Sunday, December 18, 2016

Canberra: Family Trip TRAVEL REVIEW


Have you been to our nation's capital?

If not, you simply must.

If you have a terribly outdated idea that Canberra is 'boring' stop reading!

Actually, keep reading! It's the best thing you could do as a Sydney-ite as this Australian city has so much to offer, and it's under two hours away.

We, and by we I mean my family and a fellow blogger's family in tow, visited Canberra in October and fit in much as we could in a matter of days.

Think: Cockington Green Gardens, Questacon, Floriade, National Zoo and Aquarium, National Arboretum Canberra.

The National Arboretum Canberra is something to see! Not part of our schedule, we kinda stumbled across it while driving past.

(We originally published this post HERE at sister site Josie's Juice, but we've added some elements here to suit the 'Our Autism Adventures' audience).

It's here you can actually see "the forest for the trees", with its 94 forests of rare, endangered and symbolic trees from Australia and around the world.

We loved that we could drive up the breathtaking, winding driveway and park, then walk right into the Arboretum, grab a table (try to get one as close as possible to that fabulous view,  although each table has a 360 degree view of the vast expanse of trees), peruse the menu and grab a delicious bite to eat (there is something for all, young palates and more refined palates), then stroll to the large kids 'Pod Playground' just outside, or stay inside the awe inspiring Arboretum structure and have wine and dessert.

For kids with autism, it's the PERFECT spot to let them expend their energy and explore their sensory needs. My son LOVED all the activities on offer: the acorn cubbies, the climbing nets, the banksia cubbies and the tube slides.

It's designed to challenge and excite, and it does its job!

You can walk through, drive in, cycle about, or even horse-ride around the 250 hectare site. You’ll be gobsmacked at all its beauty, including the living artworks in the National Bonsai and Penjing collection. 

You can enjoy a free guided and self-guided tours, loads of interactive displays, outdoor sculptures, or pack a picnic to enjoy an outdoor meal with some of the most spectacular views in our capital city.

Download their 'augmented reality' app and listen to soundscapes, interesting stories about the trees, and holograms featuring stories about a fire fighter, harpist, landscape architect, Ngunnawal man, volunteer guide and bonsai artist.

Here is a video round up:

And now, the zoo!

The National Zoo and Aquarium is possibly THE best zoo I have been to.

It's just ten minutes drive from the city (EVERYTHING is easy to navigate and get to in and around Canberra), and it proved a big hit with big and little people.

The zoo itself is super easy to get around, and all its all in the way they've planned out the zoo - it's a clear path between sections and the most popular animals like the majestic lion and the funny meerkats - and you can enjoy the opportunity to help feed animals (including meerkats!), 

AND: it's Australia’s only combined zoo and aquarium. You guys, it's SO good. Families, singles, bunches of friends, first dates, grandparents' days out - it's perfect for all, especially because of way it's set out, and how easy it is to get from A to B.

The zoo and adjoining aquarium is only 10 minutes’ drive from the city, you can go behind-the-scenes at the National Zoo & Aquarium.

You can try: a ZooventureFamily or Walk on the Wildside tour. You can help feed animals, handfeed a giraffe or bear, and at kids over the age of 12 can do the Meet-a-Cheetah encounter and pat a cheetah.

My son LOVED the zoo! So many animals he has seen in books, and seeing them come to lie is always a pleasure. They are REAL!

While he has been to zoos before, this one seemed more intimate and close up to animals, which was a really lovely experience for us to point out the detail.

You could also experience a stay overnight here! THE ultimate stay for animal lovers, we saw the precinct from afar and know that you are right in the middle of it all. So fun - imagine waking up to that. Here is more on that:

Seriously, get to the zoo as soon as you can! If the last time you went was as a child, and you're not sure you can find interest in looking at animals, no matter how cute, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much you'll enjoy it, just as we did.

Next up, Australian Institute of Sport, Cockington Green Gardens and Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre.

