Category: Mentoring

What Is A Live Workshop?

What is a live workshop?

I have been delivering live workshops to parents and carers of children with special needs for over two years now. For anyone who hasn’t attended something like this, it may feel a little daunting when you don’t know what to expect. So, I thought I should tell you more.

A workshop is different to a talk or a lesson. Often in those scenarios, most of the emphasis is on listening and note taking. A live workshop gives you the opportunity to be as involved as you like. There is listening of course, to the content of the workshop but there are plenty of opportunities to develop personally. It is an interactive session. You have the chance to work on your real life challenges with personal mentoring feedback from me. You also have the chance to gain support and advice from others and listen to other people travelling a similar path to you. This gives plenty of learning opportunities and ideas around how to help yourself.

What If I Am Incredibly Shy?

Importantly though, if you are incredibly shy and can’t think of anything worse than taking part in a live workshop. Don’t worry. You only have to talk and input if you want to. There is never any pressure to do so. You will never be put on the spot to talk. My live workshops are totally safe spaces. Anything discussed is confidential within the room.

The whole point of the workshop is to provide you with support plus tools and techniques to help you around the given topic, such as advocating for your child.

“Thanks for the workshop last week. I really enjoyed it and felt that I can use some ideas to move forwards with our case. I appreciate that to family and friends who don’t have the same struggles day in and day out it’s may seem straight forwards. But as you know for children with disabilities and additional needs nothing is ever straight forwards. Having a connection and  support from others is so vital. I really appreciate your time and how positive and brave you are to share your own personal story to support others.” Julie

If you would like to read more of the feedback, from parents and carers just like you, who have attended a live workshop, click here to visit the Testimonials page on my website.

Looking forward to seeing you at a live workshop.

xx

How To Attend A Meeting With Your Child’s SEN Professionals.

How To Attend A Meeting With Your Child’s SEN Professionals.

When you think about how to attend a meeting with your child’s SEN professionals, think preparation.

Preparation is key to you advocating for your child’s Special Needs successfully, each and every time you attend a meeting. Often, these meetings with medical, educational and support professionals can be really stressful. You may feel like you’re not being listened to, feel subordinate to the specialists and overwhelmed trying to work out what to ask.

First things first. I want you to know that you are the linchpin to making everything happen for your child and your family. This isn’t meant to make you feel pressure but more to reassure you how capable and amazing you are. Please don’t feel subordinate because as much as the Neurologist is a specialist in neurology and the SALT is a specialist in speech and language etc, you are your child’s expert.

You Are Your Child’s Expert!

You are the leader of your child’s team. Nothing happens without you and you can achieve the things your child needs.

When you think about preparing for a meeting of any kind, follow My 6 Top Tips for successful meetings.

 

Step 1. Plan out your well formed outcomes/goal in advance.

Step 2. Do any research needed prior to the meeting.

Step 3. You are your child’s expert. Lead the meetings and set the agenda.

Step 4. At the start of the meeting, it is absolutely acceptable to request minutes are taken and a copy is sent to you and anyone else you think relevant.

Step 5. Take an advocate with you. Preferably someone not so emotionally invested in your child. They can be your moral support and your ears for the information you miss.

Step 6. If you find it a challenge to listen, ask questions and take notes, take an audio recorder with you or use your phone to voice record the meeting with the attendees permission.

 

My final bit of advice is to really lead those meetings. Take your preparation to help you stay on track. You are human and sometimes you might break down in the meeting or feel flustered. That’s totally ok. Your Preparation sheet will ensure you make all your points and ask all your questions before the meeting ends.

Take someone with you for support or to take notes if it makes you feel more comfortable and gives you more confidence.

You Are The CEO of Your Family!

You can use my opening words if it helps. I always start a meeting, no matter which or how many professionals are present, in the same way.

“Thank you (all) for coming today. I just want to confirm that we have 10 minutes/half an hour/60 minutes to talk. I have 3 (or however many) points I want to cover today. If you’re happy, I’ll go ahead and then please do add in any points from your end.”

Or, if you are going to what I would term, a discovery meeting, where you are learning brand new information such as a diagnosis or proposal from a professional you may want to tweak it slightly.

