Friday, 29 November 2019

So Your Kid's Friend (or Friend's Kid) is Autistic

I've had this post turning over in my head for over a year now but hesitated to write it. As just one parent of an autistic child, it feels a bit fraudulent to be dishing out advice. Especially as I've still got so much to learn about autism myself.

But still, I know that some people want to support neurodiverse families but don't always know how. Maybe their child is good friends with an autistic child but they don't know how to behave around them. Or their friend's child has just been diagnosed and they want to support them, but don't have the words. So here are some pointers I have thought of in my limited experience, hopefully it'll be a starting point.

Photo by Max Goncharov on Unsplash


Get To Know The Child


This is the absolute first rule. Autism is such a broad spectrum that, like anyone, every autistic person will be unique, with their own strengths and challenges. So getting to know the individual is really important. If they are old enough and able to talk about their interests and their triggers then they are the experts on themselves, but younger children may not be able to self-reflect enough for this, and some autistic children may not communicate with words and so it's harder for unfamiliar people to understand them. Others can be reticent around people they don't know well. In these cases, talk to the parents as they are the next best sources of information.

Including The Child


For many autistic children, events like play dates and birthday parties are difficult to navigate. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't invite them over for tea or to a party if your child is close to them, but it's best to talk to the parents about it to see how they can be accommodated.

Some autistic children struggle with unpredictable situations, so knowing in advance what they might be doing and what food there will be will help them prepare mentally. Play dates with a set activity, such as a craft or watching a film, can work well. It might be wise to avoid competitive situations like board games if that child is particularly sensitive about losing.

For parties, there are more things to consider such as noise levels, crowds etc. If you think the child might struggle chat to the parent, it might be that with a familiar adult there and with enough prior information, they will be OK. If the party would be too much for them but your child is really keen to involve them, maybe arrange a play date instead, or see if there's a way of them coming to part of the day. I remember reading a lovely story a few years ago where a family arranged for their son's autistic best friend to come round an hour before the other guests so the two of them could play on the bouncy castle they'd hired.

Understanding the Child


There is a lot of great information out there about autism. There is also a lot of outdated, stereotyped and occasionally dangerous rubbish. The key to understanding and supporting autistic people and their families is knowledge, so finding out more about autism from reliable sources is a fantastic way to show that you care.

Sometimes autistic children will behave in ways that look like they're 'being naughty'. I personally don't believe any child is naughty for the sake of it, there is always a reason for their behaviour, and that is even more true with neurodiverse children. Living in a world set up for neurotypical people must be exhausting, even more so for children who are also still developing self-control, emotional regulation, communication and coping skills. So be understanding if you see an autistic child behaving in a way you wouldn't expect or allow your child to behave. They will almost certainly require a different set of 'rules' to your child.

Supporting the Parents


Being a parent of an autistic child is great in many ways, but seeing them struggle to cope with the world around them is hard. If you're close to the parents, offer opportunities to get together for a chat. Just asking if they're OK when you've seen them having a difficult day shows that you're on their side.

The flip side of this is celebrating with the parents when things are going well, and their child is making progress in a particular area. While some milestones come quickly for some autistic children (like Girl Child learning to read) others will take longer and feel really momentous when they arrive. So if your friend is talking about their child's big achievement, even if it doesn't seem big to you, be happy for them - and show it.

Above all, remember that nothing about autism is a tragedy. If someone tells you their child is autistic, don't say, "oh I'm sorry," or similar. Yes, it can be challenging, but autism is what makes my daughter who she is and she's pretty amazing. I wouldn't change her for the world. Although if she could learn to get ready for school on time, that'd be great.


I've probably missed all sorts of things out, so if any autistic people or parents of autistic children are reading and can think of anything else, please comment below and I'll add it to the post when I can. But I hope this will be helpful to anyone who is close to a family with an autistic child, to know how they can be an ally to them.


Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Review: 'Agent Starling: Operation Baked Beans' by Jenny Moore

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of review but all words and opinions are my own.

How far would your kids go to get out of a test at school? Go off on a secret service mission involving time travel?! For the hero of this new middle-grade novel, it's worth the risk!



'Agent Starling: Operation Baked Beans' is the story of 10 year old Oliver Starling, who finds him thrust into the world of a very inept secret service. His mission is to travel back in time to the Roman era to save history as we know it from the evil Dr Midnight and his efforts to introduce modern products, including baked beans and nappy pins, to the ancient civilisation. Along the way he meets Jules, an escaped slave desperate for a new life, one where she can be equal to males.

There is a lot of humour in the book, with the rather bizarre secret agents, a running gag about pink frilly knickers and of course the odd joke about the effects of baked beans, but I found that as the story went on the humour became more sparse and the tone shifted to more of a straight adventure story. There were some really quite scary bits - I won't spoil the story but it does include lions in a gladiator arena - which further changed the tone. I did feel that this shift made it harder to read, as the two styles jarred a little the more serious the story became.

That said there are a lot of positives to the book. It would be great for lovers of 'Horrible Histories' and books about ancient civilisations as there is a lot of authentic detail about Roman history in the story. I especially liked the character of Jules, a plucky heroine with a love of learning. Her story would be a good springboard for talking about equality, both in terms of how slaves were treated and in terms of how girls were (and sometimes still are) seen as inferior and undeserving of education. She's a great foil to Oliver, encouraging him not to give up on his quest to stop Dr Midnight.

Girl Child read the book too and said it was, "good but a bit weird." I did ask her to elaborate but no luck! She read the whole book over two evenings so I think she was interested in it, but it's not really her usual genre so I can understand her reaction.

Overall, despite my reservations about the tone I think this is an enjoyable read which would appeal to older primary-age readers who love history, adventure and the occasional joke about underwear!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog, BookBairn and Acorn Books.


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Monday, 14 October 2019

Review: 'Iguanas Love Bananas' by Jennie and Chris Cladingbee and Jeff Crowther

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of this review but all words and opinions are my own.

What things do all small children love? Animals? Food? Rhymes? This picture book has all three!


The premise behind this book is a pretty simple one - all the animals in it like to eat the foods they rhyme with. As you can imagine this makes for some very creative pairings - not only do we get iguanas eating bananas, we also get marmosets eating stuffed courgettes, poodles eating pot noodles and bees eating cream teas! 


While the funny and inventive rhymes are great for young children, I think the thing I like most about this book is the illustrations. They tell the story hiding between the lines, of all these animals descending on the human world to get to their favourite foods and causing havoc in the process! It's a really good example of how illustrations can build on the text to create new layers to a story.


As soon as I read this book to Preschooler it became a favourite of his. He's animal mad so loves spotting all the ones he knows and finding out about the less commonly known ones. Girl Child had a read of it too and really enjoyed all the rhymes, she 'got' the humour of it too which Preschooler didn't quite, hopefully he'll work it out soon! I can imagine it being a favourite in our house for a long while yet.

'Iguanas Love Bananas' will be published by Maverick Books at the end of October.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 7 October 2019

Review: Little Gems by Katherine Woodfine

I feel like I've been lucky so far when it comes to teaching my children about books and reading. I've written before about Girl Child's freakishly precocious literacy skills - it seems so weird now to think that when she was the age Preschooler is now she was already climbing up the Oxford Reading Tree. He shows no signs of following her example but loves books and is starting to 'read' by looking at pictures and guessing what the text might say. He's always wrong, but I know it's the first step towards literacy.

So I've no idea how hard it is for parents whose children are reluctant readers, or struggle to learn to read. But what I do know is that the range of books available to these children is fantastic these days, with many publishers realising the importance of providing books which are easier to read but still have compelling storylines suitable for older children. I've heard lots of good things about the Little Gems series by Barrington Stoke and was lucky enough to win two of their books in a Twitter giveaway recently.