Best tip straight up: buy the 3 In Fun pass to get access to all three of the above - AND this means you save more than 25% on the usual price.

And guess what: the 3infun ticket also offers a FREE return visit to one of the participating attractions! Yes.

Yes, before you head to the mini manicured gardens, consider this: the 3infun ticket gets you all THREE attractions:
Australian Institute of Sport, the delightful miniature world of Cockington Green Gardens, or 200 (YES!) exhibits and experiences at Questacon - it's ALL available with ONE pass.
The 3infun ticket lets you save more than 25% on the usual price. PLUS, and I love this, 3infun is offering a FREE return visit to one of the participating attractions. So, go back and  revisit any of the three attractions for FREE!

For more on this 3infun ticket, click HERE.

Another tip: call ahead at Australian Institute of Sport and ask when they are able to host you. The AIS is open daily, but tour times are specific.
Listed on the site, the times are: 10am, 11:30am, 1pm and 2:30pm
Tours are closed only on Good Friday, Christmas and Boxing Day, and New Years Day.
The AIS is Australia's premier elite sports precinct, which attracts 200,000 visitors from Australia and overseas.  
Set amongst 65 hectares of native bushland, the AIS offers an insight into Australia's sporting past and shows what our nation is capable of from a sporting perspective.
Like seemingly everything in Canberra, it's only minutes from the CBD, with plenty of free car and coach parking.
Here you can get a sense of what it takes for a high perfomance athlete to make it, with a behind-the-scenes tour of the AIS, where the country's best athletes train.
It's located at Leverrier Street, Bruce and you call for more info here: 02 6214 1444, or go to:

Here's a video on what the AIS has to offer:

With the tour of the AIS - an award-winning guided 90-minute tour - you even might catch some of Australia's top athlete's in training!
Here you can also challenge yourself in Sportex, one of Australia's leading interactive sports exhibits, set amongst a unique collection of Australian sporting memorabilia - this is part of every AIS Tour. You can even give wheelchair basketball, virtual downhill skiing, rock climbing, football penalty shootouts and much more a red hot go.  
You can also dive into the world-class AIS aquatic and fitness centre which offers both 50-metre and 25-metre heated pools in an indoor complex, plus there is a fully equipped gym with the latest fitness equipment and a range of unique fitness and group training sessions, or you can even hire an experienced personal trainer at the AIS. Fees apply: check the website for times and session and pool availability.

Onto Cockington Green Gardens! One of my fave parts of Canberra!

No way is this miniature world just for littlies, instead it's most definitely for big and little kids.

My son LOVED Cockington Green Gardens. Think: trains, trains, and more trains. Miniature ones, ones you can ride on (with adults), and a world of miniature delights to inspect from near and afar. This often appeals to the child with autism, and it certainly did for my son.

Created by Doug and Brenda Sarah, Cockington Green Gardens is a family owned and operated attraction, with four generations involved in it’s operation over the past 35 years. It opened to the public in 1979, and has won an Australian Tourism Award and many local tourism industry awards. And you can see why! Step into the world of Cockington Green Gardens and immediately you are transported to another land - a whimsical, very green, perfectly manicured mini world of miniature trains and gardens and immaculately kept flower beds.

Step into Cockington Green Gardens and be seriously dazzled by the attention to detail in each and every section of every themed, manicured garden, completed with doll like elements which genuinely fascinate and engage people of all ages who visit. Our group was two sets of adults and fours kids if varying age, and we were all enthralled and engaged the WHOLE time.

Cockington Green Gardens always has something to see: it's constantly growing with the popular addition of the international display area, which complements the original English Village and the established gardens.

You can also pop into the Rose Room indoor exhibition, featuring ‘Waverley’ a 34 room Dolls House, or have a coffee in the Parsons Nose Garden CafĂ©, or bring a picnic lunch.

Don't forgo the cute miniature steam train ride, which goes right around the international display, giving you a complete, leisurely total view of the whole attraction. Awesome fun for young and old!

