NOT Your Usual Sensory Shop.

A while ago I was contacted by Bri from Way of The Cactus, asking me if I would be willing to trial and review some of the awesome, eco-inspired sensory products her company stocks. As it happens, I’d actually seen the products before in my online travels and was already interested in them – so of course I snapped her up on the offer. Anyone who knows me well will know that I really can’t stand mass-produced short-lived plastic junk and try to avoid buying it where possible (with Lego and Magnatiles being the exceptions). I’m way more of a fan of quality versus quantity, and I have to say that Way of The Cactus completely tick all the boxes here.

*I will say that the review below is my opinion only and even though the products were supplied to me – my review is honest and completely my own.*

So, anyway.

Way of The Cactus is a business run by two families in Brisbane, comprising of an Occupational Therapist, artist, social worker and academic. They are also all autistic and between the founders Leif, Leia, Julies and Bri – a wide range of neurodivergence is encountered including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety and depression. This really appealed to me because I believe that the people who know the most about autism and sensory needs are in fact the autistic members of the community.

The company was started because the founders were spending a lot of their time searching for sensory products that not only looked beautiful and were effective, but were ethically and sustainably made. And so when Way of The Cactus found their beautiful items, they wanted to share it with others with similar values.I can really relate to this because being a mother of autistic children who have a wide range of sensory needs – I kinda get sick of chucking out plastic crap that only serves their purpose for a little while before it breaks. I hated that I was adding to landfill after each and every time something was broken. And despite not being autistic myself I can really appreciate how much nicer handcrafted items feel compared to their cheaper, tackier counterparts. Honestly, there was no comparison.

I was sent four items; and they didn’t disappoint.

First up, the Rubble Lariat is a gorgeous, unique item of jewellery that feels good and looks good on.  I love that it can be altered in the way it looks depending on how it is tied or arranged. I’m actually eyeing off a pair of the earrings from the producer of them now, too. Beautiful, beautiful jewellery.

 

Sno absolutely adores the Comfort Egg and pilfered it right out of my hands when the package arrived, claiming it has her own. It fits comfortably inside the palm of her hand and she finds it really relaxing to turn it over in her hand, and also loves to rub the soft wood against her skin. She says it smells good, too. It now lives inside her handbag along with her noise-cancelling headphones, phone and essential oil – this is what a sensory kit looks like for my 10.5 year old. She loves that it is small and unassuming.

 

Papagirltribe was sent an Organic Crew tee. He’s worn it at least three times a week since it arrived, so safe to say he approves. It is soft, non-clingy and he says he likes the unusual design on the tee. I have to say I think it looks funky!

Wilding pilfered the Gum Nut Spinning Top and although it’s hard to get an action shot of it, I can say that once she started spinning it she didn’t stop for a while! Watching it spin was clearly soothing and relaxing, and it is hardy – I know it isn’t going to smash within a short space of use.

Now, onto the good news for you – my readers. Way of The Cactus has kindly offered GirlTribe readers a 15% off discount code through the month of August and September. Simply enter in the code “GirlTribe15” in the discount section of your cart at checkout to redeem it. They ship worldwide and offer free post on orders over $99.00. Please get behind this awesome company and give them your support if you are after beautiful, sustainable sensory items that will last a long time.

Happy shopping!

I just paid money to cry, basically.

And it isn’t the first time it’s happened either.  In fact, this evening would mark the third time it’s happened to me. But the difference in tonight is, it’s the first time I haven’t grabbed my bag and keys and made an immediate run for it.

What I’m talking about is yoga. In the past six years, each time I have joined in a group yoga class it has brought up such intense, overwhelming emotions that leave me literally sobbing in the back of the studio class room full of other women.

Yep.

Taken in my car, after class.

Yoga makes me cry.

Which is super weird, because I do yoga every evening at home in my bedroom and I don’t ever recall ever crying then.

