Helping families of autistic children

One of the hardest things about being a parent to an autistic child is working out what you should be doing for them and then advocating for their needs.

A lot of parents are sent to ABA led therapy centres, but if you talk to autistic adults, they’ll tell you ABA is abuse.

My lesson has been realising that all the parenting advice is unhelpful for autistic children (and potentially for all) because it establishes a hierarchy and requires compliance.

What if we let kids be kids? What if we listened instead of demanded?

As a sensitive person, it’s heart breaking to see other families choosing to parent in an authoritarian manner and their kids struggling to make sense of it.

I’d love to see all parents taught about conscious parenting. To encourage their only personal growth journey and self awareness. To help children develop regulation and communication skills to recognise and manage their emotions. So we build empathy in children and ultimately society.

But how? I can write about it here, talk about it with other families but it feels like a drop in the ocean. I hope experts and writers find a way to have a broader reach for these topics.

Why and how I became a minimalist

As a long-time sufferer of anxiety, I had always liked things being in their place. I knew instinctively that clutter was affecting my mood and my relationships. I hated the amount of time it took to tidy up, all the time.

I became overwhelmed by managing a home and working full time. Then when I fell pregnant, I realised it wasn’t sustainable nor practical to have a house full of stuff. I started selling and donating everything I didn’t use. I read The Minimalists website voraciously. I discovered I loved white space, clear counters and knowing what I had, were things I used.

Enter children. It’s not as easy to be a minimalist and to stick to your beliefs and practices with small children. It’s not impossible, but it’s more difficult.

Toys, baby gear, washing, nappies and food – it all has the capacity to take over. It’s key to implement routines to reduce the stress that builds from piles of washing or toys all over your home.

There is absolutely no doubt that less stuff equals less tidying up. But with kids, it is unlikely to be no stuff equals zero tidying up – there is going to be a reckoning. I have had to raise my clutter acceptance level and learn to cope with piles of washing and toys, otherwise, I would be even more exhausted (is that possible?) from caring for my children AND constantly tidying. As I write this now at my desk, there is no clear desk space around my laptop. I have piles of paperwork to file, crayons, glue and a few magazines. But I know it’s only temporary.

Cutting yourself some slack on your journey through life is a true skill that comes with time. Some people are instinctively more kind to themselves, and others need to learn self-compassion. I’m unfortunately in the latter group! But, it’s a constant practice just like minimalism.

Once I got past the ‘stuff’ phase, I was able to incorporate minimalist thinking into all areas of my life.

I gave myself permission to give up the corporate life which I never enjoyed.

I gave myself permission to dress in comfortable clothes I liked, and eschew ‘fashion’.

I gave myself permission to stop colouring my hair and trim it myself.

I gave myself permission to read instead of cleaning.

If you think these things are silly – you’re lucky. Perhaps you were raised in a household that valued rest, or you’ve just always felt certain your needs were valid. Not everyone has that experience – and minimalism can be a way to build these coping skills.

Now five years since I discovered minimalism, I’m proud to say it still excites me to think and write about. I enjoy the ongoing process of examining my life and finding ways to improve it. I’m enjoying the benefits of spending less, having greater financial security is so helpful with small kids. Having this security has led me to be able to not work and thus pursue hobbies while raising my children.

Minimalism looks different for everyone but I believe each of us can benefit from adopting the mindset and finding ways to improve and simplify your own life.

How to stop buying stuff

I’m reading a book at the moment called “The Rent Collector” by Camron Wright. The main character lives in a rubbish dump and her family have for generations. The well-written illustration of the waste society generates is a powerful visual image we could all learn from.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

The purpose of this blog has always been about living with less. Living intentionally. Minimalism. Just less. But the problem facing us is overcoming impulsive buys that clog our homes and drain our wallets.

So how can we stop buying so much stuff?

  • Don’t go shopping – sounds simple but it’s true. Don’t meet up with friends for a coffee near the shops, if you need something, see if you can borrow it or buy it second hand, take your kids to the park or museum instead of the shops.
  • Try journalling – try evaluating your impulsive habits by writing about them
  • Learn a new hobby – take up a new hobby so you don’t go shopping!
  • Make some household rules around online shopping – oh yes, it’s convenient, but make some rules. Both parents have to agree, only for certain items that you need, have to check 3 shops to see if you can get it secondhand, ask your friends if you can borrow it first? Whatever helps you to stop the ‘save to cart’ and buy cycle. Give it a go!
Photo by Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash

Make a goal for 2020 by either doing a ‘no spend’ month or year, try making a list of the items you know your family will need and sticking to it. Try using my system below to curb your spending.

