Friday, January 4, 2019

Welcome 2019: Time to Grow

Happy New Year everyone! I'm so so excited for 2019 and everything that it'll bring. I'm starting the year with gratefulness for the inner peace that I was able to restore last month. The school holidays were such a positive, healing time for me (I miss it so much now!). I even started a new hobby as part of my self care routine - gardening!

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Now, let me be honest, I don't really have much of a "garden" to speak of. I live in an apartment that doesn't have a balcony. But what I DO have, is a window 'cage' in my kitchen, it's where I hang my laundry out to dry. It's in the back of my house and is east-facing, so I only get morning sun for a few hours each day. There are also a couple of tall trees opposite my window, so they provide quite a lot of shade. So not all plants can live or thrive in my window garden (how I wish I had a South-facing window...), but I'm making it work!

In the past, I've tried and failed to care for plants. I just didn't understand how much sun, water or fertiliser different plants needed. But it seems I'm having better luck now, because I've been learning more and more about plants and how to take care of them (from Youtube mainly). My dream is to grow an edible garden, so that I can pick off herbs and vegetables to use in my cooking...

I am, however, very much a newbie, so I'm making a lot of mistakes and learning as I go along. But there is something that I can be proud of, which is a level up in my gardening skills - propagating herbs from cuttings! So far, I've managed to propagate mint and basil from cuttings by rooting them in water. For my two store-bought basil cuttings, I decided to plant them in small hydroponic pots, and I really love seeing the roots develop over time.

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So why have I taken up gardening all of a sudden? Well, I suppose I needed a hobby that I could indulge in at home. It needed to be relaxing and therapeutic, yet not take up too much of my time. I find gardening to be that... and more.  Being a stay at home mum, I'm constantly surrounded by four walls and my floor (as well as every available horizontal surface) is usually covered in clutter despite my best efforts to keep things tidy and organised.

I find that having a small patch of green helps me to gain a balance, like a miniature breathing space. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I head over to my window garden and check on how it's doing. Each new sign of growth, be it in the roots or leaves, gives me a sense of hope and renewal. It feels good to be nurturing something. Almost every day, it's a new discovery.

It's also fun to grow something that I can later harvest and enjoy... even if it's just a handful of Brazillian spinach to put into my omelette or some mint to flavour my tea. I'm also learning lots of new things. Whenever something seems amiss, I Google it to find out what I could do better. For example, when the tips of my thyme started to droop, I learnt that it just needed water. And after a sprinkle, it was ok after a few hours. I'm also learning about nutrients that help plants grow. It's all so fascinating!

And though my garden is so very tiny, it already seems to be attracting God's creatures! So far I've seen birds, spiders and even a frog in my garden (I live on the first floor, so I'm wondering how the frog got up here). So yeah, I'm grateful for my tiny garden, it may not be perfect, but it makes me so happy.

I hope that this year, you'll find something that'll bring you peace and happiness too :)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Brotherly bond: Watching in awe as their relationship develops

Brotherly love
Amir, my eldest, is 14 and Arif is 4. 

Oddly enough, my earliest memory of the bond between my two sons, is one where neither of them were present. In fact, they hadn't even met each other, so a bond was nonexistent. I'd just been discharged from a long stay in hospital, due to pre-eclampsia and an emergency c-section. Arif, who was a low birthweight premie, was still being held in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), so when I went in for my postnatal check up, I was by myself.

As I sat in the waiting area, I observed a couple seated across me. The mother was cradling a newborn in her arms and they had a little boy with them, he must've been about 5. It was obvious to me that this boy was smitten with his baby brother or sister. Instead of staying quietly in his seat, he stood up, positioned himself near the baby's head and gazed at the baby adoringly. Here and there, he would steal kisses on the baby's head.

I say 'steal' because his mother kept shooing him away. But he was unable to help himself and after one gentle peck too many, his mother scolded him and told him that he was disturbing the baby. At that moment, I realised how easily we adults tend to brush aside life's simple pleasures.