Here is more on Cockington Green Gardens:

And of course, there is Floriade.

Floriade is now in its decades' long run in Canberra, and is a leisurely way to see flowers in season and clever and beautiful flower installations, for both young and old.

It is set on a huge expanse of land alongside the iconic Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra’s Commonwealth Park, and has been there since its beginnings in 1988, when Peter Sutton and his colleague, landscape designer Chris De Bruine, developed a proposal for a grand floral display to celebrate Australia’s Bicentenary and Canberra’s 75th birthday.

Well! Hasn't it grown since! Josie's Juice went along to the very first Floriade that year with nature loving mamma in tow, and it has changed markedly since then, growing bigger and better each year.

There are stunning floral displays of exotic bulbs and annuals, which thrive in Canberra’s cool climate. Every single year, more than one million blooms (yes, over ONE MILLION!) are on show to create a stunning backdrop to a month-long festival filled with music, cultural celebrations, horticultural workshops, artistic displays, entertainment and recreational activities.

Floriade runs from mid-September to mid-October and attracts almost half a million attendees each year.

While Floraide has free entry for adults and kids, it's advised that families bring some money along for the kiddie rides and of course food, if you like. Or, BYO sandwiches and drinks.

If your child is obsessed with particular rides, it's also a bit of warning for parents to steer away from them, or at least be prepared for them.

So, where did we rest our heads?
We stayed at the Breakfree Canberra, which is situated at 2 Marcus Clarke Street, Canberra.

An older style hotel complex, it has all you need for a family stay with all the amenities you need, lots of room, the opportunity to cook for yourself and your guests, centrally located and a short stroll to shops, Floriade (when it's on in Spring each year - allow for around 15 minutes from your hotel), and cafes and restaurants.

The hotel has a partnership with Bicicletta Restaurant (around five or so minutes away) and here you can  eat your hotel brekkie (there is no other restaurant offering at the hotel), and it is DELICIOUS and has that 'thing' many restaurants around this precinct have: the cool factor. Anyone who rattles of that antiquated notion that Canberra is uncool should be MADE to come here. Cafes buzzing with excellent coffee, a park with shipping containers set up as food truck heaven, and just a cool vibe.

Back to the hotel. Reasonably priced (click HERE for rates), here are some photos of the different room variations the hotel offers:

 And some snaps from my @josiegags Instagram account:

The view from our hotel, Breakfree:

And read more HERE.

To see more and read more about what Canberra has to offer, click HERE.

Want to know where Canberra's most Instagrammable locations are? Visit Canberra has a link for that too! CLICK HERE.

Make Canberra your next family, couple, or solo destination. We think you will love it!

From the perspective of holidays for kids with autism, it's such an ideal place for open space and activity, and expending energy and breathing in fresh air (and getting off those electronics). 

Josie's Juice blog was a guest of Visit Canberra, looking after our passes for each precinct. Josie's Juice was a paid guest at the Breakfree Hotel, Canberra.

Monday, August 8, 2016

What's it like to have a sibling with autism? VIDEO + my daughter replies

What's it like to have a sibling with autism?

I watched a video with a similar title today, and, well. I did okay. Head nodding, yup, agreeing, and then: tears. Watch it and see why...

The AOL video is titled: 'These Kids Share What It's Really Like to Have a Sibling With Autism.'

What I loved about it this video was that it was so raw and honest.

You can watch the video in full HERE.

Well... I asked someone who has a sibling with autism... my daughter's twin brother. My son, Rafael. My daughter, Estella.

Here is what Estella said:

"It's like, hard, because he's different, and he does different things.

He, like, doesn't have the same emotions as us.

He has different choices, at a different level in life.

He's a reality person, too. So, he see things in a different way.

But there is also the screaming and drama.

The tantrums - they are noisy, and ten times as crazy as normal people.

I feel sad how he has to put up with things that are hard.

Sometimes he gets all the special treatment at school - like cooking, and excursions.

Sometimes he gets all the treatment like that at home, too.