Our 2020 shopping list

ItemMonthBudget
clothes for our eldest (op shop / secondhand bulk eBay)May25
bike parts and maintenance for husband’s hobby monthly50
running shoes for measap!200
gifts for boys birthdaysApril & July100
Christmas giftsDecember250
gifts for family and friendsas needed250
Lego as needed300

Maybe your priorities are different but when you are intentional about your spending, whether you write it down or not, you have much greater control.

Peace.

The value of things

With the price of clothing, jewellery, shoes and home decor plummeting in the past 50 years, we have lost perspective. When previous generations wore things until they were worn or not repairable, we now have multiple versions of things…

How many pairs of shoes do we really need?

How many coats, jumpers, pairs of socks?

Do we need to update our decor?

The answers are personal but there is no doubt our world would benefit from less consumption.

If you consider the impact of new things being produced and shipped to us, then disposed of when its no longer useful, perhaps our system is broken.

Perhaps we could return to buying things of greater quality that will last a lifetime?

Perhaps we could aim to buy secondhand wherever possible?

Perhaps we could make do with what we have already?

Perhaps we could borrow or share?

I wonder how it would feel to buy and take care of an item for a lifetime?

Slow, simple days

The beautiful thing about being home with my boys, and my husband being home studying, is we can take things slow.

Building and playing Lego is a huge part of our life, especially with our eldest who needs lots of quiet time.

We also have a wonderful yard now since we moved to the country, and our youngest particularly likes to roam around just exploring in his own time. The yard is mostly safe with some reasonable risks, good for his development.

Since we moved, we both have more time to tinker and potter, in the house, the shed or garden. We’ve already done quite a lot of work (can’t rest / ADHD) on the whole place and we are so thrilled with it.

It’s a very simple and modest 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom 1970s home. But its size is one of the most appealing aspects. In our culture where bigger and more expensive is usually revered, we feel more relaxed and cosy in our small space.

While we also recognise how lucky we are to be able to be home, it’s also the result of living frugally, of not consuming much, making smart choices, particularly around debt.

The benefits are clear to us, but of course, many people still feel the fancy car, high powered job are the keys to happiness. They have every right to feel this way, but the old adage about the rat race is keenly felt by many.

As we shift towards a more self sufficient model of living, we are beginning to set up our own food production, learning about permaculture, and becoming more involved in our community.

All of these factors are part of living intentionally; making choices about the kind of life you want according yo what you value.

Our goals for this year are to start working on increasing our investments as we pursue financial freedom. Have been reading Mr Money Moustache and The Frugalwoods to gain lots of ideas and insights.

Peace

Life at home in the 21st century

This fantastic book explains in detail the way families live in the early 2000s. The study was conducted by the Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) at UCLA from 2001 – 2010. It is the result of an interdisciplinary and collaborative research project that shows the impacts of the material worlds of 32 American families.

There were 21 families with a mother, a father and two children, two families with two fathers and two children, and nine families with one mother, one father and three children.

  • The median age was 42 for fathers and 41 for mothers.
  • The children were on average eight to 10 years of age.
  • 23 of the families had a household income of $50,000 – $149,999 American dollars.

Important note:

The findings were taken 2001 to 2005 which predates smartphones.

Material worlds of American families

The largely photographic text highlights the hyper-consumerism rampant in families of this demographic. Some of the notable findings were that families spent infrequent time together or in the backyard and that homes were child-centred spaces with toys throughout the house.

The text is broken into themes:

  • Material saturation
  • Food
  • Vanishing leisure
  • Kitchens command
  • Bathroom bottlenecks
  • Master suite sanctuaries
  • Plugged in
  • Personalisation of home with family photos, names of kids rooms

Material saturation

  • Pervasive consumption in all socioeconomic brackets due to the price of goods being lower than ever before.
  • Universally, families find the clutter of material goods cause high levels of mess and stress
  • The study found that most families were unable to park their car/s in the garage due to clutter
  • The fridge in most homes was representative of the clutter in the house, the more stuff on the fridge, the more items in the home altogether

Food

The study found that families’ food consumption centred on convenience, stockpiling, and eating separately.

