Play Date

A rainy Sunday morning at a McDonald’s Playspace was just what the doctor ordered.

One of the biggest changes in T’s school life happened earlier this year when his CYW in SK and half of Grade 1 moved to a different school.

We all felt the loss of this wonderful person, especially T, and it was a hard important lesson in moving on from change, which is often hard for individuals with FASD.

But we kept in touch and met up for the first time today since she moved.

T was looking so forward to it and even got changed this morning without prompting.

It rained all day so we met up at McDonald’s. We met the CYW’s husband and their son, now 3, whom we first met as a baby online during virtual schooling in SK.

I was feeling blah still – I was off sick Thursday and Friday – but seeing T have fun with O, the child, brightened my spirits.

Prior to being T’s parent, the whole world of school supports was foreign to me.

I now have deep gratitude and appreciation for how support staff maximize a child’s success.

Instead of working 1-1 with grade school kids, the CYW now provides school-wide support to teens at a high school level.

It was interesting and sad to hear about rising mental health issues amongst teens, phone addiction and online bullying.

Thankfully, teen years are still years away and T’s priority is having fun in an indoor playground.

It was adorable watching T play with O, who was shy during his first indoor playground experience but enjoyed watching T zip by.

I was amused by how T got frustrated when O didn’t listen to his every beck and call.

“Hmm, a kid that doesn’t listen,” I said out loud, “I can’t imagine how frustrating that must be.”

The grown ups all laughed but T was not amused.

After two hours of catch up, we parted ways.

We gave his CYW two boxes of T’s old clothes. It’s nice to know they will go to a good home and kid; many items were hand me downs gifted to T.

T gave O, the CYW and her husband big hugs. Then he went back and gave O another big hug before finally getting into the car.

I Believe In You

How you see yourself makes a huge difference in how you experience the world.

The hubby and I had our first parent-teacher interview last Friday with T’s Grade 2 teacher.

The conversation focused on T’s challenges: focusing and completing his work; avoidance behaviour like taking long bathroom breaks, and social interaction.

I felt deflated, because I went into it feeling good as we received a mostly positive progress report card a few days before.

Academically, T is progressing well, and especially well with math and science. But T’s teacher noted he needs improvement with organization, collaboration and self regulation.

None of this is surprising as his FASD diagnosis identified these three impairments.

But after some sleep and distance, I feel ok.

Why?

We’ve been through this conversation before: different year, older child, same issues. But we find a way to move beyond each speedbump.

The conversation reminded me about one of my goals – to foster self belief in T.

As an individual with FASD, this world will wear T down – more so as he gets older – whether it’s due to a lack of understanding, patience, stigma.

Even T recently shared with the hubby and I that he never has a good day at school and he’s always being bad at school.

That comment made me sad, because this is no doubt how he sees his experience at school.

I reminded T we all have bad days but T is not a bad kid. He is smart, caring, funny and a good kid.

This Fatherly articles notes that children develop self esteem as early as 5 when the brain starts to develop thought patterns known as schemas.

It further notes that experiences and feedback shape schemas and that “depending on the experiences and the feedback being given, negative schemas form and become harder to correct over time. The right messages make as big of a difference as the wrong ones.”

We do our best every day to remind T of his strengths and to build on them and his interests.

I believe in giving positive reinforcement and feedback – so long as it’s sincere and earned.

I also want T to develop a mindset of wanting to do well regardless of positive feedback or setbacks.

It’s not easy and the hubby and I struggle with his on a daily basis. We see him at his best and worst.

But we remind ourselves of how much he’s grown.

During bedtime last Sunday, T randomly said 20 + 30 = 50.

So I took it as an invitation to play a math game and gave him other questions to try, even 3 numbers, such as 10 + 20 + 40.

T enjoyed the drills and asked for it during the drive to school and every bedtime since.

What these precious moments in the dark at bedtime, with his head rested on my chest, remind me is this kid is awesome.

He just needs to remember it and we need to find and foster ways for him to believe it.

The Grinch

On the annual day that we put up our Christmas tree, a real-life Grinch almost stole our cheer.

It’s tradition to put up our tree the day after Remembrance Day. We remind T to honour veterans first before he goes nuts with Christmas.

Three things, after all, get T super excited: Christmas, Halloween and his birthday.

This past Saturday got off to an unexpectedly terrible start when we discovered that someone had broken into our car the night before.

Thankfully, there was no damage to the car, but the thief took the hubby’s prescription glasses, which he needs to drive.

We live in a safe boring working class neighborhood, so for this to happen – and to the house across the street – felt creepy.

We felt violated knowing strangers were in our car and T was livid and demanded the thieves be brought to jail to sit on the electric chair.

We stopped by a hardware store later that day and the irony of these Grinch toys was not lost to me.

I always try to find the positive in any situation and as infuriated as I was, I saw the silver lining in the teachable moment it created.

It showed T the upsetting impact stealing has on those affected – something we find ways to reinforce after his recent lollipop incident.

The hubby and I were also mindful about role modeling calm and resiliency – so we showed T how we responded to the situation, including the hubby filing a police report.

T was upset when I told him the thief was likely not going to be caught. I told him that as upset as we are, we need to move on – and more importantly, we need to learn from these moments.

Specifically, we will not leave our car in the driveway nor leave valuables in the car.

After we came home from swim lessons, we put our upset faces away.

We took out the tree and ornament boxes from the basement and got to work.

The hubby put on a vinyl Christmas album on his childhood Fisher Price vinyl record player.

T did a great job helping decorate the tree, doing more than half of the work this year.

The final decorated tree looks wonderful, ending the unexpectedly terrible start of our day with Christmas light, hope and cheer.

Out of the Blue

Hidden truth, isolation, confusion. Things fog symbolizes and it enveloped us for two days.

As autumn weather arrives, so does morning fog.

