Saturday, 16 April 2016

Lights, camera, action it's time for social skills.

Over the years a few of our children have had the opportunity to participate in community theater and most recently one of our daughters has been playing the part of an "orphan" in the production "Annie".  Theater has been such an amazing opportunity for all of our children and especially helpful for the ones with special needs effecting their social abilities.  To many of us, with or without special needs, the thought of acting, of standing in front of an audience, playing a role, speaking lines and wearing a costume is far from our comfort zone.

Social interactions can be difficult for some and it's easier when you know what you're supposed to say and know what the expectation is.  In acting out small scenes, they learn appropriate responses to certain social situations and get to try out various scenarios without embarrassing themself or offending anyone else.  They also get to witness first hand how people react to inappropriate responses and understand the reasoning behind their reactions. This was a huge lesson for our daughter as she was able to memorize everyone's lines in the play and if they didn't remember or say their lines fast enough, for her liking she would say them, then give them a look, like what's wrong with you?  Working with an entire cast, she learned that the whole show was not about her and how well she knew everybodies lines.  During theater people must work together to accomplish a common goal.  They learn how to communicate, how to look at another person while speaking and how to convey a positive message through their body language.  Acting gives people a means of escape; they learn how to express themselves in a variety of ways.  Basically, acting is all about learning social skills.  These social skills are practiced in rehearsal and then put on display during the actual performance.  For example, a child learns to speak up so that others can hear him or her.  They must have conversations with others and do so in a socially appropriate manner.  These are all life skills that they can then take to everyday life.

With theater and musicals also comes a lot of singing which teaches children how to articulate and project their voices.  When our daughter started theater she had no trouble projecting her voice in fact she felt that she needed to be the loudest and drown out everyone else, no matter how bad her voice sounded from the strain of yelling.  With time, practice and some singing lessons she has become a great singer that can sing well with others.

Physical coordination has also been a challenge for our daughter and with practice she has increased her ability to use gestures to convey a message, move around the stage in a natural manner and even dance some basic steps within the plays choreography.

If your child struggles with their social abilities I would strongly reccomend looking into theater as a means of improving some skills. We were fortunate to find a community club that could accomodate us however some communities also have programs specially designed for people with special needs.

Frugal eats - Roasted Veggie Carbonara

Time for another frugal dinner idea, this one is a delicious option when entertaining also.  We serve this meal with French bread, the recipe found here is quick and easy to make, or a garden salad to stretch our budget.  I frequently switch the vegetables in this recipe to whatever is in season, most reasonably priced or I have in the fridge, this recipe is so versatile.

Roasted red pepper, zucchini and mushroom carbonara
serves 24-30

12 cups mushrooms, quartered
12 cups diced zucchini
6 red peppers
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs dry spaghetti noodles
1 lb bacon, we prefer beef bacon
16 cloves garlic, crushed
8 large eggs
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon black pepper or to taste
5 tbsp dried parsley

Toss veggies in olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Place on baking sheets in a single layer and roast until they start to caramelize.  Cook at 400F for about 20-30 minutes.

Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so the heat of the pasta will cook the raw eggs in the sauce.  Beat eggs, parmasean, parsley and pepper together and set aside.

Saute' the bacon and garlic in a frying pan over a medium heat until crisp.

Cook the noodles according to package directions, reserving 1 cup water from noodles.  After draining water from noodles, toss in bacon and drippings coating noodles in bacon and fat.  Then stir egg mixture into hot noodles (you can add up to one cup reserved water to thin sauce if desired).  Mix in roasted vegetables and then serve.

I hope your family enjoys this as much as we do!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

6 Easy Steps, Preparing for Assessment

It's Autism awareness month and as luck would have it our youngest is going in for an autism assessment, so I thought I would share how we prepare for an assessment.  Our youngest isn't our first to be assessed, as we have 3 diagnosed with autism, however it is still very stressful.  We want an explanation for his unique behaviours and challenges, we hope the team assessing see's the challenges our child has and can recommend supports that will be beneficial.  Also our son will be starting school in September and currently he does not have an explanation for his significant delays and behaviour challenges which means he won't qualify for any school based support, something he will definately require.  He currently receives "early intervention" support that will continue until June when any school supports would take over, so his medical team is working hard to figure out what is causing his challenges.



