Writing 101, Day Seven: Contrasts

A bit of fiction from me today folks.

Andy stood before the broad window, a parted curtain in each hand, caught in the moment between closing out the night and the storm, and watching in fascination the wild forces on the loose. Trees would be down tonight, she thought. The wind blew across the surface of her children’s rain-wet trampoline in fierce gusts. It looked like the surface of a distant sea. Water smacked angrily against the glass in front of her face. Reluctantly she drew the curtains together, and the warm light of her daughter’s bedroom wrapped snugly around them, shutting out the whipping and heaving world.

Aoife* was just starting to grizzle at Andy’s feet when she turned back into the embrace of the room, bottle of milk clutched in one small fist, looking up at her mother out of a face scrunched in infant concern. Andy gathered her youngest daughter up and sat with her in the rocking chair beside her cot. Aoife’s head immediately found the sweet spot on Andy’s shoulder.

“I’ll rock you to sleep tonight, little monkey,” she said. Third children didn’t usually get rocked to sleep; life was on fast forward. Even now Andy could hear the older children bickering their way up the stairs.

“Quiet, you guys, please!” she called out as they passed Aoife’s door. “I’m putting your sister to bed.”

The squabbling abated for the span of a second, then continued further down the passage. Andy rolled her eyes.

Tonight, with the tempest rampaging outside, sounding as petulant as her children, she felt like slowing down and shutting out conflict and disturbance. Her daughter’s small body was warm and unwriggly against her chest, her blonde head tucked under Andy’s chin. Little puffs of milky breath exhaled against her neck, slowing; both of their breathing slowing as they rocked together.

The world shrank, its borders were four walls lined with shelves on which were baskets and books, quiet objects. The lamp shone down on the sole inhabitants of this universe-room, doing its best to stand in for a sun, but they were oblivious, wrapped in themselves for this moment.


*Pronounced Ee-fa

Pavarotti and The Silencer, a Soothing Tale

The Scream, Edvard MunchI had the noteworthy opportunity this morning to leave the Burglar at home with daddy while I did the school run. For those few minutes on the homeward ride when I knew for certain I was not going to be assaulted by the nerve-shattering screeches of an indignant toddler, I was in some kind of mommy heaven.

My kids have never been good passengers. All three of them, from birth until they were old enough to understand “if you yell once more I will take all your fluffy toys and put them in solitary”, were backseat yowlers. So the school run with the Burglar, round trip 30 mins, has to be planned ahead with the care of a Kardashian wedding. God help us if I forget the dummy or milk and perhaps a snack and water bottle. And yes, you heard me, a dummy (aka a ‘pacifier’ or ‘soother’), frowned upon by Good Mommies and dentists everywhere. I was once a Good Mommy, in fact I raised two children sans dummy. Third one popped out screaming and I said Enough with the screaming already, and went right out and got baby a dummy or ten. Best. Purchase. Ever.

Sure, I’ve fenced eyes with disapproving dental nurses. But they don’t know. They can’t understand the pure auditory assault of a toddler with the lungs of Pavarotti in the confines of a stationwagon.

So yes, we use a dummy. We call it The Silencer. And one day, the Burglar too will understand “fluffy toy solitary….” Until then, I’m working on her sign language.


PS. I optimistically use those dummies cleverly marketed as “orthodontic”. Have any other rebel mommies have tried these without their kids ending up with railway track mouths later on?



Emily Shanks Newcomer at School

Biggish day today. We have this year’s IEP meeting this afternoon. I’m relatively unprepared, because that’s just how I roll in life. Although when I say unprepared, I have my background of courses, reading, and personal knowledge and experience. What I don’t have are recent OT reports or professional recommendations. Still and all, when I’ve presented them before, they haven’t been of essential value.

So off I will go into the fray once more. And what an ongoing fray it is. It feels like Groundhog Day sometimes, but in what specific ways I don’t even have the energy to describe. I have a very bad case of the brain fade, and it’s not going away any time soon I fear. I feel like a shadow of my true self, and that will have to suffice to excuse my vagueness.

