I’m aware that I focus on the successes in this blog and, in doing so, am guilty of skewing the picture  – giving the impression that all our days are filled with happy interactions and signs of progress. Readers who have children with autism will already know that this is unlikely to be the case. I’ve also come to recognise a strange phenomenon – the more that one trumpets a particular success, the more likely it is to turn round and bite you on the bum. A few days ago I wrote a proud post on Facebook about our successful visit to the shoe shop, during which Henry had waited ten whole minutes to get measured, had submitted calmly to the foot gauge and had only needed minor Haribo bribery to try on two pairs of shoes. The fact that they didn’t have his size in stock was a small irritation: I ordered a pair on the internet to be collected in store and received a text message to say that they were ready to pick up today, Friday.

Fridays have always been difficult since we started home ed. From Mondays to Thursdays Henry has a timetable – child-centred maybe, but a timetable nonetheless. I teach him Mondays and Wednesday mornings, Ellie on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Jackie on Wednesday after lunch. We do home-based activities in the mornings and go out in the afternoons. I wanted Fridays to be different – more spontaneous and flexible ( I can hear parents of autistic children everywhere laughing like drains as they read those two adjectives). Some things would be constant – popping in to the local special school for play time to give him some contact with other children, and a lunch time visit to MacDonalds, but other than that we would look at the weather and decide on the day. I have also to admit that I use Fridays to catch up on jobs that need doing, labeling them ‘life skills’ to make me feel better – posting letters, shopping, returning library books. Collecting shoes…

It doesn’t really work to be honest. More often than not on a Friday afternoon I’m left with a  sense of dissatisfaction, a feeling that Henry hasn’t got enough out of the day. Perhaps it’s because it’s winter: playgrounds are full of cold hard iron; parks grey and mushy. Anywhere offering indoor play is stuffed full of scary two year olds. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not much good at spontaneous and flexible either, at least not when it’s below 5 degrees.

So today we went to school, where Henry played happily. The problems started when we drove to town. It took twenty minutes to persuade him out of the car and even longer to coax him the 200 yards to the shoe shop. The queue was eight people long. At that point I should have turned and left, but, Monday’s success still in mind, I tried to join it. The way he lost control was sudden and frightening in its intensity. I’ve spent the last ten minutes typing different descriptions of how he hit and pinched me and am uncomfortable with all of them – it seems disloyal, somehow, to lay it all out in public. But of course that is what happened in Clarks, under the gaze of what seemed like hundreds of tutting women, who only saw a ten year old boy attacking his mother and probably didn’t register the fact that, in between the hitting, he was crying and saying ‘big hugs’.  I persevered and got to the front of the queue, only to be told I should be in the other Clarks shop. The shoe collecting was abandoned.

I can see many possible reasons why this happened, hindsight being a wonderful thing. I hadn’t put ‘shopping’ on the visual timetable. One of my friends suggested that Henry probably didn’t understand why he was going back to the shoe shop, having only been there a few days earlier. I did explain, but it’s pretty obvious that he didn’t grasp the meaning of  ‘collecting shoes’ or any of the five other ways I tried to explain it. There may have been something about the sounds or sights or smells of the shop today that made him anxious. Whatever the reasons, it left me shaken and Henry sobbing. I was in a dilemma about MacDonalds, feeling that taking him straight away would reinforce the behaviour, yet loath to end the morning on such a negative note. Luckily he walked back to the car cooperatively, though still crying, and even said ‘sorry’, so we went to the drive-through and peace, of sorts, was restored with the first chip. I say ‘of sorts’ because he has not been himself for the rest of the day – heavy-eyed and pale, as if exhausted by the ferocity of his emotions.

Next Friday I will do things differently. I will plan and prepare and read the signs of anxiety better. I’m also wondering how Intensive Interaction practitioners deal with meltdowns. All suggestions will be gratefully received.


8 thoughts on “Fridays

  1. Nicky Browne

    As an outsider to this set of experiences I can only marvel at your own unselfishness. What happened at the shoe shop is rare because you are a fantastic mother and constantly monitor Henry’s needs. It was obviously really horrible for both of you but most of the time you manage to guide him through this alien world without triggering his fear and distress and that is amazing. I have no real understanding of how courageous he must have to be to deal with our incomprehensible environment or how vigilant you have to be to protect him, but in my ignorance I see this incident as an indicator of how successful you both are most of the time. I hope that isn’t in any way insulting.

    1. Carol

      My heart goes out to you Sue. I read your blog with utter amazement and admiration realising I can never begin to understand your daily trials and way of life. Yet I have known you all for ages now and you are a very special family. Henry is so lovely. You have done and are doing such fantastic things with him. I am in awe and your blog was inspirational in its honesty and rawness. I see such sad scenarios with autistic children where I work. Hang in there my friend, in the knowledge that Henry is sooo lucky to have you as his mother. X

      1. movingbeyondthelabel Post author

        You are lovely Carol. Thanks for your comments – I felt really heartened reading my replies this morning. It’s very easy to feel as if you’re not doing enough, or getting it wrong, in this home ed lark. At least in school it’s a team effort and there’s always someone else to blame if things go wrong!

    2. movingbeyondthelabel Post author

      Nicky – I think you understand more than you realise. Your comment about Henry’s courage is so true and something that I sometimes forget. Far from being insulted I feel immensely cheered up by your reply. I wish the general public had such a level of understanding.

  2. Bright Side of Life

    As an autism mum myself, I think that you must not beat yourself up. We all have good days and not so good days. It is always tricky with the general public and how we react depends on our mood at the time. I am sure that over time your son is going to become more flexible. Thanks for sharing.

  3. alifeunlimited

    Since entering puberty this sort of meltdown has been more common. You might be onto something with the no clear routine thing as for us the summer holidays were simply awful, and I realised the other day that I haven’t really been hit since the end of September once Archie had settled back into his school routine. He’s also better on routine days in school holidays.

    One thing I did (eventually) realise over the summer was that a lot of these meltdowns were being triggered by memories dredging up overwhelming emotions. There may have been a trigger to the initial memory, but there was no external ’cause’ as such. That may be puberty related though, but offer it as a potential something to help you unpick the why’s.

  4. movingbeyondthelabel Post author

    It’s so unpredictable isn’t it? I remember you writing about the memory theory in your blog and it’s something I often consider now. There are definitely certain places he dislikes and others, seemingly very similar, that he finds OK. Why the queue in the show shop should be different from the queue in the supermarket, or a walk through the woods be different from a walk on our local nature reserve, I have no idea.

    Am not looking forward to puberty…


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