Monday, 31 March 2014

The power of pets

Family pets can be a great addition to any family.  We have found with many special needs in our family that pets have been a tremendous support for the individuals with these needs.  Your average domestic pet can provide many therapeutic and health benefits.

Having adopted 13 children over the years a lot of grief and loss has been processed throughout this time.  Our dogs and cats are always loving and present when needed providing a great sense of security.  Pets never judge, they don't talk back, they just sit and listen while soaking up the attention of being stroked, cuddled and held.  The pets have been there for each child as they processed all the emotions that go along with adoption.

One of our daughters with autism does not like to engage with people however she will spend hours speaking to our cat O'Malley.  She will be playing with her toys and pass him some to play with while he lies next to her listening to her.  While speaking with our animals she is learning how to interact and give commands so the animal will listen.  This same cat will be there while the kids are doing their school work or if someone isn't feeling well.  This cat loves everyone but has a special knack of being there when needed.
For our children with limited strength and mobility the dogs have supported them in a therapeutic way.  Brushing a large dog is teaching how to care for the animal but also provides an opportunity for stretching and building strength with the brushing motion.  The need for a dog to be exercised is an engaging way to motivate a child this exercise could be in the form of a walk, playing fetch, agility classes etc.
There is also the benefit from having to take responsibility for something other than yourself.  We have children with limited skills that are responsible for feeding the animals (with supervision).  Scooping up the dry food and pouring it into the pets bowl is a challenge but gives a great sense of accomplishment.
Of course the children and pets involved must both be taught how to behave with one another to make these interactions beneficial to both parties.

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Sunday, 30 March 2014

Survival skills in the rain

This past weekend a few of our children were away for a survival weekend with the "air cadets".  Although the weather had been great all week as luck would have it a major rain storm started about an hour before they arrived and ended just as they arrived home.

At this weekend camp they either taught classes or participated in classes depending on their age.  The classes included wilderness first aid, orienteering, shelter building, radio communication and much more.

Programs like "air cadets" provide wonderful opportunities for children.  Over the years we have had many of our kids go through this program.  This program has also been great for our children with FASD.  Air Cadets is a very structured organization, each weekly night is set us in the same way.  This is huge for people with FASD, autism, anxiety, etc.  as it maximizes predictability.  The rules are black and white - if you do this then that will happen.  Children that struggle with social skills also benefit from this program.  While at cadets they are kept busy, which helps limit the social struggle, but gives them a sense of belonging.  They are also taught respect for example when addressing their superiors they use the persons rank and last name or sir/ma'am.

During the many years our children have been in cadets one son obtained his glider pilot and private pilot licences, all have been given the opportunity to go flying, many of them have participated in the band and taken extra training in music, learned first aid skills, learned wilderness survival skills, taken training to become athletic instructors, etc.  They also volunteer in the community helping various organizations.  While learning the above skills they are also learning leadership skills, being taught to teach cadets younger than them and learning public speaking skills.  They have also had the opportunity to attend summer camps for additional training or been employed at the summer camps.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Seizure monster

Lately 2 of my children have been struggling with seizures - the seizures are like "monsters" that are continually stealing from my children.  You never know when these monsters will strike, how much they will take and what they may leave.

Yesterday for example we woke up for our day and you could just tell when you looked at my son that it wasn't going to be a good day for him.  Within an hour of being up he had had his first of a cluster of many seizures for the day.  For my son he has an "aura" quite often before the seizure he feels dizzy and his balance will be off making standing and walking difficult.  He will then have a seizure that may be brief however the "postictal" part tends to really hang on.  This monster leaves a weak, scared, sleepy, dizzy, nauseous boy that doesn't have the energy to do anything other than lie on the couch.

Not knowing how many times this monster planned on striking yesterday we continued with our planned activities for the day, multiple therapy appointments.  Within the first 15 minutes of therapy the monster struck again which put an end to therapy for this child.  We never know how our day will play out, will we be able to do what we had planned?  Yesterday did not get any better we continued this cycle all day never fully recovering.  We have medicine that is supposed to break the cycle but it did not work this time.  We phoned our pediatrician and neurologist for help, we were referred to the hospital emergency room.

The other issue with the seizure monster is that permanent damage can be left behind.  Skills that have been mastered can be gone in a flash, skills that take months if not years to master in a child with multiple special needs.

Yesterday we spent about 7 hours at the hospital before this cycle ceased, the monster was chased away until the next time.

