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

Category Archives: children


Normal scheduled services will resume…. Well, soon.
For tonight, you get this snapshot.

Look back two posts ago. A year has passed.
Goals were set. In stone ways those goals have been met.

The Westies don’t live in Western Sydney any more. We now live in Canberra, having moved from one city to the other on Magpies 10th birthday.

Three kids, in two new schools.
One has made the transition not only between States, but from primary school to high school. So far, so well.

One son has moved from one mainstream class to another. It seems ?

***. the only thing that has changed, is that he has to use Skype, or a Hangout, to talk to his friends in Sydney now instead of talking to them in the playground. He is into the school seemingly as though he has been there since Kindergarten. Except his stress is through the roof…

The youngest is in a Learning Support Unit – Autism. It is the first year of operation for the unit, and so far, it’s very telling. It seems though to be working ok.

I have gone from contacting to consulting. It seems very similar so far. I’m wondering if it will be long lasting or if I will return to contracting shortly?

Again goals are being set, this time the span is two years. By the time Magpie starts high school, we are aiming to be living in a newer, larger home. Again, without selling any properties.

Since my redundancy in 2011, I have bought two more houses than I owned in 2010. My goal is to continue buying at least one property every two years… Eight properties by the time I turn 50…. Eight properties by the time my Autistic son is considering what happens after high school.

To achieve such ambitions will need a set of sacrifices to be considered, and either accepted or discarded. Discarding to many will demands a reassessment of the goal.

So far the goals seem worthwhile. Let’s see what Christmas 2014 had in store for us.

Course: dead ahead

My return to Canberra was a little abrupt. Well, sure, it was a long time coming, but then it was “so, you start tomorrow, OK?”

This is a very interesting way to live a life, especially with one confirmed Autistic and one suspected “quirky” child. Or maybe that’s two quirky children? Or something. News for another blog, really.

I’m rambling… There was a theme here, somewhere!

Oh yeah. Progress. We are making it.

The plan for this year is all about being prepared, and aiming for improvement.

With my job taking me away from home again, I get to look at BTB Fan with the eyes of both an insider, and a frequent visitor. I’m noticing more and more, that he is picking up means if expressing his personality, and his thoughts or wishes. His teachers report continued progress in academia, however this can be difficult to observe outside of school – until he says or does something I hadn’t expected based on him having to have read or calculated something far more complex than I expect of him. Teachers of Autistics should ensure communication in three directions: to the Autistic child, the parents of the child, and to school management.

So the idea then is to stop having such low expectations. He can achieve more than I give him credit for. Parents of Autistics should provide opportunity to their children, then encourage those children to tackle that opportunity head on.

On the family front, I have been investigating the local property market. This is a little difficult given my absence from the scene five days a week, and the fact that buying and selling is better suited to people far more extroverted than myself. I have finally made some inroads though and have decided: it does not have to be ideal, it has to be sufficient. With that in mind, I have a busy weekend coming in six days time.

Autistics should

It came to my attention today that there is currently a very confronting autocomple search phrase waiting on Google for anyone who commences a search with

Autistics should

A range of possible solutions to this were discussed on the Facebook wall of a Page I follow but the only one that makes sense to me is to provide an alternative result to current search terms.

This is somewhat complicated by the fact that the Autism community don’t tend to refer to themselves as Autistics, but as people with Autism or sometimes Autistics – I’ve never seen it in plural from anyone who actually identifies themselves as a part of the community.

But, it seems,  Autistics should.

Autistics should own the plural format “Autistics”.

Autistics should be valued, the way John Elder Robison is valued.

Autistics should be supported in the school system, the way my son is.

Autistics should strive to succeed with whatever strength they have, like Temple Grandin did, with single minded attention on the few topics which mattered to her.

But mostly, Autistics should not have to defend themselves against ignorance and bigotry.



Tech Review: Blackberry Playbook

My mum called me the other day and told me that she had bought a device, but she didn’t know how to use it. So, she said she would send it to me.

That device was a BlackBerry PlayBook, and I’m using it to write this blog post tonight.

Overall though, it is very limited in how useful it can be compared to other, more common tablets on the market. For example, the app store is very limited and it can be hard to find the right app for the task at hand.

I am very disappointed in the Twitter, Facebook and email apps, given the intended market for the tablet. The Web browser, though, is quite reasonable – responding well on most websites, and doing a great job rendering Flash based websites.

Overall, though, I think that I will be handing this over to my kids to use for a combination of Web browsing and media player – because the limited range in the app store will stop them turning it into a glorified games tablet.