We always have to agree with him, to make sure he doesn't have a tantrum

[Do you worry for him in future?]

Yes, because when he is in the real world with lots of hard things that are challenging, maybe his tantrums will get worse when he gets older

Because the older you get, the more you get serious, all the time.

He will meet new people, and they may not know he has autism.

[Do you feel that you care for him more because he has autism?]

Yes. I want to teach him all there is to learn. I want to teach him about trying more things, to act like a normal person.

I think Raf is kinda different and kinda normal at the same time."

So there you have it. Parents of kids with autism - you will be able to relate.

From the video, some quotes:

“Not having a typical sibling relationship.”

“The struggle of going through his adulthood is something that’s not only going to impact myself but my future wife and my kids.”

“Not getting enough attention from your parents.”

I carry a lot of guilt just trying to live my own life.

“The frustration is just something you have to swallow.”

But ultimately, they all agree that they have learned a lot from their autistic sibling:

“My brother has taught me to accept people for who they are.”

“To have a deeper purpose in life.”

“That differences are ok.”

“A person’s a person no matter what.”

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sesame Street: Julia, Character With Autism

The new Sesame Street character Julia... who has autism.


Monday, August 24, 2015

John Doyle: 'A Current Affair' Autism Story - VIDEO

Aussie comedy legend John Doyle, one half of duo 'Roy and HG', opened up tonight on 'A Current Affair' about his sister's incredibly difficult struggle with autism in a bid to help other Australian families.

The story also included fantastic profiles on other families with beautiful kids living with autism. I was particularly keen on seeing older kids and teens and young adults and how they do.

Ask any parent of a child with autism, and they will tell you this is the one thing they think about/worry about the most: how they will fare as young adults, how the world 'out there' will treat them.

John's comments at the end of the interview certainly made me cry openly, in front of my children.

My daughter gets it, had told me the report was going to be on, even encouraged me and was excited for me to watch it, knowing I'd get lots from it.

She is seven - can you believe such empathy from someone so young?

Her twin brother's autism has taught her a level of compassion I could only hope for.

And the clincher? At the end, when I explain to her that John's comments about his severely autistic sister has taught him so much in life, and what that all means, and that she herself is so empathic and wonderfully caring to her brother, she declares: "Mum, when I grow up, I want to help people with autism."

After crying all over again, I ask her why.

"Because I just want to help them, Mum."

Photo: Tracy Grimshaw and John Doyle. Source: Facebook

Friday, June 19, 2015

Tim Sharp and Judy Sharp Interview: 'A Double Shot Of Happiness'

'Our Autism Adventures' posted a blog on the brand new Australian book 'A Double Shot Of Happiness' (read more here), and now, we are happy to share our interview with the beautiful mother and son duo, Judy and Tim Sharp.

Here they are:

Here is what they said about their journey with autism, their experiences, and their wonderful book (which, by the way, you must buy):

Interview with Judy Sharp:

1. Tell me what compelled you to write this book?

Tim is a true hero and his  story  should be shared. I hope this book might encourage other people  facing challenges, as we have had a few over the years and  also give families living with autism some hope.  What Tim  has achieved at only 27 years of age is nothing short of  magnificent  including being the first person in the world with autism to have his art turned into an animated TV series that screened on ABC TV, showing his art in some of the worlds great locations and giving a TEDx talk at the Sydney Opera House.  Achieving all this from a diagnosis of autism that included a  prognosis that "I should just put him away and forget about him,"is extraordinary. As well Tim is an exceptional young man who touches the heart of everyone he meets,  I wanted  to  share the absolute joy of Tim and his glorious art.

