The endless battle of screen time

I have started trying to write this post on many occasions, and I keep getting stuck and it never gets finished, but today I am going to try again as its something that I have really been battling with over the last year, but I finally feel like the tide is turning.

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I do feel like I am making some progress,  like I am beginning to win the never ending screen time war, and have finally managed to get to a point where the kids know I’m not joking when I tell them they have reached their limit and they have to turn it off.

Over the last few weeks we have finally established some very clear limits, and although the kids think I am being mean I know it will be well worth it in the end.

For a while they fought against it and complained that they were bored, my reply was “Great that’s exactly what I wanted, now go and play with your toys, or read your books, or use your imaginations, or draw or paint or make something.”

There is just so much more to do with your life and so much more to experience.

When I was a kid there was lots of time to be bored, which meant that there was also lots of time to be creative and generally get into trouble. If we were lucky there was about 1.5 hours a day of kids TV programming and Saturday morning TV was a major treat. But if you missed it you missed it and for most of the rest of the time there wasn’t really anything on TV to entertain kids. Although I do remember watching lots of documentaries and quiz shows with my dad. I loved QED and blue planet, and I think some of my love for science was born at that time.

There were also no other electronic screens to move onto when the TV was off. No computer, no phone, no ipad and very few trips to the cinema.

I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be a child with a brain that is developing now here in the 21st century when there is never ever the need to be bored. Our kids can literally be entertained 24 hours a day by a wide variety of electronic games, gadgets and screens, there is endless variety, and they are portable, in the car, in the church, in the shops there is literally nowhere where a child cannot sit and play with an electronic device.

For as long as I can remember I have been working deliberately to reduce (or more accurately to stem  the increase in) the hours that our kids spend using screens. It is super hard, I mean its like a never ending battle like shovelling snow in a blizzard and its one war that I never though I would be fighting. Over the last year since I have been reading more about sensory integration, and neuro-development it has become clear to me that no matter how hard this battle is it is one which I must keep on fighting.

Recently I met a mother who said that she had been told that because her son had autism that she should allow him to use the ipad whenever he wanted for as long as he wanted, because it was calming and a good way for him to zone out when the world became too stressful. Whilst I whole heartedly agree that this is a great reason to use an ipad, and it can be very helpful for when our kids need a distraction when things are stressful, I really couldn’t think of anything worse than completely unlimited use.

If I let my kids do this then they would literally spend all day every day attached to the device. They dont even have to come off it to eat or use the bathroom, I have even had requests from the to be able to watch films on it while they have a bath….Errm NO!

I have to say that the ipad has been a God send for us when Charlie cant cope with so much sensory input, a long noisy church service or a family meal in a restaurant, but to allow him to have unlimited use of it just seems like madness.

Often Charlie wakes up and literally the first words out of his mouth are “I haven’t had any screen time yet, can I have the ipad now?” I have heard lots of “it’s not fair” and “we are the only kids who cant have…” But they are slowly accepting the rules and things are changing some mornings now Charlie even wakes up and asks for toys.

When they get home from school they know that they can have only one hour on their choice of screen, and there are rules about having homework done first and no screens during meal times.

I was taking a call from my manager when they arrived home tonight and I was so proud of them when no one asked for a screen and this is how I found them when I finished the call. Their cousin was visiting and Lillie had even managed to offer to help her with her reading homework.

Honestly my heart nearly burst…

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The worst bit…

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Unfortunately our first adventure with funny blue bird has not been so much fun. Poor Charlie woke up yesterday morning with a high temperature and a cough and so was home sick from school making sure that the budgie doesn’t get too lonely on his first day.

I feel so sad for my little boy who is sick with a cough and a raised temperature but wont take any medicine to help and doesn’t complain about it either, just sits in the chair with big sad eyes.

Its hard to know how he is feeling because he doesn’t complain at all, he never ever tells you that he is feeling ill, and because of this sometimes I wonder if he has been ill and I could have missed it completely.

He wont take and medicine or health foods to strengthen his body or make him feel more comfortable. This is the part of selective eating / ASD that I hate more than any other. The part where he cannot be bribed or manipulated or forced to take the medicine, he is so stubborn and as soon as he sees it coming just clamps his mouth closed. Maybe it’s unfair to say that he is stubborn, I am sure that if he could choose not to fear new things and not to have such severe sensory issues around eating that he would much rather take the medicine and feel better for it.

He will sometimes eat sweet foods like gummies but he doesn’t see them as a treat or reward, he hasn’t eaten much at all today only some crackers and some tortilla chips.

This has happened before, the first time was terrifying, he must have been about 2 years old when his temperature went up to over 40 degrees, we called NHS direct and while the nurse there reassured us, they could only advise on ways to keep him cool. Thank God for Internet forums full of mum’s with children with similar difficulties who are able to give support and practical advice. One mum shared that she keeps a stock of Paracetamol suppositories in her house, just in case of emergency. From that day on so did we, and although we haven’t had to use them yet its reassuring to know that there is always a plan B.

Having been here before its less frightening, but it still makes my heart sad

Everyone’s experience of Autism is different, and I know that everyone has a different “worse bit”, for some families it’s supermarkets, unhelpful schools, meltdowns, IEP meetings, forms, doctors who don’t believe you, violent behaviour, bullying, sleepless nights, the list is endless…

For us it is this…

 

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Funny blue bird

Good news everyone, today we have welcomed a new member into our household.

