Raising little Westies, and life as parent of a special needs son

Monthly Archives: June 2012

Ten years. Oh, my!

There are moments in life that seem to have been designed to make people stop, and think.

To me, birthdays with a 0 in them seem to have been purposely invented just to make people stop, and think. Tomorrow, my Princess P turns 10.

Things have changed. Almost all of them are “qualitative” changes. Clearly, as she is my eldest child, so we have gone from “childless” to “parents” – parents times three, including one diagnosed with Autism.

We have gone from renters, to homeowners.

We have said goodbye to our longtime pet dog, Mollie, who has gone “to the farm” where all good dogs end up.

Ten years ago, I had a mobile phone – my wife, who worked in the same place every day, did not because “why would she need one?

I was leaving to work from home every day. Right now, I leave on Monday and come home on Friday.

We had dial-up internet, and connected to sites like MySpace, and used download services like Napster.

All my photos from then, were taken on film.

I had to think about what I could do on the weekend. Now I have to think about what I can not do on any given weekend.

I had been in the Army Reserve for about 11 years, but between children and their changes in training requirements that is no more.


To my Princess P, I say thank you for changing my life, along with your brothers, you have bought boundless happiness. I hope your birthday tomorrow is great and we have as much fun getting you from 10 to 20 as we had getting you from 0 to 10.


Feedback… it’s not good enough

Feedback is an interesting activity.

People on the recieving end can feel very nervous about feedback.

This can make the people providing it very apprehensive.

And parents can often be quite defensive about the feedback given to their children, in the form of a report.


Having come to the end of a school term (or semester, or something), it is school report time. The first thing I will say is, my kids have done fantastic work, and the school is doing quite a good job of providing them with work that challenges my three kids at a pretty reasonable level.

They are also somewhat demanding about their expectations, in terms of tasks such as writing and mathmatics.

So if they are that demanding in their standards for written work. Why have they been so bad at providing feedback?

Where results range from “Outstanding” to “Limited“, for any child who is not “outstandingthen any comment should include “results could be improved by…” or “needs to work on…” Instead, we have three reports from three different teachers signed by two difference Assistant Principles, which say nothing except what our children can do. Sorry, I actually need to know what my kids can’t do but should be able to do, a lot more than I need to know what they can do.

This applies to all my children. To my daughter, to my middle son, and my son who has Autism. Although, with an ILP in place, the support teacher has the most concrete assessment of what our Autistic son is doing, and what still needs to be worked on.


To all the Westie kids. Good work so far this year. Here’s hoping you keep hard at it, and, when we go and talk to your teachers, they can actually tell us what you need to do to improve – rather than what you would have to stop doing to achieve a poorer report at the end of the year.

Names are power

Time away from home, gives a person plenty of time to think. This week amongst other things I have been thinking about my use of words, and a conversation turned to the power of words, names and labels. This is a topic which has been also dealt with over at Half Past Normal, where Angela has discussed the power of swear words at pre-school.

Westies are a bit like the Scottish it seems. Chances are that makes us a bit like the Irish, the East English, the French, Canadians, South Americans and people from a wide range of other regions: We swear. More than a little bit. We can also be a little more “blunt” than “direct”, yes I call a spade a “f*ing shovel with a handle at the end” if somebody doesn’t quite know what I mean. Like a lot of parents whose child is not as verbal as other children that age, we worry what situation our child might end up in when they suddenly come up with the choice words we would prefer they not quite know.

However, one type of thing I try very hard to do, is labelling people. As in, “you are such an idiot.” I would much rather say “that is an idiotic thing to do.”

“Only an idiot would do that”. “Don’t be an idiot.” “Are you an idiot?” Hmm, these would be murky grounds for me.

With this strong underlying concept in mind: why is it I get so concerned about the difference between “my autistic son” and “my son, who has Autism?” For what it’s worth, I feel like “my autistic son” is a lot more natural – as natural as “my Japanese wife” which is much more natural than “my wife, who is Japanese.”