Anyway, this evening I rocked up to a fusion class which I’ve never done before and yep.. it happened again. Only this time I didn’t run away when it happened. No, this time as I lay on my mat in the room which had all of it’s lights turned off during the beginning meditation, I felt the familiar feeling of the tears welling up in my eyes and instead I just let them flow, and I surrendered to it – whole heartedly.  This time as the tears came and the emotions too, I let them flow because this time I felt safe. I felt held. I felt like it was time to try and stop attempting to make sense of this physical release and instead I decided I was just gonna let it play out.

And it didn’t just happen once, either. Oh no, this evening after the first time, I went on to cry twice more.

At one point I was literally heaving, sobbing. The tears were coming and so was all the emotion and I was that woman, in the back of the class, crying in yoga.

So I’m sure you’re all wondering why I was crying, exactly. And you know, I don’t really know. But what I do know is that so many times as a parent, as a woman, as a wife – I have to push my emotional needs to the background because there are other things in my life which require prioritisation. So many times throughout the day where shit is hard, and it’s challenging and it’s pushing me and forcing me to use all my reserves as a woman and mother just to get through.

Except… when I’m laying on a yoga mat, in a dark room, with other women – I can’t escape my emotions, I can’t run from them and it’s here, funnily enough, where they decide to come out. So they come out in the form of wet, sticky tears which trickle down my face and into my hair. My breathing increases, my heart rate climbs and I sob and cry and let it all out. They aren’t tears of sadness though, they’re tears of relief. Tears of release. Tears of healing.

Instead of shelving my emotions, numbing them or running from them – I’m able to feel them fully, in all that they are – and its okay.  It’s totally okay. In fact, it’s fucking lovely.

I left the yoga class tonight when it was over, and having felt my feelings in their entirety – I felt like a weight had been lifted. I feel emotionally cleansed and I feel like a better version of myself. All raw, sweary, sticky salty tears – me.

And yes, I will be going back.

 

Truth is, we are all just winging it.

“Four children,” people say to me. “Wow, you must be an expert on parenting!,”

Truthfully – I am totally not. Sure, four kids definitely brings some perspective to certain types of first-time parenting struggles, but honestly – most days I still feel like, ten years on in this journey – I have no fucking idea what I am doing.

I think for the most part; conscious parenting is a mix of calculated research with a fair amount of “well, let’s give this a shot!” thrown in.

Some problems come along and I may know how to tackle them, and do so with great efficiency, while I smugly think to myself what a pro I am at this whole parenting thing. Then other days those same problems come up again, so I do what I did before – to no avail. So I’m back right at the beginning where I started from: absolutely clueless, randomly trying a few different strategies here and there with a bunch of random attempts at managing thrown in.

Honestly there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We all have our ideals about the types of parent we wish to strive for, and the kind of upbringing that we want our children to have and what memories they can look back and draw upon. And that all sounds really lovely – except it isn’t real, or true. Because all of this stuff depends on our children and the individual daily circumstances we find ourselves in. It depends on the mood of our offspring, the weather, our health, the time of day, how much sleep we have had, our relationships with other people etc etc.

The “shoulds” don’t help. The “could haves” don’t help either. I think the best we all can aim for is to try better than we did the previous day, and allow ourselves grace and gentleness when shit doesn’t go to plan, because it often won’t.

So I’m writing this, mainly as a reassurance I guess – to other parents feeling like me.

When you feel like you should have all this shit sorted, and you don’t – it’s okay.

When you feel like you’re giving continually on an empty cup for absolutely no returns – it’s okay.

When you feel like you’re not the type of parent you wish you were able to be – it’s okay.

When you feel like you have absolutely no fucking idea how to overcome the next hurdle – it’s okay.

When you feel like things should be getting better or easier by now, and they aren’t – it’s okay.

I’m telling you it’s okay because I want you to know you are not alone. Feelings of exhaustion, overwhelm, confusion, frustration and complete and utter exasperation are all feelings that all parents have felt from time to time. Maybe I’m writing this for myself, to tell myself that even though the challenges seem endless – it is possible to get through it.