Vanishing leisure

The study highlights the prevalence of indoor TV gaming. It is important to note the study predates smartphones and social media, which would significantly change this data. However, I would guess outdoor leisure would not change substantially.

Although outdoor leisure is desired, and many backyards feature play equipment and entertainment zones, families generally do not use it. The study showed the children use the backyard for less than 40 minutes per week.

Kitchens as command centre

Unsurprisingly, the kitchen has become a command centre, where families cook, eat, do homework and catch up. As a result, clutter piles up in this room, as the most used room, and it can cause substantial stress. Modern kitchen designs reflect this trend with mini offices and computer areas making their way into the kitchen.

The master suite

In all of the photos, the master bedroom has very little clutter is strikes the researchers as the only sanctuary in the home.

Technology

The average home has three televisions with one family having seven! Most families spend more time with game consoles than on computers.

Personalisation of home

The authors note that “houses of the American middle class are larger and contain substantially more material goods than those of other societies” (p. 135). Those items are designed to personalise the home and create a personal identity to differentiate one family from another. Items of sentimental value and relating to family heritage are also on display.

Of interest, almost all families had name displays for children’s rooms.

Family photos are displayed throughout the home, a trend seen more in American homes (and Australian homes I believe) than other areas of the world.

Overall, the text conveys the largely material world families live in, and the impact on mental health, family quality time and the financial status of the family.

Are you living an intentional life?

One of the hardest things as a parent is knowing that you set the first example of how to live to your children. I’m not sure how other parents think, or what they think about, but I am often reflecting on the ways our lives set us up to be parents. Whether you were part of a close knit family, grew up in an urban environment, attended a mainstream school; all of these factors influence how you parent.

Photo by stephanie krist on Unsplash

For me, one of the most important values I am passionate about passing onto my kids is compassion. I have had a lot of challenges in my life and it is difficult to write about or share openly as it can be confronting. I’ve found that we as humans are deeply affected by poor relationships and/or difficult relationships in their lives. It’s challenging as a teenager or young adult to understand what is happening around us, and how these relationships might influence our lives and our own choices.

But knowing who we are and understanding how our environment, family, schooling and relationships affect us is critical to happiness and to make the smart choices. Sometimes our lives may lead us in the wrong direction because we are not aware of how much we are guided by others. In many ways, other people such as family, friends or colleagues may be trying to exert influence in a positive way, genuinely believing their attitudes and values are the right ones. However, sometimes when we have not had the opportunity to gaze inwardly and reflect on who we are, we may be influenced by others, and find ourselves living a life that we had not planned.

A few years ago, this is where I found myself. Consumed by work and career, and believing a corporate career was the only answer. I believed money and investing in property to become wealthy were imperative. I believed I SHOULD do certain things in life because not only was I expected to but that it would mean I would be accepted and valued.

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

However, minimalism found me in my pit of anxiety, in a place where I was consumed by stress and debt and felt that there must be another choice. What I realised was we have a much wider range of choices than we are led to believe. When you are brought up in a family of entrepreneurs and workaholics, you believe that this is the only path. To move away from that lifestyle and be content with less, to embrace being unbusy, and to prioritise your own needs, and to put in place boundaries for the first time; it can be overwhelming as well as liberating.

This is what minimalism has done for me. It has opened my eyes to the choices that are available to me. It is liberating and freeing to imagine what I desire for my life, rather than seeing my life as a mapped out plan on a highway in one direction. I don’t judge others for their choices; some people thrive in competitive careers and love to have expensive clothing and luxury items. My only question is about intentionality. Are you living intentionally? What can you ask yourself about your choices in order to make sure you are on YOUR path?

Reasons for wanting to live more simply

I want more time to enjoy life

I want to use my money to have and enjoy experiences not things

I’m worried about the world and the amount of landfill

I want more quality time with my husband, family, friends and our future children

I want to learn the value of having things

I want to feel less anxious

I want to create freedom through investing my wealth

I want to have money for travel

I want to sleep easier

I want to have time to cook and exercise

I want to play with my dogs