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Tiny Tyger, Baby Bear and Me

Sunday 31 January 2016

Why I Struggle to Write Blog Posts

I'm not a very prolific blogger.  I very rarely write more than one blog post a week and, even then, I'm often 'late' posting it.

Largely, this is because my days consist of a torrent of noise and demands from the cubs.  Even if I am sat not really 'doing' anything, I'm unable to focus on something for more than a few seconds without an interruption from one of the boys (even when they're watching a film I have a constant barrage of: 'Mummy, who's that man?  Is that the girl's daddy?  My daddy doesn't have glasses!  Why is she running?  Is that her house?  Where is it?  Where's her mummy?'...etc.).

However, I have another problem with getting blog posts written, which means I suspect I'd struggle even if my life wasn't constantly punctuated by having to separate the cubs when they fight, letting the dogs in, letting the dogs out, letting the dogs back in again, getting Tyger a drink, asking Bear if he'd like a drink to be told 'no', getting Bear a drink because actually he does want one after all...

I find it really hard to settle on a topic for my blog post.  And it's not because I can't think of one but because I think of too many.  I think of a subject and it's perfect and interesting and I start to construct the post in my mind and it's going really well and maybe I even think of a couple of humorous asides to add...and then I think it's getting too long and I should focus down on one point...but then I realise other people might disagree with that point and I start to think about why so I can preempt them and rebut them before they can even make the point...but then I start agreeing with this opposite stance I'm trying to argue against and wonder if I should write about that instead and...it all becomes too complicated.

Last week I tried to write a blog post about autistic 'shut downs' (as opposed to meltdowns).  I was really interested and asked quite a lot of people I know in real life and online if they'd come across them or suffered from them and how they presented and everything.  I wrote most of a post.  It's still sitting there in my drafts but...I got stuck somehow.

I didn't like the post.  It seemed too...bitty.  The structure was all wrong and there was no humour and I gave up and posted this list of funny things I've said to the cubs in a panic instead.

So, this week I thought I'd finish the post about shut downs.

But I have this block about it now.

Even my pen's against me.
I kept trying to get into it but ended up procrastinating and generally browsing online and saw this blog post has been doing the rounds: She Divorced Me because I Left Dishes By the Sink by Matt at Must Be This Tall To Ride.  I suggest you read it but for anyone who hasn't/doesn't it's a post about how ostensibly his wife divorced him because he left dishes by the sink but actually it was a bigger issue of him refusing to accept that to her his repeated refusal to do something that took so little effort on his part but was important to her symbolised a complete lack of love and respect.

I read it and liked it and immediately started to have ideas for a blog post of my own.  I'll give you a heavily cut down inner dialogue of my thought process (I won't include all the interruptions involving the cubs but, needless to say, there were many):

I wonder why it is so often women who get wound up by mess and clutter and why men - generally speaking - don't seem to care or even see it.  Maybe I could write about why women feel this pressure?  Yes!!  I'm not naturally a clean or tidy person at all but Wolf and I still have those same sorts of problems.  Why do I care?  I do feel calmer in a tidy environment and it does help reduce my anxiety but I guess it's largely to do with 'what other people will think'.

I'll write about that and how women are still looked down upon and seen as failures if they don't keep on top of housework.  It doesn't matter what else they do or whether they're innately neat people.  And women are conditioned to judge themselves by how their house looks and if someone comes round it will be the woman they consciously - or subconsciously - 'blame' if it's not up to scratch.  And there are assumptions made about how good a wife or mother or just person she is based solely on whether she's...dusted or hoovered or whatever.  So, of course men don't understand the big deal; they've never had the same pressure put on them.  It's acceptable - and even funny and endearing - for men to be messy.

Actually, that's reminded me I wanted to write a post about how female Aspies differ from male Aspies and how so many of our anxieties come from having been conditioned by society to try to keep people happy...so we feel a constant sense of guilt and are always trying to keep everyone happy despite knowing we're not always socially intuitive.  That's what I'll write about.  I've been wanting to write that post for a few weeks anyway.

Maybe I can sort of include both the thing about keeping a clean house and...no, it's getting too complicated!

No, I won't write about women on the autistic spectrum, anyway; I was going to take a break from writing about ASD for a week or so.

Okay, back to that post about the glass by the dishwasher...I could link to it...but what if Wolf thinks this is a passive aggressive message to him by posting something like that?  Hmm...I wonder what he would think of the post.