Both books are written by Katherine Woodfine and are based on the lives of pioneering women in history, which is right up my street. 'Rose's Dress Of Dreams' tells the story of Rose Bertin, a French seamstress and fashion designer whose work was very influential in the French court of the 18th century.



It's a story of determination and grit as Rose sets out to follow her dreams of creating flamboyant fashion pieces despite many people, including her first employer, deriding her ideas. With hard work, patience and creativity, she manages to introduce her designs into court and becomes a sought after designer. The illustrations are by Kate Pankhurst who I've long been a fan of, and her quirky style is perfect for illustrating Rose's journey and creations.

'Sophie Takes To The Sky' is a reimagining of the childhood of Sophie Blanchard, one of the first female aeronauts. (At first I read it as astronaut and was very confused by the historical setting!!)



Sophie is a young girl who is afraid of almost everything, but longs to see a hot air balloon at the local fair. Step by step, she musters up the courage to travel to the fair and even explore the balloon up close - only to end up as an unwitting passenger on a flight! It's a lovely tale of courage and reinvention, and the illustrations by Briony May Smith are just gorgeous to look at, with stunning colours and so much detail.

I loved reading both books and think they would be great for struggling readers who like historical stories and tales of brave and determined girls. The stories are fairly short with clear, well spaced text that is very easy to read. I actually think that if they'd been out three years ago they'd have been perfect for Girl Child, there's nothing scary or inappropriate for younger readers so they would work well as early chapter books for any reader. Girl Child did enjoy them but prefers longer stories now, so I'll be keeping hold of them for when Preschooler starts to move on from picture books.

It's really encouraging to see a broadening range of books available to reluctant or emerging readers, and these two stories are a fantastic addition to that range.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Review: 'It's My Sausage' by Alex Willmore

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with s copy of this book for the purpose of review, but all words and opinions are my own.

Preschooler is going through a very possessive phase at the moment. Well, I say phase - it's been going on for months. "That mine" is one of his favourite phrases, and it's mostly used about things that aren't his. We've had "that mine phone", "that mine backpack" and even "that mine mummy" when I was cuddling Girl Child once.

Well I appear to have found a book about his spirit animal. They even share a love of sausages.



There's one sausage but five cats - and one in particular is determined to claim it as their own.



But that cat needs to keep their wits about them, as the other cats plot to steal the sausage. Who will get to eat it in the end?



I love the simplicity of this book. There's not a lot of text so it's really easy for little ones to follow, but every word is used to full effect to tell the story - even the impressive array of onomatopoeias! It's great fun to read aloud and the words complement the illustrations brilliantly.

Speaking of which, I absolutely love the illustrative style of this book. The drawings are deceptively simple, including lots of details you might overlook at first but that just adds to the cat-and-mouse (or cat-and-sausage) nature of the plot. And the looks on the cat's faces are just delightful in their expressiveness!

I read this with Preschooler and he was very intrigued with what all the cats were up to, although he hasn't quite 'got' the humour yet. I think with a few more reads he'll start to see the funny side! I have to admit I did try to use it as a springboard for talking about sharing but really, this isn't a moralising book at all so that did feel a bit forced! There's no message other than 'look at how funny these greedy cats are' and that's fine - sometimes children's books should just be about humour and playfulness.

This picture book already has a feel of a classic with its distinctive style and concise humour, I'm looking forward to many more reads with Preschooler!

'It's My Sausage' will be published by Maverick Books later this month.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog, BookBairn and Acorn Books.
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Monday, 2 September 2019

The Beginning Of The End Of The Beginning

The end of the summer holidays always makes me a bit philosophical, but this time it feels particularly poignant. In a year's time I'll be getting Preschooler ready for his first day at school. As I currently worry about how he'll fare with the childminder he'll be going to from this week onwards, I feel like I'm standing at the edge of a precipice. Until now he's spent every day with me, bar the occasional couple of hours. And while I've done this all before, the slow surrendering of my child to the education system, I'm very aware I'll mostly likely never do it again. My days as a mum of a pre-school-age child are drawing to a close.

