Friday, 29 August 2014

I'm a Survivor!!

As the long summer holidays draw to a close - are you relieved? Sad? Or a little of both?

There is a little-voiced secret amongst Mum's around this time of year.... they are at least a little relieved that August is drawing to a close.
If asked, most will admit to being sad the long summer break is nearly over, but few will ALSO admit that with that sadness comes a liberal dose of relief. A very liberal dose.

Working Mum's often find it traumatic juggling school holidays whether in full time or part time work, and full time mums - despite loving their children dearly find many successive weeks all together draining both emotionally, physically and financially!

Each year I look forward to a couple of months with less racing around, spending a little more time just "being" and less time "doing". Relaxing and enjoying time with those I love. But it never quite works out like that!

Firstly my fabulous four don't actually enjoy each other's company very much.... they would far rather exist as separate children and claim they would probably rather have been only children! All are delightful on their own but I find I take on the role of UN Peace Negotiator for the entire duration of the summer as we vainly struggle to find activities that four very different children can all enjoy.

Except it's unpaid work and continues well after the witching hour rush hour. And without perks or lunch - or even the chance to grab a quiet coffee!

Second, and perhaps more importantly, they all prefer being in school with the routines and activity, to being at home! (Yes, really!!)

As I wrote on one of my other Blogs recently (for children) Summer Holidays are an anachronistic anomaly. Our children are not required to pick hops, thresh the wheat or help with stubble clearing. No, they are far more likely to be found in front of a games console, maybe a piano, or with a vast box of loom bands than helping out with even the most meal chores at home.

The long summer break was never intended as a prolonged time of doing nothing for kids, it was built in to the school year to avoid the considerable absenteeism that would otherwise occur as parents needed their children as additional labour, and meant that families were more supportive of the compulsory schooling Gladstone and his government were seeking to enforce.

Doing "nothing" isn't good for anybody, and the continued week after week pressure to find "something" to do is exhausting and expensive. There is a limit to the number of free activities available, and the length of time to be filled necessitates a large variety. But more importantly, my children miss the social side of school, the mental activity and the routine. My daughter has been asking "how long is left?" since the beginning of August!

For those of you with those mythical easy going, chilled out children who enjoy nothing more than relaxing with family I suppress my envy am thrilled for you and hope you have enjoyed a perfect summer break. But next week cannot come soon enough for us!

Having had one son at home since April on Study Leave then long post-exam leave it seems the normality of the school routine is but a whimsical dream from yesteryear - a reality I look forward to reliving soon. And when the start of term routine (finally) rolls around, I most certainly WILL be singing "I'm  a Survivor" very loudly after drop off, but the people most chuffed to be back will be these:-

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Should older siblings help out?

I recently read an interesting post by Jayne Crammond about her very valid concerns that she didn't want to make her daughter feel somehow responsible for her new sibling. Superficially I couldn't agree more - whilst many children are indeed Carers for siblings or older family members it is far from ideal, robs many of their childhood and eradicates that fundamental freedom from responsibility which is essential to experiencing childhood to the full.

But I would argue that responsibility is two-fold. Whilst yes, the parent is at all times responsible for his or her child, there is no reason why an older sibling should not help. Their level of responsibility is no less valid and can bring huge benefits. The older sibling gains a feeling of importance, a boost to their sense of self worth and a valuable enforcement of the links which bind them to their family.

In a society where the focus is too much on the self, too much on individual rights and needs it is essential that children are taught they have a role within the wider world, and that role exists on several levels. The early stages in social connectivity start at home, within the family. Helping Mummy carry out simple chores can be fun, helping the child feel involved and valued. My toddlers helped fetch simple items, put their bowl in the dishwasher, pick up their toys etc. This has also had the added benefit of teaching basic life skills, and an awareness of all that is involved in day to day living. At no time did I make any of them feel the outcome of such tasks had a bigger purpose, of that this simple type of responsible helping had any connection to Responsibility for the outcome. (capital "R")

As children grow up they need to learn - want to learn - that they can influence their surroundings. Not by asking for new toys, TV programmes and sweets, but by being actively involved within their family and later, in the wider world. This is enforced at school - even in Reception children are given simple tasks and praised for their efforts. The child who feels they have no means to increase their self esteem by participating in helping others seeks to boost it in other ways, valuing objects and gain instead of interaction with others.