Have you used a BlackBerry PlayBook?

Tell me what you think about it. What do you love about it, what would you change?



Capital idea

After somewhat of a break, I find myself back in Canberra.

My work here resumed part way through last week. My break was longer than I had hoped for, but not quite excessively so.

My kids have returned to school.

My wife is looking to broader opportunities at work.

My work… well, it’s mayhem.

I’m at a bit of a stage where I am rethinking the frequency of my blogging. There was a definite stage there where it felt a chore not a means of reaching out, communicating or expression of my thoughts and feelings.

I’ve been very interesting in following #Auspol on twitter since Julia Gillard announced the impending Australian Federal election which is due in September this year. This seems directly related to the mayhem at work. I’m a bit sick of hearing about Modern Families. Great TV show, I’m hoping it disappears as a slogan, though.

So, while I’m back… I dunno if it’s “blog a day” back, but yep… I’m back.

Ubuntu and Logitech: More of a match than the forums suggest

Magpie turned 9 in December 2012.

He had one real request for a birthday present: headphones with a microphone, so he could both use the computer in the lounge room without causing disturbance, and also, so he could record voiceovers on videos he was uploading to YouTube.

Logitech H600 wireless headset with integrated microphone


With a bit of research… I decided on a Logitech H600 wireless headset. Because, in what I searched for… it seemed that they should work OK with Ubuntu.

I’m very unhappy with that result.

The best I could find on a wide range of Ubunut forums, was unclear information about reported problems. With very little to say “Yay! It worked!

That is the main reason for this post, really – to say that my sons Logitech H600 headset with headphones and microphone, work fine with Ubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzal. The only drama being, Logitech seem to have not yet done anything about a utility to allow pairing of the headset with the universal reciever.

I am considering having a bit of a fiddle with both a virtual machine which I already have on the Ubuntu PC, that runs Windows XP, and simply trying to use the pairing utility with WINE. I will have a fiddle with both of those options over the next week, and write another entry about my success or otherwise.

Quantal Quetzal Queerness

For the uninitiated: Quantal Quetzal is the version name of Ubuntu 12.10

My journey with Ubuntu has been pretty good all told. I have run a netbook (which suffered a fault in the charging port), a laptop (which suffered a fault in the graphics ribbon from the motherboard to the lid/display), a media centre/server (which suffered a hard disk failure, from running a “Green” disk in a torrent server 24/7/365), and a desktop.

The desktop is in daily use by my wife and three kids, as well as frequent use by myself when I am home. I mentioned the other day the troubles I had upgrading Ubuntu to Quantal Quetzal. Unfortunately my troubles are not quite over…

My googling tells me there is a bit of a long standing problem with Ubunut users losing sound. And the problem has been around for quite some time with very poor clear concise pointers to how to actually fix it.

My elder son suffered from the issue shortly after my update. But it only effected his profile. To be a bit clearer about the sequence of events:

  1. I installed Quantal Quetzal.
  2. I configured all users with a user ID and a Gnome desktop profile, which worked fully as expected.
  3. At some time, my eldest son’s profile suffered a problem where sound would work from everything except Firefox.
    That is, sound worked from VNC, it worked from Banshee… but not from Youtube or any other online media. Videos would playback fine, but there is no sound.
  4. All other users had no problem.

To solve this, initially, I created a new user profile for my son. This restored him to having a fully working profile and computing experience (including having Minecraft working, and being able to record screen captures with voiceovers, and play them back).

Then a couple of days later… the same symptom occurred to my daughter.

This time my solution was a lot less drastic: I logged off all users, rebooted the PC, and everything worked fine.

Hmm, I thought, I wonder if that fixed Magpie’s problem?

As it turned out, nope it did not. His original profile was still displaying the same problem.


Anyone who knows anything about Ubuntu knows that a lot of per-user settings reside within hidden files, and that hidden files in Ubuntu (and other *nix systems) are simply a file (or folder) where the file (or folder) name starts with a . character. So I figured… seeing as this issue is restricted to a single user profile (at a time) then it’s quite possibly situated in one (or more) of these “hidden” files.

So… I logged into the computer with a different user ID, dropped into a terminal, and used the following commands:

sudo su
cd /home/Magpie
rm -r .*

I then logged back in as Magpie.

Lo and behold! His desktop had reverted to that of a newly created user, but with the files from his /home/Magpie/Desktop folder sitting on it. I fired up Firefox, went to Youtube, and opened a random One Direction music clip (because that’s what’s on my kids shared Youtube account recent files list – YUCK!) – and it worked fine!

