Autism Mum – Flour free fudgey chocolate brownies

Healthy Hearts Chocolate Fudge Brownie

Healthy Hearts Chocolate Fudge Brownie Free from dairy, gluten, and soy.

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. It’s a consequence of having an autistic daughter with multiple food allergies, intolerances, and self-restricted eating. At the moment beige and crunchy is popular; meat of any kind is not and calcium is also problematic. I decided that sardine cookies would probably not go down well and decided to turn my attention to lentils instead. Lentils contain a wide range of nutrients and are made up of over 25% protein.

I wanted to make something that tasted decadently chocolatey but without a lot of added sugar and minimizing ingredients that are common allergies. It can easily be adjusted to make it suitable for any food restrictions in the family, daycare, or school.

Healthy heart Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Ingredients

  • 2 x 400g tin lentils (approx. 2 cups of drained lentils)
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil
  • 1/2 cup almond meal + 1/2 cup fine rice flour
    • (or substitute 1 cup plain flour)
  • 1 cup dutch cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds
  • Optional: 90g pureed green vegetables (spinach, peas, courgette)

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free, soy free, peanut free.

What type of lentils to use?

There are many types of lentils and many online recipes suggest using red lentils. This is probably because they are split, skinless, and can have a sweet nutty flavour. To be honest, I went with what what was affordable and convenient – tins of brown lentils!

How can I replace egg?

I used egg as I wanted the protein but for an egg free alternative, you could pre-soak the chia seeds in 6 Tbsp boiling water for 15-20 minutes or use something like Orgran’s Egg Replacer.

Directions

  1. Put oven on to pre-heat to 180’C / 375’F. Grease your brownie tray (I use rice bran oil).
  2. Rinse lentils thoroughly. The lentils will need to be cooked and their cooking time is going to depend on what form you’re using (i.e. dried lentils will need to be simmered for 15-20 minutes).
  3. Put the kettle on to boil while you chop up the dates (the measurement of 1 cup is after they’ve been cut up).
  4. The dates need to be soaked in boiling water until soft. Personally, I took a big pyrex dish, put in my (rinsed) soft brown tinned lentils + my roughly chopped dates + a small amount of water. I then put it in the microwave on High for 2 minutes, stirred, and then put back in the microwave for another 2 minutes.
  5. Pour the hot date / lentil mix into a food processor and blend till smooth.
    • A metal blade is ideal for smoothness but then you’ll need to change to a plastic blade (or wooden spoon) for combining the rest; if you’re not worried about a perfect puree then you can just use a plastic blade throughout.
  6. Mix in sugar and maple syrup. Taste test for sweetness.
    • Note: instead of sugar, you could just use 1/3 cup maple syrup. The dates will also add natural sweetness.
  7. Mix in egg and oil.
  8. Mix in almond meal, rice flour, dutch cocoa, salt, baking powder, chia seeds, and any optional ingredients. (I went for green veggies, someone else might go for chopped walnuts).
  9. Bake for 30-35 mins.

The gluten free version comes out as a soft, fudgey, chocolate slice; with normal flour it will probably be higher and a bit firmer. Blind taste testing by neighbour was successful both for approval rating and not guessing the lentils.

Recommended topping: a spoonful of Nature’s Charm Coconut Chocolate Fudge Sauce. It tastes amazing while also being vegan, dairy free, and soy free.

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Scones with Extra Goodness: Autism Mom

Enriched scones

Enriched scones

Miss 3 has a range of food allergies, intolerances, and sensory issues with food. To my great surprise, these scones were a massive hit with her. She will eat two of them for breakfast (or lunch) and prefers them without any kind of topping. They are light, fluffy, and tasty with only minimal amounts of sugar (so much healthier than store bought cake).

Her soy allergy means I have to do all our baking myself and she is now intolerant to  drinking milk but seems to cope okay if it’s baked or altered by probiotics (like yoghurt). She needs lots of calcium for her growing bones which is why this recipe is packed with dairy. The wheat germ helps to provide added protein (and is also a secret ingredient for bread and baking to help provide a soft, fluffy feel). The spelt and rice flour can be replaced by normal flour but for me it’s part of overall measures to have her on (a) a reduced gluten diet, (b) to have her grains as varied as possible, (c) to introduce as wide a range of macro and micro nutrients to her diet as possible.  Sometimes with autistic kids it’s about reinforcing the goodness in what they will eat rather than despairing about what they won’t eat!