It was beautiful and eerie to walk through in the dark Thursday morning, as I headed to work (pictured at top).

My head felt foggy the past week, resulting from recent sleeplessness due to things beyond my family’s control, as well as T’s recent challenges.

In these moments, things feel overwhelming and one small thing can be like the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!“

– 1 Corinthians, 13:12

When I enter a foggy moment, when the view is obscured, my surrounding feels cut off, and the ground feels shaky, I remind myself this is temporary.

I accept that my capacity to address the demands on me is finite and I’ve reached my current limit.

And to breath, because it always passes.

And to refocus on self care.

  • Get quiet alone time
  • Go to bed early
  • Set boundaries with people
  • Exercise
  • Enjoy something mindless and fun
  • Listen to music
  • Go for a walk
  • Let go of things you can’t control
  • Practice gratitude and prayer

Sure enough, by Friday, the fog lifted late morning and the beautiful sunshine came out.

After work, I went for a gym workout, listening to uplifting trance music, including a favourite song by Dutch DJ Ferry Corsten, “Out of the Blue.”

It felt reinvigorating.

On Saturday, the hubby gifted me four hours of free time by taking T to the movie and I napped and watched TV (I highly recommend new horror film, “Barbarian” – so good!).

On Sunday, I returned the favour by going on a hike with T at the Bluffs.

The weather was lovely, probably the last 2022 weekend when we could wear shorts.

It was calming to hear the waves.

Tonight, I made a thank you meal for the hubby, one of his favourites: chicken parmesean.

Like chicken soup, making it was good for the soul.

I used Panko for the first time and it was great.

Second Chances

What parents won’t often admit: When they ground their kids, they are punishing themselves too.

After T’s unfortunate incident with taking the lollipop from the store, we grounded him last weekend; no electronics and he would not have his Halloween decor, bought on the same trip to the store, until next year.

It may seem extreme, but we felt it was important he understood the severity of his actions.

By grounding T, we were indirectly punishing ourselves. Giving T tablet time is a way to give ourselves free time throughout the day.

But we stuck to our guns and had an ok weekend. Last Sunday, we went for three walks. If inmates get outdoor time, surely our guy is allowed!

At the end of last weekend, T asked if we were still mad. I told him we were not happy about what he did, but we love him and we focused on the positive: he returned the lollipop, apologized, and he learned an important lesson.

Halloween decor went up October 1. 😂

I spoke about this incident during my recent checkin with my psychologist, who specializes in children with special needs.

We had an interesting chat about punishment vs discipline. What I got out of it was to match the consequence with the severity of the action, otherwise the punishment overtakes the lesson.

Research has shown that discipline can be challenging with kids with FASD, as they have difficulty understanding cause and effect.

I’m not sure I agree with that, but also, while I’m an expert on T, I’m not an FASD expert and I’m learning new lessons every day.

Regardless, what I got from this recent experience is the importance of focusing on the lesson, because that is what will matter in the long run, once the anger, shock and sadness has passed.

We spent the weekend carving pumpkins
Roasted seeds yielded from 5 pumpkins. 😋

Just like every day is a new day for kids like T, we must believe in second chances.

This past weekend was more fun and relaxed.

T did great at swim lessons and his instructor said T will move up to Level 2 for the winter session.

We met up with friends for lunch then dropped off a care package for a friend.

T and I went to buy Halloween candies. On the way into the store, T gave a twoonie to a panhandler and on the way out, he said bye to the man, who appreciated T’s kindness.

This past weekend was grounding for me.

It reminded me to take a step back – as with every negative situation in the past – and look at the big picture: T is a great kid finding his way in the world. I believe he learned an important lesson.

We are aware of the possibility of future incidents, but it’s time to move on from this one.

The hubby and I told T he had a fantastic weekend, did great at swimming and we reminded him that he did a good thing by returning the lollipop.

For all his efforts, we told him he could get his decor back in time for Halloween.

Goodie bags the hubby prepared for Halloween trick o treaters! He’s so extra and that’s why I love him.

This morning, T woke up excitedly with no fuss, got changed into his costume for school – Master Chief from the video game, Halo.

Tonight, he finished his reading homework in speedy time then went out for trick or treating.

We got home by 7 pm and he spent the rest of the night handing out candy to trick or treaters. One kid had the same costume as T which got him super excited!

Having fun at someone’s well-decorated home.

The Boogeyman

This is a very hard post to write, but I’ve learned that fears die down when you face them.

I’ve been enjoying the ramp up to Halloween – recently catching a matinee of “Halloween Ends.”

Yesterday night, a real horror scenario played out: T took a lollipop from a store without paying for it.

This may sound trivial but this is triggering for me, because stealing behaviour is common for some kids with FASD – and I’ve long dreaded this.

The evening started innocently: T and I were shopping at the dollar store for Halloween decor.

At the lineup, he walked away. When I went to look for him, I saw him slide his hand into his pocket.

Not thinking anything of it, I later saw a lollipop poke out. I questioned him and he said it was given to him by daycare.

It felt off but I didn’t want to create a scene. In the car, I grilled him and he confessed he took it.

I was livid and I told him what he did was wrong and is considered a crime.

I was in shock and my reaction was to drive home. T had a meltdown because he thought we were going to jail after I said the word crime. I was so upset I let him sweat until we got home.

The horror film “Halloween” tells the tale of Michael Myers who escapes from an asylum and goes on a killing spree, targeting babysitter Laurie Strode, with psychiatrist Dr Loomis in his pursuit.

Laurie is horror’s most famous “Final Girl” and she referred to Myers as the Boogeyman, a word synonymous with things we deeply fear.

As a parent of a child with FASD, the invisible disability itself is my Boogeyman.

When we first learned about T’s FASD prognosis, the things I read up about it horrified me, specifically high risk for aggression, mental health challenges, run-ins with the law.

