films, general, parenting, teenagers

Why every parent should watch Boyhood

Last nights Oscars saw ‘Birdman’ win four awards, including, Best Picture and Best Cinematography, making a disappointing night for Richard Linklaters Boyhood. I haven’t actually seen ‘Birdman’ as yet, so can’t comment on the film, but reading the synopsis, I know that it won’t be one I can relate to or that will stick with me like Boyhood has and probably will for years to come.

For anyone who doesn’t yet know, Boyhood is an American coming-of-age drama film, which was shot intermittently over the course of 12 years. The film starts in 2002, and concludes in 2013, and depicts the adolescence of a young boy growing up with divorced parents.

We see not only Mason (Ellar Coltrane) evolve from a cute little six-year-old, into a handsome young man, we see events unfold over the 12 years that wouldn’t normally be movie worthy, but it works and the reason it works is because we can relate to them.There is no hugely dramatic, thrilling or gripping story line, no speedy car chases, or startling special effects, no deeply saddening tear jerking moments, but you will be gripped and you will cry.

At the start of the film I thought about what I was doing in 2002. August 2002, my son was 3 and I’d become a single parent just 4 months earlier. It was also the year he started nursery, a hugely memorable milestone for any parent.

We then see 12 years pass by in just under three hours. We see transitions of hairstyles, fashion, and politics. We see Gameboys, and Wii Sports and the attendance of a midnight release of ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’. As each year passes in the film, I found myself thinking back to that time in my life.  Remembering my son at that age. Hoping like Masons mum, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), I was doing my best.

One thing which I’ve struggled with as my son became a teenager, is conversation. Any question I ask is met with little more that a one word answer. There is a scene in the film where Mason Snr (Ethan Hawke) voices his frustration over the lack of feedback as he asks his two children what they’ve been upto since her last saw them. What we are seeing is the harsh reality that generally, teens just do not want to talk to us parents much, or divulge more than they feel necessary. As a teenager, ‘How was school today’, no longer warrants the reply of what they learned, or what they had for lunch, or who they walked home with. A simple ‘fine’ sums it up and I now accept that that’s okay.

As Mason celebrated his 15th birthday, I found myself become more emotional involved in the film. I’ve just watched a boy grow up on-screen, and replayed my sons 15 years in my mind, now it’s like a glimpse into the future. Boyhood may be about a fictional family, but the phases of life depicts reality. What can I expect to happen in the next three years, before my son is an adult and no longer depends on, or maybe even needs me?

My son has just started going out with friends, and coming home at around 10. But luckily, it’s just to football matches, no partys – yet. But I now know and fully accept that there is time where he will come home after having a few drinks, and I will be mad, not only because of the drinking, but because he will be out later that he is allowed, and I will probably be worried sick, but that’s ok, it’s a milestone. Not quite as welcomed as the day he took his first steps, or his first day at school, but a milestone non the less, but something I now accept will happen. I often worry that he doesn’t know where he wants to go in life, what he wants to do, what he inspires to be. But that doesn’t matter either, because I’m confident one day he will. Maybe he even does, and that’s just something else he doesn’t wish to share.

As I type this, my son is sat in his Maths mock GCSE exam, with the rest to follow over the course of this week, sitting the real things in May. Then he plans to go into sixth form. I now realise that I may only have only three years left with my son at home before he decides to go off to university. University isn’t something I’ve encouraged or discussed with him just yet. I’m put off by all the student debt and lack of job opportunities for new graduates. But I want all my children to live life to the full, and experience everything life has to offer. It’s not solely about education, it’s about spreading wings, making friends, and having fun, and I’ll make sure he knows and understands that.

