Dr. Cat and AutiZmo

​My friend Dr. Cat is at it again!  Her kaleidoscopic mind has been whirling and whirling....  Her new project - the result of her extensive study on autistic children - is astonishing.  Mind - blowing in fact.  She and a Robotic Engineer from Egypt, are in the process of designing and creating a robot called AutiZmo, who will be able to scan an autistic child and detect what he or she is feeling and thinking. He (AutiZmo) will then be able to translate these feelings to the child's parents and anyone who wishes to communicate with them.  I know, it sounds like something out of a science fiction novel.  
While she was explaining her ideas to me, scenes from 'A.I.' and 'Biocentennial Man' were flashing in my mind.  But this is actually happening...

As the mother of an ASD child that was non-verbal for so many years, I can truly appreciate how this will change our lives.  I am lucky that my son is now verbal, but the years of trying to guess what he wanted or to justify to others or to myself even, why he was having a meltdown or was less concentrated than usual, or was out of sorts, even for him - were both tough and heartbreaking.  For some days I would openly weep in front of him...begging him to tell me what was wrong, what could I do to help him/fix it/take the pain away.  And it is on those days that as a mother (or father) you feel like a complete failure.

So I welcome AutiZmo with open arms.  If his existence not only helps children like my son communicate, but also allows parents like me to understand what they are thinking and going through even before they are verbal... well Dr. Cat will have created a truly remarkable gift for autistic children worldwide. 

Dr. Cat and Mr. Robotic Engineer told me that they have decided that this will be the beginning of revolutionising the world of Autism, and I am 100% behind them all the way!

*If you wish to learn more about AutiZmo firsthand, then Dr. Cat will be talking about it live on SIGMA this Tuesday night (15th December) at 9pm.*

Christmas 2015 Shoe Box Appeal

Would you like to help bring a smile to a needy child this Christmas? Then how about taking part in the Shoebox Christmas Appeal where we hope to provide for needy and Refugee Children in our community.

This is being organized by some local Churches and LPN will be helping out again this year.

How it Works

Chose a child to buy for – Boy/Girl age!

Find a shoebox (adult size) and cover the lid and box separately in wrapping paper.

Fill the box with your wrapped gifts. Here’s some ideas:

Something to love e.g. a doll, a teddy

Something for school e.g a pencil case, an eraser

Something to wear e.g. a scarf, a hat, socks, hair bands

Something to play with e.g. a toy, a game

Something yummy e.g. sweets (that won’t melt)

Something special e.g. a ‘wow’ item

All gifts should be new, safe and suitable e.g. no sharp items, nothing breakable, no guns or soldiers

If you wish, add a Christmas card with a personal greeting and blessings for your child. Close the box (preferably with elastic bands) and add a label with the gender and age.

Drop off points for the boxes will be as follows :

Greek Evangelical Church hall opposite the old hospital on Tuesdays between 8 – 11am Fridays between 6 – 8:30pm - Larnaca Thrift shop 1st April Street. 

The closing date will be the 1st of December.


My son probably has about 1001 idiosyncracies which I am sure are there to drive me absolutely around the bend!  As he has grown up some have continued and some have stopped.  His most noticeable one (quite a common one in ASD children) is the hand flapping and jumping up and down on the spot.  It used to be accompanied by weird funny sounds but they seem to have subsided.  One therapist told us that it would be a good idea to stop this little habit of his (the therapist was afraid how the other children would react to it and therefore him) but I decided not to.  After all it was part of who he was, and he only does it when he is happy or excited.  As a mother it really touches my heart to see this child-like joy he has, expressed in such an innocent and jubilant way.  I wouldn't change it for the world. But saying that, I do control it - just by saying his name, he stops (it prevents him getting too overexcited and too over stimulated which could lead to a meltdown).