I thought to myself that the lady didn't know how lucky she was. I wished Arif was in my arms. I wished Amir had met his baby brother and fallen in love with him. I hoped that my sons would have that beautiful brotherly bond.

Fast forward about a month later, my boys finally met when I brought Arif home. Amir, who was 10 at the time, had initially been very excited at the prospect of becoming a big brother. But it would seem that Arif's delayed homecoming had fizzled the excitement a bit. There wasn't much room for physical tenderness between my boys. Arif was so small and fragile at the time that Amir wasn't allowed to touch him for the first few months. So I'd have to say that their bond wasn't sealed from the get go. It also didn't take long for Amir to start becoming jealous of Arif, who was getting all the attention (I can't say I blame him).

But as time progressed, things did get better. Like other brothers, they liked to have pretend sword fights and roughhoused. Amir would give Arif piggy back rides around the living room. But they weren't really, really close. Amir was away at school for most of the day, and due to their big age gap, they didn't really have that much in common. Forging a bond was also especially challenging because Arif has non-verbal autism. This means my boys can't verbally communicate or understand each other. 

Arif didn't seem to welcome physical affection from his big brother either. Amir would lean in for a kiss or a hug, for example, and Arif would push him away. Though he's very affectionate with me and my husband, Arif didn't seem interested in bonding with his older brother. Meanwhile, Amir, who's naturally talkative, didn't really know how to connect with his non-verbal, much younger brother who kept pushing him away. 

For quite some time, I didn't know if my boys would ever grow close and develop a satisfying relationship, despite the odds. This worried me, because someday, when we're gone, Amir would be taking care of Arif. He needs to understand and connect with Arif, and Arif needs to learn to trust him. I figured one way for me to help build their relationship, was to help Amir understand his brother first.

At opportune moments, I would talk to Amir about autism and explain things to him bit by bit. I had to be mindful not to overload him with things, but my goal was to help him realise what things are like for Arif. I wanted him to know that there is much we can do for Arif as a family. I taught Amir that from an Islamic point of view, having a sibling with autism isn't a burden, but a gift. 

I also tried to understand things from Amir's point of view. Siblings of autistic and special needs children often experience their share of stress and anxiety too, and I've seen evidence of this in Amir.

But then, this month, something AMAZING happened. Since it's the long, year-end school holiday, my boys are together a lot more, sharing the same space. But unlike the holidays before, something seems to be different and more positive. 

Amir has become more relaxed around Arif, attentive to his needs and better at engaging his little brother, despite the lack of verbal response. In turn, something seems to have 'clicked' in Arif as well. He has begun to take notice of Amir, and genuinely wants to be close to and affectionate with his big brother. 

I watched in amazement as Arif voluntarily climbed into his big brother's lap, and sat there as we waited for our Grab ride. I observed that after Amir gave Arif a kiss, Arif kept  pulling him close again and again for more kisses. Today, Arif pulled his brother's arm and asked him to sit with him, so that they could watch Monsters Inc together on the couch. Arif even teased his big brother by dangling a piece of garlic bread in front of him, then giggled as he pulled it away.  

Soon, Amir will start school again and Arif will be seeing his brother a lot less. But the interactions I've observed in these past weeks have given me hope that my boys can develop a strong bond and meaningful relationship that's built upon love, mutual understanding and trust. It may have taken a while for them to gain momentum, but my maternal instincts are telling me that this train is now full steam ahead.

I watch in awe as their relationship develops and I'm so grateful for these moments. I certainly won't be taking these simple pleasures for granted. I will celebrate each and every warm moment they share. Every smile. Every giggle. Every touch. 

If you'd like to understand what its like for autism siblings, I think this article on Autism Society will be helpful.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Where have I been? Time for a new start....

Time for a new start...

Hi guys. I know, it's been months since I last wrote a blog post and the main reason being, I haven't had much time to sit down, process my thoughts or reflect. I've been far too busy and mentally occupied, that unfortunately I've been feeling burned out, just like I was at the end of last year. I won't go into details, but at one point, I got so 'good' at putting my thoughts and feelings aside, that whenever there was a quiet moment, tears would suddenly roll down my cheeks, seemingly for no apparent reason.

