Sunday, June 8, 2014

DEAR PETA - STICK TO ANIMALS - LEAVE THE KIDS ALONE




Dear PETA

I have long been supportive of your movement’s efforts of highlighting the plight and conservation of animals across the world and your attempts to bring about justice for the voiceless. Even though at times, your efforts boarder on the side of fanaticism, I have still believed in your overall goal of bringing attention to the inhumane way we treat animals.

Today, however, I was angered, very angered to see that there is a report circulating on the internet that you are behind a campaign that draws and links to autism and dairy foods in children’s diets.



You might wonder why I am so angry, well, please, let me tell you why. I am actually disgusted in your attempt to draw the faintest of lines to the cause of autism being related – in any way – to diet, let alone one including dairy, which really only serves as propaganda to further your organisations lifestyle beliefs.

Firstly, I would like to draw your attention to the actual advertisement and the implication that is made by the simple image of a sad face made out of cereal in a bowl of milk and the words “Has your child got autism?”

OK. Take it from me; autism is not something to be sad about. Yes, the initial diagnosis is difficult and can be sad, but many, many, many hundreds of thousands of children and their families not only accept an ASD diagnosis, but go on to live full and happy lives. You imply, at the expense of helpless children and their parents (some of whom are looking for anything to “cure” their children and are innocently ignorant themselves). By using a sad face, you are saying that Autism is in fact something that is sad, very sad, and that the reason for that is because they ate dairy products.

I can’t tell you how wrong this is. How ignorant. How much it breaks my heart.

I wonder about this. One of the most “famous” Autism activists is Temple Grandin. Have you heard of her? Have you seen that brilliant telemovie with Claire Danes? Well that woman has helped to improve the slaughtering process of cattle. She said that her autism helps her to see the way that animals do. Yes it’s still about the slaughter of cattle (lets be honest, not everyone will be a vegan or vegetarian – so cattle will always need to be slaughtered) which you’re opposed to, but she created a process that allows cattle to move freely and humanely through the slaughterhouse. Surely, as advocates for the humane treatment of animals you would congratulate and support this? Do you think that she is sad because she is autistic? I wonder how things would be if she didn’t have it. Would someone else have been able to come up with this?

When she was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, this was said bout her:
“At CSU, we join in applauding Dr. Grandin’s contributions to our world. She has helped open minds and open doors for other people,” said Craig Beyrouty, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. “Temple has improved our food system by promoting livestock welfare and enhancing consumer confidence. All the while, she has been an incredible role model for people in the autism community, and for all of us.”
Then there is Einstein, Sylvester Stallone, Dan Ackroyd, Bill Gates and recently, Daryl Hannah who are all on the Autism spectrum. My question to you is, are these people sad?

Then there is the question, “Has your child got autism”, as if it was something that can be caught, like a common cold. Autism is not something you can catch, nor is it something that can be healed, cured, or eradicated. You cannot lose it, remove it with surgery, can’t hide from it or even hide it. By all accounts, autism can not be treated as if it is an illness like the common cold. After years and years of research, people in the neuropsychological, psychological – hell, the MEDICAL fields have only determined that behaviours can be managed with intervention and lots of hard work.

Asking if your child has “got” autism is like asking if they “got” lice. It is insensitive. You don’t GET autism, yet somehow, your ad suggests you can, simply by eating dairy. If people who saw this ad did not bother to follow through on your invite to review the research, then you really are saying that children who eat dairy can get autism or you can get autism because of dairy food.

What about adults? What about you? How many people that work for PETA have autism? Surely you all ate high dairy diets as children before you became Vegan? So then, how many of you have got autism?

The image and wording of this ad, just based on this alone, proves your ignorance in relation to autism spectrum disorders, but then, then we need to address the “research” (if you can even call it that) that you have used as the foundation of your campaign to stop people eating dairy food, because it can give you autism. What. The. Fuck?

