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Tiny Tyger, Baby Bear and Me: September 2015

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Tyger's Christmas List

I had my first night out in about four years on Friday and ended up...a little worse for wear.  As a result, I was unable to to write my usual blog post yesterday (I was unable to do much except lie on the sofa feeling very sorry for myself).

So, a quick blog post today.  Tyger has become 'aware' of adverts and of the fact things can be ordered/bought.  This has led to many very repetitive conversations starting with, 'My want...' until I came up with a strategy.  Every time this happens, now, I suggest we write it on his Christmas list and then we'll just see which things he gets at Christmas.  For the time being, he accepts this response.

I'm not convinced he's going to get everything on the list, though.  Perhaps you can see why:

Tyger's Christmas List 2015
  • Necklace
  • Beads
  • Microwave
  • Red racing car
  • Castle
  • Orange glasses
  • Temporary tattoos
  • A big Totoro like a real one
  • Circus tent
  • Piggy bank
  • A real helicopter
  • A real plane
  • Watch
  • A sausage dog that climbs trees
  • Hetty Hoover toy
  • Real Henry Hoover

Some things are perhaps a little more realistic than others, though I like the idea of getting a real Totoro!

What's the weirdest thing your child (or you as a child) has asked for as a birthday or Christmas present?

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Saturday, 19 September 2015

Advice For a Toddler

After some serious blog posts recently I thought I'd lighten things up with my advice to a toddler:

1. Learn to say 'please'.

Or, even better, some cute mispronunciation.  It may seem like pointing and making a whinging noise will get you everything you want but you're much more likely to get something by putting on a sweet smile and saying 'pleeeease' in your most angelic voice (after all, it's called the 'magic word' for a reason).  Tyger used to pronounce it 'pwez' and Bear - who isn't as big on speaking as Tyger - just says 'eeeeeeeeee' with a cheesy grin and it has worked more often than I care to admit...especially when paired with pleading eyes (Tyger even used to add little supplicant hand gestures for good measure).  Demanding and pointing can just get my hacks up but a super polite and adorable request is very difficult to say no to!

2. Play with the least interesting toy first.

This is advice for any situation involving other children: toddler groups, playing at a friend's house,  being around siblings, nursery, having friends over etc.  As soon as you gravitate towards a toy, other children will also be drawn to it.  It's a rule of toddlerdom.  Other toddlers will be happy to play with a couple of trucks until they see you at the wooden kitchen with the toy toaster and then that toaster will become the most exciting thing in the entire Goram room.  So, play it smart.  Don't go straight to the toaster.  Make your way to the building blocks instead and play with those building blocks like they're the cat's bollocks.  (Wait...that came out wrong.  I do not advocate toddlers playing with cats' bollocks.)  Hopefully, the other little sods will be lured over.  Now, this is the important part: do not give up those building blocks without a fight.  If the other kid(s) don't believe you really want those fracking blocks they'll just follow you to the next toy.  So, grumble, get annoyed, make those annoying and persistent whining noises toddlers are so good at that make adults want to tear their ears off and once your enemy peer is really engrossed in building little towers smeg off to the toaster and toast plastic bread to your heart's content (or, more likely, post small objects into the toaster until it stops working).

3. Try to smile when the camera's out and fall asleep in cute positions.

You may not be thinking ahead further than your next tantrum meal at this age but Future You needs Present You to minimise the number of embarrassing photos your relatives possess to show girlfriends/boyfriends.  You're unlucky in that regard because living in the digital age means your parents can snap away all day every day in the knowledge they can delete all blurry pictures (or just store them all in some folder with the intention of going through and deleting all blurry photos as soon as they have the chance, which will never happen because the longer it's left the more photos there are to go through and the longer the whole thing would take).  There will be photos of you wearing a potty as a hat, crying and screaming because your breadstick snapped in half, dancing around naked, wearing a variety of questionable style of clothes etc.  This is inevitable.  However, you can mitigate the damage by making sure the overwhelming number of photos of you at this age are of your beaming face or endearing sleepy pics of you snuggled into a soft toy, cuddling someone, sleeping in your car seat with that fracking adorable little pouty mouth and squishy face look babies have.

Fewer photos of you slurping water off your highchair tray.

More photos of you asleep in your buggy whilst cuddling your favourite toy.

4. Enjoy all the sleep.

Whilst we're on the subject of sleep, this is important.  You are allowed - nay, encouraged - to spend as much time as possible sleeping.  I know, I know: you hate sleep.  Toddlers like going to bed about as much as I liked Lost in Translation (is there a more overrated film on the planet?) or Wuthering Heights (is there a more overrated book on the planet?) but one day you will miss sleep so much.  If you have children of your own you will almost certainly lament all those times you fought sleep, all those opportunities to drift in and out of consciousness and just relax and...I'm going to start crying at the thought of all those lost chances so we need to move on to the next point.