We’ve decided, though to go the route of describing his gifts and difficulties specifically rather than even attempting to go into labels like “Aspergers”. They know he has Aspergers, whatever picture that conjures to them. So yes, he has social difficulties. His own personal way of dealing with not understanding social interactions is to remain permanently in defense mode; disengagement and avoidance are his tools, and anyone attempting an approach is swiftly shot down. He has no friends. None. No – wait – he has one, and sadly she moved down country.

But he has other difficulties as well. Even though he is gifted, he is dyslexic, has ADD, probably dyspraxia, and dysgraphia, which is a specific handwriting disability, and anxiety due to all of the above. His fine and gross motor co-ordination difficulties lead to physical handicap in written (and typed) work, but furthermore, processing ideas through his hand, as it were, to the page, is like a barrier, tripping up the flow of thought. Asked questions orally, he will give detailed (usually far more detail than required, which is a different kind of problem) answers, but having to write the same answers will always lead to only a fraction of the thought being committed to paper.

Allowances have been put in place for this; he is able to use voice recording apps on his iPad to do whatever schoolwork is suitable, and if we could find effective voice to text software or apps, he would be able to use that also.

Ironically, his current ambition is to be a writer. This is because, contrary to the common belief that aspies lack imagination, stories pour out of him, faster than he can get them down in fact. Anyway, in a few years, technology will probably have progressed enough that he could write his stories without having to write, or type.

But for now we have to survive school. He goes to an exceptionally accommodating and forward-thinking school. But as I’ve touched on before, even there, it’s not straightforward. For example, the last meeting I had with the Senco, a few strategies were promised, of which none that I am aware of have been actioned, although I could be wrong about some of them. I have had success in negotiating directly with teachers, but then substitutes are always a problem.

It’s not that I want life to bend to accommodate my children. I fully accept that life bends for no man, woman or child. I will, however, fight injustice and for the equal rights to education we’ve all been promised, and that without forgetting that my children are not in fact the only children in their teachers’ classes. What we want is for our children to be given the opportunities to adapt functionally in the system they have, perforce, to operate within. As far as I’m concerned, school is not a natural environment. It mimics real life in some ways; specifically, inflexibility. But it doesn’t otherwise resemble the real world. So my aim is for the children to survive the brutalities of school in one piece, and then find a niche in adulthood where they can find relative comfort and peace. I personally believe this is achievable – if they can avoid picking up mental health problems during the rough early years, and can learn life strategies for survival, they can find a career which suits their personality and talents, and hopefully gather people around them with whom they resonate. At least, that would be a successful outcome.



A Very Aargh Day


climbing the wall

I drafted this post a couple of weeks back, on a bad day, and didn’t post it because….well, it was a bit ranty. But I’m posting it now because it’s background to where we are …today!

“An Aargh day today. My 12 year old son has Aspergers, ADD, plus informally diagnosed learning difficulties; dysgraphia (handwriting difficulty) being the most prominent. Today I got a letter from the school letting me know that if his writing doesn’t improve, he will not reach National Standards this year.

Aargh. Not because he is failing National Standards, but because JUST THE OTHER DAY I spoke to the Senco at his school, and his class teacher, mentioning his handwriting was a real disability and that they would never gauge his true abilities in anything which had to be handwritten, with not much more response than “yes that’s a shame isn’t it”. Ye gods, was I not clear enough? It’s not like I can ask the kid to just work harder and he’ll improve. Takes me right back to his first year at school when his lovely, well-meaning, but ignorant teacher asked me to request him to “try to focus” – like an effort from him would magically change the way his brain was wired.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this school, they’ve been amazing at looking after my kids. But even there it feels like there’s a lack of understanding – and if even there there is a lack of understanding, where else can we go and what more can we do.