It’s okay to stop. Let some stuff slide. Have a big cry, eat a block of chocolate. Sit and dwell on the sheer hardness of it all, for a while. Allow yourself that time. Because then I know you can pick yourself up, and keep on keeping on. And I am, and I will.

Because honestly – none of us have any idea of what we are doing, really. We are all just winging it, and we are all in this together.

 

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Where curiosity has led us today..

Religion hasn’t been something that has even entered my mind to share with my four daughters in my parenting journey.. until now. Having been raised Catholic by my parents myself, I was confirmed into the Church at the young age of 8 and attended Church every Sunday morning and mass for school whenever it was done. I did all this without much thought or really, any complaint. That was, unit,  I was about 14 or 15 when I decided that enough was enough, it wasn’t for me. I decided on my own that the faith I was blindly following promoted messages and values that I didn’t agree with, and that was the end of it all for me.

Until now.

My husband Cj and I have decided all along to raise our daughters as having gratitude for the things in their life, respect for others and kindness and compassion always. We decided against indoctrinating any specific religion into the minds of our daughters, and instead we wanted to expose them to a variety of religions or philosophies so they could make up their own minds about how they feel, or don’t feel.

As part of Sno’s homeschooling and unschooling journey, we are learning about other countries and their predominant religion. The last week was a focus on Japan, which led to curiosity about Buddhism and so today we visited the local Buddhist Centre on one of it’s open days and it was a really positive experience. The centre backs onto lush green bushland, wildlife aplenty. A long trail of steps led up the hill to a beautiful statue, colourful in it’s design. After perusing the gift shop filled with beautiful intricate artworks, statues, affirmations, books and decorations, Sno and I sat in on a meditation in the Gompa where there was a talk about the impermanence of uncomfortable feelings – something that really sat with both of us. We then learned about the dharma in a kids club where the discussion’s theme was contentment, we made prayer flags where we drew the things in our lives we had that we were grateful for and did walking meditation. Then we headed home.

It felt so lovely to be able to share this experience with my daughter. To be able to learn about things which stemmed from sheer curiosity, and to find something that actually connected with a lot of our own existing values.

Next time, I’ll bring along Cj and the whole tribe. But before then, Sno wants to go to a Catholic mass for a comparison. That will be interesting…

Why We Took A Break From Therapy.

It’s been an interesting journey parenting four daughters, three of whom are on the spectrum. Starting with the major onset delay in accessing support for Sno due to her later diagnosis, then positive regular OT sessions for Wilding in our home environment and now therapy with Beans.. we have definitely approached therapy differently for each daughter.

 

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Over the years it has become clear to me that, like with most things in life, there really is no one size fits all when it comes to the effectiveness or purpose behind accessing therapy for autistic children.

Maybe it was that Beans is my fourth child, third autistic daughter and I have my head fully grasping her needs myself without having to pay a professional to tell me what she needs or what her strengths or weaknesses are. Maybe it’s just that my view of the point of therapy has changed. Maybe it’s both. But Beans was diagnosed last year and over the last 8 months she’s only been to a few sessions of Occupational Therapy, and here’s my two main reasons why:

  • Therapy appointments can actually be counter productive.  Waiting rooms are no place to spend a childhood and being shuttled back and forth to appointments is draining and tiresome.. for everyone involved.  It’s also pretty full-on for autistic children to get to know and trust strangers and be their true selves around them. This is something that takes time and can be pretty confronting. And most importantly;
  • Many therapy models try and alter a child to suit society’s expectations or interpretations of “normal” and “acceptable” and over the years I guess.. I’m just not sure whether I give a shit about my kids fitting into the few limited moulds on offer. The truth is, there is no “right” way to behave and my girls have really taught me, and continue to teach me – that they dance to the rhythm of their very own tune, and that’s okay. It’s more than okay in fact, it’s awesome, it’s brave, it’s beautiful and it’s something I want to encourage – not stifle or change. Having the courage to be who you are in a society hell-bent on insisting everyone buckle under pressure and confirm is an incredibly admirable thing.

