Monday, 17 October 2016

“You are on the Autism Spectrum” — A trial run.

I am taking a break from reading a text entitled How to Talk To Your Child about a Diagnosis. I have read it several times over the last few months. I know the moment is coming to talk to Leo. It almost came in the spring. Then it almost came again last week.

I wrote about learning of my son’s Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis when he was two years old. I updated a year later, when our family was adjusting to living with autism. And here we are now, five years later, talking about telling my son he has a developmental brain disorder.

Leo is 7-years-old. Reading that, I feel like it is too young to tell him he has a disorder that will impact his choices and actions for the rest of his life. But is it really?

PG and I don’t want to ever give him an excuse to not want to try something new. To think he won’t be good at something. To hold him back. 

At the same time, sometimes I think that he is ready to hear it, and that knowing his brain works a bit differently, might help him comprehend situations where things have not felt quite right for him.

It also might be an “ah-ha” moment for his twin brother, Eli.

Last spring, one of Leo’s educators at his former school almost told him for us. In actual fact, she told her son that Leo was on the spectrum. Her son was in Leo’s class, and this boy started telling other children in the class. So, the son of one of Leo’s educators almost told him for us.

As Leo’s parents, our first reaction to hearing that children in the twins’ class knew of, and were talking about, Leo’s diagnosis, was to have an epic freakout. You know the kind. The kind of freakout where if we were cartoons, steam would be coming out of our ears. The kind of freakout that means you put the kids to bed early and then, maybe, swear a little (or a lot.) The kind of freakout that required our neighbours to come over — with wine.

In our experience, any differences amongst children our twins’ age (7), including a former classmate afflicted with Down syndrome, could, and should, be summed up with these words: everyone is different. Everyone has different strengths. Everyone has different limitations. Everyone needs a little bit of help in different ways. That was all that Leo and Eli ever needed to hear if they had any questions about a person’s behaviour that was different from their own.

But we took a breath (drank some wine), and came to a couple of conclusions. 

One, obviously this educator must have thought that Leo knew of his own diagnosis — that was our bad. He had always been young enough that we assumed that no one would think that we had that conversation with him yet. 

Two, we needed to get ahead of this so that Leo would not learn of his diagnosis from a 7-year-old classmate. He deserved to hear it from his parents, in a comfortable environment where he could ask questions and have alone-time if needed. But we were not ready, at that time, to tell him. It did not feel right and we did not want our hands to be forced in this matter. So our attention turned to stopping the children from talking about it.

I went to the school the next morning to talk to his teacher (who was not the educator that nearly outed the diagnosis.) I told her what had happened. She promised to be my eyes and ears at school. If there was any rumblings of the A-word, I would get a call and would be able to get Leo so I could have a talk privately with him. 

That call never came. We were able to make it through that last month of their former school without having to tell our sweet Leo, that he is, and always will be, on the autism spectrum.

Most of you know that our family has been through a lot of changes this summer. Another move (this is now the sixth house that our children have lived in.) PG back with another NHL team. Another school for the boys — their third. This time we weren’t going to make the same mistake about not communicating to the school that Leo does not know he is on the spectrum.

In classic Groulx family style, we made our presence known at the new school long before the school year even started. The accommodating principal took the boys on two tours of the school to make sure they felt comfortable before the first day arrived. We met with the new teachers before the first day, where I was able to sneak them both a sheet of paper, outlining any of Leo’s challenges and what autism-related behaviours they might come to see over the course of the year from L. We knew their school day schedules. We were ready for that first day of school.

When it arrived, and the boys were standing in a line ready to enter the building that first morning, the nerves crept in. They stood, hugging each other, until it was time to enter. I held back, watching them, feeling all of the feels, tears masked by my Ray Bans.


Brotherly love and first-day-of-school nerves.
I had prepared them as best as I could. We visited the school a number of times, meeting the principal and teachers, we talked about the daily schedule. I did what I could do. Now it was time for them to go inside, by themselves.

My eyes are welling up with tears as I am typing this, because I can’t help but draw a parallel to telling Leo about his diagnosis. We have prepared him as best as we can. We have given him tools. At some point, he has to learn of it, and make sense of it, on his own. 

We got a lot of early help for Leo when he was a toddler. I have taken several seminars on parenting children on the spectrum. We don’t let him give up on situations that are hard for him. 

For example, Leo has a sensitivity to sound. This was never more apparent to me than one time when we were having lunch at home together. It was a September afternoon, and Leo was home sick from school. I made him some soup and we were sitting at the dining room table in our cottage, with the window open slightly. He covered his ears with his hands. 

“Leo, what is the matter? Why are you covering your ears?” I asked him. 

“Because the birds are chirping so loudly, Mommy.” Were there birds chirping? Yes. If I stopped and listened, I could hear a bird or two chirping outside. But it barely registered as background noise to me. And here was this child, sitting at the table trying to drown out the incessant chirping. I closed the window and we finished our lunch together. I am forever grateful for that day because it provided me with a snapshot of what it is like to be Leo.