The disgusting thing is that you are using research that is baseless and has been debunked. You are essentially lying just to promote your agenda of Veganism. Why would you do that? Why do you need everyone to follow a vegan lifestyle so much that you would use research that was actually proven to be false as the basis for your argument? Do you look down upon those who eat dairy so much that you would waste money, a lot of money to promote this fallacy and scare unwitting and confused people into thinking that by giving their children dairy, they could be giving them autism?

The research wouldn’t even qualify as standard research. A case study of 30plus people is surely not enough to base a case on? And what kind of science was it really? What were the parameters, what was included? What was not included? Was it all dairy or just milk? Where did these children sit on the spectrum? Were they verbal or non-verbal? What were their behaviours like before hand? How long did it go for? What was used to test the change in behaviours?

Did you think to look into this?

Then you use anecdotal evidence to support your case. What, did you just ask around the office and gather some thoughts? Did you post a survey somewhere with surveymonkey? It’s almost an admission that the research was so flimsy that you needed to use anecdotal evidence to prop it up.

It is so hard for parents that have children on the spectrum. Not only are you spending time blaming yourself, you are looking at everything else there is in the environment that could be a mitigating factor or cause. And there is so much confusion. The information that is out there is both contradictory and ignorant. What I know first-hand is that what is right for my own autistic son is not right for the next person. Diet may work for some kids, but it won’t work for others. The fact that there are 127 different aspects of autism means that there is not one solution nor is there one specific reason for it.

And to prove my point, you only have to look as far as Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vacc bandwagon. We’ve seen how one person’s belief can change many hundreds of thousands of opinions regarding vaccinations causing autism. How a sometime celebrity was able to get traction on this considering she was not a doctor is beyond me, I suppose there was some heartfelt passionate bandwagon jumping and a pretty face to the cause and she even got a doctor got on board, but the reality has shown that there is in fact no direct correlation between vaccinations inducing autism. But it’s too late for all those who believed this myth. The fear-mongering has been detrimental to the health and well-being of so many children that now there is a rise of measles and mumps, illnesses that were practically wiped out. And this fear-mongering is perpetuating the belief in society that there is something very wrong with autism, or people who are on the spectrum. Which is simply discrimination and I ask the question, Is that how you want to be seen in 10 years’ time when they work out that changes in diet have no direct relationship to causing autism? I’m pretty sure you will regret publicising this lie and I hope, I sincerely hope you are held accountable.

Autism is a neurological disorder. The sooner people accept this and work on ways to improve early intervention, like speech therapy and occupational therapy the sooner children and their families can begin the journey of acceptance. We also need to promote change of societal opinion and generate acceptance towards autism and other neurological disorders. This way, a person who is on the autism spectrum can live life in the way they see as normal and not fear judgement from the ignorant.

Your site encourages people to live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle and the anecdote used mentions how a mother switched from soy to dairy and then back to soy once she thought she “had nothing to lose” to try and rid her child of ear infections (completely unrelated to autism, but you somehow imply it is an “effect of autism”). She goes on to describe the miraculous recovery her child had at the change in diet – at 11 months she eliminated diary entirely from her child’s diet. Seriously, this is drawing a very, very long bow, can you now please explain how, if this science is correct, the masses, the absolute billions of people on the planet, so many more have not succumbed to these “effects” of a diet high in dairy?

I am afraid your fundamentalist views would have all humanity eating a vegan diet. I am not saying it can’t be done, I lived a vegetarian lifestyle for nearly 10 years, however, I would never consider raising an infant or young child on it. It may be ignorant on my behalf, but I cannot see the benefits of imposing my adult choices upon a child and brainwashing them systematically about the reasons why they can’t eat meat, drink milk or have ice cream.

It has been well documented how dangerous it is for a young child to live on a vegan diet, hell, parents were sentenced to prison for doing so in 2007. Is this really the way you want people raising their children?