Ingredients

DRY INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups plain flour (strong flour also works)
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup superfine white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 2 Tbsp ground linseed (or LSA)
  • 6 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, or maple syrup)

WET INGREDIENTS

  • 50-70g chilled butter
  • 1/2 cup (or 150g) natural or greek yoghurt
  • 1 cup water

Allergies: soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 200’C.
  • Sift the dry ingredients (the wheatgerm and linseed will mostly remain in the sifter and can then be poured in).
  • Grate in the chilled butter and rub the mixture till it resembles breadcrumbs.
    • Note: Grating is most important when making dumplings as the butter remains intact and melts during cooking; I do find it rubs in very quickly this way when making scones.
  • Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add yoghurt. Mix gently.
  • Add the milk (about 1/2 cup at a time) and mix. Add a little water if necessary.
  • Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Use hands to gently roll and pat the scones.
    • Note: I find it immensely helpful to have a little bowl of rice bran oil to dip my fingers in so that the mix doesn’t stick to my hands. It also allows for a smoother finish to the scones.
  • Bake for 10 minutes @ 200’C. Check the scones; bake for up to another 5 minutes.
  • Allow to cool on a rack.

 

Variations

Star scones and Butterfly scones

Star scones and Butterfly scones

Butterfly scones

Butterflies, stars, cars, dinosaurs – whatever interests your child! Large plastic cookie cutters (i.e. the size of an adult’s palm) make wonderfully shaped scones that can help make these more appealing.

Blueberry and cream cheese scones

Blueberry and cream cheese scones

Blueberry and Cream Cheese scones

Add 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries and add wedges of firm cream cheese to the middle of the scone. (Miss 3 objected strongly to me combining ‘approved’ foods but I thought these were delicious!).

Feijoa Scones

Add 1/2 cup of thoroughly mashed feijoa pulp. Test the moisture / stickiness of the scones and add less milk if necessary.

Passionfruit Scones

Use passionfruit yoghurt (a good quality thick yoghurt like Puhoi or Piako). Consider drizzling passionfruit sauce or syrup on top.

Maple Syrup and Walnuts

Maple syrup has quite a mild taste so swap (and increase) the brown sugar for 5-6 Tbsp of maple syrup. Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup crushed walnuts. Consider adding a coffee icing.

Note: (1) Potential for nut allergy. (2) Great for adults but may not be suitable for toddlers (due to choking risk). (3) May not suit ASD kids due to the textural contrasts.

 

Extra Strategies to help with toilet training

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This is something of a personal issue for me since my 3.5 year old daughter has autism. She has twice shown an interest in toilet training and it was a disastrous affair since she simply lacked the interoception necessary to sense and control her bladder. At the time, she hadn’t been diagnosed and I simply accepted that she wasn’t ready.

I had researched toilet training by attending workshops, reading books, searching through blogs, and talking to other parents. I also wrote a series of articles myself which are aimed at neurotypical kids. These covered:

These are methods which will work for most families; however, some children need an extra level of support. For me, and others I know, it is because our children have special needs such as autism (ASD). Miss 3 struggles with sensory issues in a range of ways, including an awareness (and interpretation) of internal body signals such as the need to go to the bathroom. She’s not alone in this; many kids struggle with the leap from nappies to toilet for eliminating waste. Modern nappies wick away moisture and allow our little ones to stay comfortable without feeling a need to pause their play. We then place them in underwear and expect an awareness of being wet (sensory input) to result in a desire to be dry (perception) and a change in behaviour (action). In reality, these are all separate steps controlled by different regions of the brain and requiring different foundational skills; putting all of these together in a fluid and reliable manner is a complex change.

Extra Strategies to help with toilet training

Start by writing down all the challenges you associate with toilet training. Sort these into challenges for you (as a parent) and challenges for your child. Think about how you can address these challenges.

Write down goals for yourself and your child. Your long-term objective might be toilet training but there might be a number of short term goals that you need to address first (and this is where it comes in really handy that you’ve already written down all the challenges you need to work through).

Your child needs to feel safe and comfortable in the bathroom. It’s often a very functional room that adults spend little time in but the journey your child is embarking on means spending a lot of time in there. For those with autism and/or sensory issues, identifying triggers can be critical.