5. In fact, make the most of it all!

Seriously.  This is the only time in your life when it's totally socially acceptable to stick your fingers in someone else's mouth (unless you become a dentist, I guess, but even then you're only supposed to do it in a specific set of circumstances and can't just say 'ahhhh' to the nearest person then shove your entire hand in there).  This is your chance to demand spaghetti for breakfast and possibly be indulged.  You can spin round and round in the middle of a waiting room without people giving you strange looks (except the miserable types who give all children disapproving looks unless the child is sat silently looking at his or her feet).  You still get carried around when you're tired and all of life's problems can be solved by carrying round a plastic spoon (or is that just Baby Bear?).  Seriously, kid, it's all downhill from here so pick your nose in public and put gravel in your mouth whilst it's still socially acceptable.

Not that I really understand the attraction of gravel...unlike picking your nose...

What advice would you give a toddler?

Thanks to Aspie Sister for helping me come up with five items for the list.  Youngest Sister was not impressed by her boring name in last week's blog post so - after discussion - she will henceforth be known as Colour Blind Sister.  I will also probably blog about her colour blindness at some future point because...it's green - how can she see it as red??

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Saturday, 12 September 2015

Tyger Has a Diagnosis

It's arrived.  I expected the envelope to contain the report from Tyger's last appointment and perhaps even an appointment for the next step.  It did contain the report and...an official diagnosis!

So, I can formally say - though, I have been informally saying it for about a year now - Tyger has 'High functioning autistic spectrum disorder', which is basically Asperger's (they just don't tend to use the term anymore).  In fact, the child psychologist herself referred to it as Asperger's both in the appointment and in her written report.  I only mention this because I think a lot of people have a better idea of what is meant by 'Asperger's Syndrome' than 'high functioning ASD' (not to mention the controversy surrounding the use of the phrase 'high functioning').

However, as much as the term 'Asperger's' is helpful in some ways, there are some misconceptions (okay, loads of misconceptions) about what it means to be an Aspie so I thought I'd address some of those.

Firstly, no Tyger does not have a 'special ability'.  I think Rain Man is probably largely responsible for the belief that all Aspies are also savants.  They're not.  Sadly, Tyger is not likely to earn large sums of money through counting cards or drawing amazingly accurate pictures from memory.  He can't glance at a group of objects and tell you immediately how many there are (unless there are three because before he's actually counted anything he will always tell you there are three...I'm not convinced that counts as a special ability, though).

I already covered this second point in my blog post last week but it's worth reiterating: it is a myth that autistic people don't feel empathy.  In fact, there's good reason to believe people with ASD often feel empathy far more keenly than their neurotypical counterparts to the point where they are completely overwhelmed by it and incapable of action.  They also often don't know the socially acceptable way of showing said empathy.  These problems mean - to the casual observer - they may seem indifferent to someone else's suffering but the truth is they may be so affected they are struck by an inability to do anything about it.  We have our own example of this in our house.  One time my sisters were playing on a water slide in the garden when my parents were out.  My youngest sister badly hurt her leg (think: lots of blood and tears).  So, my Aspie sister reacted by...leaving Youngest Sister out there to cry and going inside for a shower.  She has since explained that she didn't know what to do and apparently she has her best ideas in the shower so this seemed to be the most sensible solution.  The epiphany she had in the shower was to make ice cream floats.  I'm not sure how much this helped Youngest Sister's leg but I guess it distracted her.  It wasn't callousness that sent Aspie Sister running to the shower instead of helping and comforting Youngest Sister, it was simply the helplessness she felt when confronted with this entirely new scenario.  She wasn't equipped to deal with it but I can assure you she's an empathetic person.

The third one is probably one I've covered before, too.  It is absolutely not true that autistic people always prefer their own company and don't want friends.  I mention this as something my mum was told by a fracking doctor, who should know better.  When my mum first took Aspie Sister to the GP with her concerns the GP told her 'the good news' was it wasn't autism because my sister 'wanted friends'.  Any time my sister sees that GP now my mum always mentions her ASD diagnosis very pointedly.  ASD is a social and communication disorder.  Aspies do struggle with social situations and communicating in a socially acceptable way.  Because of this they may find it hard to make or keep friends but that doesn't mean they don't want any!  I struggle to do lots of things.  Hey, I find writing most of these blog posts hard; obviously that means I don't want to write a blog...right?

Fourthly and finally I'm just going to straight up steal a great saying I've seen floating around the internet.  If you know one person with autism; you know one person with autism.  It's a big smegging spectrum and even aside from all the autistic traits varying from one person with ASD to the next, their personalities also vary.  You know, just like how everyone else's personalities vary?  If your neighbour's cousin's autistic friend once had a meltdown because you put the milk in their tea before the water (although, why anyone would do that in the first place is completely beyond me but I guess this post is all about accepting that people are wrong different) that doesn't mean the next autistic person you meet will even like tea, let alone get worked up by how it's made.