I wonder if there's any equivalent thing I do...or don't do?  Maybe DIY.  I could write about DIY and how I tend to just leave it to him without thinking about it.  Is that the norm and is it really equivalent?  Although, I have put up flatpack furniture.  And there was that time I put up a spice rack on our larder door.

I liked that spice rack.  It wasn't expensive but it did the job it was supposed to do.  I should have removed it from the door when we sold that house; now, I'll have to buy a new spice rack and there's a good chance the people who bought the house didn't even keep it.  Poor spice rack.
'What did I do wrong?  Did I not hold your spices?'
I don't want to write about that glass by the dishwasher thing anymore.  I've overthought it now and I don't even know if I could add anything worth writing.  Is it even okay to write a blog post about a blog post?

What can I write about?

I'll write about this.  This right now.  I'll write about how I talk myself into and out of writing about a million different things before settling on one!

I could do an inner monologue type thing and...but is that a bit boring?  Will anyone even want to read such ramblings?  Isn't it a cop out to write a blog post about not being able to choose a topic for a blog post?

Ah, frack it.  I'll just write the Goram thing before I end up without anything at all.

There you go.  I probably do this with everything in my life, actually, and not just blog posts.  No wonder I feel perpetually exhausted but never get anything done.

Please tell me I'm not the only over-thinker out there?  (And also let me know if you'd actually quite like to read a post on any of the garbled half-thoughts above and I'll do my utmost to write one!)

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Monday 25 January 2016

I Never Thought I'd Say...

I've been struggling to compose  my blog post this week so to take the pressure off I have decided to just post a list of some of the things I've found myself saying to the cubs over the last few months; things I'd never have thought I'd say before I had kids.

1. Don’t stick the paint brush in your dinner.

2. None of the birds in our garden are actually elves.

3. We don’t drill flies.

4. It’s not magic, it’s you flinging yoghurt everywhere.

5. Don’t lick your reflection in the TV.

6. You’re not going to draw with your pens, are you? Just put them in your toaster for fireworks!

7. No, you don’t ‘check’ your brother’s toothbrush by licking it.

8. Please don’t suck up the window condensation through a straw.

9. If you want to run away from home, next time run away to your bedroom instead of the extension.

10. Would everyone stop getting their hand stuck in a teapot?

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Sunday 17 January 2016

Has Autism Increased?

If you go on any parenting forums and read threads about ASD - and if you don't I can assure you I do it more than enough for both of us - you'll know it's only a matter of time until someone makes a comment about autism being more common 'these days'.

Sometimes it's worded as an accusation and mentions the 'overdiagnosis' of autism or using ASD as 'an excuse for bad parenting'.  Other times it's a genuine question about whether autism is more common these days (and, if so, why or, if not, why it seems more common) from someone who is curious.

It's hard to give a definitive answer but I certainly have a good idea based on observation and reading up obsessively quite a bit on the subject.  If there's one thing I'm good at it's prattling on about ASD so here we go.

Firstly, no, the answer is not in any way connected to the Goram MMR vaccination.

I think there are several interlinked reasons for the apparent rise in ASD.

Professional understanding of ASD has increased to the point where many more people with Asperger's are being recognised and diagnosed now.  That doesn't mean they didn't exist before; in fact, I wrote a post last week about the realisation I'm probably on the spectrum.  Now, in times past (and even in my own childhood only a couple of decades ago) there's no way anyone would have thought I was autistic.  A bit weird, yes.  And with my slightly 'hippy/alternative' taste in clothes and green hair they probably still think I'm 'that odd mum with the unicorn hat'.

On the one hand, I'm not so odd I bought the hat; Wolf bought it for me.
On the other, he got it because I had an imaginary unicorn friend as a child...
which is perhaps slightly odd.
Going back further, my dad is also very definitely autistic but we didn't understand that until relatively recently (the last few years).  For a long time there were things about my dad that didn't seem to quite fit.  He's a nice person and good husband and father...who sometimes comes out with the most bizarrely unthinking/insensitive remarks (a couple directed at me have been, 'are you really tired or is it just your makeup?' and, 'what's going on with your hair?').

He has a professional job in a highly-paid position with lots of responsibility but if something disturbs his morning routine (having to clean up cat sick, his keys being in a different place etc.) he's completely thrown for the day.

As a child I also remember him getting incredibly annoyed with me for being too loud but he would go about the house whistling and clapping himself even when people were trying to have conversations.

So many 'inconsistencies' and 'quirks' in my dad's character make complete sense in the context of ASD.  There is absolutely no way anyone would have thought to use the word 'autistic' to describe my dad when he was a child - it would have been laughable - but he would more than qualify for a diagnosis now.