I knew my daughter didn’t like the bathroom but I thought it was because of associating it with nappy changing and discomfort as a result of very sensitive skin. I patiently worked as a detective to try and observe her behaviour and work out what she couldn’t tell me with words. One morning, I sat down with all the towels on the floor and struggled to find the right questions to elicit a response. I could see the progress in sensory integration and vocabulary work we’d been doing for months but she finds it impossible to answer general questions. At last I narrowed down my questions to ‘Which colour makes your body feel most safe and comfortable and still?’, ‘Which colour makes your body feel most muddly, shaky, and unhappy?’

Through a mixture of words and gestures, we were able to establish that a warm palette of soft sandstone and mocha were acceptable (as were accents of pink, white, and gold) but the jewel-like mix of towels in brightly coloured greens, red, and blue were highly upsetting. Other triggers, included the bright light (with the noisy ceiling fan powered by the same switch), the strong smelling soap, and the toilet paper (which to her felt like sandpaper).

I needed to identify which of these I could change (like the soap and towels) and which ones I could only minimize (like using the light in the adjacent room unless we were having a shower).

Sitting on the toilet requires both proprioceptive and vestibular skills; your child needs to be able to sense their body’s position in space and be able to balance. Consider sending time practising activities like naming which body part you are touching while they have their eyes closed, running, jumping, climbing, and walking on a balance beam.

The sensory feel of the potty or toilet seat is important. Some kids are happy balancing on an adult toilet seat, others are terrified by the feeling of space beneath their bare bum and the fear they might fall in. There are lots of options available on the market, my favourite is a cheap one – buying a toilet seat with an integrated flip-up junior seat.

Help your child understand how they need to be positioned on the toilet (and this requires modelling by a parent or sibling). Show them how they need to sit or move for each part of the process. For a girl, I’ve needed to teach her that her bottom needs to sit near the back, her knees need to be together, and her pelvis needs to be tilted down. I have a large textured sticker on the toilet seat (rear-middle) which she can feel with her hand to help guide her bottom. I also bought a super cheap mirror which we decorated together in colours she chose and which I hung opposite the toilet so that she could see herself and how she was positioned. The mirror also has the advantage of keeping her entertained!

Be aware that using the toilet is a complicated process; you can help your child by breaking down the steps into manageable tasks. Consider making a social story for potty training and putting visual reminders on the bathroom wall.

“Our sensory integration occupational therapist handed me pages of pictures showing the individual steps for using the toilet. Frankly, I felt overwhelmed. It’s such an automatic task that it hadn’t occurred to me how many micro-steps there are!”

“One game we play is ‘What’s under my bum?’ She stands with her eyes closed while I put a tiny plastic animal on a chair behind her. I guide her into sitting and she has to try and feel which side the toy is, roll her pelvis, and reach with her hand for it. She thinks it’s hugely funny; more than a game, we’re building skills she will need for the toilet – sitting, balancing, and movements associated with wiping.”

Help your child understand how using the toilet will fit into their daily routine; for instance, needing them to sit on the toilet as soon as they wake up in their morning. Communicate what your expectations are and consider making a poster about how the toilet fits into their daily routine. Some parents find it helpful to use a digital timer or a smart watch with vibrating alarms (like the FitBit) to help remind children to take regular toilet breaks. Teach kids phrases like ‘pause my play‘ for going to the toilet; this is less frightening (and less likely to cause a power struggle) then ‘stop’ as it means they can return to their task after sitting on the toilet.

Create an elimination diary so that you can get a feel for how often they are eliminating; this is incredibly useful for identifying patterns. You may also want to seek advice from a nurse if they are regularly holding urine for 6-8 hours or have no bowel motions for four consecutive days or more. Constipation can become a vicious cycle when combined with dehydration and anxiety; it hurts when they eliminate and so that makes repeating the experience seem like a bad idea! There are great articles on how to help strong willed children who may have anxiety around bowel motions; this one includes a template for an elimination diary. These child friendly resources from Continence Foundation of Australia explain how the bowel and bladder work and can be helpful to support discussions.