The problem with his idiosyncrasies is timing.  If I am calm and relaxed (as a working mother of three this is as rare as a blue moon), I can deal with them.  The thing is that they seem to rear their ugly head when I am tired/grumpy/feeling overwhelmed or sick.  For example, for the last 3 or 4 years he has certain ideas of where specific pieces of furniture should be placed (maybe he is a budding Feng Shui Interior Designer).  In my sitting room I change the furniture around for summer and winter - as soon as summer begins coming to an end, he wants to set up the winter arrangement complete with thick, warm carpets! I have tried to explain to him how Cyprus has no autumn and winter doesn't kick in til the end of November - but to no avail.  This is usually how our conversations go:
My son: (standing next to the couch, trying to move it) I want.
Me: No.
My son: (pushing it out of place a little) I want.
Me: No.
My son: (pushing it out of place a little more) I want.
Me: NO.
(this can go on for as long as an hour)
Then when he finally gets it, he stands by the basement door:
My son: Downstairs (where the carpets are)
Me: No.
My son: Downstairs 
Me: No.
My son: Downstairs 
Me: (at cracking point) NOOOOO. 
Half an hour later he stops, an hour may pass and then he remembers and it starts all over again.  I am sure my son was sent to me to teach me patience - sometimes I take deep breaths and try to stay calm... but this is real life and not a film so most of the time I lose it - i am human after all and my son can test the patience of a saint (my husband).

At least that one is at home, when we go out to a restaurant/mall/play area - basically anywhere that has a toilet area - as soon as we arrive, he has an incessant need to go to the the restroom to check it out.  If the toilets have any kind of gadget in there -  an automatic soap/paper towel dispenser or hand dryer, then we can expect to be pulled in there 4/5 times.  I don't know how he does it but he will pee every time he goes in there even if it is to squeeze out just one or two drops (maybe to excuse to us the need to go in there).  Which is extremely annoying because we are usually in the middle of eating when he "has to go".  How do we cope? We take him every time because if we don't then he just stands there and repeats "toilet" until we do.

And these are just 3 of the million little peculiar habits he has.  Over time we have learnt when to give in and when to stand our ground, but I can tell you now that it can be exhausting!  What can we do? Deep breaths, keep each other sane and on bad days pray for bedtime to come as soon as possible!

Stuffing our future with rubbish - Paula Manoli-Gray

There are a few issues, on which I must sound like a broken (and rather irritating) record, but they continue to plague and perplex me, with one of the top issues being The Food Children Eat.

I have commented in the past about the disgusting food served at organised birthday parties (purpose built venues and play places), and it continues to truly disappoint me now that the new school year has started and the birthday party invitations are flooding in once more.

I cannot understand why our most precious next generation is given bright yellow nuggets, low quality 'meat' burgers and over-salted and processed chips, whilst the adults munch away on a buffet that typically includes salads, grilled meat on skewers and other far more preferable choices than the poor children have been given. I am not criticizing parents who book these parties, as this is what is on offer by the establishments as standard packages, and I am also not a mother who sits there tutting and forbidding my children to eat party food and birthday cake. At parties, they have carte blanche to eat what they want.

But whilst the odd birthday party now and then is fine in the greater scheme of their diet, I have been very dismayed to find that state primary schools have canteens where children can buy snacks during their breaks.

My first issue is that these canteens sell absolute rot, including ice tea, ice cream, chocolate bars and fatty or chemical powder-laden savoury choices. My second issue is that children that young (my son is six) should not be trusted to make decisions about what they eat when presented with a selection that is not varied and balanced.

I also cannot understand for the life of me why teachers want children high on additives and sugar in their classrooms. It is a well-documented fact that what children eat affects their concentration and energy levels, i.e., their ability to learn and their behaviour. Through no fault of their own, some of those children will end up being labelled as having behavioural or learning issues when it is simply a matter of poor diet affecting them.

But the issue really took the (overly processed) biscuit when last week my son came home with a letter from the school. On the first side was a request for parents not to send their children to school with junk, but to give them fruit and vegetables to bring in, and to treat their classmates with fruit and vegetables on their birthdays or name days.

And on the other side of the letter was… the price list for the school canteen! A catalogue of foods that children should not eat and drink (at least not on a daily basis), and barely anything on it that they should! 

My son is not allowed to buy from the canteen, and thankfully, there are other like-minded mothers who send their children to school with a healthy lunchbox and no tuck money - so he is not singled out, nor is he particularly bothered. But we really need to get the UK celebrity chef and pioneer of children's nutrition in schools - Jamie Oliver - in quick; for the sake of the future of our island, and that is one broken record you will keep hearing from me.