So whilst I do believe some types of therapy and some situations are warranted and very helpful, I’m just not sure it all is. Not all therapists are the same, either. I have found it helpful to get sensory profiles done for my girls so I can address and understand their sensory needs and provide them with the types of input they like, but once I have that – I do all the ongoing support at home. Our house is basically equipped like an OT’s office, it’s pretty amusing. Therapy in the form of psychology also is very useful in terms of teaching my older autistic girls how to handle their emotions and live with their anxiety, encouraging them ultimately to learn to independently self-regulate by understanding and being aware of their triggers, too.

 

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But Beans and I have taken a break. And so we continue to work on core-strengthening at home for her hypo mobility and low-tone, we go to the beach for sensory play, we climb trees, we incorporate fine motor and gross motor strengthening fluidly into our every day doings in channels she enjoys. There is no force, there is no push to conform, there is no rewards or bribery.

In finding our flow, my girls are free to be who they are, embraced for their quirky ways and encouraged to be fully and wonderfully their true selves.

 

A tool to ease separation angst..

Wilding has often struggled with transitions. What I mean by this is; stopping one activity and beginning another, getting dropped off to places and going somewhere new. Tonight I’m sharing an idea that we have come up with that I believe will help a lot with these struggles in such a simple way.

At a few months off age six, Wilding is a really social little sprite, she loves people and making friends so staying behind or not going out has not really been an option that she’d choose. She loves school, her friends and her grandparents but has always found the “leaving” part to be tricky. One of the best tools for situations like these that we have found,  has been to give her a little laminated photo of Cj and I. Because she’s such a visual little creature, having a photo of us with her offered her immense comfort. At kindergarten the photo would live in her special box and at school so far it has lived in her tidy tray.

However, it can be hard because there have been situations where she has needed a little extra comfort and visual reassurance but it wasn’t there. Sometimes she’d request to have items of clothing of ours with her, or jewellery pieces – which is fine.

But today we came up with an awesome tool that can be with her whenever she needs. We bought her a little silver locket of her own. Inside we placed two tiny photos of Cj and I that we has printed off.

This means Wilding now has us with her wherever she is. Anytime she is not with us and gets pangs of anxiety or misses us, she can look at the photos of us from the locket that hangs around her neck and be comforted. I especially hope this will help her at night-time with her sleeping, too.

We gave her the locket this afternoon and she’s positively beaming now.  It really is the little things sometimes.

It’s Time For An Inclusive Autistic Diagnosis Criteria.

You know, I really wish there wasn’t such a thing as “male” or “female” autistic traits. Why can’t they just be called “autistic traits”?

Let me explain.

If there wasn’t such a gender division within the autism diagnostic criteria, my husband wouldn’t have had to wait until the age of 30 before he received his diagnosis. And my six year old daughter, now ten years of age – wouldn’t have had to wait until she was six to get hers.

Why?

Because my husband, the incredible man that he is – presents with many “female” autistic traits. But last I checked (which was this morning), he’s very much male. So gender really has nothing to do with it.

He does not have loud melt downs when he’s overloaded. He shuts down, withdraws and goes inside himself instead.
He observes and mimics others in social situations, putting on whatever “hat” is needed at that given time.
He will keep his struggles inside and only let them out when he’s in a safe, familiar space.

However, these are all regarded to be “female” autistic traits. So why is there the need for the divide???

It is all just autism. We sorely need a diagnostic system that assesses traits from a whole perspective taking into account all types of presentation, rather than only certain according to the private parts of the individuals.

Females need to stop having their diagnoses missed because they’re hyper intelligent, verbal, outgoing, social and epic mimics – and males need to be recognised for their disability even when they’re all of these things too.

Being quiet
Being outgoing
Liking people
Preferring solitude
Loud meltdowns
Internal silent shut downs
Verbal
Non-verbal

…. I could go on. Seriously, enough.