Even our cats are starting to look into it...
It's not just the Asperger's 'end of the spectrum' professionals understand better.  More and more research is being done into ASD in general and children and adults with 'classic autism' are being given much more support.  Families being given more assistance means there's a higher chance of autistic children attending mainstream schools and less need for them to be put into residential care homes (though, of course, some parents do still have to make this incredibly difficult decision).  ASD is generally more visible as people see it less and less as something shameful and/or simply unknown.

I had a friend at school whose brothers are autistic but it's only in more recent years I've learned this.  At the time I didn't know why they didn't live with her and her parents full time.  All I knew was they had 'something' that meant they needed extra help and support.  I was completely ignorant and I didn't ask (which I probably should have done).  I hope, even in the decade that's passed since then, awareness of ASD has grown to the point where teenagers now would be more likely to know what autism is and feel they could ask questions.

The rise of the internet has helped massively.  It gives people a place to talk about their ASD - or their kid's ASD - anonymously.  Social media means stories about people on the spectrum are often shared and read quite widely.  People on the spectrum often find text based communication much easier than face to face/spoken communication so you're probably more likely to have a long conversation with an autistic person on an internet forum than in 'the real world', too.

All of this: the greater understanding, the higher rates of diagnosis, social media and the internet in general adds to the perception that ASD is more common than it used to be.  But it's just that: a perception.  The reality is autism has always been there but we wrote off autistic people as 'weird', 'eccentric', 'quirky', 'rude', 'stupid', 'naughty' and a whole host of other derogatory adjectives.

I like to think that's all changing.

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Sunday 10 January 2016

Am I Autistic? Take Two

I don't like lying.

With this in mind, I'm sorry if I have deceived you.

I wrote a blog post titled Am I Autistic? over six months ago.  My conclusion was I exhibited a lot of ASD traits/behaviours but no, I absolutely was not actually autistic.


It seems I may have thought I wasn't autistic but others - specifically my parents and Wolf - are of a differing opinion.  Not necessarily at the time of me writing the blog post but certainly more recently.  We had a conversation about ASD a few weeks back (a pretty regular occurrence in this household) and it came up.  Since then, I have read up a bit more on females with Asperger's and have even taken a pretty good online test...with the conclusion I probably am autistic.

Wolf said he thought I knew.  I didn't.  I knew they joked about it but I didn't realise they were serious.  Not that it's in any way autistic to not get when someone's joking...or anything...

I've started to assess my behaviour in the way I do with Tyger and it's a little disconcerting.

There are certain things it seems I do - and probably have done for years - that I was totally oblivious to.  Apparently, I violently rub my face when stressed.  I also bite my thumbs (not like some Shakespearean character trying to insult someone in a rival family but biting down on the knuckle absent-mindedly).

Like this.  Huh, looks like my teeth are off-centre...never noticed that before.
Having asked my parents what my most obviously autistic traits are they've said I'm obsessive, like routine and have always been a bit of a loner (and the close friends I have had have generally probably not been neurotypical themselves...and at least one of them reads this blog so...umm...not you, obviously...).

I don't know what they're talking about.  It's not like, when I was a teenager, I used to read through my Friends books listening to my Friends CD with my Friends poster staring down at me and test myself on my Friends knowledge using my Friends daily calendar in between each episode of Friends...when I'd always make sure I had a mug of milk (Friends mug, of course) on my Friends coaster with the same number of biscuits in plenty of time so I could always clap along with the theme tune...on a Friday night...at home...with my family.  An obsessive, routine-driven loner!  Pfft.

This week I went to the first session of the 'EarlyBird' programme (a course for parents of young children with ASD).  What better place to start analysing myself for autism than on a course all about autism with a load of parents of autistic children?

First clue was how anxious I was about going.  New place, new people, not knowing what to expect - it's a lot to stress about and stress I did.  Queasiness and pressure on my head and face (somewhere between numbness and feeling like they were being squashed) seem to be pretty reliable signs of my anxiety.

Actually, Wolf has said I'm at my most autistic (he probably worded it differently, to be fair) when preparing to go somewhere new for a specific time.  I'm not sure exactly what I do!

Once there, I coped pretty well with going in (desperately trying to remember the direction from which I entered the building so I'd know which way to go at the end because I could get lost in a phone box) and meeting everyone.

I did almost have to leave the country and live as a hermit forever more after declaring the big hot water flask for tea and coffee was empty only to find out it needs pumping.  I valiantly stayed and didn't even curl up into a ball in the corner!