<small>No, my wife is not Japanese. That was just an example.</small>

Whine-free Wednesday

Inspiration comes from the craziest places. On a day when so many of my bloggy-friends enjoy their wordlessness (is that an Autism thing? I’m interested to know), my inspiration comes from the most bizzare of social network tools – Yammer, the social network tool that links you with all those people you only spend time with because somebody is paying you to (ie: your colleagues at work).

Searching Twitter tells me that being Whine-free for Wednesday is not altogether all that popular, and I’m told that it remains an area of my life I could improve in. Having said that, it has been an extremely interesting concept, to attempt (I did say I’m not all that good at this yet) to go a whole day without whining or whinging. Anyone who knows me for more than, oh, about an hour or two, would agree that I love having a good whinge about “something, anything“. Which I would say i s a fair assessment, because I will readily admit: I enjoy a good whinge. It lightens my soul, and provides those near me with a direct insight into how trivial issues encompass great sections of my brain.

Being whine-free seems to be a far from popular social media topic, though, if Twitter is anything to go by, or indeed Google. The Passive Voice seems to be the most recent blog I can find, and Twitter doesn’t show much. But it’s a great release, even if it takes me some effort, to remain positive past my first coffee.

Is whinging built in to the Aussie ethos? You ask an Aussie how we’re going, we’re likely to say “not bad“. Is that a whinge? We don’t jump right out and say “I’m great, thanks for asking!” or “how do you do” straight back at the person asking us. I am embarking on that personal quest too, to respond positively and cheerfully when people ask me how I am. I know they certainly don’t want to hear how bad I’m going.

I will say at this point it’s quite difficult to not complain about having lost this blog post and having to re-write it – that’s constructive criticism of the WordPress pop-out editing widget, not an aimless whinge… 😉

Ten Things About Mounty County

I have no idea what inspired her, but Spectrummy Mummy has written Ten Things About Johannesburg. So she has now inspired me, to attempt to come up with Ten Things About Mounty County.

Mounty County isn’t on any maps, it’s a bit of a local name for the aspirationally-named Mount Druitt. Because while Rooty Hill is an actual hill, Mount Druitt… well, it’s certainly not a mountain, although possibly there is a bit of a mound, somewhere.

While some of the other articles have been broader in scope, I think locally first. So I’ll stay close to home…

Ten Best Things

1. Cycling. Sure, the cycleways don’t particularly go anywhere useful, but the ones that are there, are great. And the Western Sydney Parkland includes a fantastic cycleway that goes from Liverpool to Castle Hill, straight through the middle of Mounty County.

2. Cultural Diversity. This is a two way street, but Blacktown and Mount Druitt (which is a group of suburbs in Blacktown) is a melting pot. A lot of refugees, migrants from a wide range of backgrounds, Aboriginal Australians, on the usual cultural background of christian white Australia. This certainly makes life interesting, and I am hoping, is helping my children grow up to be “colour blind” and very open to seeing the person. It’s certainly a lot more interesting than when I grew up in a homogenously white Australia with possibly only one person of some other race in my class!

3. School resources. This is a real challenge. Given the low socio-economic background of the suburb – which is more “welfare class” than “working class” – the level of engagement in schools is generally low, the absenteeism rate is quite high. This results in poor educational outcomes (as measured by programs such as Naplan, like them or loath them they are what we have). And in the bizzare world of public education, that has resulted in funding to turn those low results around. The result, for those kids that are at school, is some fantastic programs are implemented, allowing those children to achieve great things.

4. Transport links. Mounty County is at the crossroads to two of the highest volume roads in the largest city in Australia. One crosses the Western edge of the district, the other cuts between Mount Druitt and Blacktown. There is also a major rail link, which provides access to Sydney well within an hour. While we’re further out than Parramatta – it’s cheaper living, and only about ten extra minutes of travel time (which most Parramatta people will actually spend getting from home to Parramatta railway station anyway).