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Monday, 24 March 2014

Managing Appointments

Along with our large family we have an insane number of appointments every week so we need to be creative so our children aren't wasting away in waiting rooms.  Depending on where the appointment is and what it is for depends on how we plan for it.

Once a week we go for the bulk of all our therapy appointments, we found one business that has occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy and behavioral therapy.  With 10 children currently having regular therapy in these disciplines it is not uncommon to have a day with 25+ appointments taking up to 5 hours.  For this reason alone it was important to find a business that met our needs.  For these appointments the children are seen individually and Mom or Dad checks in with the therapist after the appointment.  During the appointments the children that are waiting their turn will go for a walk or to the neighborhood playground with Mom or Dad. While at the park we will find a picnic table for eating our lunch at and we may color, play a game or work on some school work with playground breaks.

For appointments with doctors and specialists where the parent must meet with the professional we plan according to the appointment.  We have 7 medically complex children that are regularly seen by the same medical team so quite often we have appointment blocks that work through seeing all the children.  For these appointments we bring a support person who will "school" the children, play games, read etc.  in the waiting room.  If it is a block of appointments that quite often means we are the only ones in the waiting room.

We also quite often have to travel to another city for hospital visits - if possible we try to travel the day before and the day after the appointment not to exhaust anyone.  When in different communities if the child is healthy enough we will visit tourist attractions/parks to make the trip more enjoyable, kind of like a mini vacation.

There is also the occasional waiting at a siblings activity which can be made enjoyable for the spectator.  While watching a sport the siblings can cheer for the participant or play nearby.  In our family quite often while one sibling has volleyball or soccer practice during a break some of the team members will come play with the younger siblings.  The younger siblings have become the teams number one cheerleaders because they love the attention the teams give them.

When at all possible we leave the siblings that don't have appointments at home so their life continues as per normal.  We don't want them resenting the family member that has all the appointments and would like as normal as possible childhood for all.

For us it is important that the children continue being children
-we don't expect them to sit quite and wait (all the time) we engage them, we use this time
-schooling can happen anywhere
-a support person is always valuable (especially for multiple appointments)
-we always bring books or games and interact/play with our child/children
-happy children are better behaved children

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Sunday, 23 March 2014


Around here it's always somebody's birthday and we always celebrate with a large family dinner.  Tonight is no different with the adult children, our son's lovely wives/girlfriends, grand children, grandparents and family dogs coming over to celebrate our son's 24th birthday. Everyone chips in to help making it a much easier process with the younger crew especially eager to help.

The younger ones each made a card for their big brother between taking turns helping make dinner and dessert.  For dessert I found these delicious looking cakes at which come highly recommended from this family.

First we made the brownies (we made ours from scratch) in 2 batches as I didn't have 4 pans in the correct size which worked great giving some one on one cooking time with 2 volunteers.  Next we made the "ice cream" and compiled both cakes with volunteer 3 and 4.  The kids always enjoy cooking time so these  were the ideal recipes for 4 to get some one on one cooking time and they were so proud telling the birthday "boy" they made his cakes.  Others helpers helped with prepping veggies, making the gravy, setting the table and the clean up.

The dinner and dessert were amazing, many could not decide which one they wanted and ended up having a piece of both.

You can find the recipes here and here

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Friday, 21 March 2014

Fun at the mountain

We are still busy filling our days of spring break, today Dad took the older "able and interested" kids skiing and snowboarding.  It was a day of firsts for many - a couple are very confident skiers but decided to give snowboarding a shot.  They rented all the required gear and started the day with a group lesson.  I think the instructor may have realized he had his work cut out for him when he told them to put their boards on and they didn't have a clue how to do that.  After lessons they were set free on the mountain, according to them they did many flips, jumps and stunts unfortunately they were not planned ones.  They worked hard trying to master boarding and did get better throughout the day but do find skiing much easier.  The next morning they could not believe how sore their muscles were.  One was complaining she didn't know so many muscles were involved in swallowing and how can they be sore from boarding.

For another child it was the first time at the mountain and she learned to ski.  She was signed up for an all day ski/daycare program.  Watching from a distance it was evident that skiing was very difficult for her and with Developmental Coordination Disorder, FASD, ADHD and low muscle tone why wouldn't it be.  At the end of the day as Dad was waiting for her to return he had visions of the instructor carrying the skis and them both walking back or the first aid people bring her back but was extremely proud as she skied over the hill yelling "Dad I snow skied" and then falling at his feet.  If the teaching had been done by us both of us would be frustrated and the day probably wouldn't have been as successful.  With children with "special needs" it is helpful to consider the child and what may work best for them.  At the mountain they have group lessons, private lessons, daycare with lessons, adaptive skiing/snowboarding, tubing etc.  Use your knowledge of your child, talk with the staff at the mountain and have your child try a program.  If that program doesn't work then modify and then try again.