I wasn't sad or depressed (or was I?). My feelings weren't hurt. But why was I crying? I wasn't able to stop the tears... they just kept rolling down until they stopped. This happened so often, that I began to realise that something was wrong with me. I was suppressing things, pushing myself too hard (without realising it), I had no self-care routine and I wasn't in a happy place. I was NUMB.

Things needed to change, and so I started retreating from the world. I needed time to gather my thoughts, feel emotions, care about myself and reflect. While searching the web for some idea on why I was feeling the way I was, I came across an article on Very Well Health about Mothers of Autistic Children and Depression, and every word seemed far too familiar.

So how did I arrive in a place where I never wanted to be in again? Where did I go wrong?

After burning out at the end of 2017, at the start of this year, I made a conscious decision to drastically reduce my freelance jobs so that I wouldn't be too burdened with workload. I let go of a big retainer job and if you're a freelancer, you know how difficult this was to do. This, of course, meant that I earned much less than before. But I made adjustments and took it in my stride. I also got quite good at saying "no" to projects that I knew I couldn't handle, because of the conflicts that they would cause to my daily schedule. I really didn't want to bite off more than I could chew.

But unfortunately, as time passed, I found it harder and harder to continue being highly productive in my work, while trying to manage things on the home front. After all, taking care of a household, cooking meals and getting the kids ready for things and appointments is a full-time job in itself. And let's face it, being the main caregiver of a child with special needs has its own set of challenges. On top of everything, I was trying to efficiently conduct my own home intervention programme for Arif. In short, I had way too much on my plate. Something had to give.

So at the start of December, I carved a bit more time for me to reflect, and I've decided that I would have to reduce my work commitments even further come 2019. I would only take on a minimal amount of work whenever I could, but my main focus next year will be on my boys. This means that our family would be surviving largely on a single income, which is undoubtedly a scary thing for us. I'm sure there'll need to be a lot of transitions and adjustments.

But, I think it will all be worth it. Here's why. Amir, my eldest, will be sitting for his PMR exam next year. He will need all the support and encouragement that I can give him. And Arif, my youngest, who has non-verbal autism, has been showing remarkable progress in his connection and communication with me. He has also shown a keen interest in learning at home. So I must strike while the iron is hot. I must seize this chance to fully dedicate myself to my kids, especially Arif's developments. This window of opportunity won't last forever, so the time is now, or never.

So yeah, I'm ready for a new start. I'm now more determined than ever to develop a more mindful self. And you know what? Quite a few people have told me that I should write on, or give a talk about my experiences as an autism parent, which they think would be encouraging to others. In the past, I had felt that I wasn't ready to do that, since I haven't gone very far in my journey into the world of autism. I'm neither an expert on the subject, nor a parent who has it 'all figured out.' I'm also hesitant about opening up portions of our private lives to public scrutiny and criticism.

But after discussing things with my husband, I think I will start sharing some of my experiences in a more in-depth way here on my blog. It will be a practise for me to be mindful, as I go about my daily life and challenges. Also, there may be others out there who are going through the same thing, and feel the way I do. Maybe I can help someone feel that they're not alone and perhaps even shed some light through my stories.   

You know what 2018 has taught me? Sometimes you think you know things, but in reality, you don't. Life will keep throwing you curve balls, and you'll have to keep figuring things out. But in this moment, I'm grateful for the realisations and reflections that I've had this month, and for the opportunity that I have to go forward with a renewed sense of purpose and hope. I hope that if you're feeling as tired and worn out with the world as I've felt, that you'll be able to take some time to retreat, realise and reflect. You deserve it.

But before you go, I want to share a couple of articles with you:

How do you know if you're burning out? Check out this article on Forbes - 10 Signs You're Burning Out and What To Do About It.

Here's another good article I recently read on What Does It Mean To Be Mindful from the Huffington Post.