So, we began.

The room where the course is held has those horrid tube lights.

I have problems with light.  There are days when it's not hugely bright out but I find myself squinting and struggling to look up at all (not at the sun but just up near the sky), whilst everyone else is unaffected.  That's nothing compared to my problems with artificial lights, though, and certain colours of bulb that make everything seem either really saturated or unsaturated and I can't focus on anything properly.  It comes up in my dreams a lot and I spend a lot of my time feeling like I've suddenly gone from darkness to bright light and my eyes haven't adjusted yet and those lights didn't help.

There was constant noise, too: rain drumming on the roof, a video playing in the next room, people in the reception area.  It made it hugely difficult for me to focus on the video we had to watch.

And I noticed myself doing...things.

People with autism often have a problem with 'proprioception', which is your ability to know where your body and limbs are in space without having to look.  Sounds ridiculous, right?  How can you not know that?  That's what I thought until I realised at this course that I totally have problems with it.  I was sat there struggling with the lights and the sound and realised I was doing all these little things to keep me 'grounded'.  I was constantly rubbing my toes together, I had my legs crossed and was pressing the top leg into the bottom one really hard.  And I was constantly pinching myself, digging my finger nails into my hand, pushing my fingers together or stretching them really far apart.

What happened if I made myself stop doing all these things?  I really did feel like my body was floating, like I couldn't really feel my limbs without concentrating really hard on them and on the feel of the fabric of my clothes touching them.

I sat there listening to people talking about the sensory issues people on the spectrum have and they were talking about me.

Not that anyone would have known to look at me: they couldn't see inside my shoes at what I was doing with my toes, couldn't tell how hard I was pressing on one leg with the other, and it's easy to push your thumb nail into your hand so nobody can see.

See, just normal hands with fingers interlocked.
Except, I'm pressing the nail of that bottom thumb in my finger.
It was thought ASD was far more prevalent in boys than girls.  However, the more we understand about autism the more evidence suggests girls actually present in a very different way and tend to be very good at 'masking' their ASD.  When it comes to supposedly 'higher functioning' ASD, these girls' autism goes completely unnoticed until they reach puberty and then the combination of physical and emotional changes, the increased social pressure and the greater academic demands suddenly all combine to completely overwhelm them and that's the point at which - if they're lucky - they might get a diagnosis.

If I have ASD I have always been very good at masking it.  I have been so good at masking my autism, in fact, I've hidden it from myself.

What now?  What am I going to do with this information?

I don't think I'll try to get a diagnosis.  Not right now, anyway.  I will need to start pushing to get Bear diagnosed soon and I don't think I can cope with both.

What I will do is cut myself some slack.

I have always thought I was a terrible friend because I find it really hard to reply to messages or initiate contact or meet up.  I agonise over every 'hi, how are you' and response.  I start messages and never finish them because it's just too much.  Knowing there's a good chance I have a disorder that predominantly affects social interaction and communication makes me feel a little less guilty.

I'm not an uncaring friend; I'm autistic.

I have always suspected I'm a bad parent because at times I know I should be playing with the cubs and instead I am sat on my laptop.  I think actually my ASD means I get so overloaded by the boys' constant noise (which is part of their ASD) that I retreat and the only thing that stops me breaking down and crying in the bathroom is focusing on my laptop for a while.

I'm not an indifferent mum; I'm autistic.

I always thought I was useless because I don't do things I know I need to do like sorting out various insurance or phoning the hospital about something.  I knew I was physically and intellectually capable so didn't understand why I just couldn't bring myself to do these things until well after the point where they needed to be done.  Now, I understand my problems with executive functioning and anxiety - both elements of ASD - are probably to blame.

I'm not lazy; I'm autistic.

Knowing I'm probably autistic is enough at the moment.  It's a relief just knowing why I am the way I am.

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Sunday 3 January 2016

It Was the Best of Christmases, It Was the Worst of Christmases

Christmas and New Year have been and gone and after a tumultuous lead up (since Christmas can be very overwhelming for kids on the spectrum as I wrote about here), I thought I'd give a quick update on the last couple of weeks in the Nym household.

Tyger's ASD means everything is either the best or the worst.  There's no nuance, no grey, no in between.  My sister has always been much the same.  Any big events like Christmas, birthdays, performances, parties etc. are either euphoric successes or devastating failures.