5. Low-cost housing. This is great, because money I’m not spending on a place to live, I can spend on my wife and kids. However, low-cost housing is a tradeoff.

6. Weather. OK so it gets hot, but hey, the Hawkesbury River isn’t far away, housing is cheap, blocks are big, and you can own a pool. It doesn’t get cold: the seven years I’ve lived in my home, I think we’ve had a frost about five times total. I think I can get cool more readily than I can get warm.

7. Sports. Mount Druitt is a bit sports mad. Druitters play so many codes of Football, we are nestled between the Parramatta Eels and Penrith Panthers, the Great Western Sydney Giants training facility is in the former Sydney Olympic Baseball Stadium at Rooty Hill, the former Sydney Olympic Equestrian Centre is just up the road, as is the facility where the rowing took place (in Penrith). The Soccer is not-quite national class, but does feed the A-League. Childrens’ sports facilities are all over the place, and while they are well used they are not over-used. We are within reach of a selective sports high school if our child has ability in that direction.

8. Parks. OK so they are not world class, but they are beyond “adequate” and there are plenty of them. The more they are used, the better they are looked after. Nurragingy Reserve is a great example, there are others that aren’t so developed but no doubt will be put to good use.

9. Religious diversity. A lot of Australians take it for granted, but around the world, if you’re not one of the majority you can be in real trouble. King George V of Tonga opened a church in his name in the area. With Castle Hill being just up the road, Hillsong is certainly present, as are the well established mainstream christian churches, and mosques. Missionaries passing on the word of the Mormon faith, and others waiting – patiently – to pass on the word of their God at the train station are all normal part of life.

10. Food. We’re in Australia. If it is edible, you can probably get it. Well, that’s not quite right, there are edible things that aren’t sold to be eaten in Australia, but there is no shortage of great food, and if we complain that some of it is more expensive than in other parts of Australia – it’s only by comparison within Australia. Overall, food here is cheap, there is plenty of it, and it’s good.

Things we could do better.

1. Tolerance. People could always be more tolerant. Some of us, think the whole world should be just like us, and Mounty County is an equal example of that. Racism and religious intolerance are as much trigger points of the negative press that Mount Druitt receives as any other aspect of life.

2. Food! Locally, food – other than fresh food bought to prepare at home – is pretty squarely at the bottom of the culinary food chain. If you want a gastronomic explosion, you have to travel, probably to Parramatta’s “Eat Street” (the Church Street – or is it a mall – no it’s a street again).

3. Education. Something has fallen down in the education area. Migrants seem to be engaged, but there are elements of the community that are not. It is the children of a disengaged generation who will suffer.

4. Public housing ghetto. Said it, unfortunately, because it’s true. But the policies of the past are being revisited, public housing is being redeveloped and sold to private ownership. Public housing is important, great big clusters of it just don’t work.

5. Transport. Yep, that’s right, it’s great and it sucks too. There is an addiction to cars, local families own more cars than the average across Sydney, and it’s chocking the place. I went as long as I could as a one-car family, relying on a bicycle and the train network… unfortunately I’m in the minority, and the carparks around the rail corridor are choked.

6. Crime. Blame whoever you want, but the police in the St Marys Local Area Command are far too busy. Why is it that I have both the local police station, as well as the Police Assistance Line (non life threatening emergencies) saved on my phone? Because I have used both (as well as 000) too many times in the last seven years.

7. Culture. Unfortunately, you have to travel from Mount Druitt to have a cultural experience, like visiting an art gallery, or a museum. There are events, but they are more entertainment then “cultural.”


I’m stopping at seven, because on a world scale… I’m really nitpicking to find things to complain about in Mount Druitt. Complaining rarely fixes things, being positive and championing specific improvements makes the world a better place.

Jossie… must have some parallels to Mounty County. Thanks for inspiring!