I hear some of them even drink coffee.

Anyway, back to Tyger's diagnosis.  How do I feel about it?  I've wondered for a year now how I'd react to finally getting that letter.  Would I feel relief that it's been recognised and he'll find it easier to access the support he might need in the future?  Would I feel vindicated?  Would I feel upset despite already knowing he had ASD?

Actually, I don't feel much.  Perhaps the numbness will wear off at some point but I suspect it's more the fact I've come to realise a diagnosis isn't the end point I once thought it was.  Okay, so Tyger is officially autistic now: that doesn't change his daily struggles (or mine).  He was already autistic before we got the letter through and he won't stop being autistic now.  I'm glad he has the diagnosis because it may make a difference at some future point but life isn't a film with a nice neat conclusion.  I want to say the wheel never stops turning but it doesn't seem appropriate to start throwing in Firefly references so I think I'll stop here...

...That only matters to the people on the rim.


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Saturday, 5 September 2015

Those Photos

I kept changing my mind about what I was going to write today.  I have a half written blog post I was considering going back to but there's something that has been so much on my mind I couldn't not mention it, though I'm still not sure where this blog post is going.

Those photos.

That poor little boy who drowned when his desperate family fled Syria.

I don't know about outside of the UK but certainly if you live here in the UK you must have seen the heartbreaking photos of that dead child.  They have flooded my Facebook feed.  The Wolf shared one of the front covers with the picture and commented about how that could be Baby Bear (I always denied becoming a parent would change the way I see the world but it does, it really does - the stab of grief you feel at these sorts of events is so much more intense when you imagine it's your own child).

The thought of one of them floating lifeless in the water is the stuff of nightmares.
It was the most terrifying dream I've ever had.

Many people applauded the photos.  They have made a difference to public opinion on the refugee crisis (I refuse to use the utterly misleading and loaded term 'migrant crisis').  David Cameron - that empathy vacuum of a Prime Minister - has been forced to act despite clearly thinking these refugees were simply lacking in forward planning when they were born in a country that was to become terrifying and war-torn, rather than ensuring they were born to rich toffs in good old Blighty like Cameron and his chums.  But, thanks to those photos the plebs are getting worked up over a 'crisis of humanity' so they must be appeased.

I think it's interesting to contrast the reaction to these photos with the reaction to the photos (and videos) used online, in news broadcasts and on front pages of newspapers after the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward.  Many people were outraged by the stills of the victims taken from the video the gunman took and were still more upset by the video (or parts of it) being shown on the news and even auto playing on Facebook.

The different reactions highlight - for me - the dichotomy of the media (and the internet).  Both the photos of the drowned refugee child and the photos and videos of the shooting were shocking and upsetting.  The difference, of course, was in the effect.  The refugee crisis is ongoing.  It's something people can help with now.  The heart-wrenching pictures of that little boy made a difference and helped people realise what's at stake and what needs to be done.  There was a good reason to shock people.  The coverage of the shootings, on the other hand, shocked without purpose.  People are already well aware of the issue of gun control in the US.  Showing these images made no difference but simply needlessly upset many people.  On top of that, splashing pictures of the victims around looking terrified and knowing they were about to die seemed incredibly disrespectful to the families of said victims and the less said about the video the better.

The media and - more and more relevantly - the internet can be a powerfully good force.  It can also be massively destructive.  The thought of having to navigate that terrain with the cubs as they get older is exciting and scary in equal measure.  They will have access to all sorts of knowledge and experiences my parents didn't and I didn't even have...both good and bad.

There is a myth that autistic people don't feel empathy.  People are gradually starting to recognise the truth: people with ASD often feel empathy far more keenly than their neurotypical counterparts.  In a previous blog post I already mentioned Tyger's response to Elsa and Anna's parents drowning in Frozen.  He clearly put himself entirely into the position of Anna and Elsa and felt keenly their loss.  Recently Tyger was watching some videos on YouTube (YouTube is a friend to many an ASD parent).  I went to the toilet and when I got back Tyger had tears rolling down his cheeks.

I panicked.  What was he watching?  I hadn't been supervising his viewing content and he obviously had something totally inappropriate playing!  How much would this scar him?  What was it??

It was a video of someone playing a Dora the Explorer game where the player has to administer some basic medical care to a mildly sick and injured Dora.  I asked Tyger what the matter was and he started to recount how he had hurt his leg (he hadn't done anything to his leg but Dora needed a plaster - band aid for any Americans reading - on her leg).  He empathised with a fictional character having a minor injury so much it made him cry.

