Parenting on the spectrum

News Nov 29, 2014 by J.P. Antonacci Norfolk News

Parenting a child with autism can sometimes feel lonely.

The many social, behavioural and communication challenges that accompany an autism diagnosis make caring for loved ones affected by this neurological spectrum disorder an isolating, and often frustrating, experience.

It’s also an experience most parents can’t relate to.

“Unless your child has autism, you’re not going to have the slightest idea,” says Scott Bryson, a Canfield father of two whose eldest son, 11-year-old Dylan, is on the spectrum.

“It’s like you’re a different class of parent,” agrees Tricia Hodgson. She and her husband John are raising three kids with autism in Simcoe.

“You feel like parents fit in a column, and you just can’t fit in that column no matter what you do,” Hodgson says.

Bryson and the Hodgsons are among half a dozen parents sitting inside the library of Jarvis Public School during a family fun night organized by Haldimand-Norfolk REACH and two partner organizations. While their children partake in some play therapy supervised by REACH staff, parents can let their guard down and enjoy a rare moment of calm.

This is an understanding place, where acronyms are thrown around with confidence and no one bats an eye when a child races down the hall yelling.

“It’s a place to fit,” Hodgson says. “It’s where they fit in and we fit.”

The small group chats – and occasionally vents – about the exhausting reality of parenting on the spectrum. They trade tips and war stories about common challenges like advocating for better in-school support and navigating the holidays with kids who crave routine. They also try to see the lighter side of kids who along with unique needs also bring their families a lot of joy.

“It’s been really good,” says Barbara-Ann Bartlett of Caledonia. “You get to meet other families that are going through the same struggles as you are. You know you’re not the only one.”

That’s something Bartlett and her husband didn’t understand when their twin daughters were diagnosed with autism. The five-year-olds are on different ends of the spectrum, with Leah requiring intensive behavioural therapy while Amber is high-functioning.

“When my husband came (to the support group), it’s opening his eyes up to thinking it’s not just us,” Bartlett says.

“Other people feel this way too, they’re going through the same stuff.”

LB Brown of Autism Ontario facilitates the monthly discussions. “I only know so much about autism, and these are the experts,” she says. “Every person who comes here brings something different to the table. My goal is for them to just relax and see where the conversation takes us.”

Nothing is off limits, including painful stories of parents being scolded in restaurants and grocery stores because their kids are “acting up.”

“You can’t just go to anyone’s house,” Bartlett says. “You have to make sure they know your child has autism and they’re okay when they pull their blinds down or go off the wall.”

While other families worry about shuttling their kids to sports games and dance lessons, “we’re trying to get to therapy and family night,” Hodgson says with a laugh.

“We can relate to the stress that we all go through, but each child is different,” notes Bryson. “So something that might bug mine won’t bug theirs, something that is working for theirs might not work on mine.”

The parents are free to be honest about their struggles.

“You know when you come here, nobody’s embarrassed about what your kid does,” Bryson says. “And nobody’s judging you, because they’ve already had that happen to them,” Hodgson adds.

But some parents do judge, and make generalizations about what is actually a complex, multifaceted condition.

“There’s no sign on a child that says ‘autistic.’ So when other parents see the kid (having a tantrum), the first thing they think of is maybe he’s spoiled, maybe you’re not a good parent,” Bryson says.

“When I think I’m stressed and I come here and hear other people with similar issues, it’s just nice to know. The other parents at school, you’re not in that club. It is different.”

It’s not just parents who feel different, and that’s where REACH’s support group is unique. While their autistic brothers and sisters play in one room and their parents unwind and commiserate in another, siblings who aren’t on the spectrum – and often end up picking up the slack for their stressed-out parents at home – get some much-needed time to themselves.

“Some of the kids do help out their autistic siblings, by helping them calm down, helping them cope in their environments,” says Ann Marie Arsenault from The Powerhouse Project.

Arsenault runs the games room, where siblings can make crafts and play video games and charades instead of worrying about their families.

“The siblings of (autistic) children are considered ‘the well child’ in the family, so they don’t get the attention that the autistic child needs simply because of their diagnosis,” Arsenault says.

“Not in a bad way, but these kids are sometimes pushed aside because (parents say) ‘I can’t pay attention to you right now because Johnny’s having a fit.’”

Siblings can develop feelings of anxiety and helplessness because of their added role as caregivers, she adds. “They become resentful and angry – why does he get all the attention? Why does she go to these special groups?”

Arsenault says her goal is to build siblings’ self-esteem while playing games and teaching simple stress management strategies and life skills like cooking.

“All the programming that we do fosters that resilience and gives them some therapeutic value to take home.”

