Monday, 14 May 2018

Review: '101 Fun Outdoor Activities For Children' by Fiona Bird

What glorious weather we're having at the moment! After a few false starts Spring has finally sprung and it feels like Summer is just waiting in the wings now. One lovely side effect of this is that the kids have been playing in the garden much more. Ezra, a typical toddler, is more than happy to potter around and get messy even in cold weather, but Eleanor is quite sensitive to the cold so needs coaxing out most of the time. It's been a joy to see her enjoying being outdoors in the past couple of weeks. She even played football in the rain this weekend!!

I used to be a really outdoorsy kid but sadly I grew out of it and I do find outdoor play hard. So I was really happy when we recently won 101 Fun Outdoor Activities For Children by Fiona Bird in a Toppsta giveaway. As the title suggests, it's got bags of inspiration!


What I love about this book is that the activities have a wide range of challenge level - some of the ideas, like mud pies and Pooh Sticks, are easily achieveable with smaller children and can give them a sense of accomplishment that they can 'tick off' some of the activities very quickly, or even before they look through the book.


But then there are also more complex activities to challenge older children, or to use up more time - craft activities using both natural and recycled materials. Eleanor is very interested in the idea of making natural dyes. I suspect that may be a bit messy but might have to swallow my hatred of mess and give it a try!


The activities also cover a range of seasons and locations, so wherever you are, whatever time of year it is, chances are you'll find a suitable activity. I'm gutted that we forgot to take it to the beach with us when we went over the May Day weekend, but that just gives us an excuse to have another day trip to the beach in the summer!!


I was dubious about some of the activities. Some crafts suggested using plastic bottles or carrier bags, and while reusing is great, I worry about leaving plastic objects outside, possibly to get blown away or cause problems for wildlife. I have to admit the plastic bottle slug catcher was tempting though! Eleanor was a bit bothered by a suggestion of making itching powder and tricking friends with it, we both agreed that didn't seem like a nice thing to do. But with so many other ideas, it's easy enough to skip over the ones we're not keen on.

If you're looking for outdoor inspiration now that the weather is picking up I thoroughly recommend this book. I'm looking forward to working our way through as many activities as possible this summer!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Thursday, 10 May 2018

We Were Lucky

So, let's get caught up. Regular readers will now know that Eleanor has had her assessment. Just over a year after the first referral was made, it has been confirmed that she is autistic.

We were lucky.

We were lucky that Eleanor's reception teacher had enough knowledge to recognise that autism was a possibility, rather than deciding her problems were just behavioural.

We were lucky that school dealt with the referral, putting forward enough evidence for our referral to go straight to CAMHS rather than being passed to family services, which could have led to us having to go on a parenting course before any further progress could be made.

We were lucky that, eight months later, CAMHS decided that they had enough evidence to put her forward for an autism assessment after two sessions. We took them up on the offer of a third session to get some advice, but by then the referral was written and ready to go. It was at that point we were told it would be another year before the assessment took place.

We were lucky that by that point our local CAMHS service was so far behind it had started outsourcing the assessments, shortening our wait to four months.

We were lucky that throughout this time we had the full support of the school, who have been incredible in proactively finding ways to support Eleanor and in providing evidence for us.

We were lucky that the assessors were skilled enough to see through Eleanor's sociable nature and developing masking skills, and instead see the symptoms she's trying to hide.

We were lucky - others aren't. Others don't get the right support, are not believed, or not even aware autism is a possibility until much further down the line. Others have a much longer wait for assessment, have to jump through more hoops to even get on the waiting list. Others get as far as assessment only for their child to have learnt to mask so well in that time that they go undiagnosed.

We were lucky and it still took over a year. A year of further brain development, of Eleanor finding new challenges to overcome, of us struggling to know how best to support her.

We were lucky, and we still don't really know what to do next.

I can't help but think this isn't what 'lucky' should look like. Parents should be supported and believed, schools should be equipped to support all pupils, CAMHS should be properly funded to be able to deal with referrals promptly. Our 'luck' should be the baseline.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

What Do You Tell Your Child Before Their Autism Assessment?

I wrote this post nearly two months ago, but didn't feel ready to publish it at the time. I still don't now to be honest, but as it's been a while I'd better get it out there!

So since writing this post, things sped up somewhat. By somewhat I mean a lot - having been told we'd be waiting a year for Eleanor's ASC assessment, we then got a phonecall at the end of January to say our appointment was in March. Actually, as I write this post, we had it this morning.

One thing I struggled with in the run up to the assessment was knowing what to tell Eleanor. At 6 years old I wasn't sure I was ready to tell her she might be autistic, partly because, well, what if they said she wasn't? She sees things so black and white that telling her one thing only to have to backtrack would really upset her. But at the same time, how was I going to explain to her that we were taking her out of school for a few hours to play in a room with a stranger while we were in the next room answering questions?