Please, let us include all of the autistic traits in the future diagnostic manuals, so that autism isn’t such an invisible disability anymore, and our loved ones can get access to the support that they need. Having an autistic diagnosis has a great impact on an individual’s identity and sense of self, and this isn’t something that should be withheld – definitely not when it hinges on a criteria that changes depending on what is between an individual’s legs.

I really just struggle to what gender has to do with it.

 

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Sit With The Shit.

Something that keeps popping up lately in my journey as a mother to four daughters is discomfort, and how to best manage it. You know, the yucky stuff that life throws us at from time to time that is often inevitable and most of the time just something we have to “get through”. I think as instinct, we humans tend to push away the shitty stuff because it sucks. We don’t want to experience it, so we put it off and shove it away for as long as we can manage. It might be stuff we are afraid of, maybe we are ashamed of it, perhaps we just don’t feel we have the energy to deal with it.

The thing is though, pushing away this stuff is exhausting. The constant energy that we put out there as a means to avoid dealing with this stuff, whatever it may be – is taxing. The energy we expel trying to numb it or make it hurt less is tiresome.

So something I am trying to teach my girls is the following, simply: sit with the shit. Whatever crap stuff comes your way, the stuff you can’t really do anything about – just sit with it. Don’t try and find solutions, because sometimes there just aren’t any. Try not to run away from it or procrastinate against dealing with it, because it won’t go away and instead it’ll just pop up again when you may have convinced yourself that it’s gone.

Sit with the shit. Be with the discomfort.

Why? Because here’s the thing. Once we have stopped pushing away the shit that hurts or the shit we don’t want to deal with, once we are just present with it, giving ourselves permission to feel it and have it go through us – then it’s done. Once we have sat with our shit, it can move on and so can we. It no longer has the power over us, making us run a mile or problem-solve endlessly, wracking our brains in an attempt to discover the reason.

And what comes next is liberation. Freedom.

Sit with your shit. Be with it. Feel it. So then you can move on.

“Help! It’s cold and my kid won’t wear clothes!”

I’ve noticed the above phrase is something that keeps popping up across various groups and communities online, so I thought I would write a blog about my take on this topic.

So okay, I get it. It’s like 9 degrees outside and your child is refusing to put on pants or wear socks or a jumper. They point blank just won’t, and you’re worried about their health.

The thing is..

Firstly; it is a well known fact that autistic individuals have unique sensory systems of their own which mean they experience different types of input in their own unique way. Some don’t feel pain, others feel pain acutely, some have issues with clothing, others don’t, some love to jump, others don’t.. it goes on and on. Wearing clothes is more often than not due to the child’s very own sensory preferences. Maybe they just actually don’t feel the cold. Like, seriously. Fancy that! So they see no need to wear layers as the cool weather doesn’t personally affect them. Or maybe they don’t like the way the warmer clothes feel on their skin, even though these clothes may feel fine to you. Wool can be itchy, loose clothing or those with tassels can be annoying and tickle, fleece can make them sweat, perhaps they feel restricted and maybe wearing certain clothes actually hurts them. It isn’t your body, you aren’t feeling it yourself so you don’t get to force the point.

I get that you’re concerned, because their reaction to the cooler weather isn’t the same as yours. But that’s where this next point comes in..

Secondly; there is the important issue of consent. This is to say, that every child is in control of their own bodies and their own choices regarding their body. This is something that I often see discounted when it comes to autistic kids, and something I find very alarming. I have read of other parents forcing their children to wear warmer clothes, physically holding them down and forcing these warmer clothes onto their children. This is not okay. Every child has the right to feel safe and respected in their body and have their body and personal space respected by others. Forcing clothing that others deem acceptable, simply due to different neurology – is unacceptable. You might not understand it necessarily and you may not feel the same but autism means individuals think, feel, see and process things differently. Consent still applies here.