I read with empathy of other parents’ struggles, including challenges related to stealing behaviour.

If a horror movie fan was to judge T based on the challenging behaviours he can exhibit, they wouldn’t peg him as the “final girl,” the virtuous character who survives the mayhem.

Thankfully, what the FASD parenting journey has taught the hubby and I is that our kids don’t follow the standard narrative, nor is anything about this life journey standard.

Once we understand “brain not behaviour,” the chaos makes better sense.

In T’s case, FASD impairs his executive functioning and makes him very impulsive, which is how I’m explaining what happened at the store.

To be clear, I’m not making excuses for him. I am still very pissed and sad about what happened – but I’m trying to view it from the eyes of a child with an invisible disability.

In our horror movie, T is the final girl being chased endlessly by the boogeyman of FASD – and the hubby and I are Dr Loomis, his external brain.

Invisible Disability Week took place this past week.

Our fear of the Boogeyman is so powerful, because it is unseen and unknown – leaving our imaginations to fill in the blanks and make it larger than life.

When I think about FASD, the hubby and I have come a long way with our relationship with it, because we have learned and experienced so much, and been blessed with wonderful supports.

The invisible became visible. What was once unseen is now seen. What once seemed unknown and scary seems less so, although not necessarily easier to deal with, just to be clear.

A great video for parents dealing with stealing.

When we got home from the store, T dashed out of the car, into the house and hid in our room.

I sat by myself in our dining room trying to collect my thoughts. I was so flustered.

After the hubby logged off work, I told him that we were driving back to the store, T was going to go to the cashier, tell them what he did, return the lollipop and say sorry.

That’s exactly what we did – and T was cooperative.

I will be honest, I felt nervous and mortified, but I knew this was the right thing to teach T – and it was about facing my own Boogeyman.

T handed the lollipop to the cashier and said, “I’m sorry I stole the lollipop.”

As we left the store, we praised T for doing the right thing. We also reiterated what we did was wrong and that he was grounded for the weekend with no electronics or his favourite snacks.

The hubby and I are aware this could happen again. As his external brain, we will remind T about expectations going into a store, supervise him and do an inspection before we leave.

This may sound over the top to parents of neurotypical children, but for us, it’s about helping our T succeed.

“Halloween Ends” is the 13th film in the franchise and just like Michael Myers never stays away and comes back in endless sequels, the Boogeyman of FASD will always be a part of T’s life.

But I still believe – even if part of me feels deflated by what happened on Friday – that T will still emerge as the “final girl” in his story.

Through supports, accommodations, intervention therapies, awareness raising, advocacy, the invisible Boogeyman in his life will become more visible and the fear will die down, giving us the courage to face the ongoing challenges.

Today, Saturday, was a trying day, but we stuck to our guns and he was grounded.

We took T to swim lessons. He did an amazing job.

In the afternoon, I took him to the park and enjoyed watching him initiate play with a group of boys.

As I watched him laugh and smile, I reminded myself that he’s just a kid, trying to find his way in this world with the cards he’s been dealt.

And for that one moment, I told the Boogeyman to fuck right off.

On a Night Like This

When the unicorn of a night out without T presents itself, I grab it by the horn and go for a ride.

Going into parenthood 6 years ago, I knew weekend night outs by myself would be rare.

When we do go out, it’s usually with friends; company that we enjoy.

Parenting a child with FASD/ADHD is exhausting – physically, mentally and emotionally – and I’m a proponent of self care and alone time.

A few weeks ago, a grade school friend visited from the UK and our friends got together for dinner.

We enjoyed yummy sushi and it was wonderful having adult conversation and not having to look to my side to see what T was up to.

Afterwards, we stopped by a bakery in our old neighbourhood to browse the decadent treats.

As thanks for giving me a few hours to myself, I got the hubby his favourite strawberry slush bubble tea as takeout.

I parted way with my friends at 9:30. As I drove home, I blasted Kylie’s “On A Night Like This,” which still sounds like pop heaven 22 years later, and amused myself with the thought of how much life has changed with T.

In our 20s, the hubby and I would just be getting ready to go out at 9:30 for a night of dancing and drinking with friends.

Now, 9:30 is past my bedtime and when I start turning into a pumpkin.

A fun night on the weekend now is about time spent with the hubby and T, or eating with friends, or sitting around a campfire in summertime.

Life is centered around T now. For better and for worse, I feel thankful for this.

I made it home just in time to help tuck T into bed. It was a good reminder that absence, even for a few hours, does make the heart grow fonder.

“On a night like this,

I wanna stay forever.”

– Kylie Minogue

Secret Sauce

Asian cooking and special needs parenting have one thing in common: assembling your ingredients.

Hear me out. I have not gone off the deep fried end; not yet, anyway.

As parents of a child with FASD, the hubby and I have learned so much.

We’ve been blessed with help to create a toolkit of ingredients to support T’s day-to-day life:

  • Therapy and early intervention – Speech, occupational, behavioral
  • School accommodations, supports, advocacy
  • Medication
  • Consistent routines – At home, school, on weekends
  • Self care strategies – Exercise, diet, sleep, counseling, outdoor time, hobbies

Every child is different, so the mix of ingredients – the secret sauce – to respond to each situation will differ.

Asian cooking is similar in it’s often down to the sauce.

Cooking is a self care hobby and I’ve created a toolkit of staple ingredients:

  • Light soy sauce and dark soy sauce – There’s a difference, as I’ve learned
  • Cooking wines, such as Xiaoxing, mirin
  • Oyster sauce
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Vinegars, like white, black or rice
  • Spices, such as Sichuan peppercorn, five spice, curry powder, star anise
  • Corn starch – Great for thickening sauce
  • Fish sauce

It’s therapeutic to visit the Asian grocer and slowly browse the aisles.