I am so bitterly disappointed at your weak argument. My son is on the spectrum, we have good days and bad days and then we have some very, very bad days. Guess what? He hates almost all dairy food except cheese and yogurt. Guess what? His behaviours are no different when he eats it as to when he doesn’t. In fact, we know that a diet high in sugar can in fact cause more behavioural extremes, yet not always.

I compel you to remove the billboard and any relating links, information and propaganda from your website. You also need to make an apology for spreading not only misinformation, but lies to further your cause of Veganism. You then should consider making a donation to a cause that helps parents and their children on the Autism spectrum. Perhaps you could ask P!nk, one of your staunch supporters how to do that.

Please, stick to what you do best, liberating animals, unless one of you is a neuroscientist, or doctor or someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

The world full of fundamentalists. You are entitled to your belief, opinion and you are entitled to speak freely, but I think you have an obligation to ensure that when you are talking about something you know little about, that you research the facts before rushing to spend money on a billboard that is downright offensive to the many people who live with autism.



Thursday, June 6, 2013

The kindness of strangers and friends

I think I have mentioned before about the impact of people taking an interest in Zac and meeting him on his level has on me and how much I appreciate it. You may recall previously I talked about how the parents of Zac’s best mate did all they could to make him feel welcome in their home, knowing how anxious he would be and brought him a pack of hot wheels to abate some of that stress.
I made a new friend recently. He’s younger than me, but we share a lot of similarities both in interests and in general and I asked him to come and help me start some renovations. I had to gut a laundry and I thought he might like the challenge.
I prepared my mate for Zac and the challenging behaviours and nuances that he might see and experience and apologised in advance (as I do – its habit). My mate was very anxious himself and said he didn’t really know how to act around little kids as the opportunity was rare for him but looked forward to it just the same.
After destroying my laundry, my mate went and had some “down-time” bouncing on Zac’s enormous trampoline. He had been looking forward to it all day.
After a while, I went out the back to see what was going on and discovered both Zac and my mate lying on the trampoline looking at the sky watching birds and making things out of the clouds.Making things out of the clouds which was one of Zacs favourite things to do because of his favourite book Oscar and Hoo (remind me to tell you about that sometime).
I couldn’t help but start crying.
If anyone knows me, they know that my family is my heart and my life. I would do just about anything for both my wife and my son – that’s how much I love them. I talk about my family constantly. I share about Zac and the challenges we face with just about anyone that will listen. I do this because the love I feel for them is so strong. They are my world. My rock and quite simply, they are the reason I breathe.
SO when someone I barely know, who barely knows me, my family and I guess my world, gets down onto Zac’s level, steps into HIS world as opposed to trying to get Zac to step into theirs, it’s as though they are seeing my heart and speaking to it.
In all honesty, there are few who do this. There are those who do, but not everyone’s the same. We understand that and appreciate that it can be hard work dealing with a boy who has his obsessions and will only talk about them. But my new mate did this, and not because I told him, but because he wanted too; because he was just being himself and wanted a chance to get to know my son.
Those two kids bounced on that tramp for more than half an hour. At no point was my son a hindrance to my mates downtime, nor was he annoying or anything in between. Instead, my mate made Zac’s day. Not by bouncing on the tramp and making stuff out of clouds, but because my mate spent time with him, spoke his language, visited his world and stayed a while.
When you’re dealing with autism, you struggle to live like “normal” families do. I know some families who simply don’t do anything with their kid because the trouble is too much to bear. They can’t go out, don’t visit restaurants, shops, other families. They don’t even go to the park. It’s all too hard. I know families who by choice have stopped seeing their own immediate family. For whatever reason, they are unable to spend time with parents, siblings and their good friends because of how hard it is. Either because of their kid, the embarrassment or because their families don’t actually know how to deal with it.
That was and can be our reality too and we understand just how tough it can be. We travelled away on camp before Zac was diagnosed. We tented it down at the river. Zac almost drowned, choked on dinner til he vomited in a swish restaurant (no one helped either), wouldn’t sleep, threw all manner of tantrums, wandered off (to the air pillow) and after 2 days, we left early.
It’s not easy. Especially when the world does not understand that what’s happening is not “bad” behaviour but simply different behaviour to what they think is right. To some, our son can be annoying. Gratingly so. He whines and whinges and cries. We live it every day. But that should not be a reason for people to judge, nor should it be a reason for us to stop living our lives.
Nor should it be a reason for people we know and love to be ignored or ignore us.