Think about your stance on motivations vs rewards. A motivation is something that encourages your child to do something (a behaviour or action), a reward is something that comes after an action is successfully completed. Often parents use rewards for toilet training, this may include everything from stickers to jellybeans. Instead, consider creating a special toilet treasure box as a motivation for sitting on the toilet and tying reward charts to keeping underwear dry (rather than eliminating waste). Be consistent with your child that the treasure box can only be played with while sitting on the toilet.

An ideal treasure box will have a lid and can be decorated with the child’s name and any potty party theme you are using. It’s a good idea to include several books (including at least one relating to using the potty / toilet). Give careful thought to your child’s interests and sensory needs. Try to include a few small toys they can choose at the shop; pictures they can look at; things they can manipulate with their hands; things that make sounds. Get inventive!

“We found a dog toy that looks like a rubber zebra and makes a hilarious laughing noise when it’s squeezed hard enough.”

“She has a few princess dolls that sit on their own potty while listening to the music from a wind up jewellery box.”

“We got one of those dinner trays with a bean bag base, painted the top black and added white lines. He zooms cars around the race track.”

Find underwear they feel comfortable in. It’s a big step moving from nappies to something which feels completely different; this is even more true for children with sensory issues, sensitive skin, or eczema. Some children find it helpful to have a breathable material, no elastic, and to be seam free. Lulu Funk is one such online retailer specializing in New Zealand made underwear for sensitive bottoms.

Accept that accidents will happen. They do and sometimes in the most ridiculously awful of places; remember that if you are calm and matter of fact about it that your child stands a better chance of internalizing this without getting weighed down by shame. It can also be helpful to focus on praising them for keeping their underwear dry (rather than focusing on eliminating in the toilet).

“One exercise we did was to bring out a favourite soft toy, two identical pairs of underwear, a bowl, and some room temperature juice. Elmo put on some dry underwear and a pretend Elmo did a ‘wee’ in the other underwear. We practiced touching ‘dry’ and ‘wet’; I talked about how sometimes it can be difficult to feel warm wee when the weather is really hot. I froze the wet underwear and later we practiced ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ again.”

It’s a good idea to teach your child where they should touch their underwear to check if they are wet or dry; boys are often wet higher at the front, whereas girls tend to be wet lower down.

Consistency, consistency, consistency. Having worked out your game plan, share it with everyone else involved in your child’s toileting. It helps to have teachers at daycare, kindy, or school following the same methods and routines as at home (as much as possible).

Decide what success looks like to you. It can be easy to assume that every family has an easy time toilet training but I promise you that there are plenty that struggle. As adults, we may have a reasonable expectation of using a toilet 100% of the time whereas lots of young kids simply get excited or distracted and forget. Think about your child’s developmental age, temperament, and the challenges you wrote down. Success may involve focusing on a single micro-task and then adding a second step once that has been reasonably mastered. Remember that the long term goal is not only to help your child master a skill that gives them another step towards independence, it’s also about helping them to feel positive about themselves and successful along the way.

Stories still to come

I was so thrilled to have two of my seasonal pieces published by Spinoff Parenting in the lead up to Christmas. They were about tips and strategies to help ease the pressure and navigate the challenges of Christmas  for kids with autism and kids in general. I’m aware the website has been fairly quiet since (although the Facebook page is still ticking along) and it’s not due to a lack of ideas when it comes to writing. If I could have some telepathic decoder capture the articles I write while driving the car that would be brilliant!

During the school term I have 3-6 hours per week away from Miss 3 (who has a variety of special needs) and although that time is mainly spent running errands or undertaking domestic tasks that cause her sensory distress, sometimes I can squeeze in some writing as well. Those precious hours are also a much needed pressure valve to release some of the tension from being constantly with a little person who studies my every facial expression,  who is incredibly sensitive to emotional undercurrents and needs me to project happy calm 16 hours per day, and requires enormous amounts of support for everything from emotional self-regulation, to being comfortable in her body, OT work, communication, self-care, and play.

During the school holidays this turns into no hours per week and her anxiety being hugely escalated by the disruption to our routines. The summer holidays mean that not only is kindy on holiday but so are all of our other support staff (from occupational therapist to doctors). Events like severe summer storms can cause massive sensory distress and trigger several days of almost constant dysregulation that is exhausting for both of us. She sleeps in my bed because it gives her a sense of stability and security.  We use a lot of social stories and visual communication to talk about our plans for the day. There’s an increase in alternative communication: selective mutism, echolalia, and needing repetitive (and repeatable) scripted dialogue exchanges.