Still take your preparation sheet with you but you may want to let the person(s) you’re meeting with go first with their information.

“Thank you (all) for coming today. I just want to confirm that we have 10 minutes/half an hour/60 minutes to talk. I have 3 (or however many) points I want to cover today. If you’re happy to start with your points, I’ll follow with mine. and any additional questions”

 

You can join my Facebook community of SEN Parents for regular mentoring and support. Search for CEO of My Special Needs Family and request to join.  I also run live workshops, Mastermind Groups and other events which you can keep up to date with via my Facebook Page.

What Is A Mastermind Group & Why Should I Take Part?

What Is A Mastermind Group?

If you like being part of my community but feel you need more personalised support, you may be suited to one of my Mastermind Groups.

What Exactly Is An Aimée Mann Mentoring Mastermind Group and How Can Being Part Of One Help You Advocate For Your Child?

A Mastermind is a group of parents/carers who’s children have Special Needs, who work together to achieve their outcomes. The group is lead and facilitated by me but the group offers feedback, support and accountability.

How Is A Mastermind Different to 1:1 Mentoring?

Whilst there will be some 1:1 Mentoring involved, most of the important work takes place in the group setting. You each get the chance to take the ‘hot seat’ to present your individual challenges and get feedback from the rest of the group and the Mastermind leader, in this case, me.

How Often Does The Group Meet?

We meet 3 times a year, face to face, for two hours at a time. There will also be regular planned opportunities to catch up and keep each other accountable online.

Why Do You Offer Group Masterminds As Well As 1:1 Mentoring?

Group work gives you access to even more ideas and experiences. More often than not, someone in the group will have been where you are. Plus, listening to others helps you get better at solving your own challenges.

Knowing you have regular, specific dates to meet with me and a group of people who really care about you, helps you to take action.

Being in a group of fellow parents/carers of children with Special Needs means you’re surrounded by people who ‘get it’, who will support you and celebrate with you.

How Much Does It Cost To Be Part of A Mastermind Group?

Each session is two hours long and costs £20. (3 sessions in total) When you work with me on a 1:1 basis, a 1 hour face to face session with regular contact between sessions is £100. Therefore, the Mastermind is 80% less expensive, so an extremely cost effective way to work with me and have additional support from a peer group. It may be that you want to work on some very personal topics and in which case one of the 1:1 options would better suit you. Click here to see all the ways you can work with me and the costs involved.

Why Isn’t There A specific Set Of Modules To Follow?

The idea of a Mastermind is that it is tailored to your individual needs and challenges. This is you time and I want it to be 100% relevant to you.

How Long Will I Be Part Of The Mastermind Group?

During the course of 2019, we will meet three times, face to face, for a two hour block each session and we will catch up regularly online in a specific Mastermind Group.

What Outcomes Can I Expect From Working With You?

You will be meeting in a supportive and understanding environment with a focus on outcomes. My job is to offer mentoring and accountability to help you achieve exactly what you need to for your child.

If you are not already a part of my community in my secret Facebook Group, The Velvets, you will be invited to join. This will give you general ongoing support.

If you would like to join me for the next round, click here to sign up.

Emotional Resilience. The Ebb And Flow of a Special Needs Parent

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my own emotional resilience. Partly because it is something that comes up regularly at our workshops, partly because its the topic of the next in the series of workshops I have been writing and partly because it is a constant work in progress for me personally.

We all get our strength from different places and there are times when we feel nowhere close to resilient. Totally floored, out of energy and unable to cope.

Working out how I’ve built and continue to build my resilience (which wavers regularly, I’m no super human I can tell you) has made me look at all areas of my life.

Nature and nurture definitely have something to do with how we cope in life. There are some studies that show children are genetically predisposed to being more or less resilient. I don’t know if I have that gene or not but I do know I’m lucky, I come from a very loving family with parents who gave me many great tools along with the love and support I needed to go off into the world. Having my own children now, has shown me how vital they were to my life experiences and how determined I am to give the same strength to my children. For me, this is especially important for Freddie who will face adversity all of his life and for his siblings who will need to be resilient to cope with possible bullying, emotional needs and worries as they grow. I want them all to have happiness.