Note: This post contains links to articles that I've found helpful. They are not affiliate links.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Quick and Convenient Sahur with Quaker Oats

Ramadan Kareem! I've been away for quite some time due to commitments, but today I'm finally able to steal some time to blog. Yay! How's the fasting month been for you so far? Alhamdulillah, it has been going well for my family. Amir, my 14 year old, is very committed to fasting, so I'm super proud of him. And my husband Rezad is kindly helping me prepare sahur whenever I need some help.

This has been a blessed Ramadan indeed as there have been lots of positive developments both on the home front and in my volunteer work with K.A.M.I, our mosque's playgroup for autism children. But another blessing arrived in the mail a few days ago... Quaker sent me three free packs of oats to try out! Alhamdulillah!

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Got these in the mail - Matcha Green Tea 3 in 1 Oat Cereal Drink, Quaker Multigrain Cereal and Instant Oatmeal.

Quaker Instant Oatmeal is a staple in my family, but I haven't had the Matcha Green Tea 3 in 1 Oat Cereal Drink or Quaker Multigrain Cereal before, so I can't wait to try them. So in honour of Ramadan and this Quaker Oats bounty, I'd like to share with you my...

Top 3 Mommy Sahur Hacks:


1. Whenever Ramadan draws near, I stock my freezer with frozen roti canai and pantry with canned food like chicken curry or rendang. Cooking the roti canai and heating the canned food takes just minutes.

2. My family doesn't like to eat heavy foods like rice at sahur. So we normally stock up on buns, bread, fruits and dates. Sandwiches are also quick to prepare.

3. When I don't have much time to cook (you know, when the alarm goes off at 4.00 am and I don't hear it.. so I wake up with a jolt 45 minutes later and scramble to the kitchen in panic) I turn to Quaker Oats for a quick, nutritious and filling breakfast. Oats is versatile and also helps us keep hunger pangs at bay longer.


Quaker 2018_Oatmeal_SUPER GRAIN

Did you know that oats are a Super Grain? 
  1. High in fiber with 9.4 g per 100g, which is more than white or brown rice. 
  2. Contains beta glucan (soluble fiber), which slows down digestion and the release of glucose into your bloodstream, providing a slower supply energy.
  3. Good for your heart, as it lowers blood cholesterol. 
  4. A good source of protein, higher than most cereals at 13.7g per 100g.
  5. 40 grams of oats can keep you full for 4 hours.
  6. Rich in essentials vitamins and minerals, including B1, B2,B3, B6, B9, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus.

Recipe time!
With all this talks about oats, I can't leave without sharing my my recipe for
 Bubur Lambuk Quaker Oats. For me, bubur lambuk is one of the best Malaysian delicacies associated with Ramadan. This savoury and rich porridge is usually given out at mosques, and takes a long time to make. But for years, I've been making my own version of bubur lambuk, but with Quaker Oats! It tastes almost as good as the real thing and best of all, it's so quick to make! 

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For My Bubur Lambuk Quaker Oats, I need Instant Oatmeal ;)

Bubur Lambuk Quaker Oats

Ingredients
1 cup Quaker Instant Oatmeal
2 cups water
1/2 box coconut milk
1 shallot (finely chopped)
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
Small piece of ginger (julienned)
1/2 cup minced meat (beef or chicken)
1/2 cup frozen mixed vegetables
Some cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise and black pepper
Chopped Chinese parsley and fried shallot for garnish
Some cooking oil
Salt and pepper to taste

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Method
1. Put a few tablespoons of cooking oil into a pot. Fry cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise and black pepper for a few seconds. Then add onions, ginger and garlic. Fry till fragrant.

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2. Add minced meat and vegetables, fry till meat is cooked.

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3. Add water, oats and coconut milk. Once mixture thickens, add salt and pepper to taste.

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4. Ladle into bowl and garnish with fried shallots and Chinese parsley. Ready to serve!

