So, why have I linked this endeavour to ADD-vance? ADD-vance is officially The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust (registered as a charity in England and Wales; charity no. 1158968). For a proper explanation of their work, please, please visit add-vance.org, as I'm only going to tell you the few bits I know, and why the charity matters to me. What I will say at the outset, though, is that the founder Anne Ross, her right-hand person Pamela Reitemeier and all those who have worked with the organisation over its 21-year existence are extraordinary. They are all parents of children with Autism or ADHD and they are a testament to what can happen when you set your mind to learning and helping.
I should also say from the outset that the team at ADD-vance have absolutely no links to or particular published views upon alcohol consumption, being tee-total or doing things for 90 days. I just like them. Enough to give up strawberry gin liqueur for 90 days, if I'm lucky.
Those of you who have made it to this third experimental blog post are probably my duty-bound closest friends, so don't need to read my back story. In case I've only met you recently, though, or we were drunk the first time I told you how I found ADD-vance, I'll do a bit of filling in.
As I've said elsewhere, I have three boys. The Big Boy has just turned 11 and is off to secondary next year, unless we panic sufficiently to build a tie-free/blazer-free bunker over the next week and lock ourselves in. When he was almost three, along came The Twins, otherwise known as The Cat (wary, stealthy, watching with suspicion and never moving more than necessary) and The Dog (open and enthusiastic, and in need of fresh air, constant movement and noise) . They are now eight. This was my entry into the world of strangers approaching me to marvel that I could cope with
(a) three boys,
(b) twins and
(c) three children under three.
Let me tell you, the notion of 'coping' is fluid, and most of those conversations happened with yoghurt or baby sick slowly solidifying in my hair and the twins biting each other or tearing out clumps of hair.
The Big Boy spent his first year screaming, throwing up and doing anything other than sleeping. He ticked off the terrible twos well before he was two, and then settled into being the most serious, obedient, rule-bound toddler known to humankind, quietly lining up cars or Thomas trains and identifying makes and models of vehicles during our regular afternoon walks around the car park at the end of the road. As long as we followed a regular timetable, life was great. Then along came The Twins, or as The Big Boy called them, The Brothers. For the next four years, nothing worked. They just weren't like their brother, or like each other, or like any other children I had known. There's too much to say here, but every time I raised concerns with professionals I was told not to worry because they were twins, and boys, and summer-born twin boys at that. And then a week after they started school, I was called by the Special Needs Coordinator (Senco), who had some 'concerns' about The Cat. I almost burst into the Hallelujah Chorus. The Senco seemed rather taken aback by my utter delight over her call. However, at that point I just wanted somebody to diagnose something and tell me what to do about it, and to confirm that I wasn't just a rubbish, depressed or overly-anxious Mum. My boys' eldest cousin had been diagnosed with Dyspraxia, which is a really complex condition that can be boiled down to having co-ordination and planning issues. Whilst walking on tip-toe. In the wrong direction. And of course forgetting why you were there, then falling over after colliding with a door-frame. (Yep, it's a big topic, and it doesn't fit here today). Off I went to the paediatrician with my little Lego-obsessed Cat, thinking that Dyspraxia* was bound to be the problem. Instead, I was told that he very probably had ASD* - Autism Spectrum Disorder. I walked out of the room in shock, wandered up to town (forgetting my car) and absent-mindedly spent vast amounts of money on a Lego set while desperately wanting to cuddle my boy (who at that stage hated being touched) or to lie down and cry.
Luckily, I knew someone. A Mum from a local playgroup, whose son had started school with my twins, had an elder son with ASD. I remember that when I found her on the playground, still in a state of shock, all I could say after blurting out the basics was, 'What do I do?', while staring wide-eyed at her and wondering what I'd done with my car. Luckily, this was a wise, wise woman, and she made it simple: 'You need an ADD-vance course'. The next day, she turned up with a flier, told me to call immediately, and just like that I was booked.
And finally, what's relevant here: the first week of the course I walked in and found Mums like me, who had kids like mine, and a facilitators with a ready supply of tissues. (No cake that week, but a better-than-average selection of biscuits.) And do you know how the six-week course began? With SELF-CARE. Because it matters most when others need you, and it's the hardest lesson to learn.
I have so much more to say about ADD-vance, and will, but I also have some eating and cleaning and sleeping to do, so will have to revisit my terrible Advancing/ADDvancing pun tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope the challenge/charity connection is beginning to make sense. I have learned much more from ADD-vance than I could have predicted all those years ago, but I still can't get self-care through my thick skull. It is always Anne Ross's voice reproaching me in the back of my mind when I decide to search for missing Lego pieces or laminate something-or-other for the kids when I should be eating or enjoying a break, so if I'm taking on a self-care challenge, it is only right that her organisation should benefit. (Anne, I accept that it is probably disturbing to imagine yourself as a voice in my head, and I'm sorry!)
*If you notice that I flick between capitalisation and non-capitalisation of conditions, and the use of Autism/ASD/ASC/autistic for more or less the same things, it's because there's huge debate around the politics of these 'labels'. To be honest I don't often bother with capitalisation these days, as the words don't seem big or scary or important any more, nor are they as absolute as, say, nationalities or book titles or brands of ice cream. And honestly, I'm too lazy to use a shift key. I put some caps in today because I wondered if it might look more 'proper', but I should probably take a view and remain consistent. Anyway, I have 90+ days to figure it out. Or not.