It’s now a week since I watched Boyhood, and I still find myself thinking about it. I now find that every time I feel frustrated with my girls as they fight over the same toy they refuse to share, or interrupt every time I try to speak to my husband, or cannot get my three-year old daughter to remove her Frozen Jewellery for bed, I need to treasure these moments. They aren’t difficult or challenging times, they’re moments I will never get to experience again.

autism, general, health, metnal health, wellbeing

Ways to deal/cope with lifes lows

Over the last year or so, I’ve finally learned how to deal with any merging feelings of depression/anxiety (they never fully develop. I won’t let them), and can now effectively deal with a symptom as soon as it appears.

The onset of depression can often be indicated by a feeling of low mood or sadness. A feeling of becoming more tearful, or less tolerant of others. A feeling of a being in a constant state of panic, or worry, just that feeling that you really aren’t enjoying life at all.

In addition to those psychological symptoms, there is also they physical symptoms to deal with, which I actually never linked to depression, they had to be pointed out to me. The change of appetite, not wanting to eat, although typically I went the other way, leading to an increase in weight, then a decrease in self-esteem. Physical symptoms also include aches and pains, and the most common,  finding it hard to sleep, or sleeping too much.

These symptoms obviously have an affect the way we function and interact with the world. We may find that we are not doing as well at work, neglecting hobbies and interests, and experiencing difficulties at home or isolating ourselves.

The easiest and often most popular way of dealing with these symptoms is with medication. Antidepressants work  by increasing levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and noradrenaline can improve mood and emotion. The increasing levels of neurotransmitters can also disrupt pain signals sent by nerves. Sound like a pretty efficient quick fix (although antidepressants do generally take two weeks to start taking effect).

The ways in which I have managed my mood are:

Know the symptoms By knowing the symptoms of depression, you can then deal with them, which has probably been the most useful advice I have been given. The minute I start to feel low, I’ll tackle those feelings

Identify the cause If I start to feel low, I’ll think about what has been going on in my life recently. Is it something someone has said which has knocked me and having a busy life which goes at a million miles an hour, I haven’t dealt with it. Have I been doing so much recently that I’ve just not taken any time to relax, and its a feeling of exhaustion?

Act on it In the early days when life took a different turn as expected, I’d to spend quite a lot of time just talking about how I feel, letting it all out, having that feeling of slight relief, then continuing on with the same problems or issues, which would again build up. I very rarely complain to anyone about feeling depressed or low now, because I don’t. Maybe I may have just became hardened to it (it takes a lot to upset me now, and I’ll challenge anyone or anything which does) or most importantly, I’ve accepted life as it is. We never anticipated or planned to have a child with a disability, but we have, and I embrace it.

Let it go – Who would’ve thought of getting advice from a Disney film, but it’s true. Let things go. Let go of your expectations, any criticisms you may have encountered, negative thoughts or beliefs. Leave them where they belong, in the past.

Belive in yourself – We’re all born with the capacity to achieve whatever we want, just some of us lack the confidence. I’ve put myself in situations I would completely avoid, or never dream of being in over just the last few months. I’ve signed myself up to something, or arranged to do something, said ‘I can’t do it’, but been reminded and encouraged that I can, so I have. I thrive on that feeling of achievement, and the adrenaline of the build up.

Surround yourself with positive people – This should be a rule of life, not a coping mechanism. Don’t soak in other people’s negativity, let them add to your positivity. Even if this means re-evaluating those around you.

Stop ‘being strong’ – This is just my opinion, and I may be going completely against the grain, and it may not work for some people, but STOP BEING STRONG. It’s cliched advice to ‘stay strong’. I’ve never stayed strong. I’ve stayed focused, but never been strong. If I wanted to have a good cry, I’ve had one. If I’ve wanted a day to myself,  Andrew has taken care of the kids whilst I’ve lay in bed away from the world. I’ve always felt better the next day and ready to move on. Staying strong only allows the feelings to mount up, and will eventually explode. I think it’s more useful to deal with how you are feeling, day by day.

Take time out for yourself having a busy, noisy life, I find I need to have proper wind down time once a week. It’s something to look forward to, and something I really appreciate.