Research autism symptoms

Read the DSM-V criteria and get an understanding of what the psychologist will be basing a diagnosis off of.  I also find it helpful to read articles, blogs and watch youtube videos about autism so I can get a picture of what autism in daily life looks like for others.  Yes, we have 3 examples in our home but autism can present differently for each individual.  By doing this research it triggers memories of the unique behaviours my child presents so I make notes for myself.

Document, Document, Document

Once I have myself refreshed on what the psychologist will be looking at I prepare myself a list of anecdotes from my childs life relating to the criterea.   During the assessment I will be asked about my child and sometimes when put on the spot I "freeze" or "forget" so I want all the information handy. I also like to take pictures and video's of my child's unique behaviours as I find it explains situtations much better than I can do with words alone.  If you are taking pictures and videos speak to the psychologist and ask when they would like them.  We recently submitted a CD with multiple examples of our sons behaviours prior to our appointment, so the psychologist has time to review them and then can ask us any questions during the assessment. I also write notes regarding each picture to describe what was happening, how often this behaviour is present and any triggers I think may have caused it.

Gather reports and assessments

Gather any reports or assessments that your child has done in the past.  Any and all information that you have will help the assessor get a full picture of your child and help obtain an accurate diagnosis.  Reports from doctors, therapists and even notes from preschool/daycare or activities help, it's better to have to much information than to be kicking yourself saying "oh I forgot to mention".  I have detailed more on building documentation in this blog post.

Assessment day

On the day of the assessment bring a support person or two if you need them.  I find it helpful to bring a support person for the child being assessed, a person that will take the child out to play when the psychologist needs to speak with me.  I find it difficult to focus on what needs to be said when my child is stressed out and just wanting to leave.  Maybe you also need someone to prompt you, if so bring someone.  Bring snacks, beverages and toys to make your child and yourself feel comfortable.

Bring your questions

Do you have questions for the psychologist?  Write them down, bring them with you, this is your time to speak with the psychologist so make sure you ask your questions.

Dealing with results

Whether your child gets an anticipated diagnosis or not it is hard.  Give yourself time to cope, adjust and possibly greive.  Try to remember that the diagnosis does not define the person, that this is the same child that you loved and adored before the assessment and the diagnosis hasn't changed that.

How did you prepare yourself and your child for their assessments?  What do you wish you knew before the assessment or could have done differently?

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Time to Roll and other Culinary Delights - French toast roll ups

All 7 of the children in our youngest sibling group have extreme delays which means lots and lots of therapy and work on their part, to help them manage different aspects of their lives.  Over the years they have had weekly therapy sessions and their homeschool day includes practicing their current goals but the number one thing I have found that helps is finding a way to include their interests into the therapy goals.  With the 7, we have been working on functional skills to help with dressing themselves and various daily life skills.  I frequently look for ideas that will incorporate many skills, that the kids hopefully will enjoy and not realize they are working on skills.....I really don't want them thinking their lives have been one big therapy session.

Cooking is a favoured activity for the children so quite often we use this as a means to work on their therapy goals and school at the same time.  Today we worked on fine motor skills, sequencing, following directions, reading math, feeding therapy, etc.

We made French Toast Roll Ups and the possibilities are endless with these.  We made them with a therapeutic goal but they are good and can be made by anyone, even my 4 year old "made" his own lunch.

1. Decide how many roll ups you would like and then cut the crust off of the desired number of slices of bread. 

 2.  With a rolling pin, flatten the bread.

3. Spread your desired topping on the flattened bread.  We used cheese slices on some and cinnamon/sugar spread on others.  Nutella or peanut butter and jam would also be good. 

4.Roll flattened bread with desired topping, jelly roll style.