So today, I am really tired of trying to explain, and trying to make the way clear to improving his future prospects. The child has incredible potential as a thinker – you know that just talking to him. But he will never be the kid who eases his way through school achieving a full deck of A’s. It will always be a battle, to an uncertain end. Just like any mother, I want my child to achieve his potential, but when one of the possible alternate outcomes is mental health collapse, there’s a good wack of concern also. And I’m just tired today, and I don’t have any answers.”

After that post, I did get some more constructive feedback from the school, and felt like we were getting some go-forward in some ways, and there was respite in a two week Easter holiday break.

But today, we are drawing to the close of the Easter holidays, and school is looming large on the horizon. The Prof is moody as all get-out, and ranting about how life is barely worth living because School, and he can’t keep up with the workload, because he is Useless.

I read a post by another WP blogger the other day, who through tragic circumstances discovered the incredible sensitivity of the bright mind. She posted a link to a book about this subject. Actually, I was already very well acquainted with how vulnerable bright minds are. To drive home the point, we also recently lost a cousin to suicide for I believe precisely these reasons. My first thought was, I have to get hold of this book! But then I thought, we already plan around this in the kids’ lives, in fact, having suffered myself for so many years, it is the exact thing I fear for my kids and work so hard to prevent. What makes me feel quite distressed is that I had hoped (assumed? planned?) that if I was aware of these pitfalls as my parents weren’t, as my aunt and uncle couldn’t know, then my kids would be ahead of the game, that we could avoid trainwrecks.

But it’s like we live on a knife edge. Yes, we might succeed in pulling through unscathed, but it takes such concentration to stay on that narrow track, and I cannot control for all eventualities and complexities. They’ve already had to live through a divorce. And even if I could keep them in a bubble, at some point they will be exposed to the Real World, and the extent to which they cope with that is presumably in large part the extent to which I have prepared them for the challenge.

The Real World don’t bend for no one. So if you have challenges, disavantages, disabilites, you just have to work that much harder to get by. But that’s Out There. Before they’re let loose, you do get some 18 years to train them up. What scares the crap out of me is making the most of the time that’s left.

And so when I want to ask the school work with him and strategise for his differences, it’s not because I’m an academic version of a soccer mom, it’s because I know that if his mind is not looked after, it won’t just stagnate, it will implode.




Sleep tips from a sensory integration therapist


Sleep - like a baby?

Sleep – like a baby?

Children and adults with ADD/ADHD often (usually?) have trouble getting off to sleep. For obvious reasons this can be frustrating for all.

My older children and I are typical. I struggled to pass into the blissful realms of slumber, until children and exhaustion happened. My kids still lie awake for hours. Although, ”lie awake” sounds so passive. In fact, my daughter, who is more ADHD than ADD, talks and sings for at least an hour, expecting participation from her long suffering brother, before sleep comes.

My son, who has ADD and Aspergers among other things, worked for a few years with an occupational therapist, a sensory integration therapy specialist, and she gave me some tips to help. The ADD brain, along with other sensitive neurotypes (like autism spectrum and sensory processing disorders), is very susceptible to stimulation,  and though we probably all know not to stimulate children before bed, what we might not realise is that things like brushing teeth or hair (although I personally find hair brushing soothing to the point of catatonia), even getting dressed, and the light level, never mind watching tv, are all stimulants to the system.

Her recommendation was to avoid any stimulation in the hour before bed. That means changing into pjs and doing all preps an hour earlier, and then letting the child (or yourself) sit quietly in a dimly lit room for the last hour before we expect sleep, reading or listening to (slow) music.

She also mentioned blackout curtains or blinds. Blackout should be a part of every ADD family’s sleep armoury. Although to be honest, even the smallest chink can disturb my sleep, and have you ever tried to make those suckers chink-less? Yeah. Well, they’re still much much better, as in, in a different phase of existence, to not having any blackouts.

My son still tells me he wakes with the first rays of dawn, but I’m pretty sure those rays reach his optical nerves substantially later than they would without the blinds. And luckily, he’s old enough now to entertain his own self when he wakes up rather than welcoming mummy prematurely to the new day.