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Lessons in life for all

I do believe we are all given hurdles in life for a reason. I do not always ask why did this or that happen to me? In hindsight I often have an “ah-ha” moment where I perhaps gain perspective as to why something may have happened.

Generally my life has been an interesting journey with ups and of course downs. Easy times and hard times and I would generally say a lot of perseverance on my behalf. Luckily for me up until this point I have come out smiling, stronger and relatively sane (although sanity is subjective.) There are many people who are dealt a hand or lot in life that can almost be, or sometimes is, too hard to withstand.

I have come to understand that we just never know what people in life have endured. In the special needs circles, when it comes to our children, some of the experiences of parents and what they have overcome seem overwhelming. Yes interestingly we are all grateful for our own situations as we know and understand them. Rather the devil we know!

I have had friends with severely compromised children comment that they do not know how I deal with my situation. All I can think is, it is hard but not as hard as yours, funny this phenomenon.

We all have life lessons, and as we age they do not stop. We are constantly faced with growth curves and challenges. If you ask my mother if she thought she would be faced with the types of challenges and things she has to learn as a mature 67 year old women she would say no. But she has learned so much about autism and my son’s differences and this is just an extra, albeit tough life lesson for her as well.

One of the things I have learned in my experience with special needs is that there are so many untold stories and we never know what someone has endured. We have a perception of people based on first impressions or through casual conversation, but so many people have a story of hardship that has moulded who they are. In the special needs circles the stories may be relating to how a parent had to overcome hardships of their own with regards to education and now they are faced with it again. It can be how they battled to have children and the child they now have and love so much has special needs. It can be children surviving death and now being compromised. I am overwhelmed all the time by the stories I hear from fellow parents and here they sit before me smiling and cheerful about life. Some may have a deep sadness or hurt, some may battle more than others but wow these people are amazing.

I started off by stating that I seldom ask why this has happened to me, but I do frequently ask why has this happened to my son? He is innocent and vulnerable, he is so small to face the daily challenges he does. He does not understand why things are so hard for him. He is so frustrated. The growth he has managed and the challenges he has faced in his 6 years is more than some young adults have faced and he still has such a long way to go. Why him?

What will his life lessons be? Will he even grasp them, or may he not even think of them?

All children are faced with so many lessons in life. They are young; they have so much to learn about the world, academically, socially. They have a growth path of schooling, establishing a livelihood, establishing relationships. All parents need to encourage their children daily in life and its lessons. It is the business we are in, the business of growing and encouraging our children and their minds.

I have to continuously encourage my ASD son. He can do everything – he just does not always believe it. He has strengths, which also need to be constantly encouraged. This sounds silly; of course you encourage a child’s strengths. Well with special needs you often lose sight of strengths because you are always trying to decrease the deficit. Temple Grandin in her book ‘Thinking in Pictures’ frequently talks about encouraging gifts of special needs children. She believes this is ultimately where they will establish their livelihoods and will be able to foster relationships. I also encourage my son’s differences, hoping that he will learn to use these as a gift and embrace them as part of life. I recently attended a talk by an unsighted man, who had completed many extraordinary things in life because he had embraced his blindness and saw it as a gift. His comment was that if he were a sighted man he would have been ordinary.

I hope my son realizes his own gifts and that this will be one of his life lessons.

As for me, my road is also a long and complicated one. I have to best equip all my children to know their abilities and have the exposure to realise their potentials. For my ASD son, I also somehow need to just get him to believe in himself, try and persevere. This is not so easy to accomplish in children who only like to do things they find interesting. It is a hard lesson to teach; try the thing you are poor at and do not enjoy again and again and again and you will improve, eventually.

But I do grow with all these hard experiences. When we are experiencing one of our ASD crises, it feels like no growth occurs and I get stuck in the motions and become myopic in my view, not seeing the bigger picture. But when I finally lift my ostrich head from the sand and reflect, I do see growth on my behalf and of course my sons albeit a slow road.

I know one of my biggest life lessons and probably many people, is to not underestimate others. Most adults have a life-altering story and we have no idea the obstacles they have had to overcome or continue to overcome daily. I personally need to not to underestimate my special needs son as he constantly surprises me. I need to not underestimate myself as I accomplish more and grow more than I give myself credit for. To other parents out there I say never underestimate yourselves and what you can endure, get help where you need it and when it comes to special needs, you may not think you need it, but a little bit of help, no matter what it is, can go a long way to help you see more clearly.

