I didn’t cry today.

I’ve learnt that he will cope.

I’ve learnt that I will cope.

boy on path

On his way

When Summer isn’t all about making memories

The consensus across the sentiments I see expressed on social media, is that parents have spent a lot of energy this summer, relishing the time they have with their children, and working really hard to make it as special as they can, so that they never look back and say they wasted these young days. That when these days are over they will miss the chaos and the muddy knees and the laughing and trips to the beach. And I don’t doubt it. But while you¬†may have adored the summer holidays, being with your children and making wonderful memories, for me eight weeks without barely a break has been too long.

And that makes me insanely jealous.

Our summer holidays started well. Oscar began happily enough. I loved not having to get up and dressed in time to walk the miles a day to take him to preschool. It was enough. But within a few weeks the iPad had taken over our lives and try as I might to set up activities at home, mostly I felt like I was whistling in the wind. I had to take him out of the house, to the park, or to the shops on errands, just in order to get him away from the screen. Cause when he falls into the vortex that is Youtube Kids, I may as well not exist.

It’s my fault of course. I gave him the damn thing in the first place. Downloaded the stupid app in an attempt to stop him googling pictures of trains, which would lead to videos of trains on real Youtube, which lead to videos that weren’t wholly (or sometime at all) appropriate. I can’t blame anyone but myself.

But unlike last year where he spent a large portion of the summer hols¬†watching Team Umizoomi on TV, which seemed to improve his language no end, this summer, his language seems to have stalled. And in the last few weeks the echolalia is back; repeating scenes from YouTube videos over and over. He hasn’t done that for so long. At least he now brings me into his script, teaching me what to say and when. For example:

Oscar comes over to Mummy: “Mummy (say) Oscar, what you talking about?”

Mummy: What are you talking about Oscar?

Oscar: It’s a ghghghghost train drive here last night

Mummy: Where?

Oscar: Last night (something I cant quite make out) made my wheels wobble

Mummy: You are a silly engine, I’m not afraid of ghosts

Over. And Over. And Over.

A friend with older autistic children has suggested this could be his attempt to make order out of the chaos. That for him, not going regularly to preschool (his established routine) is starting to make him anxious. It could be. I thought we were doing OK, but his behaviour has started to suggest he’s not doing quite so great. No full on melt downs yet, but lots of resistance to doing anything. And an obsession with anything Thomas related. He’s always been a fan but this summer he’s taken that to another level. Again, I’m assuming it’s familiarity in an unfamiliar routine. An attempt to make sense of our world.

We have had a few nice days. We went on our Day out with Thomas, he’s been to Challengers twice (which he loved – I hear. He never tells me of course), we’ve had the paddling pool in the garden and sojourns to the swings. But there have been no day trips out out. Because I don’t drive if it’s not on a train or a bus I can’t do it. But even if it was on a train line, the thought of taking him ‘out out’ alone scares me. We have been to our local children’s centre a few times this summer, which has been mostly lovely (although it’s hardly LegoLand right?!) Anyway one day he had a good time but started to get stressed towards the end and I knew it was time to go. We went to the toilet before we left, when he started to cry and fight me. I had a banging headache that day and I ended up sat on the floor of the loos, trying to hold the tears in, just completely unsure of how I was literally going to get him home. Because everywhere we go is under my own steam and I seriously wasn’t sure I had any left.

I did get him home (he calmed down as soon as we left), but that’s how I feel this summer has left us both. With little resources left. Somewhat frayed at the edges.

I’m not sure this is the best frame of mind to start school is it? Surely it would be better to be rested and raring to go. But I’m pretty sure that’s not how he feels. At a guess I’d say stressed, bored, lonely even.¬†Probably sick of my face. I’m hoping our short break to Moonfleet Manor next week is a good idea. He’ll have so much to do and lots of new things to play with. I doubt he’ll remember our last visit so I’m making him a visual reminder. But I am hopeful that we’ll all come back a bit more…. if not rested, then more ourselves.

Because this summer has left me like my Woody and Florence AUTISMMAMA bracelet.

Worn thin and ready to break.

Worn thin and ready to break

Worn thin and ready to break

Kidloland Preschool App – A review

Oscar and I love technology. Always have. From as soon as he could grasp for it with his pudgy little baby hands, he wanted to play with my phone. And now I have an iPad he’s taken his love of app based entertainment to another level. I don’t have a problem with this. My son’s autism means he learns in a very visual way and I’ve found apps, of all kinds, to be thoroughly useful for him. From hand eye coordination to speech and vocabulary to problem solving and plain old having fun, we love apps in this house. So when I was approached by Kidloland to try out their app I was intrigued. Here was an app that wasn’t just songs or just games or just fun, it seemed to be a bit of everything. We couldn’t wait to try it out!

Kidloland is a app designed specifically for preschoolers and toddlers. It has over 500 Nursery Rhymes, Songs, Stories, Activities and Games, with no advertising what so ever. Advertising in apps for children is a bug bear of mine so I was pleased to find none here. It works on a subscription basis of 1, 6 or 12 months. We used to subscribe to BabyTV and that was just short cartoons. There is so much more to this.

The app

My first impression of the app, on downloading it from the iStore, was it was huge! There are just so many different parts to it! As always, when I download content for Oscar, I took a look around myself first and I’m so glad I did. I found each ‘pack’ needs to be downloaded to your device individually before using it. I’m glad I realised this before giving it to Oscar, as I know he’d have been frustrated had he not been able to access everything straight away. The downloading does take a little time, but fortunately there is a “download all” function for each pack. I did have an issue downloading one of the songs, but I remedied this by skipping that one and downloading it individually. I also told Kidloland about it and they gratefully handed the info over to the tech team so it may not be an issue any more.

The look of the app is bright and fun, with all original characters and animations. ¬†I have all the packs in the app, but you can choose which ones to download. I love that, as it means you can concentrate on a particular theme if you prefer. It also allows you to control how much memory the app takes up, which if you download the whole thing is a lot! However, downloading it means you don’t need a signal (or wifi) to use it, which is a definite plus point for me!

image

Just some of the packs available on the Kidloland app

image

The content

It is split into sections you would expect such as stories, numbers, games etc. But I love that it also has other sections such as fruits and vegetables, months of the year and even a whole section devoted to dinosaur themed activities!

It even has a Dinosaur section!

It even has a Dinosaur section!

The pineapple song!

Fun with fruit!

Learning Letters!

Learning Letters!

I assumed Oscar would be drawn to the games and initially he was, but after a while I noticed he was playing more with the songs. The nursery rhymes are set to interactive animations. Touching the characters makes them move or do surprising little things, which he seemed to love! I just love the concentration in his face here. Getting video of Oscar is so hard, but I love that he’s so engrossed here he doesn’t even notice me!

Thoughts

Kidloland is well made, well thought out¬†app, which keeps on expanding (I’ve had two more packs updated since we originally downloaded). Oscar starts school in a few weeks and some of the games¬†were a little simple for him, but he still found things to enjoy and good fun to be had. I only wish we’d found this app a year or more ago! It would be a great learning app for younger toddlers.

There is so much do and chose from in Kidloland. Although your child is bound to find favourites, they’ll never be bored.

 

 

Thank you Kidloland for gifting us a 12 month subscription for the purposes of this review. As always I¬†wasn’t¬†paid to write this post and all opinions are my own.

You can download the app for iOS, Google Android and Amazon Android.