Take care of yourself Excercise is the best way to release serotonin and endorphins. I’m not going to pretend I assign to this method, because I don’t. I detest exercise. I joined the gym, left the gym. Bought trainers, threw them in the cupboard. Bought a pedometer, and the last time I saw it it, was wedged between the fridge and the kitchen unit. But if you do enjoy it, do it.

Eat healthy – Something which I do do, just I get my serotonin fix from chocolate. I don’t eat any fried, processed, or frozen food. These foods will have an affect on your mood, aswell as your health.

So, I can say that I’ve never taken any long medication at all to deal with anxiety/depression/stress, and never will. It’s all about keeping in check with yourself, and being open and honest about your feelings and experiences.

general, health, metnal health, wellbeing

‘Time to Talk’

People are today being encourage to spend five minutes talking about mental health as part of the second annual Time to Talk Day.

‘Time to Talk’ day is a campaign which aims to tackle the stigma, challenge attitudes and change behaviours around mental illness. ‘Time to Change’ is the programme which is led by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental illness. It is suggested that if more of us speak up about mental health, and share our experiences, the judgemental attitudes will disappear. It’s like lots of things, the more you talk about or become exposed to something, the more ‘normalised’ it becomes.

Mind states that since 2011, two million people are said to have a more positive view of mental illness, and now, here in the UK, we are living in a society where people are talking more about mental health than ever before. Statistics currently indicate that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in the course of a year, the most common being anxiety and depression, woman are more likely to receive treatment for a mental health problem than men (which doesn’t necessarily mean women suffer the most, but men try to deal with it on their own).

From my experience I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression, body image disorder (although I’m pretty sure this is more of a symptom of depression) anxiety, and social anxiety (shyest person EVER). I’m not ashamed to admit it, why should I be? If I had a broken leg, I wouldn’t be ashamed to use crutches for support, or if I had an ear infection, I wouldn’t be ashamed to tell anyone. Anxiety, Depression etc are illnesses for which we need treatment and support, just you can’t see them, and the effects of hiding them away and coping alone only fuel the condition. Talking is like releasing pressure, or letting off steam. I find it hard to understand why so many of us choose to suffer in silence with something so common.

Short term solutions to mental illness, antidepressants, are exactly that, short term. The long term solution which we need to recognise and use more, is to open up and talk about it.

The NHS now provide’ Health and Wellbeing’ services. Short courses ran by the Adult Learning Alliance and psychological services such as ‘Managing your Mood’, ‘Stress Control’, ‘Confidence building’, ‘Relaxation Techniques’ and ‘Assert yourself’. I enrolled on a couple last year as I was interested to see what I could learn and gain from them. I was hesitant in attending at first as I felt like everyone would think I was there because I was a failure, or unable to cope. I met people from all different backgrounds. people who were struggling with the pressure at work and just needed tips on how to wind down, some people whose confidence had taken a recent knock and they just needed a little bit of guidance to get back on track, and one lady felt unable to say ‘no’ to her boss when she would put piles of paperwork on her desk right on home time and ask her to stay behind.  It felt pretty liberating to be in a room full of other people who were in need of a little support, as mental illness often can be extremely isolating.

We are always in the path of little things cropping up, small issues, or problems, which we often allow to build up and become more of a bigger problem. I often see friends on Facebook, about to have a ‘rant’, or a ‘moan’, but you can see they have reigned in their thoughts, or apologised for expressing how they feel. Don’t hold back. Let off steam, have that chat with a friend, family member or just anyone who might offer. Don’t apologise for showing your emotions or vulnerability. By doing that we are just reinforcing the taboo and stigma of mental health.