It all adds up to is me investing my energies into my daughter and storing story ideas (like nuts for the winter) for when I have more time. What I want to write about this year is the importance of embracing the new year with a growth mindset, how to encourage and develop character (rather than content) in our young children, how the Danish / Scandanavian parenting and schooling model compares to the NZ / UK / USA model and why we should consider adopting it. I also want to write more gardening and cooking pieces. I’m particularly interested this summer in the exploring the economies of a kitchen garden as well as taking a look at making use of vegetable parts that sometimes end up on the compost (like carrot greens, radish leaves, and squash blossoms).

Are sunflower seeds good for me?

Sunflower-seeds-picture

What are the nutritional benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflowers make a beautiful addition to gardens in the summer and a great science project for kids but are their seeds also an overlooked source of essential nutrients?

What are the benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamin E, copper, B vitamins like thiamine, selenium, magnesium, fiber, folic acid, and more. They are a source of essential fatty acids; especially linoleic acid and oleic acid. Additionally, sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of  amino acids (especially tryptophan) which make up the building blocks of proteins, B Vitamins, phytosterols, and more. They are also a source of healthy polyunsaturated fats which your body needs.

What is the nutritional breakdown of sunflower seeds?

SunflowerSeeds-Nutrition

Can sunflower seeds help improve my health?

As well as helping maintain your body, sunflower seeds are are most highly correlated with boosting cardiovascular health thanks to their ability to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and to prevent hypertension.

Since they also contain minerals like magnesium and selenium, you may also find they help with ‘growing pains’, leg cramps, and tension headaches.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This makes it popular for warding against everything from heart disease, to helping with IBS, or with chronic inflammation as the result of multiple allergies / intolerances.

In my case, I have a child with multiple allergies (from grass pollen, to dust mites, to food), and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and autism (with associated digestive / gut issues), so anything I can include in her diet that helps with inflammation is great!

What are easy ways to include sunflower seeds in my diet?

You could buy them coated in chocolate or dusted in flavourings (like sour cream and chives) but that’s off-setting their health benefits with other calories and additives! Here are some healthier (and still easy!) ways to eat sunflower seeds:

 

Coping with Christmas | Autism

Santa

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

If you’re the parent of  a special needs child and the thought of Christmas has you reaching for a glass of wine, don’t worry, not you’re alone! This time of year the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) parenting forums are full of questions, advice, and those needing a safe space to share that they’re struggling after yet another Christmas meltdown. It’s a tough time of year for many families and children; end of term / year fatigue from school, exams, financial stress, family obligations. Let’s face it, as awesome as Christmas is, it comes with special stress for those organizing it.

It also poses an extra stress on kids with autism. There is familiarity in comfort, routine, and the familiar. Christmas means change in the home, kindy / school, shopping malls, supermarkets etc. Suddenly there are decorations, Christmas music, and images of this guy in a red suit everywhere. There are crowds, noise, and other sensory evils (like balloons). There are also likely to be a slew of invitations to parties, parades, shared meals, family gatherings etc.

Find a quiet time before the Christmas season to reflect on what Christmas means to you personally, and to your family. You may want to have a family gathering where you talk about what Christmas means to you all and each choose one tradition that you think is really important. Obviously, the bigger your family is, the more negotiation this may involve! I think one advantage for me as a single parent is that I can unilaterally make the choice to put Miss 3’s needs first and miss out on a lot of the Christmas celebrations that I would otherwise enjoy. It’s not always so easy for those with conflicting demands from a partner or where there are neurotypical (NT) siblings who have events they want to be part of.

Christmas events

If your autistic child is old enough and verbal enough to discuss Christmas events with, involve them in planning which events to be part of and which events to skip (and always have a back up / escape plan that will let you leave early and keep your child’s self-respect intact).

Keep in mind that Christmas parades, parties, and concerts are not only a variation to routine but can involve huge amounts of sensory input. You might want to aim for a smaller, local events rather than the biggest one in the city centre where tens of thousands of people will attend resulting in roads and bus services being blocked / hugely disrupted.

Clearly identify the change in routine and pre-warn them. Show them photos of where you are going and what to expect. Consider creating a social story to help them understand the sequence of events and what will be expected of them.

