SoftThistle Life

I'm FREE! Back to School: The Relief!

Autism, Solo ParentingMarylinComment

I will be that mum who's skipping away from the school with glee. Happy knowing my children are safely deposited to their classrooms and that I will have the chance to remember what it's like to be *me* again. Just me, the camera and the dog (of course!).

There will be others like me, desperate to get back to some sort of normality, and then there will be others who don't want their summers to end.

Let me tell you, I envy the latter. I really do. But that's just not our life at the moment.

Max has been fractious and defiant since coming back from his dad's 4 weeks ago, and it's not been an easy time. Even more so because there's no one to take over, even for 30 minutes, so I can get some sanity back. Just me, my boys, the dog and the cat.

Don't get me wrong, I’ve grown to love my little family being this way - I’m far too independent to be on the lookout for the whole “someone special” thing. But it is hard, during the long drawn out summer holidays.

Max doesn’t cope well in the last week of school - all the walls becoming bare and so many events on that aren’t his usual routine - so he tends to start his summer holidays a week early. This year it was because he was unwell. But still… that’s been 8 full weeks he’s been out of school now.

It’s been… difficult. He’s become very averse to going out for walks, which means we’ve not been getting out as much as I’d like. I know it’s something I’ll work on with him, but as the weeks went by, my energy levels plummet and so I choose my battles wisely.

It’s better for him to clean his teeth daily than persuading him to go for a walk after all. They’re a bit of a battle, and I only have the energy for one of them, not both.

I’ve been using a calendar with coloured in days for no school. The countdown to going back started as soon as we hit August 1st. The first week as I reminded him, Max was extremely upset, shouting, screaming “no no NO school!”. Not because he doesn’t enjoy it... who wouldn’t prefer to stay home where they can chill and have the freedom to play games and go on the trampoline, right?

As the last 2 and a bit weeks have passed, each mention of the school countdown has been met with slightly less resistance, and more resigned acceptance. I’m counting that as a win!

So now we’re on the Day Before. I’ve reminded him a few times about going back to school tomorrow, and have included a bribe too. Hey, if it works, I’m all for it!

On a Friday after school the boys normally get to choose a new iPad game (some are free, some are paid) to download. So to make going back to school special, I told Max “tomorrow we go back to school, then after school Max gets a new game!”. This resulted in an actual WHOOP of excitement, and now he’s ready. He’s happy to go into school tomorrow as he’ll get a game (already picked out of course).

So when your kids go back to school and you wish the holidays lasted longer, spare a thought to those of us who have to contend with so much more than you could imagine.

And if you’re in a similar position to me? WELL DONE!! You made it! We all made it!

Post inspired by this awesome mum who is freaking awesome: 

How Equine Assisted Therapy Helped Our Family

AutismMarylin1 Comment

Horses have always been my happy place, so when Derby House offered us the chance of some Equine Assisted Therapy sessions as a family, I jumped at the chance.

I hoped that if nothing else, we could maybe get Max to a point where he'd be content to say hello to the horses in our local vicinity, instead of trying to drag me away from them before I got a chance to get a horse hug (horse hugs are *the best* thing ever!!).

I certainly didn't expect his behaviour to change to dramatically, or for him to get to the point that he'd actually run *to* his horse friends for cuddles!

But that's exactly what happened. 

Max's very up and down behaviour has changed over the last 3 months, and the only difference in our lives in that time has been the inclusion of the EAP sessions (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy).

He is now much calmer and happier over all, both at home and at school, which means his focus and attention are at an all time high too. He's coming on leaps and bounds with his learning, and is putting in so much effort to his speech these days. 

So lets start at the beginning... our first session with Hannah at Big Brown Horse.

I had already prompted Max for about 3 days previously, letting him know that at the weekend, we'd be going to a New Place to meet a lady called Hannah and her horses.

That got a firm "NO! I don't want!" each time, but as I stood my ground, at least he knew it was coming. 

When we arrived on a cold and drizzly December day, Max again wasn't very happy. He'd have much rather been at home with his iPad than outside, especially somewhere he wasn't familiar with. 

Still, I stayed resolute, and focused on keeping him relatively calm, while encouraging Zack that it was going to be great fun. 

The first 20 minutes in the field, Max screamed his butt off. 

He didn't want anywhere near the horses, and kept wandering up to the gate, trying to persuade me to let him leave. 