So do we always avoid noisy environments to help him? Hell no. There is not a chance that this kid is going to be able to stay out of uncomfortable, or loud, situations for the rest of his life. So we come up with ways for him to cope through. At family events, where it is loud and there are many people, he has a quiet area where he can go to regroup. I carry earplugs in my purse in case of pop-up marching bands or in case we ever find ourselves smack in the middle of a flashmob. (That, by the way, has never happened before but I kind of wish it would. Just sayin’.)

We are, of course, a hockey family. When I say that, people assume the boys play hockey. They don’t. Leo refuses to learn to skate. Ha! And PG and I have never forced the issue or pushed them to play a sport they are not interested in playing. What I mean by hockey family that is that we live where we live because my husband is a hockey goalie coach. The boys are citizens of two countries because of hockey. They have spent time in three European countries because of hockey. Hockey, and hockey games, are a part of our life.

I want both the boys to know what it is like for their Daddy to take them into the locker room of a professional sports team after a big win. I want them to see their Daddy after a tough loss, and watch him figure out how to regroup and start again the next day. I want them to experience what it is like to be a hockey family.

Of course, hockey is a LOUD part of our life. The easy thing would have been to always let Leo stay home from hockey games. But, instead, we looked for a solution. 

Ear plugs just didn’t cut it in the loud arena environment. I was going to buy noise cancelling headphones, but then a friend of mine posted a picture on social media of his daughter, who is the same age as the twins, at a concert. She is wearing an earmuff type headphone to protect her ears from the loud noise of the show. Bingo. That’s what we needed. I found a pair of ear protection headphones for a child up to age 10 and they did the trick. Leo happily sits through hockey games wearing those headphones.

E and L at a hockey game.
He has even come up with a couple of other ideas of where to wear them.

“Mommy, can I wear my headphones to the movies when the new Star Wars movie comes out?” Um, yeah. You can, dude.

That’s autism in our house. Challenges? Yes, we have them. But we are always trying to come up with solutions for him to get through anything he faces.

Now PG is with the Ottawa Senators. The two of us have been talking lately about trying to work with the team in order to do some fundraising and to increase autism awareness, like we did when we were in Montreal

We are so fortunate. Leo is high-functioning, communicative, affectionate, and one of the sweetest little boys I have ever met.* We know we have it so good. But we know that other families have children at different spots on the spectrum and their challenges can be difficult. We want to do all we can to increase autism awareness.

But if we do this again, with an NHL team, we have to think of Leo. He is now school-aged and has not asked for any extra attention that his Daddy’s job (or his Mommy's blog) might bring to him. We have to keep him in mind, and measure that with the fact that we are in a position to bring awareness and help fundraise for autism groups. 

That is one of the primary reasons we are thinking of telling Leo about his diagnosis. We will not let him hear from anyone but his parents. It almost happened before and that won’t happen again. I did a trial run the other day.

He came into our room while I was ironing and he was talking about Pokemon. When he stopped talking, I told him that I was at a seminar earlier that day. He asked me what a seminar was. I told him it is a presentation where you learn about something. He asked what I was learning about. I hesitated, and then said, “Autism.” 

I dipped my toe into the water.

Leo laid down on our bed at this point, not looking at me, and asked, “What is autism?”

Do I dip another toe in? Do I wade in slowly? Do I just say to hell with it and dive in head first?

“Autism is a developmental brain disorder. It can impact people — lots of people, both adults and kids — in many different ways. Some people hear noises a lot louder than other people. Some people have communication trouble, so they can get upset quickly if they feel like they are not understood. Some people do repetitive behaviours, called stimming, to help them deal with things, or noises, around them. Things like jumping up and down a lot. Or flapping their arms.” 

I waded into the water, holding my breath at this point.

“Does that sound like anyone you know, Leo?”

He waits for a few seconds and then tells me that he is going to trade one of his Pokemon cards at school the next day. Okay, Leo. You do that. I know he heard me. It did not upset him. It did not lead to any more questions. But I know it is percolating. 

Because we can’t let him hear it from anyone else. Because we want to be able to fundraise for autism while PG is in a position where he can raise some awareness and do some good. Because, every day, it is feeling more and more like it is time.

I have read a lot about it. The closer I get to actually telling him, the stronger I am feeling. He will not see sadness from me. He will only see pride. Leo’s ability to overcome his challenges leaves me in awe. His now-strong communication skills floor me. And PG and I always comment on his ability to self-regulate and take breaks when he is feeling frustrated or upset. If only everyone had that ability to take a quick 2 minute break when they are feeling angry!

My brain works this way. Leo’s works that way. Just like we have brown eyes and others have blue eyes. There will be no sympathy. Not from us. I only want him to see, and hear, strength from his parents. There is nothing wrong with him. Just like his brother, Leo is unique. Special. Our little lion.


This is autism in our family at age 7. 
Our Leo.

*I realize I am biased, but he really is!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Autism...Three Years Later

Two years ago, PG spearheaded some autism fundraising in Montreal. He is doing it again. On May 9, the Captain of the Buffalo Sabres, Brian Gionta, will be at PG’s office at 318 Ridge Rd. in Ridgeway, Ont. He will sign autographs from 11 am to 1 pm, for everyone who provides a donation toward autism programming at Bethesda. 

Please come out to support this initiative and feel free to share this blog to spread the word. :)

Wow. It has been two years since I last wrote about autism and our family. Time really does fly. At that time, we were one year into Leo’s diagnosis of being on the spectrum and finding our way through any challenges. We lived in Quebec and had a great support system in place.