According to Tyger this was, 'the best Christmas ever.'  It was only his fourth Christmas and I doubt he can remember any previous ones (perhaps for the best in the case of his first Christmas when he had an ear infection and slept through most of the day) so I can see how he reached his assessment.  However, this doesn't mean that every moment in the day was amazing...or even good.

Last year Tyger was completely absorbed by each present he got to the point where it was hard to get him interested in the next so other people opening presents wasn't a problem.  This year was...different.  He moaned constantly whenever someone else was opening a present and complained that he wanted a present.  In a household of eight people who go in for Christmas in quite a big way, this meant a lot of presents and so a lot of time spent moaning.

The whinging and whining culminated in Tyger opening a present from my sister (Colour Blind Sister, not Aspie Sister).  Now, Colour Blind Sister wanted to get Tyger a toy till, which was an excellent present idea.  Unfortunately, it was such an excellent present idea that the Wolf's parents wee already getting him one so CB Sister had to rethink.

Tyger opened the present from her.  It was a very cute, miniature wire shopping basket to go with said till.  He was unimpressed.  In fact he got extremely upset and angry and proclaimed he wanted a tiny shopping trolley like Aspie Sister and not a shopping basket.

The baskets and - clearly superior - tiny trolley.
Luckily, it turned out my mum had, in fact, bought Aspie Sister an identical basket (to go with the trolley) and quickly rummaged around the tree to give it to my sister so she and Tyger could be 'matching'.  Bear also has one from CB Sister and they seem to have been accepted, now.

All in all, Christmas was a success.  Tyger immediately looked to see if the mince pie, sherry and carrot left for Father Christmas and the reindeer were gone before even glancing at his stocking, which was very sweet.

Everyone in the house seemed happy with their presents.  I suspect Tyger's tablet will see a lot of use and he loves his bike.  The cubs have enough Duplo to rival the laundry basket mountain in quantity, which is pretty impressive.

Wolf and I also got the cubs a 'Bilibo' each.  Whilst they're great for all young kids, they came highly recommended in particular for kids with ASD on a forum I frequent.  I daren't try to describe them because I've already had the piss royally taken out of me for my - apparently terrible - explanation when I first bought them.  Instead, I'll include a photo.

I told Wolf they were, 'like spheres with a rounded triangle cut out of them.'
That's...ummm...sort of accurate right?
Bilibos (I promise I'm not on commission and I'm not popular enough yet to be asked to review products!) can be sat in and used for spinning and rocking.  Tyger also likes to climb on his when it's upside down and jump off it.  Apparently, they can also be used for games with balls and water.

The reason they're recommended for autistic children is they're great sensory toys that can provide a physical outlet when the kids are becoming overloaded (and these ones have also been decorated by stickers, which provided a little peace for me for a few minutes so they've already been very useful).  I did manage to avoid a meltdown a few days ago when Tyger was becoming fraught and I convinced him to let me spin him in his Bilibo.  Beforehand he'd been following Bear around trying to wind him up.  Afterwards he took Bear stacking blocks Bear had dropped.  It may seem small but I was very relieved!

Despite giving little to no inkling of what I wanted for Christmas (not because I thought it would be funny to leave everyone guessing but because I genuinely didn't know what I wanted) I was given some lovely presents.  I'm at home with the cubs pretty much all day everyday, my one real hobby (this blog) doesn't require anything I don't already have (a laptop) and we're living with my parents at the moment so I can't really do much with ornaments or household items.  As such, I'm kind of difficult to buy for right now but even so I got a lot of awesome clothes, a few Terry Pratchett and William Blake themed presents (Tyger's pseudonym on here is largely inspired by Blake's poem The Tyger and he's my favourite poet), three mugs (when you drink as much tea as I do these are extremely practical gifts likely to see far more use than most presents ever will) and - in the same vein - a big box of various teas of the world.  I have made a dent in the latter.

I don't know if Tyger will remember anything about this Christmas (I guess it's becoming increasingly likely any moment will be his first memory) and Baby Bear almost certainly won't but nonetheless I think this was an overall good Christmas.  I guess our 'ASD Christmas' turned out okay.

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Saturday 19 December 2015

An ASD Christmas

I love Christmas.  As a child I made an 'advent calendar' to count down the days until my actual advent calendar started.  This is not some Scroogy post against Christmas.

I may or may not have bought this elf hat recently.
It is a pretty rough time of year on little kids, though.  I mean awesome and completely worth it but it's coming to the end of term so they're tired out and Christmas is hyped up so much and so far in advance it can be difficult for them to have to wait.

It's also pretty rough on people with ASD and I'd like to explain why.