Only in an Asian grocer do they have an entire aisle just for soy sauce. All affordable options too!

Like raising a child with FASD, Asian cooking is a combination of following a recipe, working with what you have, experimenting, having fun.

And if the dish doesn’t work out as imagined, it gets disposed off later the same way anyway. 😆

Here are dishes I recently enjoyed making:

Chicken Ramen

So excited to have made ramen eggs!

Mongolian Beef

I learned the technique to making tender beef: slice the beef diagonally against the grain and mix it with baking soda.

Garlic shrimp pasta with green onion pesto

The green onion pesto gave a nice Asian twist to the spaghetti.

Mango Curry Chicken

Mango Curry Shrimp

I had leftover sauce from the meal above, so I made a shrimp stir fry. I don’t like to waste. 😊

Braised Beef with Daikon Radish

This was a comfort meal growing up and I was happy to have replicated it with the Instant Pot.

Chicken Fried Rice

Chicken Congee

A simple soothing meal via the Instant Pot.

The Traveller

What’s the meaning of a name and does it express one’s desire in life?

For social studies this week, T completed an assignment that asked to research his name.

It turns out one of the meanings is “traveller.”

To see the world was one thing the hubby and I prioritized during life before T.

Traveling is harder to do as parents but we find ways to have adventures with T.

Valuing experiences over things is something we instill in T – and I wish to see as much of the world with T.

I wish for T to experience everything the world has to offer – with or without us – and to not put a limit on where life takes him.

When we learned his name’s meaning, I thought back with a smile to our adventures: camping, roadtrips, Spring Breaks.

I feel thankful for these opportunities and I look forward to the adventures ahead.

Parenting a child with FASD is also about traveling on an emotional journey – the biggest adventure of the hubby and my lives.

It challenges us like a difficult hike, but the views at the peaks are so rewarding.

Part of travelling is also taking time to rest at pitstops and give thanks for the journey.

Today, on Canadian Thanksgiving, we are hosting a small family dinner.

We got up early to start cooking and cleaning.

T got his reading work out of the way in the morning – a blessing as this can often be a painful prolonged task.

I paused to give thanks for the great progress he’s made with his reading, especially when compared to just a year before.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a walk while the hubby prepared the turkey.

After lunch, I snuck away to enjoy the endorphin rush of a gym workout.

When I got home, T was in the yard, alternating between playing with fallen leaves and helping the hubby with yard work.

Family arrived at 6 and we sat down to enjoy a hearty meal.

As I took things out of the fridge, I paused to look at T’s Thanksgiving school activity, on which he wrote: “I’m thankful for my dads.”

We feel the same way, T.

His writing needs practice, but the heart and spirit are there. 😊🙏 I just noticed on the top left, he tried to write “I’m thankful for Taco Bell.” 😆

Wherever you are joining from, I want to wish you a happy Thanksgiving. May your travels be blessed with joy and adventure.

Cross Country Race

Our little guy competed in his first cross country school meetup today.

For a kid who is endlessly active, gym is a class T struggled with the last few years.

For his mid-year report card last year, his gym teacher gave him an “I,” as he didn’t participate enough for her to give a proper assessment. He ended the year with a C+.

But she does try to find ways to engage him and suggested that he join the school cross country team this year.

Today’s meetup took place at Earl Bales Park, near our old neighbourhood. It is a city park with a ski hill that runs a mini chair lift in winter!

We’ve gone hiking there many times and here was T charging up that ski hill in Fall 2018. I saw my life flash before me when I made it to the top.

So we felt hopeful T would do well today.

We reminded him the most important thing was to try his best, have fun and to pace himself and not burn all his energy at the beginning.

Well, T did amazing.

He finished in 8th place – and the first from his school – in the Grade 2 race.

We are so proud of our guy!

The hubby took the day off to spend with him. His teacher not so subtly told us that it’d be wonderful if we could come to cheer him on.

Never one to mince words, the hubby was like, cut the crap, you want us to supervise him. He got to ride a school bus with little kids today. 😂

All kidding aside, I’m glad the hubby got to witness this proud moment and that T got to see Daddy cheer him on at the finish line.

Today is an excellent reminder of what is possible when schools find ways to identify strengths in their students and create opportunities to build their confidence.

Walking Towards Hope

Inspiration exists in all forms and they are so important when traveling down unpaved road.

Thanks to our FASD service provider, the hubby and I recently joined a cohort of parents and caregivers for a weekly support group.

It’s an 8-week pilot initiative hosted by Surrey Place, an amazing organization that has supported T since his toddler years, including providing his assessment and diagnosis earlier this year.

These virtual sessions take place over the lunch hour, which is great, as I can join from work.

The sessions are informal, with short presentations, resource sharing, and time for parents to ask questions and to meet special guests.

During the fourth session this session, we had special guest, Myles Himmelreich, an individual with FASD.

When we first received T’s prognosis six years ago, it was quite the emotional punch, and we went through the usual cycle of grief.

I tried to search for success stories. They were few and far in between but Myles’ story repeatedly came up over the years.

So it was so wonderful to meet him.

He spoke about what it was like to live with a brain and body disability, covering similar points from this video he filmed years ago.

It was refreshing to hear his candor about his struggles and reassuring to hear about his many successes, including his work as a motivational speaker which takes him all over the world.

Even though we’ve read and learned a lot about FASD over the years, it was still sobering and heartbreaking to hear Myles speak about his many struggles – being misunderstood and unsupported at school, drug use in his adolescence, homelessness in young adulthood.

During the Q&A session, one parent asked him for advice on how to help kids who threaten to hurt themselves. I listened intently as the hubby and I see some these behaviours emerging in T when he’s very disregulated.

I asked Myles for his advice on friendships, as this is an area where T struggles, and the two-year disruption of the pandemic certainly wasn’t helpful in this regard.