I’m so grateful for the people in my family’s lives that do exactly that. Meet Zac on his level and in his world. They are few and far between, but we are grateful for you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Autism...cannot be controlled


There’s something I have learned over the last three or four years about Autism and Aspergers and it won’t be what you think.
I have learnt more about me.
I have learnt more about who I am as a parent, adult, man, human, than I think I was ever prepared for.
I am constantly surprised by what I learn about me in the throes of my son’s autism.
I posted last year that I wasn’t a good parent sometimes, I’m not. No one is perfect all the time. Sometimes the stress of our own life just gets unbearable and, throw an autism tantrum into the mix, all you want to do it scream, yell, hide, run – have a tantrum yourself.
Often, that’s exactly what happens and your kid wears it.
But you know you can’t so you just deal with it, tomorrows a new day. What I wish I had of autism is the ability to not comprehend that when I have a tantrum, it’s not normal and I can forget about it just as quick as having it.
I have learned that my son will not abide by MY rules or way of life. He has to find that for himself. I can only guide him where I think he needs to go or try and highlight the errors of his ways. But isn’t that our job as a parent anyway, regardless?
When Zac is on a tangent, theres no talking about anything else. Do you know how many times I have asked him to stop and listen to MY question? Too many to count. What I have learned is “How dare I?” How dare I interrupt what is important to him. No, I have learned that I have to wait to get my question in.
Last night was a prime example. His friend Mitchell has a big Chipmunk (from Alvin and the Chipmunks) and he was talking about wanting one on the way home. And talking, and talking.
Renee tried to ask him a question about something else, completely outside his tangent.
She got no answer.
And this is how it is. I can’t make it change. Nor should I try.
But I can challenge, tha’ts the difference.
It’s probably the one thing I liked in the movie “Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud” that referred to the aspergers the lead character had. His father (Tom Hanks) devised a challenge where the boy had to walk through Central Park asking for clues to the existence of a sixth borough of New York. There’s a line that goes something like “He will have to ask every person he meets for help, the one thing he doesn't wnat to do its genius.”
And it is. The boy’s greatest inability was to interact socially, yet his father creates a challenge, to challenge the behaviour that most challenges him.
It’s genius.
I come from a Christian faith. Where my faith is at now-a-days, I’m not sure. What I have discovered is that autism challenges that faith, challenges my understanding of God. I don’t blame God, but I also don’t believe that Zac will be healed from it, like some have suggested, ever. E.V.E.R.
Zac has it. It can’t be taken away. It can’t be healed. It can’t be changed. I accept that. Perhaps the autism has even allowed me the opportunity to challenge my own belief, my own faith. I don’t know, but what I do know is that autism can be shaped and influenced, but not changed. Not taken away.
But I, ME, WE, can’t change it. We can’t take it away. No religion, belief system, psychology, ism, or therapy will ever take it away. I accept it. Many don’t. Many can’t.
And we wouldn't want to change it. 
Early intervention is about working with those who are skilled to do so. The occupational therapist that worked with Zac, worked wonders. This kid can use his imagination now in play scenarios, where 18 months ago he couldn’t imagine inanimate objects as something real; a faceless doll look-a-like was simply that.
What I think, with hindsight and perspective, is that as much as I have challenged Zac, he has challenged me. Although at the age of 4, when he was possibly at his worse, I would not have said that. No, there is no way I would have said, 1. That I was being challenged and 2. That I appreciated it. Quite frankly, I wanted to throttle Zac and myself when he had a meltdown. I wanted to run away and hide. I wanted Renee to deal with it all.
We hear stories of parents that involve their kids in programs that force changes in behaviour. This is my opinion, but I feel sometimes these are simply about the parents having control or exerting their control. Forcing a change. There are opinions on both sides of the fence regarding these programs and I haven’t experienced it first hand, but when I look at the pros and cons, the cons concern me.
Look, don’t get me wrong, my point is that as a parent, we have to relinquish some of the control when it comes to autism. It is just a reality we have to face that sometimes the autism is in control and it can’t be changed.
I have learned that to be a parent to a child on the spectrum, you will be challenged. All the rules you lived by as a child, the ones your own parents taught you – gone out the window. All the ways in which you want to raise your child, the way you said you would raise your child – gone. The rule book – non-existent.
My step-dad, Greggles, was a tough man when I was young, but like a good wine, has matured with age. Though the rules he lived by, sometimes shine through today – still. He hates it when you say “What?” instead of “Sorry” or “Excuse me”. Manners, he says. It’s all about the manners. Zac couldn’t give two hoots about that. It’s not important. He has manners where it counts. “Please”, “Thank you”, that’s what’s important. And he has those rules down pat.
The control I try to force in many aspects of my own life have slowly been chipped away. I don’t find that I care as much about certain things as I did once before. Things like the cleanliness of my house or that everything has a place (as my Nana taught me), have gone out the window. You can’t keep a house clean with an autistic kid...heck, any kid for that matter. So relent.
The autism which shapes my sons behaviour has shaped me in more ways than one and I am now trying allow it shape me more, so that I can be the best parent for Zac, but of course I will still challenge him, because thats what I do best!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Praising the EXTRA - ordinary