Zack and I got introduced to the horses, and I was reassured not to worry, that Max couldn't get to anything that would harm him or anyone else - animals included!

Of course, every time Max started screaming and shouting again, I felt stressed. And every time I felt stressed, I'd feel the gorgeous little black Shetland pony nuzzling my hand, encouraging me to pat her, reminding me that everything was ok. 

Once I relaxed, she would go back to her business of eating. 

This continued throughout the sessions, along with the horses going up to check on Max every so often to make sure he was ok. 

As soon as he told them "no I don't want!" they'd back away calmly and go back to what they were doing. 

Once he realised he wasn't being asked to *do* anything, Max calmed down considerably, and started to enjoy running around the field, going up to have a nosey at the chicken coop at the top, and started to come over for high fives from all of us, even Hannah. 

Zack and I got to learn how to put halters on the horses, along with brushing them, leading them around the field and, in my case, hugging them lots!

When the rain got heavier, we took our new friends along to the stable, as Max isn't keen on rain at all, and it was pretty cold what with it being December and all that! 

This was when Max started to interact with the little Shetland. 

I think he liked knowing that she couldn't come close to him unless he was next to her stall. 

He started stroking her hair, and playing made up games with her, hiding and reappearing, and spraying her coat with an anti-fly spray (or something similar! Note- Hannah did say it was ok for him to do this, and we made sure he didn't spray it in her face) which he thought was the best fun!

By the time we left, he had gone from shouting and screaming that he DID NOT WANT, to playing with the smallest of the horses. I was chuffed to bits!

It wasn't until the next day I realised the extent of the effect our first session had on Max. 

Normally after a "Different Day", Max is pretty unsettled. A sleepless night is guaranteed, and he tends to be really rambunctious the next day. However, he slept through the night, and was really chilled for the rest of the weekend.

The run up to our next session was met with excitement and high fives from Max, who looked forward to seeing Hannah and the horses this time. What a change!

And, as you can see from the photo above, Max was even happy to go up to the tallest of our new friends. No fear, no worry, no stress. He went straight up to her and gave her a cuddle, posed for a photo, and then proceeded to wander around between the horses with not a care in the world. 

These days, when we go for a walk and visit our friends in the fields close by, Max doesn't cry or shout or try to pull me away. 

He is happy to let me say hello to our friends, who come trotting over for scratches behind the ears and cuddles while leaning over the fence. My hopes have been realised, and so much more!

Previously I'd never have thought Equine Assisted Therapy would be something that would work for our family, though I had always hoped. 

I have very much been proved wrong, and I couldn't be happier about it!

Meeting Santa and Remembering How Far We've Come.

AutismMarylin2 Comments

Today was the first time Max was able to handle meeting Santa Claus and sit nicely for a photo! 

The first time in 8 years. EIGHT years! 

Mr Claus was wonderful with Max and fully aware of how to speak to him in a way he would understand, and Max? He was beside himself with excitement!

It's not all sunshine and smiles though...

It took one and a half hours of a meltdown before Max calmed after getting home from our day out.

By day out I mean, we went to KFC for his popcorn chicken (Yay something he'll eat! Sometimes...), the boys got their hair cut,  a replacement 2DS was purchased from Game (love their preowned stuff!) and of course, we met Santa. For some that's not much, but for Max, it's a LOT to take in. 

This is why we don't do even little trips out too often, as although Max can now manage *really* well while we're out (in general!), as soon as we get back home, all the feelings are released like a tidal wave.

Screaming, shouting, crying, shrieking, lashing out and self-harm are all things he goes through every time he comes home, even from school (though we have worked on this and this rarely happens for more than 5-10 minutes once we're in the door now, thank goodness!). 

This is autism, and this is what we live with every day. He may seem to be coping amazingly well when out, and when at school, but the sacrifices made to ensure Max is calm and happy are so much more than you know.

I am so beyond proud of this little guy, of his big brother for being such an amazing support to Max, and to me, and I am also proud of myself for doing, quite frankly, a bloody good job raising these kids alone!

Most of all, I am thankful for the support of family, friends, and support workers, and the early intervention we've been lucky enough to receive since Max was just turned 2.

I'm thankful to see the progress of my little guy throughout the years. 

I'm thankful to have Zack, such a thoughtful, fun, kind and supportive child, wise beyond his years (and more than a little crazy too!).

They've been the making of me, as much as I have of them... and this? This is just the beginning.