If they have sensory issues, take along items that will help them feel more settled (whether that’s a weighted toy, a fidget toy, or noise-cancelling headphones).

Restrict the number of events that you attend. It’s easy for them to accumulate in the weeks leading up to Christmas; remember to include in your calculations any Christmas celebrations / pageants etc. at kindy / school, church, etc. as well.

Christmas countdown

For young children, you may want to start preparing them for Christmas as early as 01 Nov (depending on their age). I started introducing Christmas books and cds (from the library) early with Miss 3 to help her get comfortable with the concept before it started at kindy. I didn’t want her anxiety to be triggered or for her to feel excluded because the other kids knew who Santa was or recognized popular Christmas tunes and she didn’t.

I would have been quite happy to put up our miniature Christmas tree the week before Christmas; instead, it went up mid-November to ease her anxiety. They sang a song about Christmas trees at kindy and she started an anxiety attack that all the trees she loves outside kindy would be stolen and turned into Christmas trees; this transferred to a fear our Christmas tree would be stolen from storage. Long story short, we drove across town the next day to collect our tree from Nana and Poppa!

Think about a visual method for counting down to Christmas. You might want to do an advent calendar (some families do) , or download an app, or simply mark off days on a Calendar.

Christmas Presents

Most ASD kids do not like surprises; pre-warn! Here are some ideas from different parents:

  1. I discuss Christmas presents with my son and give him a budget. He researches what he wants and tells me. He knows exactly what he’s getting for Christmas and is happy that it’s exactly what he wants!
  2. I buy my daughter one present for Christmas. I tell her in advance what I’m saving up for and show her pictures. Santa gives her a few small items in her santa sack as unwrapped treats to eat (like chocolate and an orange).
  3. I wrap all the presents but for my autistic child, I attach photos of what’s inside. They still enjoy unwrapping them but they’re more comfortable knowing what’s in them. Their siblings have the choice of photos too.
  4. I take photos of everything before I wrap them and then let my daughter choose if she wants to open them as a surprise or point to items on my phone and then be handed the presents in that order.
  5. I’m getting my child a bunch of small practical gifts (like sensory items, or craft activities, or a sea shell to represent a beach visit) and am going to let them open one thing each day from when kindy ends. They’ll help to give us something to do each morning to cope with the change of routine and it will make Christmas Day less overwhelming.
  6. Remember to warn relatives if certain items are likely to cause sensory issues. You may want to ask them to pre-wash clothes and remove tags for instance.

 

Christmas Day

Wonderful and exciting though Christmas Day is, it can also be overwhelming and carry with it a range of expectations.

  1. Discuss in advance what the schedule will be for Christmas Day. Consider creating a social story  so that they know what the order of events will be. For instance, when do they open presents? When will meals be? What food will be served? Are family coming to visit? Are you driving to visit family?
  2. Identify correct etiquette for receiving a gift. Teach them to say Thank You. Explain rules and expectations; i.e. “Sometimes we receive presents we like. Sometimes we receive presents we don’t like. We should say thank you for each present we receive.”
  3. Give them a list of everyone they will see Christmas Day. Help them think about how they will greet each person. Do they want to give Grandma a hug? Do they want to just wave at that funny smelling Great Aunt they only see once a year? Make sure that extended family understand how important consent is (at any age) and that it is entirely up to your child if they want physical contact. Help your child to understand it is important to greet each person (with a wave, or eye contact and saying hello) but that it is up to them whether they want a hug / cuddle.
  4. Use a portable timer / clock / watch for visiting other people’s houses and make sure you leave at the time you have pre-agreed with your child (to avoid a meltdown). If necessary, have the family take two cars so that you can leave early if your ASD child isn’t coping.
  5. Make sure there is food they will enjoy eating on Christmas Day. It’s all very well wanting a traditional roast with all the trimmings, but if this is something your child won’t eat then don’t force the issue on a day that is already stressful for them! If they want to eat a plain cheese pizza, or seaweed and crackers, or a marmite sandwich + apple, then let them. Make sure they are included and have the option of trying other foods but have food they are comfortable with as well.

How to overcome writer’s block

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How do I overcome writer’s block?