Two years ago, around this time, PG and I were fundraising for Autism Speaks, doing our part to help promote autism research, awareness and compassion. Soon after the Montreal walk, where we helped raise just under $10,000, PG’s contract was not renewed with the Canadiens and it took us exactly six days to pack up the house we were renting and leave Quebec.

Our destination was our cottage in the sleepy beach town of Crystal Beach, Ont. Moving provinces can be tricky. Everything from our vehicle registrations, to our health cards to our driver’s licenses had to be changed. But understanding how the new province helps children on the spectrum proved especially difficult.

Eventually, I found my way, thanks in part to another parent at my kids’ school, who also has an autistic son and had already woven her way through the system. First we had to go through an organization called Contact Niagara, which acts as a central referral access point, for those 18 and under in the region who have emotional, behavioural and/or developmental concerns.

After going through the process with Contact Niagara, we were referred to Bethesda, an organization that provides a variety of services for children and youth who are on the autism spectrum.

In Quebec, Leo was due to start 10 hours a week of therapy at the preschool he was set to attend in September. In Ontario, we found things work differently. Leo would not qualify for the 10 hours of therapy a week here. This was only for kids at a very different place on the spectrum than Leo. 

I was frustrated. I felt like Leo was not autistic enough to get any help, but we still had challenges that we faced. Begrudgingly, I agreed to have his name put on the waiting lists for the things he did qualify for at Bethesda.

Then something amazing happened…Leo started school. He started junior kindergarten in the fall of 2013. PG and I were worried. Would this make his aggressiveness with other kids worse? Would this improve his communication skills or set him back? How would having his Daddy living in Europe three quarters of the time effect him during his first school year?

So many questions. But I dropped the twins off at their tiny school, with their backpacks dwarfing them on that first day, and hoped for the best.

Leo and Eli on their first day of junior kindergarten.

What we got was better than we ever hoped for. I am not going to totally sugar coat it…sure there were plenty of times when Leo got “hands on” at school. Still does from time to time. Initially, he could not make it through a school assembly. Too loud. Too many people. Too hard to focus. And I did get quickly acquainted with the school principal, constantly trying to ensure that Leo was getting the support that he needed.

There was one day when I found out that Leo’s EA (educational assistant) had been changed without my knowledge and I was walking, rather heatedly, toward the principal’s office. When I got within 10 feet of the office, the fire alarm rang. I still joke with PG that the principal must have been watching a video of me walking towards his office and pulled the alarm. 

Over time, the development we saw in Leo (as well as his gorgeous twin brother) blew our minds. His communication improved so much that by the time his name came up on the wait list and he was evaluated by a speech therapist that spring, he no longer needed any speech therapy. He developed a great interest in art and music through that school year.

Our hearts soared with pride when he was named Student of the Month. He loves learning. He loves friends. He loves using his imagination. School was one of the best things that ever happened to Leo. Part of me thinks Leo would have done well at whatever school he was at. But another part of me knows that this particular school experience was perfect for him.

So proud of this mini! Leo was Student of the Month in his third month of school.

The twins go to a school, in a tight-knit community, that has a little more than 100 students. They are lucky enough to have three amazing women in their classroom with them for the past two years — a wonderful teacher and an ECE, and an EA who is always there to help Leo. The principal has been fantastic and we find that all of the teachers in the school know our sons by name...which is amazing.

During his first year of school, he would start his day by doing his “exercises” with his EA, things like walking like a crab and superman stretches, little techniques that would help him get his “beans” out and keep his hands to himself. In the early days, Leo would often have a weighted cat that would sit on his lap, or over his shoulders, at assemblies to help him get through. He no longer needs this.

Just after the twins’ started their senior kindergarten year, I got a call from Bethesda. Leo had reached the top of the list for one of the services for which he qualified. It was for respite services.

I took down the information but I already knew how I felt about it. I was all set to turn down the service. I didn’t need a respite from my child…that’s how I felt. I talked to PG about it and he felt the same way. No breaks needed for us. So I emailed my contact at Bethesda and told her that I thought there were other families that likely needed the spot more than us. 

The interesting thing about this was the timing. We had just had a visit from some family from out of town. We found that when family who don't get to see the twins often visit, a whole lot of attention is placed on the child who is on the spectrum. PG and I understand this. In so many situations, Leo has required additional attention. It is natural to want to focus this attention on him. But it often results in a twin who feels left out. And that sucks.

Eli is often the one who has to sacrifice or give in to his brother on the spectrum, just to calm a situation. He is often treated as the older, wiser child who is expected to behave a certain way to appease his younger, more demanding brother. Younger by one minute. It is not right. I know that is Eli’s reality, and is helping to shape him into the sweet, caring, helpful and sensitive young boy he is. But some days it doesn’t feel fair to me. That is how I had been feeling when I got the call from Bethesda.

Within half an hour of sending that email turning down the service, I got a call back from my contact. She took the time to call me and explain a few things. “Do you have any other children?” she asked. Yes. She said that this respite playgroup time, which was a few hours on Saturday mornings, for four weeks, was designed to allow parents time to focus on the other child. It wasn’t to be looked at as “needing a break” from your child on the spectrum. But instead, it was time where you know he is in an environment where he is developing his social skills, under the care of people who understand autism and his behaviour, while me and PG can focus on Eli.