The Powerhouse program has helped nine-year-old Brody Bryson cope with how much parental attention his older brother gets.

“Brody has come out and said ‘you spend so much time with Dylan. I want some time,’” Scott Bryson says.

“To come here, he thinks it’s fantastic because there’s other kids here who all understand him when he says ‘my brother has autism,’ and they say ‘mine too.’ So there’s a connection.”

Joan Costigan leads REACH’s autism program, which provides behavioural and social support for autistic children and their families. She is delighted with how the family support night has evolved after the three organizations came together to start it in September 2013.

REACH used to host fun days for siblings of kids with autism to get to know one another, but funding cuts meant they couldn’t continue. “It was really heartwarming how important it was for those kids,” Costigan recalls.

However, REACH staff kept pushing for a family night so kids and families could have fun in a non-clinical setting.

“‘Families are strong and resilient’ is one of our major goals, and I think this contributes to that,” Costigan says. “Parents are getting some time away from their kids, they’re getting information, they’re doing some networking. And kids do better when their parents are doing better.”

Bryson says the biggest benefit of the family fun night is simply knowing that everyone there sees his kids, and all kids on the autism spectrum, as special.

“Everybody’s going to look at them and love them the way I do.”

The Haldimand-Norfolk REACH family fun night is held the second Wednesday of the month at Jarvis Public School. The next night is Dec. 12.

Interested parents can call Joan Costigan at 519-587-2441 ext. 271 for more information and to access REACH services.

Parenting on the spectrum

Family support group gives parents and siblings of kids with autism the chance to be themselves – and catch their breath

News Nov 29, 2014 by J.P. Antonacci Norfolk News

Parenting a child with autism can sometimes feel lonely.

The many social, behavioural and communication challenges that accompany an autism diagnosis make caring for loved ones affected by this neurological spectrum disorder an isolating, and often frustrating, experience.

It’s also an experience most parents can’t relate to.

“Unless your child has autism, you’re not going to have the slightest idea,” says Scott Bryson, a Canfield father of two whose eldest son, 11-year-old Dylan, is on the spectrum.

“It’s like you’re a different class of parent,” agrees Tricia Hodgson. She and her husband John are raising three kids with autism in Simcoe.

“You feel like parents fit in a column, and you just can’t fit in that column no matter what you do,” Hodgson says.

Bryson and the Hodgsons are among half a dozen parents sitting inside the library of Jarvis Public School during a family fun night organized by Haldimand-Norfolk REACH and two partner organizations. While their children partake in some play therapy supervised by REACH staff, parents can let their guard down and enjoy a rare moment of calm.

This is an understanding place, where acronyms are thrown around with confidence and no one bats an eye when a child races down the hall yelling.

“It’s a place to fit,” Hodgson says. “It’s where they fit in and we fit.”

The small group chats – and occasionally vents – about the exhausting reality of parenting on the spectrum. They trade tips and war stories about common challenges like advocating for better in-school support and navigating the holidays with kids who crave routine. They also try to see the lighter side of kids who along with unique needs also bring their families a lot of joy.

“It’s been really good,” says Barbara-Ann Bartlett of Caledonia. “You get to meet other families that are going through the same struggles as you are. You know you’re not the only one.”

That’s something Bartlett and her husband didn’t understand when their twin daughters were diagnosed with autism. The five-year-olds are on different ends of the spectrum, with Leah requiring intensive behavioural therapy while Amber is high-functioning.

“When my husband came (to the support group), it’s opening his eyes up to thinking it’s not just us,” Bartlett says.

“Other people feel this way too, they’re going through the same stuff.”

LB Brown of Autism Ontario facilitates the monthly discussions. “I only know so much about autism, and these are the experts,” she says. “Every person who comes here brings something different to the table. My goal is for them to just relax and see where the conversation takes us.”

Nothing is off limits, including painful stories of parents being scolded in restaurants and grocery stores because their kids are “acting up.”

“You can’t just go to anyone’s house,” Bartlett says. “You have to make sure they know your child has autism and they’re okay when they pull their blinds down or go off the wall.”

While other families worry about shuttling their kids to sports games and dance lessons, “we’re trying to get to therapy and family night,” Hodgson says with a laugh.

“We can relate to the stress that we all go through, but each child is different,” notes Bryson. “So something that might bug mine won’t bug theirs, something that is working for theirs might not work on mine.”

The parents are free to be honest about their struggles.

“You know when you come here, nobody’s embarrassed about what your kid does,” Bryson says. “And nobody’s judging you, because they’ve already had that happen to them,” Hodgson adds.

