Sunday, 27 November 2016

Hiring staff, avoiding criminals

This year it has been a revolving door with our support staff.  Our well loved interventionist and support worker (she did 2 jobs) went off too complete her masters in Physical therapy, which is amazing for her but not so much for us.  Also one of our Special Education Assistants got a new position elsewhere and another interventionist also left for more schooling.  This left us needing to fill 4 positions, fortunately our duaghter, who just completed university, filled in temporarily for a couple months which was a huge benefit as she was able to assist with hiring and training but now she is off to her new job.

Advertising, interviewing and hiring is always challenging but even more so when you consider we are looking for someone to work with our very unique family with 10 special needs children, currently at home.  We need someone who will work well with our children, support them in successfully meeting their goals and work well with everyone.  When we started our parenting journey the most we every needed to do was hire a babysitter here and there.  Now that we are homeschooling 9 special needs students, 4 with autism (on top of their other challenges), and have 2 adults requiring support workers it feels like we are running a big business.  We are extremely thankful that we have the ability to hire and set up a program to aid in the success of the children but sometimes it is challenging.  We have had people applying with none of the skills we are looking for, we have had people not show up for their interview, we have had people accept our offer for employment only to quit before acctually starting, we have had no suitable candidates apply and needed to keep looking and we have had some very skilled prospects.

When looking for employees we use word of mouth and also post ads online describing the position available, education and experience we are looking for and request a resume and cover letter detailing everything.  We use these to determine who we consider doing a preliminary phone interview with, before setting up an official interview.  During our phone interview we give more details about the job, tell them about all positions we have available (just in case one person could do multiple positions reducing the number of staff), tell them where we are located as sometimes this is an issue and get a brief sense of who they are.  At the official interview we meet at a local coffee shop so the interview takes place in a neutral location which has proved to be very beneficial as some people you just don't want in your home or life.  During the interview this time is more about getting a sense of who the individual is and whether or not they would be a good fit with our family.

After the interview we do reference and background checks including a criminal record check with vulnerable sector screening.  This is a huge must for us and was reinforced for us when we were hiring a particular instructor and he strung us along as we discussed what we were after, scheduled days, up until the finalizing of details where we asked for the criminal record check that we had previously discussed and then he told us that a "court order prevented him from being near children".  We do realize that this does not screen out all problems but it does screen out the ones that have already been caught.

So as of today we have all our support positions filled and we can focus on our day to day learning, as well as the learning curve of having new employees.  This could change tomorrow but today we will accomplish as much supported learning as possible.  How do you find amazing support staff for your special needs individuals?

Monday, 4 July 2016

Summer DIY, personalized beach towels

I don't know about your house but around here the kids are frequently at a loss of what to do now they don't have the structure of school to fall back on.  So it's been Pinterest to the rescue around here to keep everyone busy.  This project is two fold because it gave us an afternoon of crafting and provides us with our summer beach towels.  Each child now has their own personalized beach towel with their name so no fighting over "you have my towel" and Mom now knows who's towel didn't get hung up.

We started with cheap white bath towels which I was able to find for $4 each.  When picking your towel try for natural fibers (ie cotton or bamboo) so you will get more vibrant colors when tie dying.  On your towel, using duct tape, spell out your name or message that you would like to appear on your towel. This step did take awhile especially as this step was above the level of some of our participants so Mom got to prep 8 towels.

 Next we took all the towels and spread them on the back lawn and got our die ready.  I bought this kit and we easily were able to complete 12 towels with this one kit.

Next we sprayed various colors onto our towels not worrying about whether or not we sprayed the taped area.  The spraying of the die was something that most of us could handle and was good fine motor practice for all.  If you don't want colored hands you may want to wear rubber gloves, we braved it and had colorful hands until we spent a couple hours in the pool.  It works best if you use your darkest color around the taped off area to provide the largest contrast so your letters show up well.

After the towel is colored to your liking let it dry (we left ours on the grass in the sun), once dry peel tape off to expose your name and leave for 8 plus hours for the color to set.  The next day run the towels through the laundry, washing and drying (in the dryer) so the colors set.

Now your towels are ready to use.  I hope you enjoy making these as much as we did.

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.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Puberty, cognitive delays and a CSI crime scene!