My eyes welled up with tears as she spoke. Focus on Eli. Well-deserved and much-needed focus on Eli. I was so impressed by Bethesda that day. They could have very easily just accepted my email and taken Leo’s name off the list. Instead, they took the time to make a call to me. They took the time to explain what the respite service was all about. By the end of the conversation, Leo was all signed up for his first service from Bethesda. 

It was a fantastic experience. Leo loved his Saturday morning “Befesda” play groups and he still asks when he can go back. As for Eli, it was amazing to spend that time with him. We did a variety of activities with him, including taking him up the Skylon Tower and to an indoor water park. He loved the attention from Mommy and Daddy and Leo loved his playgroup. And to think I nearly turned the service down.

Around the same time, I got notification from Bethesda that I qualified to attend their Triple P parenting course. It was Thursday mornings for a couple of months. I agreed. At this point, I was not going to turn down any service they provided.

It was an excellent course. If anyone ever gets a chance to take a Triple P parenting course, I advise you to take it. It helped me as much with my typical child as it did with my child on the spectrum. It is so interesting when you take the time to fully examine the function of your child’s behaviour that you would like to change. Many times, their behaviour can be changed when you make a point to change the way you react to a situation or alter your own behaviour. Like I said, it would be positive for any parent. It should be a parenting prerequisite.

One of Leo’s biggest challenges right now is his inclination to hug. Any child. Anywhere. That sweet little girl in his class…hugs her. The little sister of a boy at swim lessons…calls her “cute as a button” and hugs her. It is something that he can get away with now because he is 6 and charming. But what about when he is 10? Or 16? Or 25? 

It is a behaviour we recognize that we need to change. The people running the Triple P Parenting workshop helped me create a game for Leo that involve putting people he knows in different “circles” that symbolize what kind of contact he can have with them.

For example, his family are in the green circle and he can feel free to give full-on hugs when ever he so desires. His classmates and his teachers are in the yellow circle, where he is encouraged to give high-fives instead of hugs. And then strangers are in the red…no contact, dude. No contact. It has been a helpful tool in dealing with Mr. Hugs-a-Lot.

In addition, the other parents who attended the course all exchanged numbers. It is such a relief when you have other parents who understand your specific challenges. It is great to build a network like that full of people you can turn to when you are facing a specific dilemma.

Those have been the two experiences with Bethesda we have had up-to-date, although I just got a call last week from Bethesda and we are about to qualify for another service. Leo is in amazing place right now. He is such a charming, hilarious and bright little boy. When I go back and read my initial blog about him being diagnosed on the spectrum, I am taken back by how far he has come in such a short amount of time.

Leo dancing to music at a parade...something he could not have done just a year or two earlier.

While I was discouraged when I first moved to Ontario and found that the system was different from Quebec, I have come to immensely appreciate the services provided by Bethesda and to understand how they are beneficial to my family.

Once again, I will say that PG and I know our situation is not the same as other families who have a child on the spectrum. The spectrum is so vast and we know others face so many more challenges than we do.

Speaking of challenges, this past year has been a challenging one for our family. It has been full of many changes and lots of questions. We are so grateful that autism and its challenges, have played such a minor role in our lives this year. And we are thankful for the services we have received from Bethesda.

We want to give back to Bethesda and help them in providing their services to all of the families in the Niagara region. That is why PG, who is a newly practicing realtor in the area (part of those major changes I spoke of!), has arranged a fundraiser at his Royal Lepage office in Ridgeway.


On May 9th, PG has asked his friend, Brian Gionta, to come to the office and sign autographs and meet anyone who provides a donation toward the autism programming at Bethesda. We thank Brian for taking the time to do this, and we hope to see our community come out to help us support the services provided to those families who face autism challenges.

video


Here is a video of Leo doing his "bum dance" for your viewing pleasure.


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Reclaiming My Cool

Something happened to me almost five years ago that aged me. It made me care less about my appearance (not in a good way). It made the 30-year-old me go from being what I would consider sort of cool, to officially uncool. It somehow convinced me to just give up. I am talking about leaving the house with unbrushed teeth and hair and wearing sweat pants (I don’t even mean yoga pants here, Ladies) - without thinking twice about it.

No…it was not the birth of my twin sons. It was the day we bought our minivan.

Something happens to a woman when she sits in the driver’s seat of a minivan for the first time. It is instant aging. I think it was probably only a few years, initially. I sat in the driver’s seat of our Volkswagen Routan, a pregnant 30-year-old woman. By the time that first drive was over, it was as if I was a pregnant 33-year-old woman…whose fat feet no longer fit any of her cool heels. It worked that quickly.

Sure, I see all the reasons my husband thought it was a great purchase. Even I was wooed by the impressive interior, the automatic doors, and all of the perks it contained (two televisions+two kids+two sets of headphones=peaceful, long road trips). Impressive, Volkswagen. Das Minivan.

I even fooled myself into thinking that we got the coolest type of minivan. Yes, she is a minivan. BUT, it is a VOLKSWAGEN. As if that was going to somehow stop the aging process.