What resonated with me the most about Myles’ message to parents was the importance to create a safe, supportive and accommodating environment in helping kids like T to thrive.

I left the session feeling recharged.

I have no doubt there’ll be lots of bumps along the way, especially as T enters adolescence, but it was inspiring to see there are positive outcomes ahead, thanks to individuals like Myles.

Our service coordinator let us know they are looking at piloting other initiatives in the near future, including meetup events for families and kids, like outdoor hikes and equestrian therapy, and possibly an opportunity for kids like T to meet role models like Myles.

I think this is so important, not just for parents and caregivers, but especially for kids like T. To see that there is a path, many paths, that lead towards hopeful and positive outcomes.

Rain

God bless the innocent unfiltered honesty of children.

During a drive to a family lunch today, there was torrential downpour.

The visibility was bad and the conditions got quite dangerous at one point.

Suddenly, T says matter of factly, “Good thing I don’t live with my mother. She’s homeless. I would be soaking wet!”

T’s birth mother, in fact, is homeless and because she was unable to take care of him, he was put into foster care and eventual adoption.

We’ve told him bits and pieces about her, whenever he asks, because it’s important to be open and honest about his past, so he can move into his future with a complete sense of self.

He brings her up from time to time, often during the most unexpected moments – like this one.

I will admit we laughed at his comment, not because we are making light of his mother’s situation, but because kids are so honest.

If you add FASD on top, you never know what’ll get blurted out!

On the drive home, I brought up T’s earlier comment.

I reminded him that while his mother has a sad life, it is thanks to her T, the hubby and I are a family.

And for that, we’ll always be thankful.

Reading Buddy

We’re experimenting with our little guy’s love of younger kids to build his reading and social skills.

At the start of every school year, I watch and reflect on this “Common Strengths of Students with FASD” video by social worker Dan Dubovsky.

It’s apparent T loves younger kids and they bring out his patient and caring side.

Kids with FASD generally do better with younger kids; one reason being related to dysmaturity.

One of my favourite moments during daycamp pickup this summer was watching T walk with the kinder-age kids from their outdoor play area to the school and holding the door open as they walked in like ducklings with the staff.

We think it’s a blessing T was placed in a Grade 1/2 split class, as being around younger students can be socially beneficial.

I thought about the daycamp moments as I recently completed the questionnaire his teacher provided to start his Individualized Education Plan.

I suggested to T’s teacher whether she’d be open to having T visit the kindergarten class from time to time this year to be a helper, an idea sparked by Dubovsky’s video.

We think being a “big brother” to little kids may also boost his confidence and self esteem.

Reading is a skill we continue to work on with T. He’s made steady gains and we want to maintain and build on his momentum.

One of the best ways to learn, research has shown, is to teach a concept you’ve learned to others.

So I also suggested T could be a reading buddy to younger students.

I sent these suggestions to T’s teacher with zero expectations and made it clear there’s no worries if these are not feasible at this time.

His teacher responded and said she liked the idea. Visiting the kindergarten class is unlikely at this time because they are still settling into the year.

But she said there are younger kids in T’s class that need help with reading and she’ll ask T if he’s agreeable to helping out.

I was thrilled as it was more than I expected.

Parenting a neurodiverse child is about keeping an open mind and trying things out; about building on successes and moving on when things don’t work out, because they often don’t.

But never giving up on trying differently rather than harder.

I have zero expectations of how or where this “reading buddy” idea will go from here, or if the idea will even have liftoff.

But the seed’s been planted and all we can do is to hope, try, and to keep trying.

Ferry ride during July weekend roadtrip to Tobermory.

Guiding Light

Earlier this month, Pa would’ve turned 100.

I thought about him when T had his first swim lesson.

T’s always loved the water. The outdoor pools saved our pandemic summers and T loves swimming in lakes during our outdoor adventures.

He’s very comfortable in the water and it was time he learned proper swim technique.

We found a school that offered smaller classes, a teacher-student ratio of 1:3. It was a sound investment to support T’s ADHD.

The first lesson took place after the first week of school. T’s excitement was palatable.

He got up on a weekend at 7 am and when it came time to leave, he got changed and brushed his teeth on his own with no fussing.

Who was this kid?!

The lighthouse at Presqu’ile Provincial Park during our recent camping weekend.

When we arrived at the school, we reminded him about “listening ears” and to have fun.

The hubby took T to shower then left him on the pool deck.

We sat in the parents’ viewing area. I was impressed T stood patiently for five minutes until his teacher called him into the water.

I was so proud T followed instructions. Every time he finished his task and looked towards us, we waved and gave him thumbs ups.

His kicking, breathing and strokes need practice – and that’s ok. He will get better with time.

As we sat for the 30-minute lesson, the hubby and I reminisced about taking T to parent-child gymnastics five years ago – and how we hated it.

We would alternate classes and dreaded our turn – because we’d get more workout than the other kids, because T never sat still and we spent the entire hour chasing after him.

It was when his FASD first started to feel real. I got so mad by the end of those classes – and once snapped at a meddling mom. 😂

T has come a long way since. We’ve come a long way since.

Watching T take his swim lesson from the viewing area reminded me of when I was 9, a bit older than he is now, and Pa did the same for me when I took swim lessons.

Life truly is a circle. I’ve transitioned from the child and learner into one of the guiding lights in T’s life, a role Pa once held.

Putting T in swim lessons is not just for building a needed life skill, but to also help build his confidence and self esteem, while having fun.

Just like when I took swim lessons as a child, the hubby and I celebrated the end of T’s lesson by going to McDonald’s for lunch.

During the car ride, we told T he did great – and the most important thing of all, it looked like he had a lot of fun!

And he said that he did have fun indeed.