5.  Dip rolls into a mixture of egg and milk.

6.  In frying pan cook the rolls until toasted on all sides.  

7.  Serve with sryup or sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.  

The kids and I had so much fun making these and they have been telling everyone they can that they made themselves cinnamon buns for lunch.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

A s**tty, dumpster diving, ambulance ride kind of day.

Some days just don't go as well as planned, or hoped for, and in the life of special needs parenting the realities of life can be quite different than what most people experience in a given day.  I don't know if it's the recent full moon or what but some of the children in this house have been way off, and their behaviours have just been bizarre.

Yesterday morning when walking into the youngest boys room there was the undeniable smell of feces, the stench was way worse than anytime they have both soiled their diapers overnight.  It did not take much investigation to determine a certain young man had been extremely creative with his feces, he had thrown it and it was stuck to the ceiling, he had finger painted everywhere with it - on/in his bed, on all of the walls, all over the carpet, on the door, on himself and all over his brother and his brothers bed.  There was feces everywhere, it is actually hard to believe that all that feces came from one small child.  I then started the cleanup which started with bathing the 2 young boys - both have severe sensory issues and bathing them is similar to trying to bath a feral cat.  Then onto the clean up, all the walls and ceiling needed to be sanitized.  All the bedding was put into the washer on the sanitary cycle and it was determined both mattresses were beyond ever being cleaned and needed to be replaced.  The carpet cleaner we were planning on buying in the future was also needed immediately to make the room habitable once again.  While all this was happening you would expect that the guilty party would be remorseful or even realize what he did was wrong but this child does not comprehend this at all.

Even after all of this, you should never think "your day can't get any worse or more bizarre" because around here an adult child, after eating a very large lunch is caught going through the dumpster, looking for food and then caught eating food that has gone bad.  He is not eating said food because there is a shortage or because he is hungry, it's because of his lack of impulse control.....he saw it so he must do it.

During all the day's events I was also receiving texts from another adult that struggles with mental health issues, especially when a stressful situation happens, and today he got a phone call regarding his outstanding phone bill.  This stressful situation resulted in texts throughout the day like Ï am done with life", "nothing in my life works out", "home and safe", etc.  Knowing that he can overwhelm extremely easily I respond with very simple, positive responses as that is all he is able to take in.  I tell him to use his tax return money to pay his phone bill, a simple manageable solution.  When I return home from purchasing the new mattresses and carpet cleaner, I ask him about his day?  He is still worked up and has a complete meltdown.  Hitting himself, clawing at his face, crying, destroying his sunglasses and saying he wants to kill himself.  I ensure all the younger children stay downstairs watching a movie with their older sister so we can deal with this young man without scaring anyone.  As he says he wants to kill himself, hubby phones for support, and the police and ambulance arrive quickly.  He agrees to going to the hospital and seeking more help (he has already been seeing mental health and getting support for a while now).  We call our amazing and very supportive respite provider and she comes to watch the younger kids, hubby continues with the planned activities with the older kids, and I spend the evening at the hospital helping our son be heard while he seeks more professional help.  Before leaving for the hospital I take time to ensure everyone is okay, the younger kids don't seem to notice that their brother left in the ambulance between the movie and excitment of the babysitter coming over and I talk with the older children as to why their brother is going for more help.

After all of this our son is released from the hospital with a new plan.  We are both starving so we grab take out, I send our son in to get the food so I have time to phone hubby taking time to lean on each other for support.  With these kinds of days, which fortunately don't happen often, it is important that hubby and I take time to look after ourselves and our relationship.  It's also a huge relief that we have built supports and plans that work to help us through these situations reducing the stress for everyone involved.  

Friday, 25 March 2016

Cheap dinner for many!

When our budget needs a little relief from the never ending stretching this is one of our standby meals.  I find it helpful to have a variety of frugal recipes on hand that can be included in the monthly meal plan so it's not as noticeable when the budget is tighter for whatever reason.  This is a favourite with many of the children and I think they would have it everyday if it was available.  Also as I have stated before some of our children have swallowing challenges, this is a meal they find easier to manage which is a win because it doesn't require any additional preparation for them.