His name is currently “Funny Blue Bird” as we let the kids name him, I think we may shorten it to “Blue” at some point in the near future.

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After school we all went to the pet shop together to choose him

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It was VERY noisy in the pet shop

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We had to buy him some food and a toy

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and be responsible for carrying the box carefully with 2 hands

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We had to take turns

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We welcomed him to our house…

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And showed him his new cage

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The cat is very interested in her new house mate.

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Welcome…”Funny blue Bird”

“Bring Grandma” Family-Centered care

‘Family-Centered care’ it sounds so simple and so obvious.

But why it is so often completely ignored and misunderstood by the system?

Maybe it’s because the system that we are caught up in wants to treat everyone as an individual, I don’t know.

But we don’t exist alone, we exist as families, live and work and play, hurt and suffer, win and lose as families.

The family unit is like the body of Christ described in 1 corinthians 12:26 “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” If one member of the family is struggling with a hidden disability then every member of the family is affected in some way, it is impossible not to be.

The system seems say this…

“we will help your child in school, you will help your child at home”

Then it says is this…

“We will tell you what to do and you can do it on your own.”

and this

“There is no money for therapy, you are your child’s best therapist”

How can this be the best way to help? How can this be right?

I spent much of the first 4 years of Charlie’s life asking for professional help, for someone to recognise Charlie’s difficulties as real, for someone to step in and help and to be the professional. I had never heard of Family-Centered care, but I did my best to try to explain that that was what we, as a family desperately needed.

Everywhere I turned I was told NO, I was told that my expectations were unrealistic and that what I wanted was simply not available. I don’t easily take “no” for an answer but by this time last year, I was so incredibly frustrated, my heart was broken and I was exhausted from trying to get blood out of a stone. I hoped that getting a diagnosis would change this but honestly, as I found out much to my disappointment, it changed nothing.

But something did change, and Thank God it did because truly I was reaching breaking point.

This time last year when we were planning to meet an OT trained in sensory integration for the first time, she told me to “Bring Grandma”.

She felt that if Grandma had some time during the week when she was caring for Charlie then she should be involved in his therapy too. Radical – I know but so simple and logical, and having grandma there at that first meeting has paid massive dividends. Why? because Family centered care is so important, because families are important and because anyone who is not part of the solution can quickly become part of the problem.

Charlie’s ASD presents as “mild” or “high functioning” because of this we were told again and again by teachers and professionals that his difficulties were our fault. We were sent on parenting courses, told to discipline more, be stricter, even to starve him into eating.

If I could single out one way in which Sensory Integration Therapy impacted my life, it is that every single therapist I have ever met has treated me as part of the solution, not as part of the problem. It is so refreshing to spend time with someone who gets that your child’s difficulties are not caused by you.

In August, I read this in Lucy Jane Miller’s book Sensational Kids p61

Parents who are living with sensational children need support. They want confirmation that their children’s problems are real and difficult to live with and are not the parent’s fault. They yearn to hear that they are doing a good job and that their efforts on behalf of their children are important. Parents of children with visible handicaps get a lot of support. Parents who have a child with the “hidden handicap” of SPD need support too, but are likely to be met with stares and demeaning comments when their children act differently than other children. 

In family centered care, parents and therapists become partners who assume different but essential roles. The parents identify priorities and are the experts on their child; the therapists measure progress toward the established goals and are experts in therapeutic technique. Using a family centered model, parents and therapists together use a specializes way of thinking about everyday life in order to achieve the goals that reflect the family’s culture and values………………….

……………Just keep in mind that family centered treatment is the standard of care for intervention and is widely available. There is no reason to settle for less

When I read this I cried. There it was in writing, exactly what I needed, and exactly what I had been trying to describe to everyone for years. It had a name, and there was no reason to settle for less.

We are blessed, because our family is so supportive, and because we have finally found the family centered care we were looking for.

There are so many families, still struggling to get the help that they need from professionals who tell them that they should settle for less than the best, or worse that their parenting is the cause of their child’s difficulties.

There are also families where grandparents don’t get it, where relatives simply don’t understand, but how can they when they are not treated as part of the solution? 

Grandma made Charlie a lovely weighted blanket, which he uses every night, to sleep and can hide under when he needs to feel calm.

Then this happened, and this was awesome…

Just before Christmas my sister took the kids out for a walk and came back with Charlie sobbing crying. She said he had fallen over but was fine afterwards, then about 3 minutes later he started screaming for no apparent reason.

He kept saying that his neck hurt but there was no mark or scratch or sting.

Then we found this tiny little tiny twig in his hood.

Looks like it fell off a tree and landed in his hood, touching his neck on the way past.

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Poor Charlie was so upset, I was sat holding him tight on the couch, trying to get in as much deep pressure as I could.

While my mum (Grandma) was looking for a heavy blanket to wrap him in I heard her say this to my sister…

“It must have brushed him lightly, and tickled or surprised him, The OT said don’t let things tickle him cos it will hurt him, if you are going to touch him do it firmly not very lightly because that won’t hurt him”

Knowledge is power and this is awesome, this is because Family-Centered care works, and no matter what you are told “there is no reason to settle for less”.