1. Sensory Stimuli

The chance of sensory overload (a problem for many people with ASD at the best of times) is greatly increased around Christmas.  There are lights everywhere (often flashing), lots of bright colours and reflective surfaces.  There's Christmas music playing, people getting excited and shouting, lots of crowds and parties.  Even the smells are often different and overpowering (all the cinnamon and cloves and...just excuse me for a minute whilst I ask the Wolf to make some mulled wine) and there's new food and textures.

If you don't really understand what sensory overload actually feels like, I'll try to explain from my own experience.  I don't think I'm autistic but I'm very noise sensitive and whilst I don't think what I experience is as extreme as many autistic people it gives me a little insight.

I struggle with noise when I'm trying to concentrate or when there are two sounds at once.  For instance background noise (a song playing quietly) when I'm speaking on the phone, Tyger and Bear both shouting and banging, someone talking to me over the end credits of a film etc.  It feels like it impacts my other senses.  It feels like pressure on my head/face and/or like a blinding light being shone into my eyes.  I can't think whilst it's happening and I feel extremely agitated, distracted and hostile all at the same time.  It's really unpleasant.

That gives you an idea of what a milder version involving only one sense might feel like.  For people - especially children - with sensory issues, it's really rough.

Imagine this searing into your eyes whilst you try to stay calm.

2. Change of Routine

People on the spectrum tend to need a routine. A change to that routine can be hugely stressful.  School and preschool routines are invariably disrupted by nativity play rehearsals, Christmas parties, visits from Santa, games, Christmas films.  Weekends might be changed around to accommodate Christmas shopping or putting up decorations.  Family and friends come to visit, bedtimes and mealtimes become more lax and Christmas day itself can be chaos.

For kids on the spectrum, who have little control over their day to day routine as it is, this can feel very confusing.  It induces anxiety and a feeling of spiraling out of control.  They often rely on the predictability and sameness of their usual week so such massive changes to that can be devastating.

3. Social Expectations

A lot of people feel awkward when they have to open a present in front whoever bought it (I want to seem grateful but I don't want to overdo it so it seems false...was that smile natural...should I tell them I already have one of these?) but there are so many social expectations placed on someone on the spectrum at Christmas that most NT people don't give a second thought to.

Not only are Christmas parties loud and bright and a change from normal routine but they also involve social interactions outside of the usual (dancing, games, buffet style food).  Giving and receiving presents and cards also involves certain etiquette ASD kids might not be aware of (acting grateful if you receive a gift you don't like can seem like brain surgery to them).  Then, there's the big bearded man in red.  A lot of kids on the spectrum won't even sit on their parents' laps, let alone some stranger.

And let's face it: some depictions of Father Christmas
can be pretty creepy.
And the sheer quantity of socialisation expected is overwhelming.  Whether it's relatives visiting, carol singers calling round, nativity plays, Christmas fairs...there's people everywhere.  People talking and expecting eye contact and gratitude.  It's extremely draining.

4. Waiting

Ah, childhood.  Remember when summer holidays seemed to stretch out before you like an eternity?  A week seemed like a month and a year might as well have been infinite.  That sense of time is great when you're doing something you enjoy as a child but when you have to wait for something?  It's agony!  I already mentioned my advent calendar to count down to December - I always felt like I was waiting for Christmas for years (now it seems I blink on Boxing day and another Christmas is imminently looming).

Well, children with ASD struggle with waiting even more.  Autistic children often find it really hard to fill their time.  It's not unusual for them to find 'playing' quite a difficult thing to do and so they get bored very easily.  Add to this the obsessive nature of many kids on the spectrum and the fact they're not good at judging time that's passed and when future points might be reached and waiting for Christmas becomes a nightmare.

I started writing this post before Tyger had a huge - and public - meltdown after his preschool nativity play.  It's one of those occasions where hindsight's a wonderful thing.  I'd put him down for both the Christmas party and nativity because I didn't want him to be left out but I knew it might be tough.

Tyger seemed to cope pretty well until right near the end of the play.  He asked to get down from the stage.  The preschool had made it very clear this was supposed to be fun for the children and they weren't precious about everything being perfect at the expense of the kids' comfort.  Whether the children joined in, wore costumes, stayed on stage, took a parent on stage with them were all down to the children and what they needed so I knew nobody would mind me stepping forward and getting Tyger (he'd asked to get down several times by that point).