A friend was recently telling me about menarche parties, a party for young girls to celebrate their first period.  Not thinking that this was a real thing I did a bit of "googling" and I found this description "The occassion of an adolescent girl's first period is often a very embarrassing and scary time, even if they have been prepared for it by their parents.  One way to lighten the mood and celebrate this momentous time in your daughter's life is by having a first period party.  It can be difficult for young girls and even women to get excited about something that brings both blood and pain, but having a period party can be a great first step towards her being able to embrace her period and its significance as the beginning of her journey to womanhood."

Around our house we don't have a party and it is more like a situation of drawing straws between my husband and I.....whoever gets the short straw gets the never ending, daunting task of teaching and helping the young adolescent with cognitive delays cope with the changes his or her body is displaying.  This teaching may need to happen for years according to some of the examples in our home, we are at 10-14 years (since puberty) with some and don't seem to be getting any closer to independence.

First up is the "stench" of the adolescents and the increased need for personal hygiene.  We have gone through puberty with multiple children and it seems the ones with cognitive challenges either don't realize or care that they stink!!  Without constant reminders of, you need to shower, please put on clean clothing and put on some deodarant, our home would constantly smell like a middle school boys locker room.  We have visual schedules that are used, charts detailing how to do various tasks including showering and changing sanitary products and it's still never ending.  Each morning during "work out time" we need all the windows open and a gas mask would be beneficial.  I don't even think one of those "Febreeze" commercials could help this situation.

Then for the girls there is the need for a bra, which sneakes up so fast that they may not have even mastered the finer points of dressing, such as buttons and zippers.  Bras can be extremely difficult to put on and if your daughter is blessed with a large bosom she will have even more of a challenge.  We start with sport bras and buying mutliple of the same style to limit the learning curve.  You can read more about our bra challenges here.

Then there is menstuaration and the need for the use of sanitary products.  This one is huge and one that you wouldn't think you should have to constantly be involved in.  Over the years we have determined sanitary pads are what will be taught in our home and if you have the desire to use something else you will need to figure that out on your own.  We did try tampons with one, so she could still swim, when the tampon fell out and landed on the pool deck without her noticing (Dad had to say "you dropped something") not swimming on those days was a better option.  We also have to track the menstruation so said individual doesn't think "I will just wear a pad" because I really want to go on the water slides today, leaving a pad stuck on the inside of the water slide ready to greet the next person.  There has also been the ongoing lesson of where it is acceptable to change your sanitary products and how often it should be done.  Then there is the mess that is left when they are working on independence of looking after things themself.  Why does the bathroom look like a vicious CSI crime scene each time they finish?  Lysol wipes are a constant requirement in our bathroom between the ones being potty trained and the adolescents.

Do you have a successful method for teaching the finer points of becoming an adolescent/adult?  How do you manage these challenges in your home?

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Making some dough....$$$$

Each week one of our young adults has been taking orders and then producing bread for sale. Earning her own spending money is the driving force behind this business venture.  With the help of a support person, usually Mom, she has been able to produce up to 8 loaves of bread in a day.  This weeks bread is a favourite with the customers and is delicious paired with homemade soup.

Rosemary Bread

2 tablespoons white sugar
2 cups warm water
4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter, softened
4 tablesppons rosemary
3 teaspoons Italian seasoning
5-6 cups all purpose flout
Olive oil to grease bowl and loaf pan.

Dissolve the sugar in warm water and mix in yeast.  When yeast is bubbly mix in butter, rosemary, italian seasoning, salt, and add flour gradually to form a workable dough.

Coat the inside of a large bowl with olive oil.  Place dough in bowl, cover and allow to rise 1 hour or until double in size in a warm location.  We put in oven with the oven light on.

Punch down dough and divide in half.  Place in a greased loaf pan and allow to rise until doubled in size (1 hour).  Cook at 375 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

The bread making has been teaching many skills and some have been easier to learn than others.  She has learned the importance of accurate measuring when one loaf came out like a rock.  A lot of math skills are being taught between measurements, costing out ingredients and determining the cost per loaf, and money math when selling the loaves.  Social skills are being taught dealing with customers between taking orders, filling orders and talking up her business.  There is also the much needed hand and arm strengthening (OT benefits) that has been happening from mixing and kneading the bread by hand.  Our baker has a terrible work ethic that we have been trying to rectify and probably the most shocking lesson of all was when she woke up "oh so sick" and decided she couldn't possibly make bread and the customers did not pay....she honestly felt the customers would giver her money even if they didn't get their bread.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Is a movie being filmed here

I was out picking up a few groceries and noticed 2 young moms, each with an infant in a carrier, having what looked like an enjoyable evening together getting their groceries while spending time with one another.  The infants were both content in the carriers while the moms shopped and chatted in a relaxed fashion.  This got me thinking how different my life is in comparison and what it would look like if I went shopping with a friend with a similar family dynamic to my own and we each brought our children that couldn't be left at home unattended.