When I make this meal, I always make extra for lunch for the next day.  We enjoy this as a casserole but it can also be used as a filling in burritos or quesadillas to mix it up a bit, so it doesn't feel like the same meal again.

This recipe is adapted from the orginal recipe found in the "Easy Beans" cookbook by Trish Ross and Jacquie Trafford.

Mexican Lentil Casserole

serves 24

vegetable oil (enough to saute vegetables)
6 medium onions, chopped
1 bunch celery, chopped
3-4 grated carrots
6 cloves garlic pressed
16 cups water
4 cups dried green lentils
9 cups cooked rice (preferably brown for nutritional value but white does work)
5 cans tomato paste
4-5 tbsp taco seasoning (you can make your own if desired)
4-6 tsp chili powder (use your judgement how spicey you would like it)

Optional 1 bag crushed taco chips and 2 cups grated cheese

In large saucepan, saute onions, celery, carrot and garlic in oil over medium heat for 5-10 minutes.

Add water and lentils then bring to a boil.  Stir, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Do not drain, add rice, tomato paste, taco seasoning and chili powder.  Stir well.  At this point you can serve directly from sauce pan or transfer to a slightly oiled casserole dish.

If serving from a casserole dish top with crushed taco chips and grated cheese, then bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

Do you have any meals that you use to stretch your budge?  Please feel free to share.

Monday, 21 March 2016

10 simple ways to reduce your grocery budget!

Around here the cost of groceries are sky rocketing, with a large family we are constantly trying to stretch our food budget from eating up the entire household budget.  For us it is a constant battle employing various tactics to manage the expenses while still eating well.  Most times we are on top of things but every now and then life takes over and we find the need to reel ourselves in or an unexpected expense pops up and we need to find ways to pare back in other areas.

               10 Simple ways to reduce your grocery budget!

Meal planning

By planning your meals you have more control over how much you are spending and eating.  By having a plan you know what to purchase, reducing impulse buying, overspending and wasted time wandering the store wondering what to purchase.

Double recipes, one for the freezer

This is one of my favourite tips! By doubling the recipe and putting one in the freezer, this provides relief, on those hectic days, when the last thing I want to do is cook.  I have found some recipes are easy to double and freeze so well.  I will also make premade crockpot recipes that freeze well and then you just dump them into the crockpot in the morning.

Shop discounted items

Many grocery stores reduce prices on items just before there best before date.  I like to purchase our meat this way and find it works well if I put it directly into the freezer after purchase.  I have also found baked items, produced, and damaged canned or packaged items reduced also.

Leftover day

Do you typically have leftovers piling up in your fridge?  Pick one meal and have a buffet of leftovers.  This uses up the leftovers and reduces the costs of yet another meal.

Plan meals around sales

Before you make your meal plan flip through this weeks sales flyers and see what's on special.  Try including some of the sale items in your meal plan.

Plan around what's in season

Fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season costs less so eat what is in season or choose items that have been frozen or canned.

Plan around what you have on hand

Take a look in your fridge and pantry before making your meal plan, then plan around what you have on hand.  If you are having a mental block and don't know what you could possibly make with those leftover items why not try typing into google "recipes for" and then the items you have, this might inspire you with a recipe for tonight's dinner.

Go meatless once a week (or more)

The cost of meat has drastically increased, by declaring one or more days a week "meatless" days this can provide some financial relief.  Your meatless meal could be a dish with beans or lentils, or as simple as breakfast for dinner.

Make food from scratch

Prepackaged food is expensive!  Take a look around your pantry and determine what prepackaged items you are buying then look for some simple recipes that you could make to replace the need to purchase some of these packaged items.  By making things from scratch we have been able to reduce costs, control what goes into what we eat and have found that the items we make fill us up more so than the store bought version, which results in us eating less.

Shop around

It's always good to shop around so you know whether or not you are getting the best value for your money.  We tend to buy most of our produce from a local farm market which as exceptional prices compared to the grocery store.  Another store frequently has meat reduced first thing each morning so it is worth my time to check it out when in the area.