But some parents do judge, and make generalizations about what is actually a complex, multifaceted condition.

“There’s no sign on a child that says ‘autistic.’ So when other parents see the kid (having a tantrum), the first thing they think of is maybe he’s spoiled, maybe you’re not a good parent,” Bryson says.

“When I think I’m stressed and I come here and hear other people with similar issues, it’s just nice to know. The other parents at school, you’re not in that club. It is different.”

It’s not just parents who feel different, and that’s where REACH’s support group is unique. While their autistic brothers and sisters play in one room and their parents unwind and commiserate in another, siblings who aren’t on the spectrum – and often end up picking up the slack for their stressed-out parents at home – get some much-needed time to themselves.

“Some of the kids do help out their autistic siblings, by helping them calm down, helping them cope in their environments,” says Ann Marie Arsenault from The Powerhouse Project.

Arsenault runs the games room, where siblings can make crafts and play video games and charades instead of worrying about their families.

“The siblings of (autistic) children are considered ‘the well child’ in the family, so they don’t get the attention that the autistic child needs simply because of their diagnosis,” Arsenault says.

“Not in a bad way, but these kids are sometimes pushed aside because (parents say) ‘I can’t pay attention to you right now because Johnny’s having a fit.’”

Siblings can develop feelings of anxiety and helplessness because of their added role as caregivers, she adds. “They become resentful and angry – why does he get all the attention? Why does she go to these special groups?”

Arsenault says her goal is to build siblings’ self-esteem while playing games and teaching simple stress management strategies and life skills like cooking.

“All the programming that we do fosters that resilience and gives them some therapeutic value to take home.”

The Powerhouse program has helped nine-year-old Brody Bryson cope with how much parental attention his older brother gets.

“Brody has come out and said ‘you spend so much time with Dylan. I want some time,’” Scott Bryson says.

“To come here, he thinks it’s fantastic because there’s other kids here who all understand him when he says ‘my brother has autism,’ and they say ‘mine too.’ So there’s a connection.”

Joan Costigan leads REACH’s autism program, which provides behavioural and social support for autistic children and their families. She is delighted with how the family support night has evolved after the three organizations came together to start it in September 2013.

REACH used to host fun days for siblings of kids with autism to get to know one another, but funding cuts meant they couldn’t continue. “It was really heartwarming how important it was for those kids,” Costigan recalls.

However, REACH staff kept pushing for a family night so kids and families could have fun in a non-clinical setting.

“‘Families are strong and resilient’ is one of our major goals, and I think this contributes to that,” Costigan says. “Parents are getting some time away from their kids, they’re getting information, they’re doing some networking. And kids do better when their parents are doing better.”

Bryson says the biggest benefit of the family fun night is simply knowing that everyone there sees his kids, and all kids on the autism spectrum, as special.

“Everybody’s going to look at them and love them the way I do.”

The Haldimand-Norfolk REACH family fun night is held the second Wednesday of the month at Jarvis Public School. The next night is Dec. 12.

Interested parents can call Joan Costigan at 519-587-2441 ext. 271 for more information and to access REACH services.

Parenting on the spectrum

Family support group gives parents and siblings of kids with autism the chance to be themselves – and catch their breath

News Nov 29, 2014 by J.P. Antonacci Norfolk News

Parenting a child with autism can sometimes feel lonely.

The many social, behavioural and communication challenges that accompany an autism diagnosis make caring for loved ones affected by this neurological spectrum disorder an isolating, and often frustrating, experience.

It’s also an experience most parents can’t relate to.

“Unless your child has autism, you’re not going to have the slightest idea,” says Scott Bryson, a Canfield father of two whose eldest son, 11-year-old Dylan, is on the spectrum.

“It’s like you’re a different class of parent,” agrees Tricia Hodgson. She and her husband John are raising three kids with autism in Simcoe.

“You feel like parents fit in a column, and you just can’t fit in that column no matter what you do,” Hodgson says.

Bryson and the Hodgsons are among half a dozen parents sitting inside the library of Jarvis Public School during a family fun night organized by Haldimand-Norfolk REACH and two partner organizations. While their children partake in some play therapy supervised by REACH staff, parents can let their guard down and enjoy a rare moment of calm.

This is an understanding place, where acronyms are thrown around with confidence and no one bats an eye when a child races down the hall yelling.

“It’s a place to fit,” Hodgson says. “It’s where they fit in and we fit.”

The small group chats – and occasionally vents – about the exhausting reality of parenting on the spectrum. They trade tips and war stories about common challenges like advocating for better in-school support and navigating the holidays with kids who crave routine. They also try to see the lighter side of kids who along with unique needs also bring their families a lot of joy.