Now, what I should have done is take him away completely for some space and some quiet (I even had his ear defenders with me and should have offered him those).  But, I wasn't sure if he wanted to join in with the remaining songs and would be upset to be taken away completely and there were a lot of parents filming the play and I didn't want to get in their way anymore than I had.  So, I sat with him on my lap in the aisle.  He seemed okay.

Then came the raffle.  At that point I really should have left but I had a strip of tickets.  I think Tyger thought they were handing out presents for everyone.  I tried to explain about raffles and prizes but this prompted him to say he couldn't wait for his 'surprise'.  When it ended and we left sans prize (or 'surprise') he started crying...and crying...and shouting.  We got to the car and he refused to get in.

All the other parents traipsed by with their tired but happy children and Tyger cried and wailed and begged me to take him back for his surprise.  I tried to soothe him, I tried being stern, I tried bribery.  But a meltdown is not so easily stemmed.

Cakes!  You can have all the cakes!
I managed to force him into his car seat.  Once home, he refused to get out of the car but - again - I just about managed to force him.  He carried on crying for sometime and I knew the meltdown was starting to ebb when he sobbed, 'Mummy, I can't calm down.'  That's always a sure sign he's ready to stop but doesn't know how.

I blew in his face.  That may sound stupid but when he was younger and had a meltdown he'd hold his breath and I was advised to blow in his face to make him breathe again.  He remembers that and sees it as a way for me to 'stop' him these days.  It only works once he's ready and I always ask his permission.

It was like a switch and he was okay.  It was all out.  The build up of all the noise and lights and people, the strange feel of the costume and the disruption to routine, the anxiety and the frustration and even the excitement and the joy.  It had been let out and he was tired but calm.

I love Christmas.  I love the over the top, gaudy, brightness.  I wouldn't ask anyone to give any of that up.

What I would ask, though, is that you reserve judgement.  When you're out Christmas shopping and a child is throwing a tantrum about their parents not buying them something, please don't tut and roll your eyes.  Perhaps they're some 'spoiled brat' or perhaps they're a child who is tired and overloaded and just can't cope with the crowds and the lights and the noise (autistic or not).

If there's a child at a Christmas party who's hanging back from the merriment, don't immediately try to jolly them into joining everyone else (as well meant as that may be).  First, maybe check if they need a moment away from the noise to calm down.

If you're holding a little Christmas get together and your neighbour's niece is refusing the buffet you've laid out she might not be rude.  Maybe she's struggling with everything and she can't handle the thought of strange flavours and textures on top of everything else.  Offer to put a round of toast on for her or see if she'd have a couple of crackers instead of getting annoyed.

For many autistic people it's the build up of lots of little things that culminates in a meltdown.  A couple of small kindnesses can mean the difference between hours of crying and shaking and a happy memory.

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Monday 14 December 2015

How I Met Your Father

If you're looking for a post about ASD or depression (or people being hit by buses) I'm afraid you'll be disappointed for once.  This week was the anniversary of when the Wolf and I first started going out.  We went on our first date 12 years ago.  So I thought I'd write a nice little post about how we first got together.  It's almost Christmas, after all!

Me (pregnant with Bear), Tyger and the Wolf.
The Wolf and I met at high school.

We were in the same geography class when we were around 13/14, which is sweet right?

I know what you're wondering.  Did we make puppy dog eyes at each other across the room?  Send each other love notes?  Or, in typical teen film style, hate each other with a passion until a set of unlikely circumstances threw us together and made us realise our passion was actually love?

No, none of those.  In fact, I had no idea we were in the same class until after we started going out a few years later and he told me.

However, I did mention him in my diary mere months before our first date.  We were both at a meeting for some group or other and I wrote a list of all the people who attended in my diary (this was before I wanted to be a writer, okay?) and after all the names of everyone I knew there was one person left: 'some other guy I don't know the name of.'

That would be the Wolf.

Fast forward to the beginning of December.  Both the Wolf and I were in 6th year (in Scotland so I was 16 and he was 17) and spent most of our free periods in the common room.  The common room was a luxury afforded only to the sixth year pupils - though, we under constant threat of being permanently locked out due to a small number of twats who kept vandalising the place - and was a room with lots of sofas, tables and a small, grubby kitchenette (to be fair, it probably wasn't grubby before we started using it).

One of the main pastimes in the common room was playing card games.  Not for me.  I read books and chatted...in the corner away from the cool kids.  Until one day when the Wolf and his friends were organising a game of 'spoons'.

Now, for anyone who doesn't know what spoons is: it's a bit like musical chairs in card game form...if you replace the chairs with spoons.

