Monday 13 March 2017

Secret shopper, the hospital version

If there was ever a job similar to a "secret shopper" but for people spending time at hospitals I think that it might be up my alley.  In the last week I have spent substantial time at 3 different hospitals in 3 different cities.  Fortunately most of our time spent at the hospitals was for scheduled appointments and not a health emergency.  Our more complex sibling group have never ending medical appointments and it seems that every time they see a medical professional at least one of them is referred to another doctor, for another procedure or is given a new diagnosis.  I really had thought this would have slowed down by now as they have been "home" now for 8 years, however it seems that the more we know the less we know.

We are constantly working too provide some sense of a normal childhood into our kids lives, which for us means really focusing on taking time to play between all of the appointments and procedures.  One of our recent hospital visits was over 3 days so we decided to make it into a mini vacation.  We booked 2 hotel suites too accommodate the 12 of us, prepared some meals in advance that we could throw into the crockpot we packed with us and headed off for some fun.  When one child had an appointment we took turns supporting them while the rest of the family swam in the hotel pool or went to a local playground.  After the appointments one day we visted Science World, another day we visted the local Aquarium and each day we spent many hours in the hotel pool, which we had to ourself each time, to the delight of the children.  Having all this fun planned also helped ease the anxiety for the child with the appointments as it gave them something else too focus on.

Our drive too provide some normalcy in the children's life has been reinforced after speaking to a few people who grew up requiring many medical appointments/treatments.  My father in particular tells stories of the adventures him and my grandmother would have when they needed to travel to the "city" for his hospital visits.  I hope my children can tell similar tales, with fond memories, to their children when they are older.

If you have a child that requires multiple appointments and hospital visits what do you do too provide a sense of normalcy?

Sunday 27 November 2016

Hiring staff, avoiding criminals

This year it has been a revolving door with our support staff.  Our well loved interventionist and support worker (she did 2 jobs) went off too complete her masters in Physical therapy, which is amazing for her but not so much for us.  Also one of our Special Education Assistants got a new position elsewhere and another interventionist also left for more schooling.  This left us needing to fill 4 positions, fortunately our duaghter, who just completed university, filled in temporarily for a couple months which was a huge benefit as she was able to assist with hiring and training but now she is off to her new job.

Advertising, interviewing and hiring is always challenging but even more so when you consider we are looking for someone to work with our very unique family with 10 special needs children, currently at home.  We need someone who will work well with our children, support them in successfully meeting their goals and work well with everyone.  When we started our parenting journey the most we every needed to do was hire a babysitter here and there.  Now that we are homeschooling 9 special needs students, 4 with autism (on top of their other challenges), and have 2 adults requiring support workers it feels like we are running a big business.  We are extremely thankful that we have the ability to hire and set up a program to aid in the success of the children but sometimes it is challenging.  We have had people applying with none of the skills we are looking for, we have had people not show up for their interview, we have had people accept our offer for employment only to quit before acctually starting, we have had no suitable candidates apply and needed to keep looking and we have had some very skilled prospects.

When looking for employees we use word of mouth and also post ads online describing the position available, education and experience we are looking for and request a resume and cover letter detailing everything.  We use these to determine who we consider doing a preliminary phone interview with, before setting up an official interview.  During our phone interview we give more details about the job, tell them about all positions we have available (just in case one person could do multiple positions reducing the number of staff), tell them where we are located as sometimes this is an issue and get a brief sense of who they are.  At the official interview we meet at a local coffee shop so the interview takes place in a neutral location which has proved to be very beneficial as some people you just don't want in your home or life.  During the interview this time is more about getting a sense of who the individual is and whether or not they would be a good fit with our family.

After the interview we do reference and background checks including a criminal record check with vulnerable sector screening.  This is a huge must for us and was reinforced for us when we were hiring a particular instructor and he strung us along as we discussed what we were after, scheduled days, up until the finalizing of details where we asked for the criminal record check that we had previously discussed and then he told us that a "court order prevented him from being near children".  We do realize that this does not screen out all problems but it does screen out the ones that have already been caught.

So as of today we have all our support positions filled and we can focus on our day to day learning, as well as the learning curve of having new employees.  This could change tomorrow but today we will accomplish as much supported learning as possible.  How do you find amazing support staff for your special needs individuals?

Monday 4 July 2016

Summer DIY, personalized beach towels

I don't know about your house but around here the kids are frequently at a loss of what to do now they don't have the structure of school to fall back on.  So it's been Pinterest to the rescue around here to keep everyone busy.  This project is two fold because it gave us an afternoon of crafting and provides us with our summer beach towels.  Each child now has their own personalized beach towel with their name so no fighting over "you have my towel" and Mom now knows who's towel didn't get hung up.