Planning and Collaborating for School Success

Week 1 of Grade 2 is in the history books!

We stepped into the school year with cautious optimism. T ended Grade 1 on a positive note but entered the new year without a dedicated CYW.

School is often a challenging journey for kids with FASD. This year, we will build on T’s many strengths and try different approaches based on lessons learned to support his needs.

Raising Awareness

The super team at FASD Caregivers Success created this awesome Understanding Me document that explains what FASD is and lets parents fill in info about their child’s strengths and needs.

The hubby and I will give it to T’s teacher and we think it’ll help them develop his IEP and understand him better.

Establishing Routines

Following routines is important, as is understanding the trigger points during the day.

Last year, it was often the after school bus ride to daycare that caused issues.

We asked the daycare staff if they could have a debrief as he gets off the bus, to let him share any issues so they can course correct.

They said it may not always be possible, given staff resources, but we are thankful they are willing to try where possible.

Helping Develop Independence

When we debriefed with T’s teacher and CYW at the end of Grade 1, they said T needs to practice getting settled in class and packing up at the end of the day. So we’re working on it.

I also mentioned T’s writing needs improvement.

His teacher suggested making writing practice purposeful and one idea is to get T to contribute ideas to our weekly grocery list.

So we put up a magnetic whiteboard from the dollar store on our fridge. Before I do groceries, I ask T to write requests down. Yes, we need to work on healthier requests – and spelling “marshmallow” – but one step at a time!

Adjusting Medications

Before school started, we met with T’s developmental pediatrician to ask about adjusting his medications.

The hubby read other parents rave about Guanfacine and how it helps with mood issues often seen with ADHD meds.

So we started T on Guanfacine in addition to Biphentin – and stopped Methylphenidate – on Day 1 of school. I’ll share an update in a future post.

Creating Weekend Learning Opportunities

We’re in the camp that thinks giving kids homework is beneficial, so long as it’s low stress and about practicing concepts.

We’re continuing reading practice and while we wait for T’s new teacher to assign school books, I borrowed these T-friendly library books.

We also have worksheets left from T’s Grade 1 teacher that she gave for summer practice. We’ll finish them over the coming weekends.

This weekend, T started swim lessons! More on this fun new activity in a future update.

Teamwork Is Key

As T’s parents, we have to trust in the school and daycare staff whom T spends a substantial chunk of his days with.

Advocacy, checking in and course correcting are key. Genuine and respectful collaboration is essential. This means give and take – and understanding T is one of many kids in the mix.

It’s not always easy, especially when I feel the anxiety of lost resources. But we’ve been blessed the school and daycare support, accommodate and understand T so far.

Marathon Not Sprint

This continues to be a hard lesson for me – but I’m taking it easier; not just because I feel tired at times.

It doesn’t means I’m less attentive – but it’s about picking and choosing my battles and focusing on the big picture and not sweating the small stuff.

T feeds off our energy and taking a measured calmer approach benefits us all.

Have Fun

We’re making a concerted effort to celebrate every success and to savour them – to be in the moment and not worry about the next speedbump.

Week 1 of school was short – three days – and T had an awesome first week.

His school has a new CYW that serves the entire school, instead of just T, but she spent a large chunk of the first week with T.

She gave detailed updates each day and we saw a lovely note for T in his bag on Friday night and put it up on our fridge (above), so T can share in the proud moment:

“T, you did an excellent job all day today. I’m so very proud of you. Keep up the good work.”

This was a wonderful way to end T’s first week and I hope it sets up a foundation for the road and its ups and downs ahead.

Best wishes to all parents, caregivers, children, teachers and school staff in the year ahead!

Watermelon Sugar

Do you run towards or flee from inevitable sunsets?

September 9 is FASD Day, commemorated during FASD Awareness Month in September.

September 9 symbolizes the ninth month of pregnancy and this day helps raise awareness about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the experiences of individuals with FASD.

People are encouraged to wear red shoes, an idea by RJ Formanek, an individual with FASD, to help start conversations about FASD.

Thanks to RJ’s advocacy, Canadian landmarks from coast to coast – including CN Tower and Niagara Falls – are “turning red” this September 9.

As a caregiver of a boy with FASD, this day is a good day to pause and reflect.

I previously reflected on trying differently rather than harder and the importance of advocacy.

This year, my reflections centre on time: plan for the future, let go of yesterday, live in the now.

I thought about this during a recent after dinner walk T and I enjoyed at the park.

He was whining about something inconsequential – I don’t even remember what – and I noticed how the days were getting shorter.

I thought about how I was going to miss that little boy voice, even at its whiny worst, when it cracks and matures one day.

In a summer that flew by with wonderful moments, one seemingly small moment that stood out was when I chopped up a watermelon for a BBQ potluck.

T came up and ate a few slices as I prepared my platter. I loved watching him relish that sweet fruit – and later again with my family.

This summer, I became particularly sensitive to how quickly childhood is flying.

When I see T running down the field during our walks, I noticed how much taller he is.

The other night, he asked me to sit on the chair next to his bed and he then sat on my lap pretending he was a toddler again and I was reading a bedtime story like I used to do with him.

He didn’t feel as light as a toddler anymore!

As parents – especially those caring for kids with additional needs – the worries never end.

We are always hyper-vigilant and thinking about and planning for the worst case scenarios.

We ruminate over how we could’ve handled things better – long after the moments have happened.

We often don’t let ourselves fully enjoy a positive moment, because we worry about when the other shoe will drop.

When we see the sun setting, the instinct is to start heading home before darkness falls.

This summer, my perspective changed: I wanna run towards the sunset.

To soak up every last moment of light before the night arrives – because it’s going to arrive anyway, regardless of which direction we run.

And on this same recent evening walk with T – with the start of the school year just around the corner – we played outside a little longer, underneath that sweet watermelon sunset.