I think that the comment made in The Australian Autism Handbook is true.
“Most parents only celebrate when their child achieves the extraordinary.

For us, achieving the ordinary IS extraordinary and we get to celebrate everyday! -Barbara Morrow, mother of Alistar.”


We get so wrapped up in the things our child can’t do that we sometimes miss the moment they do something they ordinarily wouldn’t, because we think it’s normal.

I have talked about how I challenge Zac. Sometimes I do it at the wrong times, with the wrong behaviours, but I do it because there are things he needs to learn. Valuable lessons that will help him integrate with mainstream society. Don’t get me wrong, he will still be different, but I want him to know rules exist, even if he can’t abide by them or chooses not too, which we know acutely he will do.

Temple Grandin talks a lot in her seminars and books about the impact her mothers structure and routine had on her growing up. She also talks about the unrelenting persistence of her mother to “teach” important life lessons like using your manners, important behaviours in the 50’s.

In one video (available on youtube: http://youtu.be/2wt1IY3ffoU at about 18 mins), Temple talks about how it’s difficult to differentiate between a sensory processing problem and a behavioural problem, but bad behaviours should not be tolerated. Temple had to use her manners, eat with a fork, go to church; all expected behaviours of a child in the 50’s. I imagine that her mother was not one to give in to tantrums and “I don’t wanna’s”.

Raising an autistic child is demanding enough, but identifying these sensory processing issues can be really hard and it can be easy to blame one over the other.

There are things that Zac does which seems more like “laziness” than sensory problems, which leads me to the reason for this post; he achieves because we have pushed him to. We identify when it’s behavioural rather than sensory and challenge him to do greater things, which leads to him achieving what’s considered normal.
Back in October, he rode his bike. The one his grandparents brought him for Christmas in 2010. I envisaged it sitting in the shed rusting to nothing. It’s even “Toy Story” themed, so that he would hopefully obsess over it. No, it just sat in the garage.

I had it in my head he would never ride it. Riding a bike is difficult to learn for any kid, but for a kid like Zac, with little or no co-ordination and an adversity to multitasking, it was easier to settle on defeat without even trying.
But even with all these obstacles in the way, I believe that an autistic child, indeed all children, need to be challenged. Zac needed to learn how to ride a bike no matter how long it took.
I will let the video speak for itself (sorry that its sideways).

video


The other milestone he has reached is swimming. He had a significant adversity to the water, no matter how much we tried to coax him in. Swimming and water safety is one thing I think all children should know and given Zac’s tendency to wander, the concern is he would wander to the nearby creek or dam and drown. A sad reality many families face.