We started with cheap white bath towels which I was able to find for $4 each.  When picking your towel try for natural fibers (ie cotton or bamboo) so you will get more vibrant colors when tie dying.  On your towel, using duct tape, spell out your name or message that you would like to appear on your towel. This step did take awhile especially as this step was above the level of some of our participants so Mom got to prep 8 towels.

 Next we took all the towels and spread them on the back lawn and got our die ready.  I bought this kit and we easily were able to complete 12 towels with this one kit.

Next we sprayed various colors onto our towels not worrying about whether or not we sprayed the taped area.  The spraying of the die was something that most of us could handle and was good fine motor practice for all.  If you don't want colored hands you may want to wear rubber gloves, we braved it and had colorful hands until we spent a couple hours in the pool.  It works best if you use your darkest color around the taped off area to provide the largest contrast so your letters show up well.

After the towel is colored to your liking let it dry (we left ours on the grass in the sun), once dry peel tape off to expose your name and leave for 8 plus hours for the color to set.  The next day run the towels through the laundry, washing and drying (in the dryer) so the colors set.

Now your towels are ready to use.  I hope you enjoy making these as much as we did.

Saturday 16 April 2016

Lights, camera, action it's time for social skills.

Over the years a few of our children have had the opportunity to participate in community theater and most recently one of our daughters has been playing the part of an "orphan" in the production "Annie".  Theater has been such an amazing opportunity for all of our children and especially helpful for the ones with special needs effecting their social abilities.  To many of us, with or without special needs, the thought of acting, of standing in front of an audience, playing a role, speaking lines and wearing a costume is far from our comfort zone.

Social interactions can be difficult for some and it's easier when you know what you're supposed to say and know what the expectation is.  In acting out small scenes, they learn appropriate responses to certain social situations and get to try out various scenarios without embarrassing themself or offending anyone else.  They also get to witness first hand how people react to inappropriate responses and understand the reasoning behind their reactions. This was a huge lesson for our daughter as she was able to memorize everyone's lines in the play and if they didn't remember or say their lines fast enough, for her liking she would say them, then give them a look, like what's wrong with you?  Working with an entire cast, she learned that the whole show was not about her and how well she knew everybodies lines.  During theater people must work together to accomplish a common goal.  They learn how to communicate, how to look at another person while speaking and how to convey a positive message through their body language.  Acting gives people a means of escape; they learn how to express themselves in a variety of ways.  Basically, acting is all about learning social skills.  These social skills are practiced in rehearsal and then put on display during the actual performance.  For example, a child learns to speak up so that others can hear him or her.  They must have conversations with others and do so in a socially appropriate manner.  These are all life skills that they can then take to everyday life.

With theater and musicals also comes a lot of singing which teaches children how to articulate and project their voices.  When our daughter started theater she had no trouble projecting her voice in fact she felt that she needed to be the loudest and drown out everyone else, no matter how bad her voice sounded from the strain of yelling.  With time, practice and some singing lessons she has become a great singer that can sing well with others.

Physical coordination has also been a challenge for our daughter and with practice she has increased her ability to use gestures to convey a message, move around the stage in a natural manner and even dance some basic steps within the plays choreography.

If your child struggles with their social abilities I would strongly reccomend looking into theater as a means of improving some skills. We were fortunate to find a community club that could accomodate us however some communities also have programs specially designed for people with special needs.

Frugal eats - Roasted Veggie Carbonara

Time for another frugal dinner idea, this one is a delicious option when entertaining also.  We serve this meal with French bread, the recipe found here is quick and easy to make, or a garden salad to stretch our budget.  I frequently switch the vegetables in this recipe to whatever is in season, most reasonably priced or I have in the fridge, this recipe is so versatile.

Roasted red pepper, zucchini and mushroom carbonara
serves 24-30

12 cups mushrooms, quartered
12 cups diced zucchini
6 red peppers
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs dry spaghetti noodles
1 lb bacon, we prefer beef bacon
16 cloves garlic, crushed
8 large eggs
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon black pepper or to taste
5 tbsp dried parsley

Toss veggies in olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Place on baking sheets in a single layer and roast until they start to caramelize.  Cook at 400F for about 20-30 minutes.

Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so the heat of the pasta will cook the raw eggs in the sauce.  Beat eggs, parmasean, parsley and pepper together and set aside.

Saute' the bacon and garlic in a frying pan over a medium heat until crisp.

Cook the noodles according to package directions, reserving 1 cup water from noodles.  After draining water from noodles, toss in bacon and drippings coating noodles in bacon and fat.  Then stir egg mixture into hot noodles (you can add up to one cup reserved water to thin sauce if desired).  Mix in roasted vegetables and then serve.

