denial

Hi, my name is Christalla and I am an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) mother.  

I would like to begin with the worst point of my life because in my experience, when you become a special needs mum, you always begin with rock bottom.  For me that was July 2011 when my eldest son, who was four at the time, was diagnosed with ASD.  I remember sitting in the doctor's office, tears streaming down my face as he relayed to us the full diagnosis.  Then that sickening feeling...why didn't I realise it sooner.

They always tell you that as a mother you know when something is not quite right with your child.  Well I was a mother
AND a teacher - so I should definitely have known.  "I should have done something about it sooner" - that thought plagued me and ate me up inside for many many years.  It took over 2 years for me to let go of that feeling of guilt, to forgive myself. 
So why didn't I get him diagnosed sooner?  The simple answer is, denial.  When they say "don't ever underestimate the power of denial", it is true.  I have meet many mothers and fathers of ASD children who are in denial and who have had to go through the same emotions I did.  I think it is because our children are not born with obvious characteristics like parents of down syndrome children, (don't get me wrong, all special needs parents go through the same roller coaster of emotions), it is just that because ASD is diagnosed later in a child's life, it is easy to deny what it is, especially if like my son there are no obvious early symptoms.

I remember going through the checklist after his diagnosis:

     Did he make eye contact while breastfeeding?  Yes
    Did he smile when smiled at?  Yes
    Did he respond to his name or to the sound of a familiar voice?  Yes
    Did he point or wave goodbye or use other gestures to communicate?  Yes
    Did he make noises to get your attention?  Yes
    Did he initiate or respond to cuddling?  Yes
    Did he imitate your movements and facial expressions?  Yes
    Did he reach out to be picked up?  Yes
    Did he play with other people or share interest and enjoyment?  Yes

And the list went on and on.  My son did all of them, he reached all of his milestones except one...speech.  For speech, he reached the first few milestones, then stopped talking altogether.  However there were plenty of other reasons to feed into our denial:  we were a bilingual house and bilingual children tend to have an observation periods where they stop talking; boys tend to talk later than girls;  he had a problem with his ears (his ears were not getting rid of the excess wax, so he couldn't hear very well until the doctor removed the wax); he was shy..  However when there was still no progress after six months and speech therapy twice a week, we could deny it no longer, we had to see a developmental specialist.  That was where our denial stopped.

In my job I meet plenty of people, who when they find out I have an ASD son, tell me that their friend/relative has a child with obvious symptoms but the parents refuse to acknowledge it, lying to their friends, family and even doctor about what their child can do.  As an ex- denial expert I don't really know what to say except pray for them, pray that they see the light / or a developmental specialist sooner rather than later, because what the doctors and experts say is true - the younger you work them, the greater they become.  My son was four - by ASD standards quite old -  but I have seen him improve in leaps and bounds.  I still imagine where he would be now if my denial had ended earlier...

The disadvantages of the technologically advantaged youth - Paula Manoli-Gray

I recently worked as a cover teacher at an English school in Larnaca and the experience – although only for two weeks – was certainly an eye-opener.


Firstly, I was very surprised at how reasonable morning traffic is in our town! I am used to doing a school run from Vergina to the New Salamina area then to Drosia to drop my own two off, and have never encountered bad traffic for that particular route, but I was terrified that getting to the school's more central location would mean gridlock. Despite starting lessons at various times – ranging from 7.30am to 12.50pm – I did not experience any major traffic. I am sure that there are areas that are prone to heavier traffic, but in general, Larnaca is a good town to drive in, so, spare a thought for your Nicosia and Limassol cousins who face daily jams en-route to work and back, and count your blessings!


But I digress… the eye-opener was an insight to the teenagers of today, and how they differ to the teenagers of my generation. There is a general issue with boundaries regarding authority and an absence of respect for elders in the new generation. This is a declining standard; my generation had far more respect than today's, but less than my parent's 'be-seen-but-not-heard' generation. I dread to think what my children's generation will be like… There are a variety of factors that play a role in this, from children being raised outside of the family due to both parents having to work, to the power of technology they have at their fingertips at too early an age.


If you have children of your own, or know people with children, no doubt a large proportion of them will have a tablet, or access to one from a tender age. We have so far not succumbed in our household, but the fight is getting harder and harder as they see their friends with them or hear about the different games they could be playing. And mine are only still six and four! The issue of mobile phones is thankfully further away, but I know it is only a matter of time, and every student that I taught these past two weeks not only had a mobile, they had an all-singing-all-dancing one!


Despite the technological advances teenagers have at their disposal, I do pity them for it. Yes, life as a student is now easier when you can use Google instead of an encyclopaedia, and can print off materials, but this is a poor trade-off for living your life in full digital view.


With almost every teenager having their own social media pages, they are unwittingly committing their every teenage mistake, angst and relationship to Cyberspace for all time. Young, naive human beings striking duck-face poses, writing their every little thought as a status update, and using their social profiles with such abandon will surely find that as adults they are filled with regret for what they put out there.


Teenage years are a time when you do make your mistakes, learn hard lessons, discover who you are and what you want to be (or at least you think you do!), and these are very private and personal rites of passage that at some point in your adulthood you want to forget or leave behind. This generation will never be able to escape the experience, and some will certainly be tarnished by it.