So: I have narrowed my response from the generic (reboot) or the outright avoidance (create a new user profile) to a slightly smaller sledge-hammer (delete all configuration files and let them all be recreated). I’m sure that the actual files which I needed to delete were only a small subset of what I deleted. I hope that if this problem comes back again, I will take a bit more time to study and narrow down exactly which hidden file or folder I need to delete, to solve this problem of “no sound in YouTube on Mozilla FireFox on Ubuntu version 12.10 Quantal Quetzal.

Getting sick. It’s never “a good thing”

I’ve read today a story in mainstream news that has given me the horrors.

Given the weather and fires we are facing in Australia, and the fact that there is world class tennis happening in Sydney, there should be no shortage of topics to make me horrified. However, the issue at hand is “kids health.”

I’m specifically going to stay well away from naming the author, publisher, book title, or even the newspaper which has written the article about the book I disagree with. However I will talk about the premise that the newspaper article quotes from the book: “for most children it is a good thing to get measles.”

If enough children get measles for it to be a good thing for most of them… then far more of those children will suffer tragic complications, compared to if that same number of children were vaccinated against measles.

The worst possible complication for either the disease, or the vaccination, is one of two outcomes: death, or a debilitating disability that lasts the rest of the childs life. If 100,000 children have measles, then one of them will be expected – in first world countries – to suffer subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. Which is fatal. The parents of most children, though, won’t have to worry about that – because it’s only about 375 times more likely to happen to them than winning Lotto Strike (a state-run lottery in New South Wales where I am from). Given how many people are happy to buy a “lotto ticket” I’m surprised that many would be willing to gamble on something that is 375 times more likely to kill their child.

This compares to the MMR vaccination. The best source of data – which yes I am a strong fan of – for post vaccination health is from Finland, due to the structure of their health system and records. The UK NHS report that studies of post vaccination outcomes from patients vaccinated between 1982 and 1993 – with a sample size of 1.5 million vaccinated – showed zero long-term negative outcomes (“sequelae“) as a result of the vaccination.

I don’t doubt that there are people who are predispososed to have negative responses to all types of medications.

But all of us are predisposed to having negative responses to virii such as Mumps, Measles and Rubella.

On that basis my own opinion is – unless you can show that your child is more likely to have an advers response from the vaccine than the disease the vaccine is intended to protect your child from. You should carefully consider any decision to not vaccinate.

Vaccination programs prevent more lifetime disabilities and death, than vaccination avoidance campaigns. Regardless of which option you are chosing for your own child – base it on real information.

Another day at the river

About a year ago I wrote about taking my family to the Hawkesbury River. Since then our kids are now about a year older. They have all undertaken some swimming lessons and had a lot of opportunities to grow and develop.

We’ve been back to the river a few times and although it hasn’t been as hot in Sydney as it has been elsewhere in Australia these last few days… it has been hot enough.

Today we went to the river again, all five of us plus the dogs. There were several other people there with dogs, so that wasn’t at all a problem.

The amount of swimming out kids have been doing lately really shone through. We spent over two hours relaxing in the water – with not many other options given the temperature on the sand!

Our dogs as it turned out were the biggest cause of problem – with our female being in season, they saw the trip to the river as a romantic getaway from home.

It’s a strong mark of how far we have come that the evening following an unplanned day out, our biggest cause of concern is our randy dog!

Sleepover Sessions

Something happened right at school last year: Princess P finally has a fried close enough that it’s a long walk to her house. Far enough that a sleepover makes sense. So we’ve had a few back-to-back sleepover sessions these school holidays.

They have come with a few challenges. The concepts of “ambush mum and dad while you’re on the phone to your friend” or “ask if a reciprocal sleepover is ok when mum comes to pick you up” have both raised their head. Some extremely loud play has ensued and questions have been asked about if the accomodation (Princess P’s bedroom) is in a fit state for guests.

We have also, given the weather, had some issues with sunburn. Given our daughters age, that’s as much her own problem as it is the mother of her friend. But if it continues it will be yet another nail in the coffin of sleepovers till at least Easter.

I would love to think these two-way sleepovers achieve two things: both an “escape to normality” for a girl growing up with  disabled brother,  and a “window to her life” for Princess P’s friend – some of both Magpie and BTB Fan’s behaviour have been eye-opening it seems.

On an unrelated note. Damn it was hot today. But at least unlike Tasmania, there don’t seem to be any terrible fires throughout New South Wales.

Compared to what other parts of Australia are going through right now, 34 C is pretty easy.

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