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And to accompany my bubur lambuk this morning, I had the Quaker Matcha Green tea 3 in 1. A quick, filling and nutritious sahur to keep me going through the day ;)

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Do give this recipe a try! 
#QuakerMommySahurHacks


This blog is sponsored by:
Quaker Logo

Friday, May 25, 2018

KAMI Playgroup Donation Drive

Hello everyone, Ramadan Kareem! I hope your days have been full of peace and barakah during this holy month. In conjunction with Ramadan, the month of blessings and giving, K.A.M.I Playgroup* is seeking donations, which will enable us to continue operations and improve our services to the special needs community.

To learn more about K.A.M.I, click here. And should you have any inquiries about our playgroup, please do not hesitate to email us at: kamiplaygroup@gmail.com

* K.A.M.I (Kumpulan Anak Autisme MAsjid) is a non-profit playgroup for autistic children run by volunteers at Masjid Kg Tunku, Petaling Jaya. 

brochure kami playgroup muka dpn

brochure kami playgroup muka belakang

Here's a glimpse at our playgroup activities:

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Swimming as therapy

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Like most children with autism, Arif has always been drawn to water. It could be cups or bottles, a tap or water dispenser, a bucket or a pool. If there's water, he'll play with it or in it.

Of course, this can be a source of anxiety for me. Unaware of danger, and not yet able to understand what we're saying, Arif can spill water near electrical devices, appliances or sockets (lost my last mobile phone this way), or play with taps and water dispensers in public places like restaurants and clinics, much to other patrons' chagrin.

We also need to make sure that any buckets of water in our bathrooms have to be secure and when we're at the pool, we're extra vigilant.

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But this year, we're embracing Arif's love for water. Earlier this year, Arif joined a community-based rehabilitation programme and one of their activities is swimming, which is held at the Kelana Jaya Municipal Pool. I love taking Arif to swim here, because he loves it and I can clearly see that he's becoming more confident in the water.

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Going into the pool not only provides him with sensory play, but water also soothes, comforts and  provides gentle exercise. Most importantly, it boosts his happiness :)

When my eldest, Amir, is on school holiday, Arif gets to play with his big brother at the pool. Amir does an awesome job at pretending to be a dolphin, so that Arif can ride on his back around the pool. After swimming, Arif usually enjoys a bottle of his chocolate camel milk and a light snack.

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After a few hours of swimming, my boys are ready to head home. I call for an Uber and then we wait patiently for our driver to arrive! Here's to more pool fun, especially with big bro!

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You can learn more about the benefits of swimming for children with autism here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Kids and cornflake cookies

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Last week, at KAMI Playgroup, we did something special - the kids made honey cornflake cookies! It was the first time that we tried a cooking activity and it was a lot of fun. The kids really liked it, so I'm planning more "cooking" lessons in the future. Our playgroup began, as usual, with circle time, where we recited Alfatihah and did some brain button exercises. Arif usually doesn't want to participate in circle time, but this week, he sat with me for a little while.

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After a few action songs, we pulled out the equipment and created an obstacle course for the kids using preschool equipment. The kids navigated the course while holding balancing sticks.

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Then, it was time to make our honey cornflake cookies. First, the children mixed cornflakes with melted butter, brown sugar and honey. Then, they spooned the mixture into paper cups. Lastly, they decorated their cookies with sprinkles. Finally, we sent the cookies off to the cafe to bake them and make them crispy!

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While the cookies were baking, we did an arts and crafts activity. This week, the children made a traffic light collage using glue and coloured paper. This simple activity isn't just good for fine motor skills and sensory input from the sticky glue. But it's also great for visual motor skills.

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Last, but not least, we cleaned up our tables and sang a goodbye song. Then, everyone got to take home their honey cornflake cookies to snack on later!

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Check out this video I compiled of the day's fun times :) See you next time at KAMI!

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Playdates @ We Rock the Spectrum, Ara Damansara

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Arif doing pull ups for the first time!

One of Arif's favourite places to go (and his favourite play gym), is We Rock the Spectrum (WRTS) at Ara Damansara. We love going there because they have lots of specialised equipment, which is perfect for children with special needs like Arif. They also have an awesome area for table tasks like drawing and fine motor play. 

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Climbing the net for the first time!