Spectrummy Mummy

My husband likens Johannesburg to Angelina Jolie.  She is glamorous, wild, and a tiny bit dangerous.  Oh, and if I had Angelina’s income, I’d also be adopting a bunch of orphans here too.  Life in the ‘World Class African City’ is an experience in extremes.  You might love it or hate it here, but you’ll never be bored.

Ten Best Things

1. The Weather.  I may not ever again live in a more perfect climate.  The summer was hot, but not too humid- such a pleasant escape after a DC tour.  We’re in winter now, but only a couple of days has it dipped below freezing.  Oh, and the sun shines every day, restoring vitamin D levels after a rainy three years in Luxembourg.  What’s not to love about that?

2. Community.  From cups of tea and a chat, to getting together for book club and talking about everything but…

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My wife, the gaoler. Appropriate? You tell me.


You may well look at the title of my blog post, and think that this post is relating to women in an oppressive relationship, or about the horrific tale of a child locked in a cellar with minimal food or care. But in assuming this, you would be mistaken. It is an easy mistake to make, as I will be talking about caring for an Autistic child, and what it feels like to ensure their safety. It is not a topic that is often visited,  many topics concerning Autism focus on certain behaviours that have a negative impact on the Carer and their families, which the autistic child often feels compelled by and has little control over.

A lot of water’s passed under the bridge since we had our first little girl, known sometimes affectionately as “Space Cadet” closely followed by “Magpie”  and now the one often referred to as…

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Why doing things for your child, might make you their worst enemy

Stay Quirky, my friends

A few months ago, my son was playing air hockey at the bowling alley with one of the new friends he met at school this year – a typical 6th grader who has a good heart and, like many others in his class, seems willing to get to know my kid. After they were playing for a few minutes, this boy turned to me and said, “I was going easy on him … until I realized that he can play!”

That’s not an unusual reaction. My kid’s diagnosis impedes his abilities in so many areas that most people expect that he needs more help than he actually does. The first friends my child had in a typical classroom were the ones who wanted to help him. These were usually the girls with a “mother hen” instinct, but a few of the boys too. After they were told a bit…

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What success tastes like

BTB Fan on a Vomit Stick. It spins, is it any wonder it’s fun?

Today being Monday I started the week in what is now my usual routine: woke at a time most people would call the middle of the night, had breakfast, kissed the kids, got dressed and hit the road. All before 4:30am.

Getting ready for the week away starts way too late the day before of course.  Even earlier than that, comes getting my bunch of kids all tired out so when it comes time for me to get ready, they will be tuckered out, bathed, fed and tucked into bed.

So with that in mind, I took BTB Fan out for a bit of a bike ride. It was great. He is really good at riding his bike, unlike a lot of kids on the Autism spectrum he has great physical development and knows exactly where he is in the world. In a wonderful development though, this weekend he started using the brakes on his bike. This is a really positive thing! Up until this weekend, the only time he had used his brakes was at really bad moments – riding along on straight and level ground, usually right in front of his brother, he would slam his brakes on and quite often cause a bit of a pile-up.

But this weekend, he was heading down the hill and he said…slow down, and he used his brakes to slow his bike down, and stopped.

So not only did he use his brakes, he actually talked about what he was doing.

And then, when we got to the park, he was on a ride and he said I’m having fun.

Riding bikes, and talking. What more can we ask for?

Now on Instagram

I’m feeling cheeky today so, my blog post is going to be self promotional. Most of you probably know me personally. You know I’m on stacks of websites, both as me, and as Westie.

Thanks to the wonderful thing that is an iPhone, I’m now on Instagram, too. If you don’t know, you can’t actually directly see somebodys Instagram feed by going to Instagram’s own website – but fills that niche quite nicely.

So far, I’ve been doing a fair bit of experimenting, and following great people like:














There are more that I’m following, but some of you have made it a little tricky to work out which one is you in amonst your stream of pictures… there is this tag #selfportrait, just so you know (*hint* *hint*)

If you’re listed, you can know that you are inspiring me regularly.

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