Playing/reading in our local cafe on the last day of the summer holidays

There's something about being a mum in the early years, isn't there? It feels like a different status to that of school mum. I can't place my finger on why, but it lies within the play group camaraderie, the indulgent looks from old ladies, the leisurely feel of time passing, opening up opportunities for adventures, or just quiet days exploring the world together. I'm very conscious that it's probably a totally different experience for working parents, but for me the early years have held a certain kind of magic.

And also there's the fact that children in their early years are magic themselves. Watching a helpless newborn become a walking, talking, chaos-creating child is an incredible experience. And while there are many exciting advances in the school years, you share so much of that with the teaching staff. You often only see the progress they're making in hurried flicks through exercise books at parent's evening. It's not the same.

And then of course there's my current  school-age one, Girl Child, who will be going into Year 3. Yep, that's Key Stage 2. In a few months she'll turn eight years old, which according to some definitions is the start of the tween years. She's definitely leaving behind the 'little girl' stage, although possibly more slowly in some ways than her peers. But still, it feels like we're passing into new territory with her too. It's a cliché but kids do seem to grow up more quickly now. I'm not sure how longer I can shrug off her requests for make up and pierced ears. Nor do I know how much longer she will retain her Anti Boy stance.  It feels like a whole new world is about to open up.

And in amongst all this is the sense that I'm not quite grown up enough to deal with it. Parents with only school age children, with tweens or even teens, seem so much more mature, patient and together than me. This parenting stage has crept up on me - I still think of myself as a fairly new mum, how do I make the leap to sensible, knowledgeable, seasoned school mum?

Anyway, I'm not sure what the point of this post is other than to mark this time, this moment on the precipice, before everything changes. And maybe to find out that I'm not alone in this feeling.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Roll Up, Roll Up! The Circus Is Coming To North Leeds!

DISCLAIMER: I have been gifted tickets to this production in return for writing about it, and attended a free preview event, but all words and opinions are my own.

The summer holidays are slowly drawing to a close now, and having been away last week I'm definitely feeling a bit deflated. We're running out of ideas for things to do, but Girl Child is so fed up with the lack of school that she still needs a lot of stimulation. So I'm really glad we have one last treat up our sleeves for next week ...

Leeds-based arts organisation Codswallop CIC are bringing the circus to Yeadon Town Hall for the final week of the school holidays with their show Mr Montgomery's Circus Spectacular. With multiple daily performances from Tuesday 27th August to Sunday 1st September, I think this looks like it'll be a fantastic way to keep the kids entertained. There'll be dancers, aerial performers, jugglers and, knowing Codswallop's work, a whole lot of fun!

The show itself lasts an hour - long enough for a lot of fun but not so long that younger ones are going to get fidgety - and there will be activities before and after the show too. Children will even get an activity book to take home - so you might get to have a cup of tea in peace!

Image courtesy of Yeadon Town Hall

Codswallop are a fantastic organisation with a real passion for community arts. I have been to several of their events and they are always great fun - lots of activities pitched at different levels so all ages and abilities are catered for, and enthusiastic facilitators who really get the kids involved. I've yet to make it to one of their shows so I'm really excited to see this new production!

Earlier this summer we were invited to a preview event for local bloggers and the children had a great time. They tried out different circus skills, made craft projects, had their faces painted and ate a slightly alarming amount of lollies and popcorn! The event was very relaxed and fun, just the atmosphere I've come to expect from a Codswallop event, and got us really excited for the show.

A few highlights from the preview event

If you're interested in coming along to the circus, tickets are still available from Yeadon Town Hall. You can find more information on the show from their website or Facebook page, or from Codswallop's Facebook page.