Five years later, the magical aging process of our minivan has intensified. I’d say it is up to  about 8 years now. While in actual years, I am a 35-year-old mother of two 4-year-olds, by the time I climb out of my minivan at the end of the day, it as if I am a 43-year-old mother of 12.

That’s why our next vehicle purchase, suggested by me in hopes of regaining some of my former coolness, came in the form of the Jeep. Oh man. I love our Jeep. I mean, LOVE it. If the minivan is the vehicle that steals the cool from a woman, the Jeep is the opposite of that. It reinstates the cool.

There is nothing like putting the top down on a beautiful summer day, driving stick, playing loud music, feeling the wind in my hair, and the sun on my face. I like to think of it as reclaiming my cool, as the added years of the minivan melt away.

The Jeep attracts compliments. Teenaged boys say ridiculous things to me, such as, “Cool wheels.” To which I knowingly smile. Cool wheels, indeed. He doesn’t need to know that my second vehicle is a freakin’ minivan. If I am 43 when driving my minivan, I am 27 when driving my Jeep. Yep. It is that good.

That is why, in the freezing cold of this winter, I am opting to drive the Jeep instead of the minivan. Sure, the kids can get themselves into the minivan and into their booster seats with no help from me, while I have to lift them into the Jeep (too hard to climb up wearing their winter gear). Sure the minivan’s doors just automatically open with the touch of a button, while I have to open the door with the Jeep the old-fashioned way. WITH MY HAND. 

The thing is, I feel like I am just a few months away from doing school runs in my robe and curlers when driving the minivan. But the Jeep gives me back my ‘try.’ It even gives me a little community of people who know the elevated coolness level of Jeep driving.

I am going to tell you about something that Jeep owners don’t tend to divulge to people who don’t drive Jeeps. We all wave to each other. Any day. Any time. If one Jeep passes another one, the drivers wave. It does’t matter if you are driving a two-door or a four-door, have a soft top, hard top or no top, or the colour of your vehicle. If you are driving a Jeep, you are one of our people.

Even the kid* who drives around Crystal Beach in the summer time, doors off, roof off, with music blaring and with a huge printed sticker on his windshield that says, “GO TOPLESS!” Even him. He’s our people. (By the way, dig his Jeep humour.)

We don’t picnic together. We don’t have monthly meetings to talk about our Jeeps. We just wave. We acknowledge that no matter what other type of vehicle you may own or drive, right now, you are driving your Jeep and reclaiming your cool.

Within these Jeep waves are even different levels of coolness depending on the wave you choose to deliver.

I have received many different kinds of waves in my history of Jeep driving. I have gotten the overzealous wave-like-you-know-the-other-person wave. I have received the salute wave. The stick-your-arm-out-the-window wave is a favourite wave of many guys over the summer months. There is also the peace sign wave (one of my least favourites). One of my favourite waves not only to receive, but also to give, is the driving-with-your-arms-stretched-straight-in-front-you-and-just-coolly-raising-your-hand, or-a-few-fingers-off-of-the-wheel, wave.  Perhaps coupled with a nod, to acknowledge the passing of a Jeep.

One thing is for sure, the Jeep wave should only be carried out by experienced professionals. I once allowed my Mom to drive the Jeep while we were on a road trip together. She waved at a passing Hummer. We learned Hummer drivers do not wave back.

The very best thing about Jeep waves, is hearing about the first time a Jeep driver discovers that this is a thing. No one tells you about this when you buy your Jeep. The dealer doesn’t tell you. It is not written in any handbook. You just learn it organically. And most Jeep owners will tell you the same thing. They thought they were looking fine in the beginning.

I think you notice that the people of the sex you are most attracted to start to wave at you first. So even if there was an equal number of female and male Jeep drivers waving at me the first few times I drove my Jeep, I mostly noticed the male ones. I thought this could only mean one thing…I look damn hot. Obviously!

Wherever I go people are waving at me! That was until I came home and told my husband. Bubble burst. People were also waving at him. Oh…they are acknowledging the Jeep. That was when I started to realize that the Jeep had magical powers too. It was allowing me to reclaim the cool I had lost, and undo the years I had aged, while driving the minivan. A minivan ages your ass, while driving a Jeep magically firms and lifts it.

My friend Sarah knows exactly what I am talking about. She was in the same boat as me. Mother of two and her wheels were a minivan. I say “were” because Sarah couldn’t handle the premature aging that came along with the minivan. She traded those wheels in and got herself a Jeep. 

I laughed at Sarah’s description of feeling cool when the “GO TOPLESS” Crystal Beach kid* passes her in the summer, himself driving without a shirt, giving her the cool arm-out-the-missing-door wave. And how she jokingly attempts to give him the flash he is requesting. Alas, her shirt is always tucked in, and belted, and he is blocks away by the time any requested flashing could take place. (After all, Sarah and I ARE responsible 35-year-olds).

See! That’s just it. No one is asking the 47-year-old mother of 16, driving the minivan, to flash him. But the shirtless kid*, who has just come from the beach, is waving at the 24-year-old mother of -2, driving the Jeep, and requesting her to show him a little skin.