And while we enjoy visiting the gym on our own, I often set up playdates with friends so that Arif can learn to play with others and take turns. Though he has a long way to go in terms of communication and socialising, I have seen many improvements in him. 

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Playing with friends from CBR Network, PDK Ara.

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Arif has also started to mimic his friend's actions.

Each time we visit, Arif tries and discovers something new, growing braver and stronger. For example, he used to be terrified of swings, due to his vestibular issues. But thanks to the activities we've done at home, at playgroup and WRTS, he's no longer afraid of swinging. In fact, he loves it so much now! It's nice to see him grow more confident, not just in terms of gravitational security, but also body and spatial awareness. When we first started coming to WRTS in July last year, Arif played with only a few things, mainly the trampoline. But on our last visit and play date with my friend Juliana and her son Ibrahim earlier this week, Arif tried many new things. It was also the first time that I saw him mimicking what another child is doing.

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Arif having a swinging good time. He first saw Ibrahim do it and thought he'd give it a try.

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Arif's getting better at balance beams too!

Arif has also gotten very good at solving puzzles, even ones he has never seen before. I can still remember the days when he struggled to manipulate puzzle pieces in his hand. He was unable to grasp the pieces firmly and turn them as needed.

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Arif has gotten very good at solving puzzles :)

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When he has climbed, jumped, run and rolled, he'll sit in a quiet corner and so his own thing.

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This fine motor activity is so cool, Arif loves it!

As a child on the autism spectrum, Arif likes to line things up in a row. This is often described as rigid behaviour and is said to reflect a lack of imagination and appropriate play. To me, it may not make sense to us, but it makes perfect sense to Arif. So if it makes him happy, I'm happy to let him continue on. Plus, I've seen him get creative with his arrangements and he does engage in some imaginative and pretend play.

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And of course, he loves animal figurines, as well as lining them up.

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Arif gets creative with lining up the sea creatures.

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Sorting things out is one of Arif's favourite things to do.

The other toys at the gym that Arif loves, are the musical instruments and train set. The musical instruments are especially fun when played with friends! I look forward to our next visit to WRTS and wonder what Arif will surprise me with. Hope to see you there!

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A cute three-piece band, led by Aunty Juju. I tried joining in with my triangle :)

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Arif loves the train set :)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

New additions to KAMI Playgroup!

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Check out this cheerful and colourful corner!

It's only been about three months since we launched KAMI Playgroup, but slowly and surely, we're growing better with each passing week. When we held our 8th KAMI Playgroup session at Masjid Kg Tunku on 27 Jan, we were especially excited, thanks to some new additions. Firstly, we welcomed four new families into our group, and secondly, we now have ten gym balls ready for action! This week, we welcomed 8 children, 10 parents and 3 volunteers in total. Everyone came ready to play :)

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We started our session as usual with Salam, doa and zikir during circle time.


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Next, we did a warm-up music and movement activity with action songs.

After our warm up session, we did two activities for indoor play. First, we used our new gym balls to do calming and alerting exercises. Can I just say how much I love these gym balls and the colour they add to our space? Awesome! I also introduced the parents a to a simple brain gym massage, which helps to increase blood flow to the brain and improve focus. You can learn more about brain gym exercises here.


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A rainbow of gym balls! A fun addition to our playgroup sessions. 
   
For the second activity, the children engaged in a table task involving fine motor play. We gave them each some coloured pasta/ perler beads, which they had to thread onto a pipe cleaner. Though it seems really simple, this activity requires focus, hand control and hand-eye coordination. After the fine motor play, we got messy with a sensory play session, where we made our very own playdoh.

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Fine motor activity, threading beads on pipe cleaners.

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Mixing up our own playdoh using flour, salt, warm water, vegetable oil and food colouring.

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Thank you Sharon and Aisyah for helping us out this week!


I am most grateful for another good playgroup session and I'm excited to plan even more activities for the kids. Stay tuned for more on KAMI!

Welcome 2019: Time to Grow

Happy New Year everyone! I'm so so excited for 2019 and everything that it'll bring. I'm starting the year with gratefulness for...