2. How do you explain autism to someone who knows nothing about it?

Autism is a developmental condition that principally  affects communication and the ability to socialise. For me that is the cruellest part of autism as I see connection with other people  as the very essence of life.  To think my son would not have the happiness of that connection  was  devastating. Autism  can also have challenging, restricting or repetivie behaviours. Sometimes there are obsessive behaviours or limited interests. It affects every part of life, eating, sleeping, the sensory system the ability to deal with the unknown or unexpected.  Up to 25% of people with autism remain non verbal throughout their lives.  It is a lifelong condition without a cure and although it has genetic predispostions its cause is not known.  For us, autism has taken us on a path that I knew nothing of and presented challenges that I had no idea how to deal with, but it has given us a life  with more beautiful difference and meaning than I could have ever imagined.  It has made us very closely bound together as we have stepped outside what we knew and  learnt so much from Tim about being in the moment and  building a life  that is true to who you are. 

3. There is one line in the book that floored me, about Tim's nutritionist: "I tried to explain to the nutritionist about Tim's autism, but she wasn't interested. She thought autism was an excuse for bad parenting." - How on earth did you deal with the aftershocks of that? I know you said in the book that "She was so judgemental I had to stand up and walk out of her office. I'd had enough" but how did it affect you emotionally?

By the time I saw that nutrionalist, I had heard the  same accusations in various forms for several years.  It never got any easier, constantly being told that I was lazy or a bad mother always broke my heart and made me feel guilty. It also made me feel inferriror and like such a failure. I would usually sob my heart out.     The worst part was, I interpreted what they were saying as  that I didn't love Tim enough when the truth was I felt like I loved him so much I couldn't love him any more.   After her, I decided that I was the only expert in the world on Tim, no one loved him like I did. We didn't need anyone hurting us ever again.  I would do it all by myself , we would build our own strong family and look for happiness. 

4. I am always curious to know how kids with autism grow into adults with autism, as my son has a mild autism diagnosis. Can you shed some light for parents with young kids with autism, perhaps some key thoughts and words of wisdom?

Autism has it's own time line, it can't be rushed, a lot of things will take what feels like an eternity and that can be frustrating, but like they say, slow and steady. I've seen a lot of people with autism grow into contented young adults living fulfilling lives. I know some young adults who study, work, drive cars, play sports and have a social life within the definitions of their own kind of autism, even with the difficulties of communication. I know others who  keep close to home, and have a limited social life with others, and have routines that are very important to them, but still lead very fullfilling and happy lives. I am most proud of the good and kind gentleman Tim is he has reached a place where he is very comfortable and happy with the life he builds. I think it is important to work with your own kind of autism, the strengths and the passions, it's own needs.  Autism doesn't go away, we need to work with it,not try to make it change people into what we expect. That is the gift of autism, learning another way to live, learning to care more about someone else and their needs. My words of wisdom… Accept the difference and build your own beautiful dream, Tim proves that dreams can come true.

Interview with Tim Sharp:

1. How does it feel to have your book in print and see it as bookstores?

It's fantastic.  I love going to the book shops and seeing it on the shelf.  I talk to the people in the shop and sometimes I sign the book.  I feel like a rock star.

2. Tell me how you feel about your mother, and what she has done for you over the years?

Mum is my best friend. We are happy together. She is the best mum in the world. Could I do this  without her? definitely not. I love my mum. 

3. What is next for you?

The play in New York, I am going there to work on it in December, it's called Laser Beak Man, of course. And I will keep going to book shops.

'A Double Shot Of Happiness' by Judy Sharp will be published on 27 May 2015 (RRP $32.99 ) and will also be available as an e-book.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dog tries to calm owner's Aspergers meltdown: VIDEO

This just posted, about go viral video is something to watch, to help understand what Aspergers can be like.

Says the description:

This is what having aspergers is like. Please no negative comments this really happened and it's not easy to open myself and share what it's like on a daily basis. This is what's considered a meltdown. Yes Samson is alerting. I trained him to alert to depressive episodes and self harm not both but he alerted. It appears the response is late but it's actually supposed to be as I'm coming out of the meltdown as I tend to have a panic attack after.

Dogs used as a calming therapy for kids with autism has been known to soothe and help a child down.

In fact, if you look closely (make the video bigger on your screen) you can see the dog's collar says: 'Service Dogs.'