I turned to Google as any 21st century parent would, but found little guidance. A lot is written about what to tell your child after diagnosis but I couldn't find anything about what to say prior to the assessment. So I asked a couple of bloggers with autistic children what they'd said or done, and here's what they had to say:

"I think it depends on the age of your daughter and level of understanding to be honest. With older children that understand I think its important to be honest with them about what it going on. My 13 year old is currently being assessed and doesn't like the idea of it but needs the help and I have told her and so has the person assessing her, that she might get a diagnosis. My son however was assessed when he was 7/8 and didn't have a clue what was going on at the time so I just told him he had an appointment. After he received a diagnosis I explained it to him at his level of understanding." - Autism Kids On Tour

"I told my son that we were going to see a lady who just wanted to chat with him for a little bit. I said there would be toys and things to play with so it wouldn't be too boring. To be honest, he doesn't really understand anything complex so this was enough for him. I told him the morning we were going as he can't cope with transitions and when he knows something is coming up soon then his anxiety goes through the roof." - Living With A Jude

I got advice from other parents privately too, and in the end decided to keep it simple. We considered waiting until the day to tell her but, as it was an early appointment which meant her morning routine would have to change to allow us to leave sooner, we decided to tell her the night before. At first I just told her that she had an appointment in the morning so wouldn't be going straight to school but we'd get her to school as soon as possible afterwards so she didn't miss too much. When she asked what the appointment was for I told her it would be a bit like when we went to see the lady with lots of toys who talked to her a bit about school last summer. (That was one of our CAMHS appointments prior to being referred for assessment.) She was a bit worried when I told her it would be different people because she doesn't like new people but didn't ask any more questions, which surprised me. Normally she won't stop asking questions! On the way to the appointment we told her we'd be in a different room answering some 'boring questions' and this didn't seem to bother her too much.

So if you're reading this wondering what to tell your child, my advice would be not to overthink it. You know your child best and you know how much information they need or would find helpful right now. If they're older it might be appropriate to explain what the assessment is for, but for younger ones sticking to the what rather than the why might be best. They may surprise you by not actually asking that many questions - if you've got this far they're probably used to going to random appointments by now!

Oh, and if you are reading this in preparation for your child's ASC assessment, I send you love and strength. It's scary, I know. But you've got this far, you can do this next step. Deep breaths, it's going to be OK.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Things I've Done To Be Greener In ... April

One of the bits of this blog I've neglected a bit is the 'green-ish' part. In the busyness of parenting (and reading) I find it hard to remember to write about my efforts to be more eco-friendly. And also, often my efforts feel so small that I'm not sure they're worth writing about.

But then I struck on an idea. Instead of writing about one specific area of eco-living, I could write a monthly post about the things, big and small, that I've done recently in an effort to be greener.

Just to fill you in, I'm already at what would probably be termed 'non-commital hippy' stage - I use cloth nappies and wipes most of the time, I rarely drive (although more on that in a minute), I'm vegetarian, we recycle and compost etc etc. But I still have the nagging feeling that I can do more.

So here's what we've done this month. Some of them are whole-family things, some are individual. Many are quite small, one in particular is very big! But they're all steps towards reducing our impact on the planet.



Bought an electric car

OK, so this is the biggy, and a family one too. While I rarely drive, my husband does need a car for work. So switching to an electric car, although expensive up front, will reduce fuel costs and be better for the environment. We have, however, kept our old diesel car (yes I know, we were told it was eco-friendly back in the days when the car companies were all lying) for longer journeys and as a run-around for me. I'm conscious this means we could potentially use cars more thus increasing our carbon footprint, but my utter hatred of driving means I've only used the diesel once since we got the electric! I will continue to walk or use public transport as much as is practical, but once I've got my confidence up it'll be nice to have the option to drive somewhere in the week.

Used a Zero Waste Shop

We're lucky that in a local-ish town a zero-waste shop is due to open this Summer, and in the run-up to that they are having monthly pop-up shops. I have to confess I didn't go to this myself, I dispatched the husband while I got Ezra to nap, and we only got a few things but I love the concept. You can go with your own containers to fill up to reduce packaging, and buy things like cleaning supplies, soaps and shampoos, some whole foods and reusable accessories like cups and sandwich wrappers. We bought bicarbonate of soda, a shampoo bar and metal washable straws.

Experimented with plastic-free hair washing

Here's where I veer into the world of hardcore hippy a little. This has been going on for a few months and I may write about it separately some day, but basically I'm trying to avoid buying shampoo in plastic bottles. I've dabbled with the world of 'no poo' by using bicarb of soda and cider vinegar (yes really, and actually it gives good results but must be used sparingly) and I'm now trying to get the hang of using a shampoo bar. Results are still mixed at the moment, and I have a bottle of SLS-free shampoo as back-up still, but I'm hoping I'll crack it this month!

Used more rags

I've written about this before but I have to admit when we have a pack of cleaning wipes in I'll always be tempted by the easier option. So we've just stopped buying them, and instead I've made a pile of rags to use for washing and wiping. They're mostly the kids' old clothes that are too stained to pass on. I've even started to use white vinegar for cleaning more often too although I have to do that sparingly because Eleanor hates the smell!!

Used the washing line

Ahh Spring! It may not be reliably warm and dry yet but it's such a relief to be able to hang washing out instead of relying on the dryer setting so much! It also means I'm getting more washing done which is a bonus. During the mini heatwave two weeks ago I almost got to the bottom of all three laundry baskets!!


So that's what I've done. Some things may be a bit too big (or bonkers) for you to try, but hopefully if you've got this far you'll have thought of something you could do to be a bit greener. Or if you're already super-green please tell me your secrets!