Last summer, the pool was off limits. Thinking back, the combination of the size and sound of a large indoor pool may have caused a sensory overload, but we discovered our local pool, which is much much smaller and nowhere near as busy.

After a few visits with our friends and their kids, Zac quickly got used to the water, however wouldn’t put his face or head under the water. He did a Vicswim program over the school holidays and when we went away for the long weekend, he was like a duck to water. He loves it!

There’s a time and place for challenging behaviours and some of your child’s automatic responses to difficult situations. Zac’s automatic response to almost everything is either “No” or “I can’t”. Both of these, I challenge. Sometimes he has to see there is no danger in doing something or that he will in fact enjoy it. Getting dressed on his own is something that still elicits an “I can’t”, but he forgets we know he “can” and we just endure the tantrum until he’s finished, its just one of those things. Similarly when at the pool with our friend he wouldn’t put his ears in the water. The sensory overload is that the sound of water in his ears is heightened and the fear water will somehow get inside his head is very real. When he got water in his ear by accident he was quite shocked and said, “Oh no, it’s OK.”

These have been milestones that all kids tend to reach at some point, but they don’t come to my boy naturally so these things are extraordinary for him. The praise that these milestones illicit make us look like OTT parents, but we don’t care one iota, perhaps those that do should look at themselves and how they praise their own kids.

Your kid can do extra-ordinary things, don't let your or others narrowmindedness rob your kid or greatness.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ch ch ch...choices!

Why does it seem harder to make decisions about important matters when you have an Autistic kid?

There is so much to consider, so much to take into account. The bigger the decision, the more contemplating you seem to do. If your autistic cherub is averse to change, like Zac, even the simplest and smallest change can set off an avalanche of stress, tantrums and meltdowns, developmental and behavioural retreating and a day/week/month of difficulties.
But, I am a firm believer that you can not allow your child to imprison you within the “fear” of a meltdown.

Your child, our children, live in a world that is different to the way they view it, with social rules and complexities that they do not understand or have the capacity to assimilate too. Where we see white, they see every shade. Where we hear a room full of people, they hear a rock band in a small room.

In their life, they create their own rules and routines. Zac was blinkered in to travelling the same way too and from Kinder that any diversion was cause for concern. Genuine concern.

If we said we were going somewhere like, Target, we had to go straight to Target. No diversions.

When we stay away from home, when we return, Zac is difficult for about 3 days until he settles back into our routine.

But I am a bit of a masochist sometimes and will purposely alter plans, travel destinations, routes and routines just so Zac can understand that life is not as “narrow-minded” as he sees it. There are things he can’t control and he needs to understand that and it is my job to ensure that – even though reasoning with him about something changed is  the most difficult thing in the world. Him being challenged now, will help in the future.

Renee and I have made some tough decisions over the last few years. We have also made choices that have been based on the threat of meltdowns; in the best interests of Zac, us and the general population.

The biggest decision so far has been to remain in the small country town we live in after having moved from the “big-smoke” four years ago. Something about Zac going to a school of 150 students, 5 minutes from home seemed comfortable. Then when we met the Principal, there was no denying that Zac needed to be there.

A few weeks ago, Renee rang the Principal to begin the transition from Kinder to school. It is something that we need to prepare for 6 months in advance. This kid has been at the same kinder for a year an a half, with the same teacher and same rules, so getting him settled into school is going to be a huge transition.

Renee was so excited when the Principal told her to send in every report she had about Zac so that they could start writing their proposal for an integration aide.

When she met the Principal, our fears and concerns about Zac heading to school were allayed. This Principal showed Renee the “calm” space they created for another autistic boy, talked about how they would support Zac and his transition to school.