And on a lighter note, it’s also National Nutella Day too

autism, parenting, special needs, speical needs, Uncategorized

Jessicas ADOS assessment and the next steps

Yesterday morning I went into Jessicas school, where the next part of the autism diagnostic process was to be completed. After a short wait in reception and a brief chat with one of Jessicas teachers, I was then invited into the room in which the assessment would be carried out. I then met the two psychologists who had been busy setting up the room, and the child disability nurse who came out to ask me a series of questions regarding Jessicas development and behaviours, a couple of weeks ago. It was then explained to me that I had to literally just sit on the chair next to the door, and not give Jessica any help, or interact with her at all, unless asked by Jessica. The idea is they want to see how much of the assessment she could do on her own without any help. Turns out she did it all.

Jessica was brought into the assessment room by her teacher, she then looked at me, gave a big smile and shouted ‘Mummy’! And gave me the biggest and longest hug I think she ever has. She then looked around at everyone in the room, then pointed at me telling everyone ‘Look, that’s my mum’. Jessica then noticed the selection of toys on the floor. Amongst the toys was a jack-in-a-box which Jessica played with briefly, some small wooden bricks which she then began to stack up, a book which Jessica read all of (she can’t read the words just yet, she just reads what she sees whilst following each word with her finger), some plastic cutlery, and a car, I’m struggling to remember what else was amongst the toys, but it was easy to see why each one had been selected. I’ve just realised that the car was there to see if she would play with it, or be more interested in spinning the wheels, however, I don’t even think she even picked the car up.

Jessica played with each toy appropriately, without any help, and until she was invited to do the next activity. I was asked if she would play like that at home and I reinforced my answer given during the questionnaire, that Jessica never plays with or shows interest in any toys. If she had those toys on the floor or table at home, she would still be walking along the back of the sofa, doing roly polys and climbing on the furniture.

Jessica was then invited by the psychologist carrying out the assessment, to sit on the chair next to  her. She then said ‘Okay’, got up, walked over and sat down. Jessica was then presented with more toys. I could see that the idea was to now observe her imaginative play skills, aswell as joint attention, and sharing. Jessica was asked if she would like to play with the little wooden dolls, which she did, picking up the miniature plate for ‘dad’ when she was told he was hungry and picking up the tiny baby doll when she was told it was crying, which she then said she would put into bed as it needed some sleep. Some more items were then placed on the table. A plastic cup with a spoon, a small plastic ball, a small square of material and what looked like a box a necklace would be presented in, with the foam padding inside. I was pretty gobsmacked when Jessica then opened the box, saw the foam inside and said that the baby needed a bubble bath and put the baby inside. It didn’t even occur to me that was the idea of the box. She then said she would dry the baby and picked up the small piece of material wrapping the baby inside of it. I didn’t notice the link between the actual wooden dolls toys, and small non related items which were to be incorporated into her pretend play. Again, Jessica doesn’t do any pretend play at home. She has monster high dolls which she wanted for her birthday, but rather than play with them, she carries round in her Monster High bag, along with her Monster High books and pens. She also has a baby doll which she may pick up, give a cuddle to, then throw on the floor. We ended up binning her Hello Kitty kitchen about year after we got it, as she would just dismantle it rather than use it for imaginative play.

Whilst playing with these toys, the psychologist then said ‘Jessica, look’, and pointed to a fluffy toy rabbit on the table opposite. She looked, said what it was and was excited as it then started to move as the nurse controlled it.

The tasks which followed included Jessica being presented with a picture of a beach. She then started to describe what she could see, using verbs such as ‘boy swimming’ ‘playing football’, and adjectives such as  ‘holiday’, and a series of nouns. Jessica was asked if she had ever been on holiday before, which she replied with ‘No’, even though we went away three times last year. But we’ve never been abroad, just for long weekends away in this country, so Jessica in this context was associating a holiday as in somewhere with a beach. Jessica was the given a baby doll, and the psychologist used some play-doh to make a birthday cake. Jessica then put four candles in the cake, began singing happy birthday (without being asked to), cut the cake when asked, but not before she took out the candles, fed the baby, then wiped it’s face. When asked how old the baby was, she said 7.