“La Vie Il Faut La Vivre”

Life must be lived. The words scribbled in French on the railing looking out at the lake.

It was the final Saturday of summer break, four days before T’s second grade journey began.

We were at beautiful Presqu’ile Provincial Park, located a little over an hour from the City.

We left the day before, right after work. We began T’s summer with camping and we were ending nine weeks of happy memories doing the same.

We stumbled upon Presqu’ile in 2020 during a detour home and I’m glad we came back to take more time to explore it.

We arrived after sunset and it was our first time setting up our tent in the dark.

T was awesome and helped hold the flashlight so we could set up. Afterwards, we started a fire and roasted marshmallows and looked up at stars.

I thought about how we sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to T at night when he was younger.

We got up early and enjoyed two morning hikes, starting with Marsh Boardwalk Trail.

I am a sucker for boardwalks, especially with overgrown plants on both sides.

It was sunny and warm but not scorching.

The walk was calming and my mind went into autopilot and felt clear and light.

I loved watching T explore and get curious at the different plants and bugs at the marsh.

We admired the beautiful flowers that grew in the muddy waters. There’s a metaphor about life somewhere in this moment.

T enjoyed having the vast space to run around in, to explore and to climb.

Beautiful textured bark on a cottonwood tree.

We did a second shorter hike to the Lighthouse before lunch.

I love how nature playfully creates experiences, like these trees creating a whimsical walkway…

… that reveals something awesome beyond it.

It was around the corner from this Lighthouse that I found the words of wisdom scribbled on the railing looking out to the scenic lake.

“La Vie Il Faut La Vivre.”

I asked the hubby, who is fluent in French, to translate.

Life must be lived.

I thought about these words throughout the day.

After lunch, we swam at the nice sandy beach.

The water was refreshing and we soaked up the moment, because we knew these days are dwindling away as we near autumn.

T is at an age now where we could leave him unsupervised to play on his own on the beach – digging up and throwing sand to his heart’s content – while we stayed in the water.

After two hours, we headed back to camp and packed up for home.

To T’s disappointment, we decided to leave a day early, because rain was expected at night and into Sunday. It’s never fun packing up in the rain.

When we got home, the rain started. We quickly unloaded everything from the car into the house.

T helped carry many of the items inside. We smiled and praised him for his good teamwork.

It was a wonderful way to end summer break with our curious, adventurous and up-for-anything boy.

This summer flew by and I’m thankful for all our memories. Yes, there were many meltdowns and challenging moments that made us want to poke our eyes out.

But whatever.

Coming out of the 2.5 years of the pandemic – and other challenges – has changed my perspective on life and on parenting a neurodiverse child.

Life will always be filled with ups and downs, but we’ve got one life to live and it flies by so quickly.

La vie il faut la vivre.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Experiencing life through a child’s eyes is sweeter when you do something for the first time together.

On Sunday, our friend, T’s Auntie E, whom we recently went to Tobermory with, organized a stand up paddle board outing for friends and us.

E is a SUP hobbyist and took us to Cherry Beach, a scenic place I’ve never been to in the 33 years I’ve lived in Toronto.

As the name suggests, you go out onto the water on a paddle board standing up.

As we departed from shore, E gave us a crash course on how to paddle, to go from kneeling position to standing up, to maintain our balance and to get back onboard if we fall in.

We were blessed with beautiful weather – sunny, but mild, and calm winds and water.

T sat with me and did well! I thought that our hyperactive kid would cause us to fall in the water repeatedly. But we only fell in once near the end, because my knees were tired.

It was awesome being in the water and we went in a few times to enjoy a refreshing dip. T felt completely at ease with his lifejacket on.

As we paddled away from shore, I wondered where in relation to downtown Toronto we were.

And then I turned my head around…

… and saw the Toronto skyline behind us; the CN Tower and skyscrapers dwarfing the tall trees on the beach shoreline.

It was truly an awe-inspiring moment.

We paddled about 1km away from shore towards Tommy Thompson Park, a 10km stretch of land known for scenic hiking and biking trails.

We sat on our boards near the park shore for a while and watched the skyline in the distance before we paddled back to Cherry Beach.

I could’ve started thinking about a metaphor for this moment – you know I love them! – about finding balance in life with T onboard, literally!

But I chose to be in the moment.

Life with T teaches us to be present and to inspire us not to put limits on what we can do together.

Summers and childhood are so short and T goes back to school in a week.

I want to milk every moment.

I was thankful to spend this most amazing day with good friends, the hubby and our T.

Training Wheels

The sandwich generation experiences the joys of kids growing up and the sorrow of aging parents.

Earlier this summer, T showed interest in bike riding again after having no interest last year.

While he loves zipping down the park, he doesn’t yet feel comfortable taking off the training wheels.

And that’s ok.

I thought about the milestones T has experienced and the ones ahead – and it feels like a series of buildups to taking off the training wheels.

Hands pressed against the wall as he learned to walk. Holding my hand as he learned to go up and down stairs. Hand over hand as he learned to eat with utensils. Getting him potty trained. Hours of practice to help him learn to read.

For me, training wheels also represent the additional scaffolding supports we’ve been blessed to have for T.

Speech therapy to help him learn to talk. Behaviour therapy to help us support T in his early years. His amazing Child and Youth Workers who supported him in kindergarten and Grade 1.

In my prayers, I often hope for T to be successfully independent one day.

It’s too early to tell what the future holds, but I am aware there may be a future where the training wheels don’t completely come off.

Enjoying kayaking with T during our recent visit to his grandparents.

Life is a circle – our youth a mirror image of our twilight years.

As I coordinated and took Ma to her appointments the last two years after her stroke and then her muscle disease, I thought about how training wheels return in our elder years.

I watched her work hard during physiotherapy appointments to learn to walk with balance.