Instead of pulling up in a compact car together we would need either a full sized bus or we would need to each arrive in our indivdual smaller buses.  One or both of us would probably be late because some child emergency would probably delay us.  Once we both arrived it would take a while to get out of the buses between unloading the wheelchairs, finding the socks and shoes and putting them back on the children that felt it necessary to take them off and throw them as soon as they got into the vehicle and checking that all the children (4-6 for me and probably a similar number for her) who wear diapers were clean.  We finally get organized making sure we have someone assigned to push each wheelchair and the multiple shopping carts we each need for a weeks worth of groceries, when the children that struggle with transitions would start acting up as we headed to the store.  A couple with sensory issues would be upset because it is raining or windy or the sun is to bright and it is making them uncomfortable walking to the store.  We would finally herd everyone into the store when the fun would begin.  People would be staring, others would be counting, we would be asked if we are a school group or a daycare and someone would ask if they were all ours.  We would be filling our carts and, being we were 2 large families, we would be clearing the shelves like the "Extreme Couponers" just to get enough to last the week.  The first product sample clerk that sees us is swarmed by the 30+ of us and doesn't have enough samples which sets off a raging meltdown or 2 or 5 from some of the kids.  The other product sample clerks are trying not to make eye contact with us while others are being warned by their manager to shut down quickly.  We continue herding the children through the store, not having that enjoyable time that the 2 young moms seem to be having, barely being able to speak to each other except to ask have you seen Billy, where did Mary get to, Johnny put that back.  Then one child says "I need to go to the bathroom... NOW" so we need to park the carts while we all rush to the bathroom which takes up a good 45 minutes because we are here and everybody better try and go.  While in the bathroom we have more sensory challenges and a few tears.  On the way back to the carts some get distracted and want to look at the toys.  We finally get back to the carts, kids are complaining "I don't like that" others are saying "I want this".  People are still staring, some are shaking their heads while others give us parenting advice.  We finally have what we need for the week or at least enough to get by for a day or two because we are exhausted, so we head to the check out with our overflowing heavy carts.  The clerks all look in horror as they see us heading towards them on mass, we pick our line and all the kids are trying to empty the cart, throwing everything onto the belt.  There is pushing, shoving, crying because "I wanted to do that one", the eggs get dropped, we need a clean up on isle 1.  Our groceries are finally all rung through and it's time to pay, the bill is over a $1000 but that's just life in a big family.  We get back to the buses start loading up the kids, the groceries barely fit and give each other a brief hug while swearing we will never do this together again.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Time to talk?

Recently it seems that there are more and more articles in the news of parents murdering their child/children and then sometimes committing suicide themselves.  I find it extremely heart breaking that people are feeling that lost, overwhelmed, troubled or however you would like to describe it that they feel this is their best option.  A lot of the stories I have seen recently the children have special needs and sometimes one or more of the parents also have health challenges, I totally understand life can be hard, parenting can be hard, parenting a child with special needs can be hard but murder and/or suicide are not the answer.  

In this article  it appears that the mother in question, suffering from a terminal form of cancer, felt she was the only one capable of looking after her daughter.  When she no longer felt she had the health to care for her daughter she murdered her and then died herself leaving the rest of the family to greive the loss of both of these women.  We as parents need to remember that we are not the only one capable or willing to care for our child or children no matter what their challenge is.  It is very true that some children require more support than others but believe me there is always someone willing and able to do what you and I do.  

Another story tells of a mother that may have had mental health challenges or was just completely overwhelmed with the stress of raising a special needs child, being married to man with increasing disabilities and a recent blow to the family budget.  Did this women reach out?  Did anyone notice her struggling?  Could the death of this child have been prevented? 

I would like to encourage everyone to look out for your friends and family.  Be there for them to lean on if they seem to be struggling and encourage them to seek help if life seems more than they can bare. Don't judge, just support, the way each of us handles stress will be different and it doesn't matter as long as we all feel loved and supported.  Some people are affected by stress more than others and what you may think is nothing could be huge for someone else.  