Also consider your needs do you need a respite break and can't find a provider or don't want to "send" the child away?  Would a daycare program or private lessons for your child give you a break?  Your child may be happy spending the day at the mountain and not present that after respite behavior.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Happy St Patricks Day!

Today's craft theme revolved around St. Patricks Day, we made these really cute leprechauns.

We started by cutting straight lines, then made our paper into a tube similar to a lantern.  Then onto cutting a circle for the face which proved to be difficult for Nicole and Emma.  Kayley was able to cut out the hat and bow tie on her own but the others needed Mom to do theirs.  We then did some gluing and decorating as you can see everyone's has their own personal touches.

Making time for regular craft time is a great way to build fine motor skills and confidence.  The kids are always so proud of their accomplishments and nobody can enter the house without admiring the "art gallery".

We ended the day with a kid themed dinner.  Pancakes, orange tinted whipping cream to resemble hair/beard and apple cut to be a hat made our leprechauns.  A side of blueberries, candy rainbow and yogurt for dessert.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Birds of Prey

Today was a trip to the "Birds of Prey" for 11 of us.  We watched an amazing flying demonstration featuring different birds and learned interesting facts about the birds and their habits.

Bald Eagle
Turkey Vulture

Friday, 14 March 2014

Getting out and doing something.....anything

As a large family with special needs getting out of the house can be a challenge.  Currently we have 12 children living at home (one of those being an adult) of those 12 we have many challenges for accessing our community - between 7 with seizure disorders that are currently presenting cluster seizures, 2 requiring wheelchairs, 2 needing a stroller, 4 being in diapers, feeding/swallowing and diet needs, a multitude of sensory challenges, etc.  With these issues getting out the door can be near impossible little lone finding something fun to do as a family.

We have needed to look at ways of getting around our various limitations.  For example having children not babies in diapers means finding alternative places to change diapers.  Those fold down change tables in public washrooms won't support an 8 year old, the counters are to small and not private, the floor in public washrooms isn't going to happen, so where do you change them?  For us as we drive a large van and/or bus we have set up a changing station in the vehicle.  We carry all necessary items for any bodily fluid leaks and the clean up required.

Another issue is feeding as meals and snacks must be individually prepared for a few of our children to meet special diets and swallowing conditions.  We pack snacks, meals and beverages for every outing which means we don't leave home without our cooler.

We need to ensure where ever we are going is wheelchair/stroller friendly and what chair/stroller would be best suited for the terrain.  We like to go for walks in the forest so our conventional wheelchairs don't work well in this situation.  We also need to consider who is attending the outing and ensure we have enough people to push the wheelchairs and strollers.

To reduce the affects of sensory issues while out we have found we need to carry a few items just in case.  These items usually land in Mom's purse but are very helpful sunglasses, earplugs, and small snacks, it's not uncommon for me to have 7 or 8 of each of these items in my purse at a time.  When going out we also have the kids wear "hoodies" so if they are bothered by the weather they can put their hat on and be less troubled.
For the seizures we are limited in the ways we can accommodate for them.  We have meds with us at all times, we make sure that we have a way of getting that child medical attention if required, we make sure we have a way of transporting the child.  We would not go for a long walk/hike without a wheelchair or stroller to get the child back to the vehicle if they had a seizure and were unable to walk.  We carry a large first aid kit with oxygen (in the vehicle) because we never know what injury may be the result of a seizure.

All of this is a lot of work but became second nature overtime and having the vehicles set up with the required supplies has been a tremendous help.  Follow along to see the adventures we have.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


It's spring break here so we are mixing things up for 2 weeks.  Yesterday we went to the IMAX to watch this penguins documentary.  As we have a few that are obsessed with penguins this movie was a huge hit with all.

Today we decided to continue the penguin theme with the younger crew while the older ones had their own things to do.  We filled that sensory table with "Epsons" salt to signify snow and blue glass marbles to signify water.  We added penguins that we have from one of our games and then their predators a couple whales and seals.  This resulted in many hours of imaginative play that we broke up with some arts and crafts.