“It’s been really good,” says Barbara-Ann Bartlett of Caledonia. “You get to meet other families that are going through the same struggles as you are. You know you’re not the only one.”

That’s something Bartlett and her husband didn’t understand when their twin daughters were diagnosed with autism. The five-year-olds are on different ends of the spectrum, with Leah requiring intensive behavioural therapy while Amber is high-functioning.

“When my husband came (to the support group), it’s opening his eyes up to thinking it’s not just us,” Bartlett says.

“Other people feel this way too, they’re going through the same stuff.”

LB Brown of Autism Ontario facilitates the monthly discussions. “I only know so much about autism, and these are the experts,” she says. “Every person who comes here brings something different to the table. My goal is for them to just relax and see where the conversation takes us.”

Nothing is off limits, including painful stories of parents being scolded in restaurants and grocery stores because their kids are “acting up.”

“You can’t just go to anyone’s house,” Bartlett says. “You have to make sure they know your child has autism and they’re okay when they pull their blinds down or go off the wall.”

While other families worry about shuttling their kids to sports games and dance lessons, “we’re trying to get to therapy and family night,” Hodgson says with a laugh.

“We can relate to the stress that we all go through, but each child is different,” notes Bryson. “So something that might bug mine won’t bug theirs, something that is working for theirs might not work on mine.”

The parents are free to be honest about their struggles.

“You know when you come here, nobody’s embarrassed about what your kid does,” Bryson says. “And nobody’s judging you, because they’ve already had that happen to them,” Hodgson adds.

But some parents do judge, and make generalizations about what is actually a complex, multifaceted condition.

“There’s no sign on a child that says ‘autistic.’ So when other parents see the kid (having a tantrum), the first thing they think of is maybe he’s spoiled, maybe you’re not a good parent,” Bryson says.

“When I think I’m stressed and I come here and hear other people with similar issues, it’s just nice to know. The other parents at school, you’re not in that club. It is different.”

It’s not just parents who feel different, and that’s where REACH’s support group is unique. While their autistic brothers and sisters play in one room and their parents unwind and commiserate in another, siblings who aren’t on the spectrum – and often end up picking up the slack for their stressed-out parents at home – get some much-needed time to themselves.

“Some of the kids do help out their autistic siblings, by helping them calm down, helping them cope in their environments,” says Ann Marie Arsenault from The Powerhouse Project.

Arsenault runs the games room, where siblings can make crafts and play video games and charades instead of worrying about their families.

“The siblings of (autistic) children are considered ‘the well child’ in the family, so they don’t get the attention that the autistic child needs simply because of their diagnosis,” Arsenault says.

“Not in a bad way, but these kids are sometimes pushed aside because (parents say) ‘I can’t pay attention to you right now because Johnny’s having a fit.’”

Siblings can develop feelings of anxiety and helplessness because of their added role as caregivers, she adds. “They become resentful and angry – why does he get all the attention? Why does she go to these special groups?”

Arsenault says her goal is to build siblings’ self-esteem while playing games and teaching simple stress management strategies and life skills like cooking.

“All the programming that we do fosters that resilience and gives them some therapeutic value to take home.”

The Powerhouse program has helped nine-year-old Brody Bryson cope with how much parental attention his older brother gets.

“Brody has come out and said ‘you spend so much time with Dylan. I want some time,’” Scott Bryson says.

“To come here, he thinks it’s fantastic because there’s other kids here who all understand him when he says ‘my brother has autism,’ and they say ‘mine too.’ So there’s a connection.”

Joan Costigan leads REACH’s autism program, which provides behavioural and social support for autistic children and their families. She is delighted with how the family support night has evolved after the three organizations came together to start it in September 2013.

REACH used to host fun days for siblings of kids with autism to get to know one another, but funding cuts meant they couldn’t continue. “It was really heartwarming how important it was for those kids,” Costigan recalls.

However, REACH staff kept pushing for a family night so kids and families could have fun in a non-clinical setting.

“‘Families are strong and resilient’ is one of our major goals, and I think this contributes to that,” Costigan says. “Parents are getting some time away from their kids, they’re getting information, they’re doing some networking. And kids do better when their parents are doing better.”

Bryson says the biggest benefit of the family fun night is simply knowing that everyone there sees his kids, and all kids on the autism spectrum, as special.

“Everybody’s going to look at them and love them the way I do.”

The Haldimand-Norfolk REACH family fun night is held the second Wednesday of the month at Jarvis Public School. The next night is Dec. 12.

Interested parents can call Joan Costigan at 519-587-2441 ext. 271 for more information and to access REACH services.