When I drive the minivan I think that kid* is ridiculous. But, driving the Jeep…let’s just say who knows what will happen if I ever pass him on a beautiful day, driving my Jeep, when my shirt is not tucked in. I’m just saying…


*I realize calling someone who is probably in his early 20s “a kid” makes me sound old. And crotchety. This is also a result of driving a minivan for five years.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Conquering (hopefully) My Enemy


My name is Wendy. And I am a popaholic.

I am midway through Day 4 without diet cola. I have tried to break my addiction to diet cola several times before.  Obviously unsuccessfully, because here I am again. Jonesing for a fix.

There is no need to send me any of the forwards about the evils of diet cola. I have read them, watched them, and have been equally skeptical of them and horrified by them. I have watched the documentary where the trucker uses cola to wash roadkill off of his truck. I know how bad diet cola (my weakness is Diet Pepsi) is for my teeth enamel and how studies are showing that artificial sweeteners can actually cause you to gain weight by disrupting the body’s ability to regulate calorie intake. I have heard about the kid who dissolves a nail in diet cola for his science fair project and I have heard the rumours about people suffering from cancer, brain tumors and multiple sclerosis...all at the hands of diet cola. Man...this drink sounds like such an asshole.

I have seen it all. I have read it all.

I am not one of those people who swears that aspartame is the devil. I guess it is leftover  beliefs from my Canadian Food Inspection Agency days (shout out to any of my peeps still working there!), where I had to answer questions about artificial sweeteners in diet cola on a daily basis. I trust the science and the food safety regulations put in place by our government. I don’t think there is some conspiracy theory about aspartame and other artificial sweeteners. I would like to call upon one of my favourite websites for some clarification on some common aspartame myths: Snopes.

Before anyone gets mad at me for not believing aspartame is evil, please read the next paragraph.

I don’t think there is any benefit to consuming diet cola. There is nothing good about it (except for the glorious taste as I swallow that first sip in the morning) and it is full of additives that may or may not aid in the process of removing roadkill from some dude’s truck. It is not something I want to consume. I drink it because I am addicted to it.

There are two reasons why I try repeatedly to give the shit up. One: my kids. I have four-year-old twins and my husband and I do not allow them to drink pop (see above paragraph.) And therefore I don’t think they should witness Mommy crackin’ open a can of garbage every day to get my morning fix.

They’ve already asked about it. I tell them it is an “acky-boo adult drink.” Enough said. The term “acky-boo” was introduced to them by my Dad, as a way to indicate that something was not good and they should stay away from it. As of now, things on their acky-boo list include skunks, peas, and Mommy’s morning can of adult drink.

Telling them it is acky-boo works right now. That is all they seem to need to know. But it won’t work for long. Soon, one of them is going to see a friend, or an older kid at school, opening up an acky-boo adult drink and suddenly Mommy is going to be a big ol’ liar. Not to mention a big ol’ hypocrite who will explain why I don’t want my kids drinking pop, while I sneak away to get my fix. So I need to kick the habit pronto, so our house can be a pop-free place.

What is my second reason for giving up diet cola? I am stubborn and it pisses me off that there is something sold on grocery store shelves, at every gas station and in machines at shopping malls, that I have become addicted to and that I actually suffer withdrawal from when I stop taking it. I mean drinking it. Basically, it pisses me off that I am addicted to diet cola and I am determined to stop drinking it. This time. For sure. I think...

Now I am not one of those people on daytime talk shows who chug back multiple two litre bottles of diet cola a day. I am more of a 2 can a day kinda girl. One first thing in the morning to get me going - it is my coffee (I have never drank coffee before.) I need this diet cola in the morning to function, to get the kids ready for school, to feel awake. Then I usually have one early afternoon, when I need a little kick to keep me going through the day. 

I am not suffering caffeine withdrawal. I have had three teas already this morning, so I am getting my caffeine fix. But something else is giving me headaches. Something else is giving me moments of raging bitchery! 

Just ask my twinkies who made the mistake of not listening to Mommy when she asked them to stop the silliness yesterday at lunch and eat their soup. Let’s just say, my freakout was followed by some very quick, very quiet, diligent soup-eating. In my family, it is called channelling “Gokmis” - a native word for grandmother. I never met my great-grandmother on my Mom’s side, but let’s just say she sounded like a charmer.

But, during my freakout, I just as easily could have been channeling my Gokmis, my Mom’s mom. I remember her babysitting my brother Greg, who had a friend with him, and I, one night. The boys were being loud and silly (probably a lot like my twins yesterday) and I remember my Gokmis marching up the stairs, screaming at the top of her lungs. My brother and I still laugh about my brother’s friend Keith yelling, “I’m not Greg! I’m not Greg!” once Grams made it into that room.

I remember a Gokmis moment for my Mom, when I was a kid. My Mom was never a yeller. Instead, she would channel Gokmis in a total passive aggressive way. One time, she led my brother, me and my Dad into a bathroom, and taught us, step-by-step, in a scary-calm voice, how to change an empty toilet paper roll. She scary-calmly demonstrated how to take the empty roll off, throw it in the garbage, open the cupboard, grab a new roll...you get the idea. I still think of her every time I encounter an empty toilet paper roll.

Now, when I think about it, I bet all these women were just around the Day 4 mark of kicking their diet cola habits. 