We also did some artwork first we painted the paper aiming for horizontal lines to practice our pre printing skills - which weren't successful for all.  Then we did some gluing, cutting (most needed help) and getting creative to create beautiful penguins.

We ended the day with the movie "Happy Feet" just before bed.

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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Therapeutic horseback riding

When we first looked into therapeutic horseback riding both my husband and I thought it was just a way for horse enthusiasts to encourage/justify horse riding.  Really how much benefit could someone get from sitting on a horse.  We were mistaken the benefits are real and the kids are having fun while gaining these benefits.

Just by sitting on a moving horse the children's muscles are being worked as the horse moves.  While on the horse the children are encourage to sit up straight and in the center of the horse which is working on core strength and balance.  Depending on the riders abilities they may have a side walker on each side of the horse holding the riders leg, a lead person guiding the horse and an instructor running the lessons.  They are taught right from the start to use their voice (if able) and body to tell the horse what they would like the horse to do ie. squeeze their legs and say "walk on".  As their abilities increase so does what is expected from the child - they progress from just sitting to sitting and holding the reins, once holding the reins is mastered they start directing the horse with the reins.  What a huge boost to the child's self esteem and confidence it is when they realize they are commanding this huge animal and it is responding to their directions.

The rider is also learning sequencing, patterning and motor planning - the riding ring has letters on the walls and the instructor will give directions of where to ride.  For example ride from a to b and then cross over to d.  The child is learning with support of side walkers and the horse leader how to follow these directions.

In our family 5 children ride weekly and it is a highlight of their week.  When its Emma's turn to ride she gets to the riding block and yells at the top of her lungs for her horse to come.  Nicole cannot get on her horse fast enough.  Normally Nicole only speaks to people she really knows well when the mood strikes her but while up on the horse she transforms into a very chatty little girl speaking with everyone. Kayley has progressed that she doesn't need side walkers or a person leading the horse, she guides the horse with the reins and body movements.

The benefits of riding are incredible and I have only touched on a few of the many benefits.  We are very thankful that our children can participate in this program which is run mainly by volunteers.  Without the support of all these amazing volunteers our children would not have this sort of opportunity so a big shout out "thank you to all the volunteers".

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

They have hatched

As a homeschooling family we are always looking for ways to make our learning "real" so when we read about the "Salmoniods in the Classroom" program with the Department of fisheries we knew this was for us.  After many emails and phone calls we were able to be included in this program and became the proud "parents" to 100 salmon eggs.

After a training program we set up an aquarium with a chiller 2 weeks before the eggs were delivered so that everything would be stable when the eggs arrived.  The aquarium needed to be blacked out as salmon eggs and alevin are very sensitive to light.

After caring for the eggs for about 1 month (they were already 2 months old when they arrived) all but 1 egg became alevin.  The alevin will feed off of the yolk sack for the next few weeks as they continue growing to "fry".

While raising the eggs we have also been studying the life cycle of salmon, the different types of salmon and the habitat that they live in.  We have watched videos, read books, and completed worksheets.  Over the next few months we will continue working on this unit, keep reading to watch our fish develop.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Such a devastating positon

I don't know how many of  you saw the recent news story were Sarah Vibert felt forced to create a blog and then be interviewed on the evening news to "Help her find a home for Emma and Emily" her young daughters.  For those who did not see or hear about this story this loving mother has a spinal cord injury and MS and is currently living in an extended care facility.  The children's father is not in the picture for his own reasons so the children had been temporarily staying with family friends but they were unable to continue caring for the children.  There was also no other friends or family that could help.

This amazing mother that can no longer physically care for her children was forced to make the selfless decision of finding a suitable home for her children as she did not want to see her girls grow up in the foster care system.  I personally can not imagine the emotional pain that "Sarah" must be going through making a decision as big and difficult as this.  Fortunately after her plea went public she had an overwhelming response that now she has options that she will need to wade through and hopefully she will find the perfect match.

Hearing stories like this are a good reminder to all of us to plan for the future - if you have children make a "will" appointing a guardian for if something happens to you or your spouse.  Build a support network around you and your family so in the event of an emergency you have help.  Also be that support network for others so they don't feel alone and they have a place to turn.

Families that have children with special needs and/or that have adopted may have to make a stronger effort of building a support network.  Everyone has different strengths so you may need to expand your circle to find support for all the needs you and your family may have.  We need to learn from Sarah Vibert and reach out when we don't feel supported and we may be pleasantly surprised by the response.