And it works both ways- the grandparent who gives of their time, involves their grandchild and values their presence will gain far, far more from that relationship than the one who seeks to maintain a strong relationship by focussing on the child's needs. Teaching children - however young - that we all have needs is vital. None of us exist in isolation and most human beings are happier interacting with others. It saddens me that too many children are put on pedestals, showered with gifts and wanting for nothing. They exist on the edge of their families, or above them, not an integral part of a solid unit.

It is really only recently that the very idea that siblings might have a choice in helping has existed. Historically older siblings have always helped out and derived a huge amount of pleasure, satisfaction and pride in doing so. Maybe the fear of siblings feeling weighed down by too much responsibility has pushed us in the opposite direction in a knee jerk response. But responsibility is not a dirty word! What matters is that it is always preceded by the word "appropriate".  There is a reason there is no minimum age for children to babysit. A parent is always Responsible, but children can still learn responsibility.

If you partition a family into several individuals with unique needs rather than a group they easily lose interest, concern and sometimes even respect for other siblings/family members. Helping out is the glue which holds a family unit together, I think any kind of family support should be instinctive, encouraged and expected. There is far too much consideration of individual rights these days.

For us however with at least one member on the Autism Spectrum this is profoundly difficulty. Autism has sometimes been termed "Selfism", in that Autistic individuals find empathising with others acutely difficult. But high functioning individuals can and do learn to be a cog in a bigger machine, it just takes time and effort. We struggle hugely with this, and all too often fragment into a group of individuals rather than a family unit. But it is something we focus on whenever possible.

And that's where that word "appropriate" comes in. No one shirks responsibility, and helping out improves family connectivity and overall happiness.

 photo letkidsbekidslogobadge_zps424b7d61.jpg

Sunday, 17 August 2014

End of an Era

Last Thursday I lost one of my dearest friends. Words cannot describe how lost and desolate I feel, without my furry companion of nearly eighteen years.

He preceded all my children and my husband, the only member of the family to have lived with me in  all five of my homes. He was my friend, the most loyal cat in the world. 

In fact, in many ways he was more of a dog, with a personality far too big for his not-so-small (once) 7kg frame! He had been ill for a while - and eighteen is a great age for a cat. But knowing it was coming hasn't made it any easier. I have so many memories to treasure, and wanted to record them here to return to in future. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Missing the point?

I've read many wonderful tributes to Robin Williams this week - a true acting legend and comic genius. (There is a short biography here.) Films such as "Dead Poets Society" and "Good Will Hunting" had a profound impact on my adolescent world view, and his role as the Genie in Aladdin was one of a kind. A hugely talented man - yes, but the international outpouring of grief appears to be ignoring the elephant in the room.

Image courtesy of Tom Curtis /
Which is particularly pertinent since August 12th (this week) was World Elephant Day!

Mourning this loss of greatness is vital, Williams gave more to the Hollywood film industry and those who loved him than most actors of his time. It is said that his severe depression led him to commit suicide, and I am pleased to see a drive on social media to raise awareness of depression as the very real illness it is, and to highlight the appalling impact it has on the lives of sufferers and their families.

There are many people who still believe that you can "think yourself" out of depression. That it's a life choice. Those people would most likely have supported medieval practices of blood-letting to cure all ills and rebalance the body's "humours" or the belief that women were impure after childbirth and needed to be shut away until they could be "churched". Such views of metal illness are as outdated as this and there is simply no excuse for them to persist.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Breastfeeding Two - a "TimeHop" post

Those of your who are familiar with the Blogging world will know that many of us enjoy sharing links via link ups, or "linkys". Zena over at Zena's Suitcase is hosting a breastfeeding link up. Now... whilst it is some years since that was my reality, I wrote a few articles about my breastfeeding views and experiences and had a couple published. Never one to turn down a writing opportunity, here is my "Breastfeeding Two" article written for La Leche League in their Spring newsletter 2007 when the twins were one.

I must stress that this was written for a purpose, for a magazine whose raison d'ĂȘtre was the promotion of breastfeeding - which I wholeheartedly support but it does affect the tone of the article.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


A puff of steam, a shriek of smoke
A cough, a splutter - try not to choke!
The acrid smell of boiling steam
A time warp bubble, old-fashioned dream.

This roaring beast, smart-clad in steel
Seems imbued with power to feel
Voracious appetite not enough
It thrives on more - on care and love.

A bygone time we fast-forget
We rush in haste and do not let
A single thought cast on our place
But wish instead to have our space.

It reminds of times of more than me
And more than you could ever be
When life was slow and had some mean
When machine and man could be a team.

And in this symbiotic life
With family more than man and wife
Community meant something real
Something tangible to feel.