First appeared in They Cyprus Weekly, 09/10/15

Meltdown Devastation

"Your son switched off the fridge again!" my dad remarked when he came round this morning.  I smile in sympathy choosing not to say anything.  You see any house my son spends enough time in - mine, my parents, my in laws - he will find some little thing to do, something to rearrange in a way that he sees fit or correct.  And it is never the same in each house.  In mine he would never dare to turn off the fridge, firstly because he can't really reach it, and second because he would incur the wrath of MUM!

Like most ASD children my son has certain routines that he can't live with out. These are the things that if he does not do, they will result in a complete meltdown. 
For example, he has to have a shower every morning (not a bad one to have I suppose, at least he is clean) even if we are going to the beach that day.  I remember one morning we overslept and we dared to refuse him a shower.  Not only did he have a complete meltdown, which made us even later for school, but his meltdown turned into a day long tantrum where he refused to work, concentrate or cooperate at all...with ANYONE (a nightmare for all his teachers and for us!).  Let me just diverge slightly to explain to those who may not know the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum.  Anyone who has ever raised a toddler knows what a tantrum is.  It is an emotional outburst of rage or frustration.  It usually because you have either said no to something they want, or in my younger son's case because you put crackers instead of cereal in his lunchbox/he wants to play with his cousin and she isn't home or he doesn't want to leave yiayia's house/Hobos etc..  During a tantrum a child may have some control over his behaviour, especially if they are older.  My second son even stops in the middle of a tantrum to make sure I am looking at him. If I say one word to him, he picks up where he left off, refusing to listen if it is not the answer he wants.  

On the other hand, a meltdown for me is a lot more traumatic.  It is when my poor son's brain is so overwhelmed with stress chemicals, that it has reached the panic, flight or fight stress reaction. The stress builds up to the point that his brain overwhelms and loses the ability to cope.  In my son's case I recognise the panic in his eyes and he has:
no control over his behaviour; cannot engage with anyone; feels unsafe/afraid and no amount of distraction will help.  The only thing I can do is hold him tightly as if he is unravelling and I am keeping him together (no talking, I remove all demands, reduce all stimulation so his brain can regroup and reorganise).  He sometimes clings to me so tightly that I have bruises, all the time crying out as if he is being mentally tortured.  And most of the time I cry along with him, holding him, feeling helpless, weak and useless as I am not able to take away his pain fast enough!  ...Then I wait for his body to relax a bit (this can take anything from half an hour to 2 ours) and I suggest a shower.  He will then sit in the shower, water cascading over him, for 20 minutes to half an hour until he is ready to come out.  I have learnt over time that this is what he needs, although I know other ASD children that don't like to be touched during a meltdown, I am thankful that my little boy allows me to help him through.

 When he was younger meltdowns once or twice a week were not uncommon but as he has grown up and his speech has improved they have lessened over time (Thank God!).  I remember the first Christmas I hosted at my house, my dad flew over Christmas day to surprise the kids, and he had a lot of gifts - he got too over excited and I knew a meltdown was imminent...  And sure enough there I was sitting on the kitchen floor (for over an hour), holding my poor ASD son who was clinging to me for dear life utterly lost (for him I have always imagined it to be like falling down a black void where it is dark and you don't know how to stop or get back to the light - I don't know why but this is the image that always comes to me).  I have many of these little stories of meltdowns but I have been lucky that with the exception of 1 time all his meltdowns have been at home.  The only public meltdown he ever had was just before his swimming lesson and it was the worst experience ever.  It wasn't bad enough that (I'm going to say it!) mothers were looking at me probably thinking that I can't control my child, but even the mothers I knew smiled that pity smile at me and then proceeded to make a quick exit outside.  Not one person asked me if I needed help or if I was alright!  Not one mother spoke to me, even after he calmed down, to offer a mother-to-mother support!  I had never felt so alone in my life.

So all mothers out there, if you see a mother - ANY mother- having to cope with a tantrum or meltdown, please offer a helping hand or words of support because even if we say we are ok, your words will be greatly appreciated.


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