It was the proof we needed to confirm our decision.

This week we were presented with another important and very hard decision to make.

Renee discovered there is one place available at the Winchelsea Kinder. He currently attends Kinder/daycare in the city close to Renee’s work and has been there nearly 2 years. He has had the best care and teacher. We couldn’t have asked for more.

But, with an available spot at the kinder, Zac would be able to spend 6 months with kids that will be in his prep class at school next year. It means that he can potentially make friends, something we desperately want from him. The transition to school would be better planned and cause Zac less stress.

It means Renee would have to finish working though. There are no child-care facilities in our town and we have no one to look after him during the day.

So the decision is a tough one to make, but when you weigh it all up, it’s not hard to see the value and positive outcomes of making the choice. Do we choose to live on one very meagre salary so that he can have the best chance and start at school? Could he transition to school without problem and we simply take the chance? Is money really worth it in the end?

It’s the things we do for our kids. That’s what counts.

A friend gave me this quote:

”If choosing between work and family, choose family – work will always be there later"

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Acceptance....just what what we needed

We have just got back from dinner with friends and I have been inspired to write a new blog.

Dinner was with the family of Zacs best friend, Bryce. Bryce is a very special kid and has an important place in Zacs life. They know each other from kinder last year and we are not sure what or why it happened, but Zac and Bryce just clicked. They are the absolute epitome of BFF’s!
Bryce’s mum, Belinda, works at the day-care centre that Zac goes to, so it was only inevitable that we would all meet socially so that the boys could meet for play dates.

Make no mistake, Zac is totally obsessed with this kid! Bryce just seems to get him and understand what he needs and how to play with him on his level. It is great to see them together. I love hearing Bryce calm Zac when hes having a tantie and I have even heard Bryce make deals with Zac they way we do to get him to do something.

What’s amazing is that Bryce does this without intervention from adults, he has not been taught how to deal with Zac by anyone and does it all with an insight and patience that I wish all kids had.

This year, Bryce went to school while Zac stayed back to complete another year of kinder. It was a hard adjustment for him returning at the start of the year and both Zac and Bryce missed each other like the desert misses the rain, so we invited Bryce and his family for dinner, even though it’s frowned upon by management to “fraternise” with day-care centre staff, but this was about Zac maintaining a close friendship with his little mate.

One of the greatest fears we have is that he will not be able to make long lasting friends, that because of his nature and mannerisms, what we lovingly term “eccentricities”, kids will not want to befriend him. Gratefully this little boy has accepted him with open arms and without want or reward.

Dinner last night was the first invite we have had to another family’s house since we moved to the country 3 years ago. One of the first things to vanish from your life when you have an autistic child is your social life. For us, it’s been a lot by choice. We don’t go places because it can be tough and you don’t end up enjoying yourself because you’re always on edge making sure your kids not touching something, getting into places they shouldn’t, or playing with things off-limits!! The other issue is that new places, rules and routines set off melt-downs, tantrums and difficult behaviour either there or when you return home.

But last night proved us wrong.

When we arrived I was slightly on edge. You just can’t presume anything from an autistic kid, but the most generous and thoughtful thing happened. Bryce’s Dad, Dan, presented Zac with a 5-box of Hot Wheels cars (for anyone who has read my previous blogs will know how obsessed with cars Zac is!). Dan openly admits he has a soft spot for Zac. I also think he is really proud of his boys, especially how good they are with “different” kids.
What amazed me and touched me was that Dan later said that he got the cars because he knew that Zac might get a bit upset in a new environment and if he had some cars, then at least he would have something that might calm him.

No one has ever done that for us before. Gone out of their way to make my kid feel safe and accepted.

Don't get me wrong, we have close family and a friend who understand Zac’s nuances, but it amazes me that someone has thought beyond themselves to make my boy feel safe in their home. What Dan did was simple, yet made a world of difference to Zac, and us.