Jessica then had a snack of grapes and biscuits, and was told to just ask for more if wanted. The psychologist then started blowing some bubbles, which Jessica jumped up and began popping.

At the end of the assessment, I said goodbye to Jessica and the psychologist took her back to her classroom, Jessica leading the way there. I was then told she had done really well, and was asked my thoughts on how it went. I agreed, really well. Jessica had also counted to 40 during the assessment (skipping from 20 to 30). I’ve only heard her count to 10 as she stops at 10 every time we count, refusing to count further. I also said I was very impressed with her role play, although role play is something she has learned through therapy, and it is repetitive rather than spontaneous. I then asked if they could give any thoughts and feedback but was told no, as this assessment is just part of the diagnostic process, which I already know I was just interested to hear if they had a clearer picture of where this will go. But I take it it’s their procedure to not give any results or indication of what the outcome of the assessment was.

The next steps are another questionnaire for me with more in-depth questions of family history and Jessicas development (I’m not sure how much more in-depth can they be from the last questions?!), and Jessicas observations at home, where I expect she will fully cooperated, participate and interact. I came home and did some more research in the ADOS assessment, and reading other parents experiences. I realised there are 4 different Modules, depending on a childs age and ability. Jessica did Module two, the module for children with some speech and phrases. Some parents had feedback and results straight after the assessment, some were sent a letter and score in the post, and some waited upto a year for a diagnosis. I had a look at the criteria and what exactly Jessica would be scored on. My initial feeling was she will fall short of the score needed for an autism diagnosis. Her interaction was brilliant, as was her attention, and eye contact, which made me feel disheartened. But I’m not a psychologist or nurse and they’re trained to look for things I probably never even noticed, so I guess it’s still a waiting game.


autism, parenting, special needs

The emotions of being a parent of a child with a disability

When we plan to have children and envisage ourselves as parents, we can only imagine a feeling of happiness as we picture life with our perfectly developing and functioning children. The thought that our child may have a disability, physical or neurological, never enters our mind. Unless of course anything is picked up in utero, we as expectant parents, just sit back and eagerly await the arrival of our little bundle.

And then the big day arrives, the day which we go into labour and give birth to our much-loved and long awaited for baby. Of course, we ALL feel love and happiness for our newborn, but I think we forget there are parents who are then faced with heartache and agony, as their tiny baby is put into the care of a team of doctors and nurses for medical attention, which may just be needed for those first hours, days, weeks, months, or even a lifetime. There are also the parents who have no idea that as their child grows, certain concerning behaviours may emerge, and life then starts to take a completely different path than we anticipated.

As already mentioned, it was two years before we realised that Jessica was developing differently than other children, our main concern being her severe lack of (or non existant) language and communication. As a family, we’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster over the last 4 years. I expect every family living with disbailty of any sort will go on that same journey.

ANXIETY was the first emotion I particularly felt. Andrew had a more laid back approach to Jessicas language delay, which I guess comes down largely to our personalities. I do suffer from anxiety, although I have learned to rationalise and control it. Andrews calm laid back nature, always balances things out a little.

FEAR, WORRY, UPSET – As I spent a LOT of my time on the internet looking for explanations as to why Jessica may not be developing any language skills, I became more and more scared. Especially as I went from typing ‘2 year old can’t talk’ to ‘three year old can’t talk’ into Google, even during the night as my anxiety was keeping me awake. I clicked on page after page and the explanations and advice I found, given to other parents with the same concern,  went from ‘be patient, give him/her time, some children develop at a slower pace than others’, to ‘take him/her to a doctor, they may want to test for autism’.

SHOCK, SADNESS – My immediate feeling after Jessicas very first appointment with a pediatrician who then referred her for a hearing test, concerned Jessica was actually lip-reading. I’d also went to that appointment alone, just me and Jessica naively thinking I would get a straightforward simple explanation and resolution. I left the appointment and rang Andrew to tell him how it went and I remember my head spinning as I spoke.