Parents of kids with autism know only TOO well what an 'autism tantrum' (as I refer to it, with my husband) looks like.

To onlookers, it looks like one of these things:

- bad parenting
- a spoilt child
- an uncontrollable child
- lax parenting rules in a household
- giving in to a rude child

It is NONE of the above.

We should know - our seven year old son has a mild autism diagnosis, and while he doesn't self-harm, his tantrums can be EPIC. And I do mean, EPIC (caps, bold intended).

If you were an onlooker you would not know where to look, what to do, and you could make one of the judgements, above.

Let the above video be a marker for you - all is not as it seems.

Don't worry - I was a judge-y parent just like you once… until I had a (beautiful, adorable, loving) child with autism.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

'A Double Shot Of Happiness': Book On Adult Autism by Judy Sharp

This book by Judy Sharp - 'A Double Shot Of Happiness' - is a real treat to read, for a gazillion reasons. For me, it resonates because I have a son with a mild autism diagnosis, and I am always curious when I meet the mothers of sons with autism. What will my boy be like? What will his world feel like? Each child - and each diagnosis - is vastly different of course, but I am always thirsty for knowledge on this rare insight.

Says Judy: 

“I live with three superheroes - my sons Tim and Sam and a colourful, funny, masked character called Laser Beak Man…”.

Laser Beak Man

Tim Sharp was just three years old when his mother, Judy, took him to a paediatric specialist and he was diagnosed with autism.  Judy was told the autism was so severe that Tim would never speak, go to school, learn to live in a normal household and would be incapable of love, even towards his own mother.  She was told she’d need to have Tim institutionalised and that she should just “forget about him”.

WOW. This is reminiscent of the scene in the movie 'Temple Grandin' where the lead character (played by Claire Danes) and her diagnosis (back then, autism was referred to as 'infantile schizophrenia' - can you even believe it?) is discussed by a specialist with her mother, and how institutionalisation was the route suggested for the child. If you've seen the movie - and read the myriad books by Temple - you'll know this is not the life path chosen by mother and child.

Likewise for Judy, this was not the path chosen for her son Tim.

Judy resisted expert advice… and, struggling to have Tim communicate with her, Judy one day picked up a pen and started to draw.  It was an action that would change their lives forever.

Now in his twenties, Tim’s leading a fulfilling life as a world-famous artist, creator of the joyful ‘Laser Beak Man’. It’s a true testament to the instincts his mother trusted all those years earlier. BLESS YOU, JUDY!

Tim’s art has been exhibited internationally in some of the world’s greatest galleries, has been the cover of a band’s CD, turned into an animation for TV and is an off-Broadway play in New York. 

'A Double Shot Of Happiness' is Judy’s beautiful and heartfelt account of Tim’s odyssey from that terrible diagnosis to his emergence as an acclaimed artist and a fulfilled, loving and loved young man.  This is a story full of many hurdles, moments of despair and incredible hard work from Tim, Judy and his brother Sam, but ultimately their story is one that’s moving, inspiring and triumphant.

“Most people are charmed by Tim but sometimes they aren't. When we come across these uninterested people I want to rush up and implore them to listen to him. ‘You should listen to his story, you really should. You won't hear another one like it. You will hardly believe it. Sometimes even I can't even believe it!’ I have shared every minute of this unbelievable adventure with Tim and that makes me feel like the luckiest mother in the world.” – Judy Sharp

More about Judy: she raised two boys, Tim and his younger brother Sam, as a single mother. Sam is a former state swimmer and trialled for the Olympics.  He now works as a high-level swimming coach.  Tim’s art is exhibited all around the world.  He spends much of his time helping organisations and schools that work with children with autism. They live in Brisbane.

'A Double Shot Of Happiness' by Judy Sharp will be published on 27 May 2015 (RRP $32.99 ) and will also be avoalble as an e-book.

An interview with Judy and Tim is on its way right here, so stay tuned.