I listened with amusement as she told me about working with a speech therapist after her stroke caused her to slur her speech.

I am aware of how limited time is as she asks to hold my hand when we walk outside.

Being part of the sandwich generation is an inevitable part of growing up.

The most trying moment to date was a very stressful week this past March.

As we looked forward to a long-awaited Spring Break vacation, I had to plough through four busy days of work plus four appointments for Ma.

Then T got sent home sick. So we also had to take care of a sick child and virtual schooling, plus the anxiety of our vacation being in jeopardy.

It all worked out – but the stress taught me I can’t do it all and to set clearer boundaries.

One day, T will kayak on his own without me.

A morbid person might say the second we enter this life, we are taking steps towards our exit.

But I choose to enjoy the incremental milestones, detours and side trips along the road of life.

Take it a day at a time and have faith that things work out the way they should and that every life lesson is a quiet teacher.

As with most milestones, T will move at his own pace – sometimes faster, sometimes as anticipated, sometimes needing more time.

This summer, he decided he would finally brush his own teeth without help from the hubby and I.

During a recent morning, he zipped through getting ready in the morning – which can be torture at times – getting dressed, brushing his teeth and combing his hair. All on his own.

Then said with a big smile, “Don’t I look handsome?”

He sure did. And very modest too, apparently!

Sanity Savers for Enjoying An Outing with A Neurodiverse Child

Some people joke their restless kids are “climbing the walls.” Kids like our T actually climb them.

I’ve seen memes of this boy climbing a pillar in an airport (below) many times on social media.

This kid is not T but he might as well be.

I empathize with this kindred spirit. Even though it’s never disclosed why this kid was climbing, I infer and understand how a restless impulsive ADHD/FASD mind can respond to a stimulus-rich environment.

During a recent outing with friends to the Bluffs, the hubby and I wondered where T had gone.

There he was!

Aside from his incredible upper body strength – I want to start him in parkour lessons – T never stops moving, climbing, jumping.

While it can make for tiring outings, we have lots of fun together.

Here are a few sanity saving tips the hubby and I have picked up on how to enjoy an outing with a neurodiverse child.

Preparation is Key

We give T a heads up about our plans, sometimes showing photos or videos of what to expect. Social stories can work for other kids too.

We don’t pack too much into our day, because at some point, kids crash – and that’s when tantrums can happen for T.

We pack a survival bag: snacks and water – avoiding sugary stuff like juice boxes – and extra underwear/pants, sunscreen, hats, etc.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

You gotta pick and choose your battles – or you’re gonna lose your shit.

When we went to the amusement park with T’s cousin last month, T was the one kid in the long rollercoaster rides standing and moving on the railings. I remember a bewildered mom staring at him.

The way I look at it: if he’s not getting in people’s space or at risk of hurting himself or others, I’m not gonna sweat it.

Oh look, here’s T climbing a tree – one of many – during our downtown outing with his visiting Aunt and cousin A – while waiting for ice cream.

Be the Calm

We are fortunate that most outings are fine, but boy, do things get harried when he has a tantrum or meltdown.

These moments test even those with nerves of steel.

It sounds easier said than done, but it’s all about deescalating. The lecturing, debriefs etc. can wait until after the storm has passed.

Reward and Incentive

We give T something to look forward to at the end – ice cream, funnel cake (below), etc. – because it can be used as motivation throughout the outing.

Yes, I’m not above bribing my child. 😂

If T does earn the reward, we pair it with praise and positive reinforcement.

A trip to Canada’s Wonderland is not complete without funnel cake at the end of the day!

Avoid Comparisons

It’s tempting to compare your child with others – like at a restaurant when every child is sitting still and T is hopping on seats like a frog or crawling under tables.

But I stopped comparing nor caring, because I know what makes T exhibit his behaviours.

If a parent ever called me out, I’d tell them to count their blessings their child do not have the daily struggles that T does.

Find Activities They Enjoy

When T’s cousin came to town, we took them to the museum and Ripley’s Aquarium (below).

As expected, T zipped through both places, so I never got to immerse myself as much as I would’ve liked.

But there were moments that had his sustained attention – like the dinosaur exhibit or the jellyfish tank (below).

And that is the key: finding things they enjoy and build on them. Like camping, swimming, hiking.

When kids like T are engaged in something they enjoy, that’s when magic happens and positive memories are created.

Watching hypnotizing jellyfish at Ripley’s Aquarium.

Build in Rest Time

We try to build in quiet time at home at the end of our outings for ourselves.

We all need to decompress. This means I’m sitting in my room quietly and the hubby is watching TV – and if T is looking at a screen, so be it.

We try not to pack our weekends and limit outings – especially with others – so there’s lots of time to just our family and for individual downtime.

Have A Sense of Humour

As I always say, it’s best to find a way to laugh – even at how crazy the FASD journey can be – because the alternative is to cry.

In 2017, the first time we travelled out of Canada with T, who was just under 2, we flew to Miami to attend a friend’s wedding (below).

T had a massive meltdown at the airport checkin line. It was likely due to lack of sleep as we were up very early and it was noisy and bright.

The hubby and I started to panic. Thankfully, a sympathetic staff rushed us to the front of the line and we skipped a 45-minute wait.

When the hubby and I got over the embarrassment, we joked that next time we should see what else we could milk from a meltdown.

Maybe get bumped up to first class? Or at least an extra bag of peanuts?

We made it to the wedding, despite the meltdown. T looked adorable in his tiny dress shirt!

At the end of the day, every child is different and what works for T may require a different approach for another – and vice versa.

The hubby, T and I have lots of fun together. They make the extra preparation and occasional tantrum or meltdown worth it.

We build memories, because childhood – and summers and life itself – is so short.

Once the outing and meltdowns have long passed, the excitement, fun, laughter and happiness are what remain.