FRUSTRATION – My main feeling during the time then spent waiting for appointments. Hospital appointments for hearing tests, appointments with speech therapists, the frustration when the speech therapy did not go as I hoped. Not knowing the future. I said a lot in the beginning that I just wanted to know if Jessica would ever talk. I couldn’t handle the thought of not being able to communicate verbally with my daughter. Not knowing how she was feeling, or if anything was bothering her. I didn’t want to think of having only Makaton or sign language as a way of communication, I wanted to hear a voice.

RELIEF, ENCOURAGEMENT – Jessicas first word during speech therapy was ‘bear’, which she would say when prompted as her therapist sang ‘Round and round the garden’. That was the only word she would say for months, and often with weeks inbetween saying it at all. However, this was still no indication or guarantee at all that Jessica would develop language. Relief has been the most consistent emotion I’ve felt over the last year. But i have still experienced strong not so positive emotions amongst that.

ANGER, CONFUSION, DENIAL – I have asked ‘Why us’? ‘Why Jessica’? and I have felt eaten up inside with envy towards other parents. Especiailly when Jessica started nursery. I hated dropping her off and picking her up and seeing the other parents who weren’t faced with the emerging situation our family was. I have blamed myself, was it something which happend during labour? Is it something which could have been prevented? The first time autism was suggested, I catagoraically stated Jessica was not autistic, and was offened at the very suggestion. I would say I felt this mixture of negative emotions for the most part of a year. They have also been the hardest to deal with.

CALMNESS, CONFIDENT, THANKFUL, GREATFUL – The positive emotions I would use to describe my feelings since Jessica started school. Having a statement of special educational needs meant that Jessica could go to whichever school we want her too (as long as the LEA agree it can meet her needs), and by law, the school must provide the exact help and support Jessica requires. We chose the school which the LEA recommended, a specialist school for children with moderate learning difficulties and autism. It is actually part of a mainstream school, which Jessica still experiences being part of. This is without a doubt, the best decision we’ve ever made.

PRIDE, HAPPINESS – Every Star of the Week award Jessica brings home fills me with pride, every assembly, every comment in her home/school diary she brings home each night, and I would not ever go to her schools Christmas Concert they perform each year without a pack of tissues. Jessica is in a class with 7 other children, all boys, making her the only girl. Jessica gets picked up for school every morning in a taxi with two other girls. She brought home a letter one night a couple of weeks ago, from one of the girls mums inviting Jessica for tea. Last Wednesday night, Jessica went straight to her friends house for tea after school, and we went to pick her up at 6.00. I never expected that both me and Andrew would be sat teary eyed in the car as we listened to Jessica tell us how much of a good time she’d had. Jessica has been to a few parties since starting school, but we were worried she would never have a best friend or go to a friends house for tea. Just the usual things we all do growing up. We’re excited that her friend is coming to ours for tea this week.

And to bring everything up to date, thinking about tomorrow, I don’t know how I feel. In the beginning, I would feel anxious the night before an appointment, anticipating what the outcome may be. I’ve become desensitised to that. It is just another appointment. I’ve asked Andrew what he would like the outcome to be from Jessicas assessment. A diagnosis, or no diagnosis. He agrees with me. We would like a diagnosis. We feel it will help us to explain a lot of things to Jessica in the future, such as why we chose the school we did, when she could have gone to the mainstream school which is literally a minutes walk from our house. And help her understand why she has developed in a different way and at a different pace to other children. It’ll help us explain to Jessica who she is. If she doesn’t receive a diagnosis of autism, we’re expecting the alternative explanation to be a ‘learning disability’. Jessica is a visual learner and requires visual aids and prompts to reach her potential, which indicates Jessica does have a learning disability, but it doesn’t explain the behaviours. So if we don’t receive a diagnosis of autism, I’m expecting a level of frustration to emerge again.