Life isn’t one big party though is it! I put a lot of effort and energy into doing lots of very ‘normal’ things like seeing friends and family, booking the odd holiday, watching trash on TV and reading when I can. My diary is always jam packed. I was very clear from the start that I didn’t want disability, Freddie’s disabilities, to define me or to define us as a family. Some days the image of who I was is hazy but I’m still in there. We all are.

Ask yourself: What do you enjoy doing and what did you enjoy doing?

Disability is part of us but it isn’t everything that we are.

It was whilst thinking about not allowing disability to define me that it suddenly dawned on me (I know this seems strange it hadn’t occurred to me earlier) that I have always lived with disability. My beloved Dad (who died in 2009 from Cancer) caught Polio when he was 5 years old. He had many years of struggle to get well, with all the love and support from my Grandma and Poppa, but it left him without the use of his left arm and muscle weakness in his legs. The reason it didn’t really occur to me is because he never was disabled to me. He was my Dad. He drove, did clay pigeon shooting, played golf, rode a bike, had a fantastic job and tons of friends. He lived life. He taught me to swim, ride a bike, he mentored me in my working life and was a loving Dad. His example of not letting it define him became a part of me. All without me knowing it.

When I was little, my Mum used to give me strategies to deal with the unwanted stares he would receive on holiday around the pool and the stupid comments and questions I might get from class mates and friends. One of the best was, ‘So how does your Dad eat food?’ Um, well, with a fork like everyone else!!!!!! When strangers stared I would smile and wave at them. I can remember doing this as young as 7 years old. It worked. They were on the back foot.

These experiences are ingrained in me and contribute to who I am today.

My other enormous support system is my hubby, Ollie. He has been with me through the absolute best and absolute worst times in my life. The fact we are celebrating 10 years marriage this year and 16 years together is testament to how fantastic he is. We could so easily have lost it.

I watched my Dad die from cancer. I saw him take his last breath. It’s hard just typing those words, even now. When I think how I crumbled, literally to the floor, he was there. That term people use so loosely these days, ‘I was heartbroken’ over loosing a ring, crashing the car, missing a holiday etc became a reality for me. That pain really is your actual heart breaking into a million pieces. The pain is like nothing else. I recovered over time and got through it with the support of Ollie, my Mum, family and good friends. I will never get over loosing him and every anniversary is awful but I can go day to day now.

Then, wham, I get pregnant (all planned but still) and we think this will be a turning point. Something positive to focus on and put our energy into. Well, we were right but not for the reasons we thought. At my 20 week scan, we found out that Freddie’s brain wasn’t developing correctly. No-one, not even after all the horrendous tests we had, could tell us what this would mean for our baby or what the prognosis would be. I honestly thought I had experienced the worst thing I could and now there was uncertainty and great sadness again. I’m not totally sure how Ollie and I made it through really. He told me a couple of years ago that it was so bad in the early days after Freddie was born that he thought we would be divorced before long. I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t in this world. I was totally lost for while there. We have worked extremely hard on our marriage and thankfully it is like this most of the time now.

In the workshops I run about Getting Your Voice Heard, we cover techniques to help build confidence again and take back some control over the situation. The workshop focusses on all the meetings and appointments we have to attend with medical and educational professionals. Some of these same techniques run through building up your emotional resilience as well.

We have no real control over how our children develop. Often, especially when your child has no definitive diagnosis for their disabilities/SN you often have no prognosis either. I have no control over how Freddie develops. I do everything I can but I still don’t know. This is one of the things that can make me feel so frightened. This became apparent when, as we were jogging along and he was making steady progress and I think nothing can change now apart from in a positive way, he starts having absence seizures. Getting the call from his teacher and listening to her concerns, I fell apart all over again. I dusted myself down and started to utilise the emotional resilience I had built over time and started to work on it more. Resilience is ever evolving. Part of the reason for this is the ebb and flow of life. Nothing stays totally the same forever, even when on the surface it seems like it does.

When you find out your child is disabled/has special needs, the acute grief can be overwhelming. Just like it was when my Dad died. Thats how I knew I was grieving. I had felt that pain before. Acceptance was next.