So what can you do? Well, here are a few approaches that may help:

  1. Educate your child about the weather. Create a visual weather chart with pictures and removable indicators: cold, rainy, hot, windy. Provide examples of suitable clothing choices for each type of weather. Play games about the weather, read books about the weather and pay attention together about what clothing options might be better suited for the variety of seasons.
  2. Encourage tactile exploration and play in a no-pressure, fun environment. By this I mean, offer opportunities for your child to get messy with their hands and body. A lot of the time clothing refusal is due to tactile hypersensitivity – so the things that touch our skin have a greater effect. By playing with a variety of sensory experiences, it can gently acclimatise and build tolerance for the body. I’m talking slime, sand, rice trays, play doh, finger painting, cooking, gardening, ooblek.. you get the gist. This book is a fantastic resource for ideas. Make it fun!
  3. Give the child some control. You can do this by taking them with you shopping, encouraging them to touch different clothes and exposing them to a variety of textiles. Find out what they like, find out what they don’t – and go from there.

And really, try and relax. Because at the end of the day it isn’t actually possible to catch a cold from the cold. Just make sure your child is getting a daily dose of vitamin D on their skin!

Have you seen my series of posts which explore the sensory system? Check out part 1 here.

 

With & Without: One Month Update.

It’s been about a month now since we made the decision to pull Sno from school and after a period of deschooling, homeschool her instead. After many many years fraught with anxiety and struggle it wasn’t a decision we made on a whim at all.

I’m so happy to report that our home has been like a haven since Sno has been at home full time. She has seriously been a different kid.

Let me explain.

 

With school, Sno had minimal tolerance for exercise. Any small amounts of physical exertion quickly tipped her from stimulated to overstimulated and then fast escalated into meltdown.

Without school; Sno actually asked me the other day to go for a bush walk. In the last month we have been on at least 4 bush walks together and I have even found her doing skipping and jumping on the trampoline spontaneously which hasn’t then led to meltdowns immediately.

With school, Sno would be arguing with pretty much everyone as soon as she got home.

Without school, Sno is actually laughing and getting along with her sisters.

With school, Sno was not happy. I actually can’t remember a time I saw her laughing and smiling.

Without school, Sno is smiling and laughing and finding joy in her every day.

With school, Sno would overload into meltdown from noise in no time at all.

Without school, Sno has the tolerance for noise to be able to even enjoy listening to music.

With school, any screen time at home meant S would fast get overloaded.

Without school, Sno is using screen devices regularly as part of her learning and daily life without getting overloaded and she’s loving  it.

With school, Sno had minimal social reserves left at the end of the day and would avoid interactions outside school hours.

Without school, Sno is actually asking to connect with peers and is requesting time being spent with others.

With school, Sno was unable to effectively communicate her wants and needs to others, instead resulting in immediate meltdowns.

Without school, Sno is using her words and is able to ask me to stop doing something or telling me she needs to leave, or that she needs help.

 

Basically, it’s like her system has been completely reset. And it’s purely because her primary environment has changed.

She has the capacity now to manage not only daily functioning really well, but she’s got joy back in her. Because we can control and moderate her environment now, she is no longer being pelted into daily meltdowns for hours and hours on end. She’s now finding things she likes to do, and is doing them, and when she can’t handle something she is able to stop immediately.

I’ve had people ask me how I’ll handle all the “extra work” of educating my child at home and all I can answer to that now is via a scoff of indignance. Because I can tell you right now that having my child at home full-time eliminates at least 90% of her anxiety,  the vast majority of her sensory triggers and it also ends all the back-and-forth following up and communicating her needs to the school, most of which have changed by the time we actually get to talk.

I’m just feeling awful that I put my incredible child through so much stress every day for so long. I feel bad that I forced her to fit into a mainstream model of learning which was completely the wrong fit for her. Asking that she dealt with six hours of school every single day and then expecting her to come home and function was just so selfish and ridiculous of me.

Nevertheless, it is what it is. Onwards and upwards we shall go, and we are all breathing far easier from the change. I’m just sorry we didn’t do it sooner.

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