It speaks volumes to me about this families heart.  My son has been accepted into a family with no question about who he is or what “problems” he has. Belinda talks about him with affection and love and how he brings joy to her day at work. Dan talks with a smile about how he used to be greeted by Zac each day when picking up Bryce and secretly loves that Zac says he has “fire on his arms” referring to his tattoo.

AND! And, and the fact that their 6-year-old son can openly accept Zac for who he is, is a true testament to the way they are raising their kids. This is the acceptance and tolerance that all kids should be raised with and these parents are doing it without second thought.
We thank our new friends for the acceptance of our family....and for the invite to dinner!  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Like a lioness with her cub....


Zac and I enjoyed some sunshine at the park last week.
I don’t often take him to the park, although I should try to more regularly, as I get anxious about other kids.
Today, there was a small group of kids there around the ages of 5 and up.
Zac did what he always does and ran up to them, automatically thinking they would want to play with him. He told them his name was Zac and then went round and asked each kid their name, point at them as he did.
I stood and watched like a lioness over her cubs. It’s what I always do because I know that kids don't get him.

My greatest concern was realised when I saw a young girl, maybe 7 or 8 ask the others with a slight giggle in her voice, “What’s wrong with him?” Granted, all he did was talk and it would have been difficult to understand (I even have trouble sometimes!) and he would have only talked about what was important to him, which can leave other kids out in the cold because they have no idea!
I decided to let it go and see how it went and watched closely from a distance. They followed Zac around kind of including him and letting him talk away . It was when I heard them mimicking him, (something which happened to me a lot in school because of the way I talked) that my skin started to crawl. Zac is not disabled, not physically challenged, nor has any other physical impediment to make his “disability” noticeable. Because he communicates differently, this girls assumption that "something was wrong" or that he was challenged,  meant he was different and possibly worthy of ridicule.

You can hear it in their voice.
Zac ran off to play with something else and some kid followed asking if he was a chatterbox. He would have been about 5. How did this kid know what a chatterbox was? Like Zac would know or even care so he just kept playing.

It was interesting to notice that Zac played in his own way as his brain and interests dictated. If he wanted to be on the digger, he was, if he wanted to run across the bridge, he did, thinking that by the kids just being around and near him, they were playing with him and wanted to be with him. I doubt he wanted to be "included", but wanted to be friends just the same.
When he went off to run down the hill, some kid decided to get a dirty, empty bottle and filled it with sand. He then (right in front of me) tried to shove it in my son’s face, forcing him to drink from it.
Zac simply ignored it and ran off, but they followed, laughing like a pack of Hyenas. When they came back up the hill, the boy was still trying to give Zac the bottle and was getting all up in his face, Zac mimicked that it was yukky and that he didn’t want it and kept on.
When the boy tried to grab his face/head to “make” Zac drink from the bottle, I  stepped in.
“Hey!” I yelled. “Watch yourself, kid.” I scowled in the angriest face I could muster without picking the kid up and slapping him.
Taking Zac away was difficult.
“I want to play with my friends.”
“They are not your friends.”
“Yes they are, they love me”
“No Zac, any kid that wants to make you drink sand, is not your friend.”

Later, I tried in vain to teach Zac that not every kid is your friend.
Looking back, a few days on, I can’t say I blame these kids. They are the product of their upbringing. They are not significantly taught about tolerance in school. If they are not brought up with “different” kids around them, then anything that is obviously different is difficult to understand.
I don’t want my kid to be viewed as “strange”. But I don’t think I can help that.
We need to teach our kids about tolerance. Not all disabilities can be seen, tolerance for everything different is the key to kids learning and understanding that its OK to be different, disabled, or challenged. How much of bullying is simply intolerance?
What are you doing to teach your child about tolerance?
You know what? I know Zac will be OK, even if our hearts break. My son knows love! He knows a deep and passionate love. We do all we can to tell him every day. We hug him and kiss him and even when he doesn’t want a bar of it. We are raising him IN love so that he will know HOW to love others.
He will fight hate with love and he wont even realise he’s doing it.