So wish me luck. This bitch of soda is not going to win this time. I am going to get past the irritability, past the slight headaches that don’t want to go away, and I am going to beat this thing. I will make it to Day 5. One day at a time.

I have been replacing the drink with loads of tea, water and Perrier with lime. I still miss that cold feeling of the diet cola as I took the first morning swig, but I am hoping that the other drinks, along with my determination not to let diet cola win, will help me kick the acky-boo adult drink. 

I think, like any addiction, you have to want to quit. After all, hearing about my drink of choice being used to scrub animal carcasses off of vehicles did not make it stick last time. This time, I am relying on me. My will to not let diet cola beat me. 

You're going down, diet cola. (And by down, I don’t mean down my throat.) 

Friday, 29 March 2013

Leo the Lion and Our First Year Living With Autism


With World Autism Awareness Day approaching on April 2, and Montreal’s Walk Now with Autism Speaks coming up on May 26, I thought it was time to write a follow-up blog entry about Leo and autism. And to ask you for money (keep reading). :)

A lot has happened since I wrote about Leo being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder 14 months ago. Hurdles have been leaped and new challenges have appeared. But, above all, the last year has shown me that there is nothing Leo can’t do.  

First, let me tell you about birthday parties. Leo and his twin brother Eli, just celebrated their 4th birthday in March. They had never had a birthday party. It sounds terrible when I type it. I know I sound like an evil mother who has denied her children a basic right of childhood. But it was scary. Scary for us to put Leo in that position. And scary for P and I to put ourselves in that position. I had always been too nervous about Leo’s unpredictable behaviour when in a noisy, full-of-kids environment. But the decision to skip parties meant that Eli also missed out on birthday parties. Which just sucks. A lot.

We took them to their first birthday party in November. We left after an hour and a half...before cake was served, but just before Leo was about to have a major meltdown. It was a major step for us. And major wine was drank that night.

Since learning of and completely accepting Leo’s autism diagnosis, Pierre and I have spent the past year learning about autism on a daily basis. I never stop researching, reading and “Googling” after the kids go to bed. Leo (and Pierre and I) receive help from his government-appointed therapist Sarah-Ève, and we found the right person to work with Leo privately (we love you, Christina!) All of this work by Leo, Sarah-Ève and Christina, and Pierre and I, has paid off for us, with Leo growing up so much and learning how to handle different situations and us learning how to teach, talk to and give a high-functioning autistic child what he needs to thrive.

I am delighted and proud, and a little bit choked up, to say that Leo and Eli just had their very first birthday party last weekend. It was a big, big deal for our family. We had 8 kids in total and had the party on a pirate ship in a pet store. The kids got to hold and pet animals and the twins had the best time. Eli will tell you the best part was the presents. Leo will tell you the best part was the cake. :) Yep...we made it to the cake this time.





He had to take a few breaks from the group when things got too loud and hard for him to handle. Despite a run-in with a squawking parrot, Leo was a champ and made it through. We couldn’t have been prouder. And we couldn’t have been more exhausted when it was over. Bring on the wine. 

I know it may seem like a small thing to people who have typical children - having a birthday party for your child. For us, it was huge. It felt like we had overcome a huge hurdle and I can’t even tell you how amazing it makes me feel to hear Leo talking about his party and how “awesome” it was.

Now I am going to tell you about potty training. Shit. It was bad. A year ago at this time, I was reading so much information on potty training autistic children...things like children still in diapers at 12-years-old. In the beginning of working with Leo, I am not going to lie, I definitely feared the worst. There was one time, at our cottage in the summer, that I had Leo sitting on the potty for two hours. TWO HOURS. I had given him drink after drink, put a movie on for him on a portable DVD player, sat on the ground next to him, and was determined that this was going to be the time that I got a drop of pee out of him, into the potty. After the two hour mark, the phone rang. I got up to answer it (a huge mistake) and when I turned back around, he had stood up and peed all over the floor. I told him it was okay (although he wasn’t really that upset about it). I went into the laundry room, closed the door, and cried my eyes out. 

It seems ridiculous to type that now.  That it was pee on the floor that broke me. But it did that day. It broke me. After that, I gave up for a bit, for sanity’s sake. He was back to pull-ups and I figured I would regroup and try again in the fall. Then we met Sarah-Ève. (Cue the light shining down on us and dramatic music.) She was assigned to help us from the Quebec government and she changed everything. Through her, we learned the importance of social stories for autistic children. Social stories are descriptions, from a child’s perspective, of an everyday situation that helps the child prepare for upcoming experiences.

She started creating social stories for Leo. The first one was called “I can go to the toilet” and it had a cartoon picture of a little boy on the cover wearing a super hero cape. It sounds so simple, right? Creating a book, specific for the child, that details how to go pee in the toilet. It totally worked. Within a week of receiving that magic little book, Leo was peeing in the potty on a regular basis. Once he got, he got it.

Pooping required another book altogether. It was a bit of a harder road that involved a LOT of shit. It involved an obscene amount of toilet paper, ridiculous amounts of laundry and me washing my hands about 300 times a day, with them still somehow, at the end of the day, smelling like shit. It was gross. But, here is where the importance of having the right people around you when you have an autistic child and a husband who travels a lot, comes into play. Sarah-Ève and Christina convinced me, all the time, not to give up. Christina would come over for therapy with Leo and just give me a break. She’d be the one who would take a turn in the bathroom with Leo, reading the book over and over again, sitting on the floor while he was on the toilet, for 45 minutes at a time. There were definitely days I would have given up if she hadn’t pumped me full of encouragement.

