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Whilst the children pester me for a pet and I dogmatically say no, I cannot escape the fact that our colourful household seems to attract far more than other children! We did at one point have seven birds, one for each ofthe children, but as these died they were never replaced and I have to say that as much as they were part of the family and I was sorry to see them go, I was not sorry that I didn't need to clean up feathers and bird poo along with the mess and chaos created by the children. My sister has violent allergies to most animals, Sarah is violently allergic to cats and rabbits, and those are the allergies that we know about.. .and I am allergic to cleaning up after anything other than my hyper, destructive little two and my lazy, hormonal five teenagers! For these reasons we have no pets at the moment.

It seems however that some higher force has other plans - in fact today I am taking a breather from a frantic cleaning session before Rentokil come.. .yes the new additions to the Jackson household are mice! We don't live in a rural area, we are not surrounded by fields and places where mice are likely to breed yet we have still managed to attract these little animals. I recently found out how. One morning I was cursing under my breath as I searched for the shoelaces out of my training shoes (Joe's 'thing' is to take laces and tie them everywhere) when I suddenly spied the end ofone sticking out from the side ofthe fridge. Rejoicing that I could now fasten at least one shoe and not at all surprised to find it in such an obscure place, I tugged at the lace, only to find that it was attached to a small plastic box. Again, not a surprise apart from the fact that this box was covered in jam and peanut butter. It transpired that Joe had seen a small mouse in the garden and had been luring it in by giving it some food and somewhere to live. His plan had worked a little too well!

We now have a whole family of mice scurrying and scuttling around the house in the early hours ofthe morning. I have gone from feeling quite sorry for the creatures to wanting to get rid of them as soon as possible in whatever way possible - today is D-day and hopefully after today the family of mice will be no more. Sad I know, but they are a health hazard and need to be eradicated quickly. The children however have different ideas. Whilst I rant on and on about how shoving crisp bags down the back of the television, apple cores under the settee, yoghurt cartons in the linen bin and sweet wrappers all over the stairs is hardly conducive to an environment ofcleanliness and hygiene, Joe is interested only in setting little homes up for the mice and cultivating a family of pets. Ben, it seems, has taken some of this on board and is wanting to watch the film Stuart Little numerous times over (how to make me feel bad!) and Luke is following me around wanting to know the exact details of how Rentokil are going to eradicate these vermin. After he has launched into great detail about poisons and carcasses and other such stuff, the elder girls are going green and Anna is close to tears!

Maybe writing about our extra additions to the household serves no other purpose than to make readers breathe a sigh ofreliefand be thankful for their lot as again, I have no concrete answers as to how to make the children see the severity of the situation. All I can suggest (and all that I am endeavouring to do at the moment) if as in my household, cleanliness is an ongoing problem, is to work with a system of rewards and removal of privileges. Anna has missed a few trips out with her friends because she has continued to leave sweet wrappers on her bedroom floor, even after the mice have been discovered. On the other hand, Luke and Joe are earning rewards (which the girls could also do ifthey were so inclined) for keeping their rooms free ofbait for these pesky creatures.

Whilst the mice have now been eradicated, I am by no means on top of the fact that it is even more imperative than usual for the children to pick up after themselves. I suppose time will tell. I was told that for every one mouse that is seen, another fifteen are lurking elsewhere in the house. Mice also 'leak' urine continually as they scurry around and this can eventually cause tiredness and headaches in humans - not a pleasant thought at all but not one that seems to bother the children one iota! One thing these little additions to the family have taught us is that it is never too late to learn new habits. We now have new waste bins in every room and linen bins in each of the children's bedrooms (I caused quite a stir buying fourteen waste bins and ten linen bins!) and all I can do is to press on with our chore rotas and reward schemes in the hope that at some point the children will become accustomed to picking up after themselves.. .roll on that day!

Whilst on the subject of extra family members, do any of you have a problem with even smaller parasites.. .head lice or nits? As children attend nursery or school it seems that not many families escape an invasion of these little critters and in a large family such as mine, they seem to be permanent residents. Over the years, one or other of the children have come home with nits on many occasions and I have tried every solution and every possible remedy in a bid to shift them for good.. .still they seem attracted to my colourful children. There seems to be some misconception about head lice and my children are living proof that these tales are wrong. Firstly the misconception that head lice are a sign of uncleanliness has been more or less quashed over recent years only to be replaced by the myth that they only go for clean hair.. .if anyone met my boys they would realize instantly that that just isn't true! For those of you with autistic or AS kids who are sitting smugly and thinking that your child never gets near enough to anyone to catch anything - don't be too sure. I thought the same with Luke and so whilst the whole family diligently rooted through their hair with a toothcomb, Luke sat on his computer insisting he wouldn't have them as he never gets close to anyone. Wrong again! However, Luke has preferred to carry a head full of lice around rather than suffer regular washing and toothcombing. He has even gone so far as to make up a series of jokes about how no one can ever say he doesn't socialize any more and that his new 'friends' give him answers in exams or keep him company when he is lonely! I have now shaved all four ofthe boys' hair as close to the scalp as possible in a bid to get rid of our little additions. It does not prevent them from catching these little parasites but at least they are easier to see!

For any parents who have families continually plagued with head lice and nits then I will willingly give tips on the methods that I have used that have been either successful or unsuccessful on removing these infuriating little stowaways.

• Whatever treatment you use, whether or not they claim to kill eggs, in my experience I have found that this just isn't the case. Maybe in the Jackson household we have acquired super bugs because here nothing has worked! I have used every preparation going - all to no avail. For some these solutions may work but the lice around here seem to find my household far too attractive a place to be!

• If you are going to use a solution either prescribed or purchased, then decide on whether you and your child are prepared to suffer the smell of an alcohol-based preparation and possibly kill a few more lice or go for a water-based preparation and be able to breathe. Remember that the alcohol-based ones are unsuitable for asthma sufferers and also that many autistic children react badly to chemicals.

• Many people swear by tea tree oil to eradicate head lice. My girls have such long hair and the boys are so difficult to treat that maybe I missed one, but when treating them with tea tree oil, we still had problems a week later. Worth a try though and far safer than pouring vast amounts of chemicals onto the children.

• The only safe (and monotonous) way to ensure that the hair really is free from lice and nits is to regularly go through the child's hair with a toothcomb. Lice play dead when the hair is wet, but yet when the hair is dry they detect every movement and so can run away as soon as a comb is put through. The only way is to use masses of conditioner, section the hair off and prepare for backache and lots of screaming as you comb!

• For those of you with children like Billy Wizz or severely autistic children, I can imagine you snorting at the thought of your child sitting and letting you comb through his or her hair. Over the last year or so, I have incorporated 'bug busting' as part of the bath time routine. Whilst Ben howls as I cut his nails and go through his hair, the use of pictures and a schedule has enabled him to sit in the bath with me and scream, rather than punch and kick me and run off.

• One thing that needs remembering with head lice and nits is that however you treat them, the whole process needs repeating seven days later. Any stray eggs will then have hatched and so the next lot of lice can safely be removed before they lay their eggs.

Good luck!

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