If you are struggling, overwhelmed, feeling lost or hopeless please reach out and get help!  Murder and/or suicide are not the answer. Talk to your doctor, talk to a family member or friend, contact your local mental health clinic, talk to anyone willing to help, if the first person you speak to doesn't help find someone else and keep talking.  Seek a safe place for your child/children until you have recieved help and you feel that you can carry on.  Maybe you need a small break in the form of respite or maybe parenting is just to much for you, that is okay. Ask a friend or family member to care for your child, go to child protective services, just find someone to care for your child until you are able to carry on.  There is no shame in admiting you need help and then getting the help you need! 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Modified or adapted, decisions to be made

Recently reviewing our children's school progress we had to make the hard decision of changing one of our daughter's from an adapted school program to a modified program.  We have had to make this decision with other children in the past and trust me it doesn't get any easier making this type of decision.  When a student works on an adapted program they still have to meet all the same learning outcomes but they can be presented in different ways.  If a child can't complete the work with adaptations then they can be on a modified program.  School work that hasn't built on what was learnt the previous year is easier for the child to complete in an adapted manner as there isn't any real concern from some teachers whether or not the student is retaining what is taught.

Having spent many years with children in the public school system, where it was drilled into us, if we switched our child to a modified program they would never be able to go back to an adapted program and they would never be able to graduate from highschool added to the fear of making this type of decision.  The feeling of making a permanent and life altering decision regarding our child's education made it feel like if we decided modified was their best option that we were giving up on them.  Over the past few years we have been homeschooling and I have learnt that you can switch back.  In order to graduate from high school you must obtain a prescribed number of grad 10-12 credits or to obtain an adult diploma you need an even smaller number of credits.  This means there is still the possibility of graduating in the future even if a modified program is best today.  When you decide on a modified program at public school that usually means the child is placed in the resource room and their focus is on life skills (which would make it extremely difficult to switch back as they wouldn't be learning academics).  As a homeschool family when you decide on a modified program you have more say in what their curriculum will look like.  For our children on modified programs we want a combination of academics and life skills.  For them it takes a very long time to learn and I would prefer for them to slowly master skills rather than breeze over things with nothing sinking in.  With a few of our children we have been working on kindergarten to grade 1 learning outcomes for 3-6 years, we use a variety of approaches and are seeing slow steady progress (minus the seizure setbacks).  The most recent convert to a modified program can read quite well but struggles greatly with comprehension,written work and mathmatics, by focusing her work to her level we are hoping for steady progress.  It was a harder decision on whether or not a modified program was in her best interest because she does have more areas of strengths than some of her younger siblings but having some older children with gaps in their learning from being pushed through we decided this would be best for her.  For academics her focus will be on language arts and math bringing in a bit of science and social studies as a means of learning these subjects. Her academics will be much lower than her peers but I am confident with time she will be able to graduate with an "adult diploma".   Singing, piano, trumpet and drama will continue as these are a passion of hers.  Life skills will fill up the remainder of her school day not be the focus of her modified program.

A modified school program can be tailored to your child it doesn't have to be all or nothing approach. Some of our  modified children likely will not graduate but they are still given the opportunity to learn academics along with their lifeskills and hobbies.  Learning should be fun and ongoing not limited because you couldn't master a skill within someone else's timeline.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Finding support in the community

7 of the kids and I recently had the opportunity to attend the movie "Kung Fu Panda 3" hosted by the Canucks Autism Network.  The Canucks Autism Network supports individuals and families effected by autism by providing sports, recreational, arts and social programs for individuals and families living with autism in communities throughout British Columbia.  They also promote awareness and training regarding autism and have a library of resources available to support families.

The movie was the first event that we have attended by this network and I was extremely impressed by them.  There was no cost involved for anyone wishing to attend this event, including free popcorn and a drink, but even more importantly they had autism staff willing and available to help with any needs.  The movie was played at a quieter volume, they kept a low level of lighting on during the entire show and they did not play any previews which limited the time patrons needed to sit and watch the movie.  The autism network also includes all family members including siblings that do not have a diagnosis which is a tremendous benefit to us.  In our family 3 children are diagnosed with autism however many others have challenges that benefit from extra support and this is an enviroment where they would not stand out.   Other activities hosted by the autism network do have minimal costs but they appear very reasonable and family friendly.  We are hoping to get more involved with them in the near future.