I built myself up with the support network, self belief and self study to have a strong emotional resilience but it needs constant work. I read a lot of books around this subject and one I read recently which I would recommend you do to is Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. Although the author is focussing on her resilience after her husband dies suddenly leaving her a widow with two small children, the themes running through were totally applicable to life with a disabled child. After all, you do experience grief in this situation too. Not just at the beginning but at different points throughout, like a wave crashing into the shaw and back again.

“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are—and you just might become the very best version of yourself.” Sheryl Sandberg, Option B

One of the best things to happen was that I found SWAN UK. As a member, I found so much support and I could ask anything at any time of day. It had such an incredible impact on me, I took on the role of Parent Representative for my area. Online support groups can provide a different dimension to your support network. This can be especially important if you are caring alone or don’t have any family to help out.

I used to have a desperate deadline of getting Freddie walking and talking by age 5. You are always told the brain is most plastic during these formative years. The grief came over me again when he started in reception and he still couldn’t say anything other than ‘Hiya’. I was however ecstatic that he was able to walk with his kaywalker and that he was no longer the only child in his class still crawling.

My time lines had to change. Perseverance is key to building resilience. I also learnt a lot more about Neuro Plasticity. Yes, the majority of change happens at a young age but the brain continues to build new pathways all of your life. We still have time. He is proving that everyday.

When talking about emotional resilience, you often come across the 3 Ps. Personalisation, Pervasiveness and Permenance. These 3 Ps are areas I work on, building my resilience as I go.

Personalisation

I always felt guilty. I was convinced that Freddies disabilities were my fault, even when we received his diagnosis. It has been a long for me removing the guilt around this. Feeling something is your fault is different to taking responsibility for your actions though. Don’t confuse the two. Taking responsibility is key to change and growth. Feeling guilt and assuming fault prevents forward movement and acceptance.

Pervasiveness

This is a state of feeling/thinking that this one event will spread to every area of your life. This is the area I had to and still have to work on not to let Freddie’s disabilities totally define my life or that of my family. Don’t loose yourself.

Permanence 

Believing that one situation, one event, one state is forever is mentally debilitating. As a race we are built to be constantly moving forward. In the early days I used to sob and say ‘this is it now, the life of a carer. What if he can never do anything for himself. What if he never walks or talks etc. I will be like this forever.’ It is true that Freddie will be disabled and have SN forever but the situation changes. The fact that it changes is key to the reason we need to practice building our emotional resilience as we go.

There is a lot more to this resilience malarky and I will cover more strategies in the workshops and share more on the blog over time.

Workshops focussing on Building Your Emotional Resilience will be starting in September this year and I would love to have you join us. You can find me on my Facebook Page or you can email me at aimeemannmentoring@gmail.com

 

P.S…

If you purchase anything via the links with Amazon in my blog posts, I receive a small commission at NO added cost to you. This just helps me a little to maintain the website and continue to provide useful and empowering resources for parents and carers of children with special needs and disabilities. Thank you. x

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My Tips To Help You Mentally Prepare for The Summer Holidays

The Summer holidays are almost upon us, or are already here for some of us. 6-8 long weeks stretching ahead. The thought of half term and especially the summer break can often feel so overwhelming and fill us with dread. Made especially challenging if you have a disabled child or like me a disabled child and two younger siblings. Eek.

The Summer Break Can Feel So Overwhelming

The methods I use to get into a positive state and to plan for meetings with Freddie’s medical and educational professionals are methods I employ to see me through the long summer break. I wanted to share some of those tips with you in the hope it might help ease some of the anxiety.

Planning

The first thing I do, in advance, is get planning. I enlist the help of the grandparents and take advantage of some ad-hoc sessions at nursery/preschool for the younger two. (What will I do when they are to old to go?) I chat to my friends and see who is around and book a few ‘play dates’ or coffee dates in. I know for many, there isn’t any family support close by and even getting out of the house can be a challenge but perhaps you have a local network of friends you could tap in to. Talking with your online network of friends is key as well but meeting in the flesh is really important if you can.

I make a list of all the free places and not too expensive places we could go to that are accessible enough for Freddie.