By Amber Tucker

What’s your excuse?

We have all done it, we see a child behaving badly and we judge quietly to ourselves or speculate as to what the issue is. But how many of you have dared to get physical with another parent or their child over behaviour you feel is undesirable?

It happens and more frequently than you think. In my three years, since our ASD son’s diagnosis, of dealing with his variable behaviour we have had a few such instances.

On an aeroplane trip to Mauritius, 1,5 hours into the 3.5 hour flight, my son starts kicking the chair in front of him. I first say no but that does not work. Then I explain how it is not nice for the man in front to be kicked liked that which also does not work. I turn my son to face me so he can kick me, but he likes the feel of the compression on his joints as it helps to calm him. We quickly realise this is a problem so my husband takes him off for a walk. All this time my other 2 children are sitting like angels playing quietly.

The man in front turns around; “do you want me to help you discipline your child? Cause I am happy to. A good smack may be in order” My shocked response; “ I am really sorry he is making your trip so unpleasant, he has special needs and is battling a bit on the flight”. The man in front of me got the final word; “I do not care what your problems are, I paid as much as you did to be on this flight now control your child”.

I want to kick him in the back of the head let alone the back of the chair. It did all go downhill from here – no not because I kicked anyone. The flight ends with my son screaming get me off the plane and kicking the chair repeatedly, bringing him and myself to tears of desperation.

I vowed once we landed we would either emigrate or catch a ship back. Miraculously on the flight home, which was delayed and ended up being 5 hours, he managed perfectly. You just never know what you are going to get.

I am never sure how to handle these types of people and these situations. But being the matriarch of the family, instinct cuts in and when someone is threatening my children I protect ferociously and defend the brood. I, in this instance too have a quick tongue and battle to back down.

On another holiday excursion going to watch a cheetah run, we file into a packed grandstand (mistake number 1) as it sends my sons senses overboard. My husband very quickly moves off with him (mistake number 2), as he wants mom. Mom is however sitting with the other two children.

Whilst waiting for the festivities to begin “I want mommy, I want mommy” becomes my son’s loud mantra for about two minutes whilst I am trying to figure out how to get to him, between the people and with the other two children in tow.

A woman proceeds to get up and starts shouting in my husbands face how my son is bothering her and he best shut him up now. My ferocious instincts kick in. I bound down the stairs leaving the other two crying as I desert them. I address her sternly “ Hey back off he has some problems and is battling, what is wrong with you?” Her husband also has some instincts, violent ones “Shut your son up now or I will hit you.” One minute later my husband and I have calmed the kids down. Everyone enjoys the race, except for my husband and myself as we are both seething. Many people after the cheetah race come up to us and apologise on behalf the couple’s behaviour that they find so appalling.

My son has an excuse for when he behaves badly or inappropriately. I in no way use his condition as an excuse for his behaviour. I am hard on him and expect him to behave well. I understand it can be difficult for him especially when he is sensory overloaded. We try our hardest to not expose him to situations that could lead to compromised behaviour, but it is my no means always possible and is very variable.

Before having had children I would judge quietly to myself (key being quietly to myself) when I saw badly behaved kids. Now I have so much empathy into another parents plight and rather think of constructive ways I would handle the same situation or simply laugh at the situation. I think having a special needs child, I have become rather discerning at pin pointing bad behaviour due to lack of discipline or age appropriate tantrums or special needs or manipulation or tiredness. But I am in a unique situation and do not expect this understanding from all adults. However I do expect adults to behave appropriately in the face of another parent’s adversity and keep their opinions and advise to themselves (unless they know me and can help or have empathy into the situation).

I know because my son looks normal and is sociable and for all purposes appears to not have problems. I can only assume people think we are lying about his problems. I try hard to ignore people like this, and it really is a weakness I am trying to work on. All I do know for certain is that my son has many years to improve his behaviour and to be taught how to behave appropriately. Yes it needs to be taught through repetition and repetition and age and maturity. It is reminiscent of the Churchill quote “I may be drunk miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”

We both have a growth path ahead of us. I also have a plea for others out there; think before you judge, speak or over-react – he is a child, he has needs beyond your level of understanding. Even for children without special needs, a child who perhaps simply lacks discipline – they are just children, they are not bad. Where is your common sense, it is not your place to threaten anyone is such a situation. What is wrong with you? What is your excuse!

By Amber Tucker