The Invisible Life of Us: Parenting kids with additional needs

We speak to 'Too Peas in a Podcast' creators Kate Jones and Mandy Hose about their first book on parenting kids with additional needs. They share some insights and tips on neurodiverse families, in this Q&A with Natalie Moutafis.

Kate Jones and Mandy Hose have experienced the highs and lows of parenting – and they wouldn’t change a thing. With eight children between them, both with twins with additional needs, the mothers are well known for their fun and candid podcast, Too Peas in a Podcast.

The book seems like a cathartic release of all you have been through as parents – much like the podcast – what do you hope parents will gain from reading The Invisible Life of Us?

Our greatest hope is that parents and families realise they are not alone, there is no ‘typical’ family, and every family no matter how diverse is so valued and valuable. That in fact diversity is beautiful and makes life so much more interesting.

You cover the challenge of school and extracurricular activities and discuss how students with disabilities or additional needs are discriminated against. What are a few things you would love to see change in these areas?

Well, how long have we got? When it comes to school, if we could wave a magic wand we would love every classroom to have an extra teacher or aide, this would in our opinion make learning so much more accessible and normalize students learning at different levels and speeds. To us, it seems that so much of the education system is based on speed of learning not actual learning. We think the awesome teachers in our schools, face so much pressure, and an extra skilled staff member in the classroom would be a game-changer. We would love to remove any Behavior charts, reading level charts or similar. They shame the children with learning disabilities and we are passionate about this ending!

As for after school activities, let’s be more inclusive, let’s include the child who doesn’t score when playing basketball, but is a valued part of the team. Let’s normalise not wanting our kids to win so much that as parents and coaches we exclude children. How about we remember it’s not winning or losing but enjoyment that counts!! Life is full of diversity, why isn’t after school activities?

What would you say to any parents, or carers, that have just received an additional needs diagnosis? Any words of encouragement, advice from your paths well-travelled?

Firstly we would say, welcome friend. We made our podcast for you and wrote our book for you. Check out our Too Peas in a Podcast website, we have a booklet for you, we will send to you for free.

Secondly we would say, your child that you took to the doctor or specialist or nurse when you got your diagnosis, that child is the same child you love them the same, maybe even more. When you had a baby what you really wanted was a child to love, that hasn’t changed. You are going to go down a diverse parenting journey but there are lots of us down that road. Come and find us, everyone is welcome.

You discuss social stigma, and even share some of the hurtful comments you, and others, have received in the book.  What are your top tips for parents, or rather society, to help change their approach and move towards destigmatising neurodiverse children and their families?

This is a great question. We would say, take a little bit of extra time to look around, see the mother who has to stay and settle her child, or is late to school because they have been to therapy, ask her for coffee, get to know her/them and their child. Ask that child to parties, please, please we beg of you. When our kids get invited to a party it is the greatest joy, equivalent to your child being school captain! Our families and children are so fun and interesting, ask us if you are nervous, ask us anything, we will tell you, we are passionate about inclusion we will work with you to make it work. And hey, you will make some great friends!

The Invisible Life of Us shows just how much love you both have for your children, and your desire for them to lead happy, satisfying lives. What do you each hope for the future for your children?

Like every parent, we hope that our children live independent lives, that they have friends and are loved and give love. We hope the world is kind to them, that people can learn to stop glorifying academic and financial achievements but instead glorify kindness and relationships. It might just change the world. As Dr Seuss once said ‘a person’s a person no matter how small’, we transpose that to ‘A person’s a person no matter their diagnosis.’ Our kids are just people like yours!

About the authors and book

Kate Jones is a stylist who runs her own home staging business called Instant Impression. She has five children, including identical twin boys who were her inspiration for starting the Too Peas.

Mandy Hose is a sleep, settling and behavioural consultant for children up to five years old. She has three children and lives in Victoria.

The Invisible Life of Us is available now from Penguin Life and retails for $34.99.

Photo credit: Main image by Amy Oliver.

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