I hope your family enjoys this as much as we do!

Tuesday 5 April 2016

6 Easy Steps, Preparing for Assessment

It's Autism awareness month and as luck would have it our youngest is going in for an autism assessment, so I thought I would share how we prepare for an assessment.  Our youngest isn't our first to be assessed, as we have 3 diagnosed with autism, however it is still very stressful.  We want an explanation for his unique behaviours and challenges, we hope the team assessing see's the challenges our child has and can recommend supports that will be beneficial.  Also our son will be starting school in September and currently he does not have an explanation for his significant delays and behaviour challenges which means he won't qualify for any school based support, something he will definately require.  He currently receives "early intervention" support that will continue until June when any school supports would take over, so his medical team is working hard to figure out what is causing his challenges.



Research autism symptoms

Read the DSM-V criteria and get an understanding of what the psychologist will be basing a diagnosis off of.  I also find it helpful to read articles, blogs and watch youtube videos about autism so I can get a picture of what autism in daily life looks like for others.  Yes, we have 3 examples in our home but autism can present differently for each individual.  By doing this research it triggers memories of the unique behaviours my child presents so I make notes for myself.

Document, Document, Document

Once I have myself refreshed on what the psychologist will be looking at I prepare myself a list of anecdotes from my childs life relating to the criterea.   During the assessment I will be asked about my child and sometimes when put on the spot I "freeze" or "forget" so I want all the information handy. I also like to take pictures and video's of my child's unique behaviours as I find it explains situtations much better than I can do with words alone.  If you are taking pictures and videos speak to the psychologist and ask when they would like them.  We recently submitted a CD with multiple examples of our sons behaviours prior to our appointment, so the psychologist has time to review them and then can ask us any questions during the assessment. I also write notes regarding each picture to describe what was happening, how often this behaviour is present and any triggers I think may have caused it.

Gather reports and assessments

Gather any reports or assessments that your child has done in the past.  Any and all information that you have will help the assessor get a full picture of your child and help obtain an accurate diagnosis.  Reports from doctors, therapists and even notes from preschool/daycare or activities help, it's better to have to much information than to be kicking yourself saying "oh I forgot to mention".  I have detailed more on building documentation in this blog post.

Assessment day

On the day of the assessment bring a support person or two if you need them.  I find it helpful to bring a support person for the child being assessed, a person that will take the child out to play when the psychologist needs to speak with me.  I find it difficult to focus on what needs to be said when my child is stressed out and just wanting to leave.  Maybe you also need someone to prompt you, if so bring someone.  Bring snacks, beverages and toys to make your child and yourself feel comfortable.

Bring your questions

Do you have questions for the psychologist?  Write them down, bring them with you, this is your time to speak with the psychologist so make sure you ask your questions.

Dealing with results

Whether your child gets an anticipated diagnosis or not it is hard.  Give yourself time to cope, adjust and possibly greive.  Try to remember that the diagnosis does not define the person, that this is the same child that you loved and adored before the assessment and the diagnosis hasn't changed that.

How did you prepare yourself and your child for their assessments?  What do you wish you knew before the assessment or could have done differently?

Sunday 3 April 2016

Time to Roll and other Culinary Delights - French toast roll ups

All 7 of the children in our youngest sibling group have extreme delays which means lots and lots of therapy and work on their part, to help them manage different aspects of their lives.  Over the years they have had weekly therapy sessions and their homeschool day includes practicing their current goals but the number one thing I have found that helps is finding a way to include their interests into the therapy goals.  With the 7, we have been working on functional skills to help with dressing themselves and various daily life skills.  I frequently look for ideas that will incorporate many skills, that the kids hopefully will enjoy and not realize they are working on skills.....I really don't want them thinking their lives have been one big therapy session.

Cooking is a favoured activity for the children so quite often we use this as a means to work on their therapy goals and school at the same time.  Today we worked on fine motor skills, sequencing, following directions, reading math, feeding therapy, etc.

We made French Toast Roll Ups and the possibilities are endless with these.  We made them with a therapeutic goal but they are good and can be made by anyone, even my 4 year old "made" his own lunch.

1. Decide how many roll ups you would like and then cut the crust off of the desired number of slices of bread. 

 2.  With a rolling pin, flatten the bread.

3. Spread your desired topping on the flattened bread.  We used cheese slices on some and cinnamon/sugar spread on others.  Nutella or peanut butter and jam would also be good. 

4.Roll flattened bread with desired topping, jelly roll style.

5.  Dip rolls into a mixture of egg and milk.

6.  In frying pan cook the rolls until toasted on all sides.  

7.  Serve with sryup or sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.  

The kids and I had so much fun making these and they have been telling everyone they can that they made themselves cinnamon buns for lunch.