In less than three months, the little boy that I feared would still be in diapers at 12-years-old, was completely potty-trained and even wearing regular underwear to bed at night. He did it. We did it. A little more celebratory wine. :)

We also have social stories about what to do when Leo feels upset and for sharing toys. We have a “calm-down chair”, a “time-out corner” and a special calendar that Sarah-Ève made with pictures of Daddy’s head velcro-ed to all of the days of the month that we will see Daddy. This helps the kids deal with Daddy’s heavy travel schedule this year. We have stickers on the calendar identifying the days that are “school days” and toys have been packed away and put out of reach to encourage Leo (and Eli) to ask for things and to teach them to cleanup one toy before moving on to another.  Our house has been transformed to make things easier for Leo. In making things easier for Leo, it has also made things so much easier for our family.

Situations that he wouldn’t have been able to recover from last year at this time, he pulls through like a champ now. 

I remember, at the beginning of the summer at our cottage last year, thinking how amazing it would be if Leo could tell me what he wanted for breakfast every morning, like Eli did. Leo just didn’t communicate that much - he probably had less than 50 words at that time. Now, the kid doesn’t stop communicating. In fact, this morning he tried to make a case that he should be able to have Easter eggs for breakfast. :) (I let him have one before breakfast...shhhh...don’t tell Daddy!) And instead of reminding him to look in my eyes and say “good morning” to me when he wakes up, as I had to do last year, now Leo climbs into bed with me in the morning, looks directly into my eyes and says, “Hi Mom. I had a good sleep. I have to go pee.” Like clockwork. Things have changed.

That is not to say we haven’t encountered new challenges this year. We have. Sharing is a constant issue for us and that is what his therapy is centered around right now. We are working on his aggressiveness with other kids (when he changed daycares earlier this year he decided to bite other kids during the transition...ugh.) And he is stimming a lot more lately - arm flapping, jumping and he gets a bit of a shake when he is angry or frustrated. We are always dealing with new challenges because of autism. But my outlook on autism, and on Leo specifically, has really changed.

Instead of being full of anxiety about what the future may hold for Leo, as I was a year ago, I am more convinced than ever that he can do anything that a typical child, can do. He is amazing. So smart, musical, artistic, and a really, really good boy. Simply put, I adore him.

I also adore Eli. I know that Leo would not be as far along as he is today if it weren’t for his brother, who is older by a minute. Eli is a constant support, comfort and friend, for Leo. We “use” him for Leo’s sharing therapy and he is such a big part of Leo’s progress. He is prone these days to saying, “I am waiting for my brudder” and “I want to do it with my brudder”. He is Leo’s best friend and my best helper. 





Things are going well for us. Not one day goes by that I don’t think about, and appreciate, how lucky we are. We have a high-functioning autistic son. I think about how different things would be if Leo was at the other end of the autism spectrum. It is something that P and I think about all the time.

It is this appreciation of the family we have, and our desire to encourage parents who have autism concerns about their children to have them go through the evaluation process (early intervention is key), that led P to encourage the Montreal Canadiens' Children's Foundation to get involved with Autism Speaks this April. April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day and P and I want to do our part to promote autism research, awareness and compassion. 

At the April 1, 2013 game at the Bell Centre, there will be a feature on autism on the scoreboard. You can see that presentation online at: http://video.canadiens.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=232194

I will be at a kiosk during the first intermission to tell people about an online auction that will continue for the month of April, where items including signed sticks from Steven Stamkos, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux and Vincent Lecavalier, signed jerseys from Carey Price, Tomas Plekanec and Craig Anderson and signed gloves from Stephen Weiss (just to name a few items) will be auctioned off. You can access the online auction at: http://auction.nhl.com/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/User?id=monNHL&wl=12717464&type=L
The proceeds of this auction will be donated, on behalf of Team Canadiens-Pierre Groulx, to Autism Speaks.

I am captain of Team Canadiens Pierre Groulx and the twins and I (and P, if he is not working - but let’s face it, we hope he is working! Go Habs Go!) will be participating in Walk Now for Autism Speaks on May 26, 2013. Please visit our team page at http://events.autismspeaks.ca/participant/LeoGroulx

Once again, money raised from the online auction will be donated to Autism Speaks, on behalf of Team Canadiens-Pierre Groulx, which of course, is the team created in honour of our wee Leo. Pierre and I would like to thank all of the players who donated items, and those who helped us acquire the items, that will be auctioned off and we would like to thank the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation for their help in organizing the auction and putting a spotlight on Autism Awareness at the April 1 game.

If you don’t necessarily want to bid on any items in the auction, please consider making a donation. Once again, you can access our team page at: http://events.autismspeaks.ca/participant/LeoGroulx

Thank you for your support - both your support of our participation in Walk Now with Autism Speaks and also, to our friends and family, for your love, kindness and the understanding that you have shown to our family over the past year - our first year living with autism. XOXO