Each week I plan the following weeks meals using a family meal planner and I order everything I need online. It might seem boring but it saves masses of time and stress. One of the most annoying things for me is when I haven’t pre-planned what we are eating. I get to 4pm and the panic is on. The children are fractious and there is nothing but good old beans on toast for dinner, if we are lucky.

Food is Fuel

It is really important, of course, to feed our children healthy nutritious food, along with the odd ice-cream and lolly pop but it is also really important for us as parents and carers. At times like this, our energy levels are often very low. When Jago was a baby, I hadn’t got so far as to being this well organised. I was feeding him myself and all three were in nappies. It was total chaos and I was suffering from a sever lack of sleep every day. I was on my knees both physically and mentally by the end of the summer break. I knew I couldn’t be in that state again. So here are My Top Foods for Fuel.

Getting Organised

Getting organised is the key to making it work for me. Sounds obvious but I get all the children’s clothes out ready the night before and if we are going out, I pack the bag or the car the night before too. I’m still generally always a bit late but if I didn’t do this I would never get anywhere. Another great tool you can use is a space saving hanger. Plan out 6 days worth of outfits for your children and hang them all ready to go for the week ahead. This generally also ensures I have done one of the most boring tasks known to man before its too late, the clothes washing.

My Daily Ritual

Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation. Each morning, if I can wake up before one of my children does, I spend just 15 minutes getting my head together. It helps set me up for the day and stay on top of the stress levels. Even if you do this at another point in the day, 15 minutes should be an achievable amount of time for everyone. I do still end up loosing my sh%t at times and I’m sure my neighbours think there is a fish wife living at our house between the hours of 5pm-7pm some evenings.

I stretch because my body gets so stiff with lifting and stress.

I ask myself “What 3 things am I grateful for today?” This is a quick one but it’s a perspective check. This year I learned that a girl I went to school with, 2 years younger than me, died from lung cancer. She was bright, inspirational and lovely and had so much to live for.

Each day, I am grateful to be alive.

Today, I’m also grateful for the memory of the few days respite we had recently with the sound of the waves and the heat of the sun. A little time to recharge.

When you are focusing on being grateful, it’s very difficult to be angry or frustrated at exactly the same time. So, if I’m feeling this way, I take a moment and focus on what’s great about today. It doesn’t have to be anything big, it might be that the sun is shining or you have got an hour out to yourself or your children have actually eaten all their breakfast without moaning.

What are you grateful for today?

It’s a buzz word but Mindfulness really works for me, even if I only have 3 minutes to spare rather than 10. If it’s all getting too much during the day and I can shut myself in the loo for 2 minutes to practice Mindfulness it helps to calm me. I use the Headspace App and it works really well. It takes a little practice but it is worth it. You can listen to the Founder of Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, talking about it on his TED talk.

I also try to approach each day in sections. The first section is all about getting up and ready for the day then next is the morning, then lunch time, the afternoon, tea time and bed time and then (Gin or Prosecco) the evening. If I think of it as a whole day or week stretching out ahead of me its just too much.

“His way of coping with the days was to think of activities as units of time, each unit consisting of about thirty minutes. Whole hours, he found, were more intimidating, and most things one could do in a day took half an hour.” Nick Hornby, About A Boy. 

 

Be Kind To Yourself

We also have a dog who needs walking. I try my best to take him out on my own, even if it means getting up a bit earlier before hubby goes to work. Not everyone has a dog and not everyone has a partner to share the load. If you can, during the day especially if it is hard to get out, try to take even just two opportunities to perhaps sit outside in the fresh air and drink a hot cup of tea or a cold drink. If you can’t physically get out, sit by an open windows and take a breath. The outdoors and fresh air is vital to mental health and a positive attitude so find a way that works for you.

If it has been a nightmare couple of hours and the children have been having a strop, once it has stopped try to let it go. It is in the past now. Perhaps a few minutes of Mindfulness and then focus on the present moment. It is easier  said than done, it takes practice and believe me, it doesn’t always work but it will at times.

Good luck for the holidays everyone. Enjoy all the moments you can.

 

P.S…

If you purchase anything via the links with Amazon in my blog posts, I receive a small commission at NO added cost to you. This just helps me a little to maintain the website and continue to provide useful and empowering resources for parents and carers of children with special needs and disabilities. Thank you. x