I am sure glad that I didn't live my teenage years out so publically, and I will fight tooth and nail to ensure my children don't either when the time comes.


First appeared in The Cyprus Weekly, 20/03/15

Buying local… if I can find it! - Paula Manoli-Gray

It was my son's birthday last week, and he wanted a desk from his nouna. A simple enough request, but as always, I found that when I have something specific in mind, I can never find it in Cyprus!


Of course, there are many shops that sell children's desks, but sadly, the nice ones are all designer and overinflated in price. Then you have the other end of the scale – cheap MDF - which is again sold out here for far more than it is worth. Eventually, a plea on Facebook was responded to by a nice lady who lives 10 minutes away from me, and was selling her children's old desk. It fit the bill, and the task was completed!


But this is something that frustrates me no-end about living in Cyprus. I can never find what I want, so I most often end up buying it online. This upsets me to some degree as I do really, really want to support local businesses, but when a) you cannot find the item, or b) it is double or triple the price you can get it for online, then supporting my town goes out of the window in favour of getting what I want at a reasonable price – and I feel bad about that. But my pocket is not unlimited and even if it were, why should I pay more just because we have an issue of chronic overcharging out here? I always tell people 'vote with your feet', and that is what I do; I give my custom to those who provide goods or services to a good standard and at a reasonable price, which is why you do not see me sitting at trendy cafes drinking beverages that cost more than they do in London!


Granted, it is so much better than it used to be… I remember the days when a trip to Nicosia was the only way to get most things as Larnaca was lagging so far behind – especially in franchises. At that time, there was little choice even in the capital, so it was either the limited number of things at overinflated prices, or not at all! And those who have lived here a long time can surely relate to the era where anything that came from Greece or Italy – however cheap in its respective country – would be marked up ten-fold and lapped up by consumers just because it was 'made in Greece' (or Italy!). Those were the days when consumers too shared the blame as there was an air of snobbery and a desire to pay more to be able to boast that what you had was expensive or designer, and businesses were happy to oblige. Oh how the mighty have fallen since then.


Thankfully, things have changed. Larnaca has caught up and - with the exception of a handful of franchises and restaurants - we have just as much as Nicosia and Limassol have, even if we do not have a mall. And variety has also entered our market; variety in goods and the welcome addition of variety in prices. There are reasonable shops, there are budget stores and cut-price outlets, and there are much better sales than there previously were. Add to this the big surge in second-hand goods being sold in bricks-and-mortar shops and on Facebook groups for both Larnaca and the island as a whole, and theoretically, you should be able to pretty much find everything. But still, I struggle to find 'the right thing' a lot of the time. I don't know if it is just me and I have very specific/fussy tastes, or if we tend to have a lot of variety and an over-saturated market for some things and a lack of certain others.

 

But there are still businesses – who despite the crisis and a drop in customers – that will not get off their high (pricing) horse. And this is one of the reasons that I think I will probably be buying online for a while yet.

 

First appeared in 'The Cyprus Weekly', 13/03/15

No need to call back - Paula Manoli-Gray



We seem to be living in a paradoxical time when it comes to communication – or at least it feels that way on the island.

Whilst most people have the latest smart phone, tablet or computer and spend more time with their heads down trying to impress faux friends on social media than talking to their real ones, they seem totally incapable of answering business emails or returning calls.

Not having lived in the UK for many years, I do not know if this is a global phenomenon or one of our 'quaint' Cyprus-isms, but it is certainly wide-spread here and extremely frustrating.

I have personally found that even some of the most 'professional' or esteemed business people – and/or their assistants – can be totally incapable of sending off a polite reply to at least acknowledge an email. And this also extends to civil servants and public services where there should – at the very least – be an automatic reply to say that your email has been received.

And when it comes to returning calls, forget it. I know of a friend who had an appointment with a respected specialist doctor in Limassol but had to cancel and has now spent the last two months trying to reschedule another, only to be told (literally) several times a day that 'someone will call her back'. No one ever does – and they know that it is in regards to a fairly urgent medical issue.

But this lack of communication also occurs when you are trying to give something or help someone and there is no actual benefit to you for getting in touch, so it is not a one-way street of being ignored only when you require assistance or information - it is just a system of being ignored all the time!
As a journalist, I am always left baffled as to why my emails and phone calls go unanswered when it comes to my approaching someone to write an article on them – a positive thing and a source of free publicity. You would be amazed how many people completely ignore me, or tell me they will be back in touch with some information and are never heard from again. It costs very little time, effort and financial outlay to fire off a reply to someone or return that call in the name of manners and professionalism, and I have to admit, I often judge someone on the basis of how efficient and considerate they are in answering their communications.

So, why does this occur so much in Cyprus? Is it because people are so busy and overstretched, or because they believe that their time or lives are more important than the rest of the island's? Or is it one of those laid-back attitudes that we have (and that was the polite way of saying it)? Whatever the reason, it creates a culture of frustration and distrust in people, services and businesses. We stop asking questions, we stop complaining, we stop getting involved, we stop offering our time or assistance… simply because 'no one will respond to us anyway'.

And the saddest indictment of our times? That you are far more likely to get a response from someone if you go via their social media account than any other form of communication, along with the pleasure of seeing photos of them partying, cuddling their cat, or showing off the remnants of their dinner!

First appeared in The Cyprus Weekly, 06/03/15

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