So, the photos of that boy left me thinking, 'that could be one of the cubs.'  But it also left me thinking, 'soon the cubs will start to see and understand photos like that.'  How much should be kept from them?  How will they cope with news stories and with photos and content they'll come across on the internet?  I don't want to shelter them from reality; it's something they'll have to deal with regardless and it's better they are in some way prepared.  And, as the refugee crisis has shown, it's important for people to face the brutality and tragedy of the world in order to understand and offer help.  But I don't want to overwhelm them either and there will also always be needlessly upsetting things out there like the way the Bryce Williams news story was covered.

It's not an immediate concern but one day I'll have to face it.

On a lighter note, I was right with my last blog post I'm Not Crying...No, Really! in that I didn't cry on Tyger's first day of preschool.  For anyone who didn't read the Facebook update, Tyger - on the other hand - did cry.  However, he didn't cry when I left him there but when I came to pick him up!  He's also desperate to go back.

For those who wish to help with the refugee situation you can donate to MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) here and The Independent has a lot of links listing ways you can help here.

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Thursday, 3 September 2015

I'm Not Crying...No, Really!

Tyger had a home visit from his key worker and the SENCO (special educational needs coordinator) early this week in preparation for him starting preschool.  It was just a quick visit to see him in his home environment and to let him meet them again before the induction.  It went well.  Tyger even agreed to wear clothes...although he removed all of said clothes in order to change into a Gruffalo onesie part-way through the visit because...it...was...essential...or something.  Also, the 't-shirt' he was wearing was actually a pyjama top because that's what he wanted to wear and he didn't have pants on under his trousers but he agreed to wear clothes, however briefly.

The next day he had his induction.  I had to take Baby Bear along because my mum - who lets us all live with her/my dad/my sisters rent free while we're saving up a deposit, cooks dinner most nights, often watches the cubs whilst I shower/make their dinner etc., and generally leads a pretty selfless existence - had the audacity to be unavailable to babysit Bear due to acting as taxi to my sister.  I know, the absolute cheek of some people!  So, I didn't really get to watch Tyger much because I spent the first half hour trying to stop Bear from scooping sand from the sand tray onto the floor and the second half hour trying to stop Bear from scooping soapy water from the water tray into his mouth (actually, that's a lie; I spent about two minutes trying to stop him and then let him get on with it since it's no different to drinking bath water and both boys have consumed litres of that with no ill effect (I'm pretty sure there's no link between drinking bath water and autism)).

All that's left is for Tyger to start.

And I'm not upset by that.

I've read a lot of very good blog posts in the last few weeks about children starting preschool/nursery/school and the consensus seems to be this is something upsetting.  When I was at the induction, one of the other mums made a joke about trying not to cry on Tyger's first day.

Once again (like in my blog post Babies Don't Care About Birthdays) I'm left feeling like I'm missing something.  I'm not upset about Tyger starting preschool.  At all.  In fact, I'm looking forward to the peace and the opportunity to spend some one-to-one time with Bear.

There are several reasons I can think of for this disparity between other people's emotions on the subject and my own.

It may well be in part because unlike school or some nursery places, he won't be going every day.  He will start off doing only two mornings a week with a view to working up to two mornings plus a full day.  However, the mum who told me to try not to cry knew how often Tyger was going to be attending and her own daughter is doing similar hours.  I also don't think I'll feel any different when it comes time for Tyger to start school.

Perhaps I'm just more heartless?  Or - maybe at least - more practical.  This is simply the next step in parenting.  It should be good for Tyger and learning some independence is a positive step for a child.

It might also be Tyger.  Of course I feel the same unconditional, totally staggering love for the cubs most parents feel for their children...but Tyger is hard work.  Really, really hard work.  Tyger's ASD makes simply being near him completely overwhelming at times.  Whilst he's loving and intelligent and funny and thoughtful he's also a violent, unreasonable, unpredictable wall of sound.  Spending all day, every day, with him is exhausting and I am more than looking forward to having a couple of breaks a week from him.

I think his ASD also highlights something for me that parents of neurotypical children might not get.  The health care professionals who have been assessing Tyger have used words and phrases like 'subtle' and 'end of the spectrum' to describe his ASD and I think it likely he'll end up with a diagnosis of Asperger's (since this is still used in parts of the UK).  So, Tyger's chances of leading a relatively 'normal' life and going on to live independently are reasonably high.

High.  But by no means guaranteed.  I don't know how Tyger will cope with school in a year's time.  I don't know if he'll make it through secondary school with much in the way of qualifications and how often he'll even manage to attend.  I certainly don't know whether he'll be able to hold down a job and move away from me and the Wolf.  So, the fact he's excited about going to preschool and the staff have been so amazingly understanding and proactive about his autism - even without yet having a formal diagnosis - is something I can only see as a good thing.

Or maybe I'll be in floods of tears tomorrow after dropping him off.  I guess we'll find out!

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