The most obvious answer is: write. Life isn’t always that easy though. I have written very little on the blog since the night the ambulance came and took us both to the hospital E.R. My little one was in respiratory distress with croup and I can still vividly picture sitting on my kitchen floor with the lights on, trying to count breaths out loud by keeping a finger on the base of her barely moving throat and praying for the ambulance to hurry. Bless the calm emergency dispatcher talking to me the entire time on the speakerphone cellphone. To further complicate matters, I was desperately trying not to throw up (even more so when three burly paramedics entered the kitchen). I spent the ambulance ride sucking on a homemade ice-block, my unconscious daughter in my arms, trying not to vomit in a very unladylike fashion all over the ambulance interior.

I’m extremely fortunate that my parents live in the same city as me; they spent an hour driving in and arrived around 3am. The nurses then whisked me off to the adult E.R. and I only caught a short glimpse of my daughter the next morning when she got discharged hours before me. I turned out to have a nasty cocktail of gastro, flu, and possibly a sprinkling of croup to top it off. They wanted to keep me in hospital for a few days but that wasn’t an option as a solo parent of a special needs child (with 24/7 care). As it is, she still has nightmares, months later, about being separated from me at the hospital.

The website continued ticking along as if by magic. That’s the wonder of online publishing, you can have posts lined up weeks or months in advance. You can add new ones and shuffle old ones around and simply let things take care of themselves. The website continued looking bright and shiny while, in reality, our lives have been a valley of darkness with quarantine (due to her fragile health), her surgeries to clear her ears, reduce her turbinates, remove her adenoids, and remove her tonsils, and a horrifically painful recovery period.

There’s been the very difficult, painful, time consuming, and paperwork laden process of having her autism, anxiety, and sensory processing disorder identified (as well as the recurrent abdominal pain + Irritable Bowel Syndrome). There’s been all kinds of behavioural and safety issues because she simply could not cope with the world. I haven’t written up posts but I have shared a few about fatigue, disruptive behaviour, sensory anxiety, and the daily struggles of neuro-divergent kids. There all kinds of ways in which she needs extra support and that means my days tend to run for 16-18 hours with hopefully 6 hours sleep.

Take today, for example. She slept in till 4.45am (sleep is a major issue in our household). As well as actively looking after her, there’s been: laundry, changing bed linens, making herb bread rolls from scratch (which also included grinding the sorghum flour and picking the fresh herbs), making bread from scratch, supermarket shopping, mowing the lawns, spraying weed poison along the edges, cooking chicken (pan frying to brown the skin, baking, making chicken stock with the juices and bones, and then making chicken broth soup with dumplings), dishes, so many dishes, giving Miss 3 and the dollies a bath due to a major poo incident, tidying up all the miniature toys that have covered the floor since this morning, practising counting, cutting out cardboard wheels and using push-pins to turn a box into a car, doing occupational therapy / sensory regulation exercises, etc…Her soy allergy, which includes emulsifiers and vegetable oil, as well as needing to follow a Failsafe list of additives to avoid, means a whole foods diet which means a lot of time in the kitchen (both preparing and cleaning!).  The only reason I could do the outdoor stuff or write up this post was because I paid a special needs carer to be with us for 3 hours this afternoon. If it sounds like I’ve chosen a busy day to write about, the reality is that every day is that busy (normally busier because there would often be a medical appointment to fit into the morning as well as everything else) and what’s unusual is that I actually had some help today instead of being entirely on my own.

Our circumstances are isolating so it’s nice to know that there are people from all around the world that read these posts. Hopefully, I will start writing more often – if only because there are so many recipes floating around on scraps of paper!

How Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behavior

A child who appears to be oppositional or aggressive may be reacting to anxiety—anxiety he may, depending on his age, not be able to articulate effectively, or not even fully recognize that he’s feeling.

“Especially in younger kids with anxiety you might see freezing and clining kind of behavior,” says Dr. Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, “but you can also see tantrums and complete meltdowns.”

Check out this article on “How Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behaviour” by Caroline Miller, editorial director of the Child Mind Institute.

The more commonly recognized symptoms of anxiety in a child are things like trouble sleeping in his own room or separating from his parents but it can also present as temper tantrums, or disruption in school, or throwing themselves on the floor while out running errands. It may present as violent outbursts, being easily provoked, or difficulty regulating emotions, just as easily as it can present as isolation, clinging to the familiar, and avoidance tactics.