We had more time to see and hear
To do things right- not work in fear
Today we rush and separate
But think on this before too late-

Man was not alone to be
When God created you and me.
The world is hard but full of hope
Together we could learn and cope.

And just as in the Age of Steam
We need to do more as a team
Community means so much more
Than knocking on a neighbour's door.

Emma-Kate Thompson 30-vii-2014

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Impaired Executive Functioning - time to ditch the briefcase?

It's been a week since I went through the results of some testing H had done when I saw his Psychologist on Monday. And it's taken me that long to process the (extremely helpful) information.

I learned that H has poor Executive Functioning - which is often seen in children on the Autism Spectrum and in those with ADHD. But what does that MEAN?

Impaired Executive Functioning - Time to ditch the briefcase?

Image courtesy of savit keawtavee /

What IS "Executive Functioning"?

Executive Functioning is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action.

It is used to perform activities such as planning and organising, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.

If you have trouble with executive function, these things are more difficult to do. You may also show a weakness with working memory, which is like visualising problems and planning in your head. This is an important tool in guiding your actions.

As with other learning disabilities, problems with executive function can run in families. It can be seen at any age, but it tends to become more apparent as children move through the Primary Years.

How does this impact on our son?

I have to admit I have a healthy scepticism for psychologists. Too-brief encounters invariably based on a subset of assumptions brought to the meeting on their part have led in the past to half-baked notions which rarely apply to my child. But THIS one is Gold. She gets him/us and took a whole hour chatting to learn more about what makes him, and his family tick. Not in a nosy "how deep can I dig" way but in a profoundly sensible, academic and purposeful way and very quickly saw a route through to possibly help him, hence the testing.

It's not unexpected with Autism or ADHD - so when both are present impaired executive functioning will likely be an issue to some degree. But no one had ever mentioned it to us before. Interestingly sometimes it can be confused with ADHD or ADD and may be the real issue which prompts an incorrect diagnosis.

As "ADDitude" website says:-
"Children and adults with executive function disorder (EFD) have problems with organizing and schedules. They may also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) and/or learning disabilities, but not always. ADHD is a common misdiagnosis for those who are actually living with EFD."

The Tests

H had to plan a route through a zoo with a few key requirements. He just couldn't do it - it took several tries and every time he rushed through and got in a muddle. Then he had to work out how to release something locked in via a series of puzzles - which he found very easy individually but the sequencing and planning really stumped him. There were several other similar tests in which he performed much the same.

So no career in business then?!!
So maybe we could be ditching the briefcase as a diagnosis of Impaired Executive Functioning has been given but not as you might expect - do we ditch the ADHD diagnosis?

Certainly some should, having been incorrectly given an ADD or ADHD diagnosis because their impairments are not thoroughly investigated, since ADHD is so superficially similar in many ways.  But we don't think that is the case with our son, and neither do the professionals. His diagnoses stand, with the additional executive functioning impairment.

What this means for us.

I'm actually really excited about all this. That might sound daft but the thing is, nothing has changed. H is the same child I've mothered for twelve and a half years. He's still gifted and talented. He's still unbelievably skilled with computers and with his degree from the University of YouTube phenomenally knowledgable about so much. (Granted being able to speak Elvish and draw a map of Middle Earth accurately without looking are not crucial life skills but he's smart.) I have no more or less worries than before this information.

But information truly IS power. Because now we have more understanding we can help him more appropriately. He is completely unable to pack his bag for school, get himself ready in the morning remembering everything he needs to do. He cannot go out to meet friends without only one thing to remember, and everything else taken care of. He will honestly wander up and down the street unsure of where to go next if his route is not planned for him. He cannot remember, record, plan and execute homework, prepare for tests and needs a phenomenal amount of additional support.

  But the key thing here is that once that support and acceptance is in place, the focus can be on what he can then do with it, rather than why he cannot do without it.

So now we make sensible strategies to support him - rather than  constantly lecturing him on how to improve, nagging him for losing stuff, supporting teachers giving detentions for homework not done despite considerable support..... the emphasis has been constantly on what he ISN'T doing, what he SHOULD be doing and trying to make him meet targets his peers do.

It isn't going to happen. 

At least not in the same way.
And taking that constant cloud away from him - and us- is amazing. So liberating.
I can stop berating myself for his lack of organisational skills, my apparent failure to help him meet school targets for homework and preparation, for his inability to plan and prepare and grow more independent. Instead, I can slip a few support mechanisms in place, accept my parenting role isn't likely to change any time soon and focus on what he CAN do, what he CAN improve and know that in time, he will get there.

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