Basically, there are some spoons in the middle of the table but one fewer than there are players.  You have to get four of a kind with the cards and when you do, you grab a spoon.  At that point everyone else also grabs a spoon and the player with no spoon is out.  A spoon is removed so there's still one fewer than players and the whole thing is repeated until there are two players competing for one spoon.  At that point, if you're a teenager playing the game in a common room, the spoon is hidden by one of the players already 'out' in one of the lockers outside the common room door and then a selection of sofas and cushions are placed against the door/in the way like an obstacle course and sometimes people stand guard with additional cushions that are used as rams and the game resumes.

The spoons from the kitchenette also all disappeared pretty quickly so knives, forks and cork screws were used in their place.

Which selection would you like to thrust your hand into?
So, the Wolf saw the need for more players as an opportunity to sweep me off my feet because everyone knows scary games involving hand injuries are the the best means of instigating a relationship.

Actually, it was sort of romantic.  The first round we played the Wolf grabbed two spoons and passed me one so I'd stay in the game.  He was probably stuck with me for life from that moment, really.

We played more cards through the day and even walked down into town to get a chocolate bar together (risque stuff).

That was Monday.  We tried to flirt through the next week but unfortunately the common room was off limits one day (see twat-vandals above) and the week finished with a driving safety day (culminating in a horrific video I blame for my continuing lack of enthusiasm over learning to drive).

We did manage to play cards again but this time he did not help me.  He pretended to help me and then royally fracked me over.  It meant I didn't go into our relationship blind: when it comes to cards or board games the Wolf is not to be trusted.  I'd trust him with my life and even my books but I would never trust him to move the number of squares he's rolled or put the correct card down.

Going home on the Friday I cursed myself for not asking for the Wolf's number and resigned myself to a weekend spent agonising and analysing until Monday finally came round again.

But, as I got off the bus and started to walk home, I received a text from the Wolf saying he'd asked a mutual friend for my number and hoped that was okay.

It was okay.

He told me he'd been trying to oganise a trip to the cinema with a bunch of people but nobody seemed to be free or interested and was I up for it?  As naive as I was, even I saw through this subterfuge and realised it would be a date.  I replied with an affirmative and he asked what I wanted to see.  I suggested The Matrix Reloaded but I don't think a Sci-Fi action film was really the tone the Wolf was trying to set so we settled on Love Actually on the Sunday.

It was my first date.  Other than a few kisses at parties my relationship history up to that point had included a boyfriend when I was four (who made me a heart-shaped Valentine's card...which opened on the right instead of the left - even at that age this irked me) and another 'boyfriend' a few months before going out with the Wolf who was terrified of girls and unceremoniously dumped me via text message four weeks after we started going out (two of those weeks were a school holiday during which we didn't see each other at all...).

So, come Sunday we got the bus together into the nearest city.  We had quite a lot in common in terms of taste in music, books we liked, TV and films we enjoyed (although, when I told my mum this she skeptically queried whether he really liked any of these things).

During the film the Wolf tentatively took my hand.  We had our first kiss.  We watch Love Actually every year on the 'anniversary' of that first date.  Hi, I'm Lady Nym and I enjoy Richard Curtis films.

After the film we went for food.  I opted for the incredibly sophisticated and romantic food court in the shopping centre (I'm a fussy veggie and I knew I could have a baked potato with cheese there).  I was glad of our less than grand surroundings when I misjudged the placement of my knife and catapulted both it and a load of cheese onto the floor.  I may have known about the Wolf's card game manipulation and deceit from early days but he knew about my fussiness and clumsiness.  We both entered the relationship with our eyes wide open to each other's faults.

We walked along holding hands and bumped into a girl in our year at school.  The look of shock and confusion on her face was to be mimicked by many when we went back to school.  The Wolf and I were not in the same circle of friends.  He was a pretty quiet guy who - up until a recent haircut - had hidden behind his long hair and hats.  I was the 'cello playing, English vegetarian who never quite fitted in.  It surprised everyone when we turned up to school one week holding hands and kissing.

Bizarrely, we became almost a celebrity couple within our year group.  I think the experience set me up well for having autistic children because we had 'get a room' shouted at us so often it was good practise for the repetitive nature of kids with ASD.

The Wolf bought me a lovely silver and amethyst ring for that Christmas, which I still wear every day.

Turns out I really struggle to take photos with my left hand.
And to the guy in our year who obviously fancied himself as a bit of a poet and said it would never last because the 'flame was burning too brightly'...we're still going 12 years later.

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