It can be difficult to identify when it presents in young children or where communication is limited. Anxiety may be mistaken for ADHD, Oppositional Definance Disorder, or aggression. It may also be present in addition to other conditions such as Autism / Aspergers (ASD).

Everybody gets anxious sometimes but clinical anxiety can put the body in permanent Fight or Flight mode and severely restrict quality of life. It’s important to discuss concerns with teachers and doctors; advocate referral to a pediatric mental health unit for assessment and support.

The Ultimate List of Gifts for Sensory Seekers

Check out the link for a beautifully put together list of toys and equipment that can be used at home for kids with sensory processing disorder; it has tons of photos and is conveniently sorted by sensory systems (vestibular, proprioceptive, oral, tactile, visual, auditory).

Source: The Ultimate List of Gifts for Sensory Seekers

Autism Answer – Easy Lasagne (low texture)

Yummy and Healthy Lasagne

ASD friendly Lasagne

This new recipe  was a breakthrough moment for me. The last two years have largely (by necessity) revolved around food from the point of view of food allergies and nutrition. I’m now finding myself needing to go a step further and think about recipes from a sensory point of view. Getting Miss 3 to eat meat and protein is an ongoing challenge; her soy allergy alone (especially because it extends to emulsifiers and vegetable oil) mean that I can hardly take her to a McDonalds in desperation and order her a cheeseburger. The secret to this recipe is minimising textures (and a food processor!)

She has until now mostly refused to eat mince (of various flavours and in various forms) although sometimes I’ll get lucky. She quite liked the process of making the Chinese Pork Koftas and it helped that I’ve found a soy & preservative free plum dipping sauce. I was over the moon when she actually ate this and asked for more!

Oh, and to any Italians reading this – I apologise. This recipe is not so much lasagne as it is one of those movies ‘inspired’ by a true life story. I know it would make the judges on MasterChef squirm but the main thing for me is getting a whole pile of nutrition into us simply and easily.

Easy Lasagne

Ingredients

  • 500g beef mince
  • Rice bran oil (for cooking)
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Onion flakes
  • Tomato Passata (400ml)
  • 1 x carrot (grated)
  • Bunch of silverbeet (finely chopped)
  • 400g tin of brown lentils (washed and drained)
  • Dry sheets of lasagna (as many as needed)
  • Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • Tasty or Colby cheese (grated)

Allergies: gluten free*, soy free, egg free, nut free.

Where’s the milk you say? I didn’t make a Bechamel sauce for this recipe for two reasons. One:  she had a sensory anxiety attack at the supermarket (damn those refridgeration unit motors!) so I had to abandon the shop and didn’t get the milk I needed. Two: sometimes when shooting for the stars, you need to aim for the moon first. I was concerned about having three different tastes / textures in a single dish.

Why not use fresh onion and garlic? Because she doesn’t like them (I do). If you’ve ever watched an adult with an aversion to onion try to remove each individual slippery sliver from their plate then you know it’s sometimes better to find a compromise and not sweat the small stuff.

How do I make this gluten free? There are gluten free lasagne sheets available (although they are pricey). For instance, Explore Cuisine do an Organic Green Lentil Lasagne.

Directions

  1. Brown the mince in a frying pan (or electric wok) with a little oil + garlic, salt, and onion.
  2. Add the tomato passata, carrot, silverbeet, and lentils. Simmer for 20-30 minutes on a low heat. Stir as needed.
  3. Grate in some parmesan cheese to taste.
  4. Let this very non-traditional beef ragu cool down for a bit and then blitz it in a food processor. It doesn’t need to be a smooth paste but it should become much more evenly textured (as seen in the photo).
  5. Layer the mince mix in your favourite lasagne dish (or dishes) alternating mince, the pasta sheets, grated cheese. Note: for the top layer of (dry) pasta you may want to add a few tablespoons of water every 10 minutes or so during cooking.
  6. Bake at 160’C for 3-40 minutes. Basically, you’re cooking the pasta and heating the mince. If you’re using a fresh pasta then it will probably cook quicker.

 

Tip: I liked the cheesy crunchy pasta topping and the textural difference on my plate of having both that and the soft pasta. Depending on the textural / sensory preferences of your ASD child, you may want to serve just one of those. I gave Miss 3 the soft pasta and the mince.