Christmas 2015 and my eldest son, Alex, returned from London loaded with presents for his younger brothers and sister. Amongst the piles of boxes and carefully wrapped treats was one particularly large but squishy object...with an even larger label on it marked "Y".
As is usual in our house, the children are not allowed into the sitting room to see the lit tree and [more importantly!] what is below the tree
until after lunch and after
we have all listened carefully
to The Queen's Speech.
You can always feel the
excitement mounting as they
watch the clock chime 3pm. They then fidget through the next 10 minutes...and as the last chord of the National Anthem is over, they scramble to see who is going to get to the sitting room first!
For the first time in 2015, Y really knew what Christmas was all about. The delight in her little face as she saw the decorated tree, the presents and the fire roaring was just so lovely. The astonished look on her face
when Alex gave her his present was
even more wonderful...
it was nearly as tall as she!
Tearing off the wrapping paper,
Y was confronted with Dave...The Minion!
Here was her new "Friend" which she would from then on take everywhere with her. She knew who he was as "Despicable Me" was one of her MOST favourite of films. Dave was about to be launched in a world well beyond a bedroom and playroom!
He came shopping around Waitrose,
sitting in the trolley strapped into
the seat; he was placed strategically
at the kitchen table at meal times
so that Y could see and talk to him;
he had to come in the car to school,
again strapped in with the seat belt;
he was taken EVERYWHERE!
Y had replaced her other objects of fixation with Dave.
"Dave has a face, mummy. He is real!" would be her answer when the boys questioned her as to why Dave was so important to her. Y would get really cross with the boys if they dared say he was just a toy and not actually real. To her, Dave had become her best friend and one that she would nurture ...or so I thought!!
A few weeks later, my 12 year old son, William, and I were up late. The rest of the house was quiet, the boys and Y asleep. I remember the clock face reading nearly 11.30 when Will and I decided it really ought to be bed time. William went ahead as I put the lights out and ensured the animals were ok.
Suddenly, William appeared again, laughing his head off...
"Mum, I think you had better come and look at this!"
I crept up the winding stairs behind him, and as I reached the point where the stairs almost got onto the landing my face fell! The final 2 stairs and the long landing of the farmhouse could not be seen due to the enormous thick piles of tiny polystyrene balls. And when I say tiny...I mean MINUTE! There were literally thousands of these; the landing looked as if it was under inches of snow.
I looked up at William who was trying not to laugh too loudly as he stood by Y's bedroom doorway. The door was half closed and, as he gently pushed it fully open he said
"Mum, this is nothing, take a look in Y's room!"
Y's room is not small! In fact, it is the largest bedroom in the house; a typical farmhouse large and roomy double bedroom that could sleep about 6 people! It is a lovely room, full of toys, books, bears and pictures, but with lots of space to move about in. SADLY, there was virtually no space to move about in that night...the room was FULL of these minute polystyrene balls!
They were everywhere in huge
mounds, in the books, on the glass
picture frames, on the walls and
ceiling; nothing escaped these balls!
Even Y, asleep in bed now,
was covered...her hair, her bed,
Most sadly of all was seeing Dave, her favourite friend which she cherished, lying in the middle of the room, deflated, mangled and sagging! Dave had seemingly popped, and now he looked like a very old version, full of wrinkles and defeated!
It was such a mess...but humour took over; it was really funny! William and I could not contain the laughter and, having then woken up the other boys who were completely shocked at the scene, then realised we had to clean this up!
The next morning I insured that the little people were placed in exactly the same position again when the bed was made. I would ask Y that evening about them. My thoughts were that SHE had wanted to "feel safe" when I was away and had placed the people there as if I was still at home. Little people feature massively in her life when she is in need of comfort and I could imagine her talking to them as she positioned them on the pillow, possibly saying "goodnight" to them and maybe eve giving them a kiss!
So, the day ended and as Y was going to bed I showed her my find.
"Did you put these there Y? They are lovely! Did you put them there when I was away to help you feel safe?"
The answer she gave me was a real surprise....
"No, I put them there when you came home to make YOU feel safe mummy."
"Who are these people Y? Is the pink one mummy?"
"Yes...and the other one is someone that will make you feel safe here."
I don't know how I contained my surprise, feeling of warmth towards this little girl, and tears. She had absorbed what had been going on for several years; sadly life with an emotionally and sometimes physically abusive husband; she had witnessed the anger in him when I got the strength to ask him to leave, and felt the sadness I transferred unwittingly onto the children when the divorce eventually came through only a month ago. This was my little autistic girl expressing deep feelings that I did not realise she could make sense of.
She herself felt she needed little people at times to make her feel safe...and so that was how she was going to make me feel safe now. I was home, having been kept safe in London by a great friend, but now she wanted to ensure I felt the same at home.
Even as I write this tears could spill. It goes to show that we cannot take on face value what we THINK children see, feel, or hear. Y presents as a child that has global developmental delay and who has autistic traits...but she has deep emotions that many children older in age than her would not feel, yet alone manage and analyse. Her kindness in looking after others who are unwell, hurt or less able than herself shines through daily but this was degrees more significant.
I'd like to Thank Y for this...she has made me prioritise again the need to look after the children's emotions on a daily basis. I thought I did pretty well usually but this has made me rethink ways on how to support them more so that they feel happy and relaxed throughout their childhood and into adulthood. I cannot, despite being a very busy mother with pressures of timescales, presume that they are feeling as any other child of a similar age would.
SEN children are NO different...however complex in their needs
they may not be able to express deep down emotions.
WE, as parents and the wider community, need to ensure we can help the expressions of these emotions so to look after the child's and families wellbeing.
It was nearing the time that Y had to start school and so she needed time in a mainstream play school alongside her hours at the specialist nursery. [Yeovil Opportunity Group] There was only one place for her to go in my eyes and that was to Poyntington where the children were under the strict eye of Mrs Furmage. I had heard incredible things about this amazing lady who had run the nursery for MANY years, her husband Vic beside her venture throughout.
Mrs Furmage was known as "Furmage" to both children and parents. Where and when the "Mrs" went I don't quite know but "Furmage" had stuck well and truly!
Despite struggling herself for a long time with debilitating physical health problems, "Furmage" always greeted every child and parent with a smile and always had time to talk.
Her days were long and busy but everything was
done with enthusiasm despite, I am sure, really
being exhausted by the end of each evening.
When Y started at the nursery, "Furmage" welcomed her with open arms...literally! She would have known that the dynamics of the nursery would be about to change and that the pressures on the staff and finances would increase. My little girl was going to need a huge amount of 1:1 support; she would need to be constantly watched to keep her safe, and effort would have to be made to ensure attention on the other children and their learning was never lessened because of Y's needs. "Furmage" was going to need the patience of a Saint and stamina beyond belief!
Every morning Y would venture through
the little wooden gate and up the stony path
stopping at every plant pot that Mr. Furmage
had carefully planted, upturning it to find
her favourite mini-beast...wood lice! With 1 or 2 woodlice in her pockets, Y would feel safe and survive the morning. Worms were the 2nd option...found by tipping up the compost bin all over the path, closely followed by snails!
Mr. Furmage was fantastic, always ensuring that Y's finds were enthusiastically acknowledged and NEVER showing any frustrations as he had to re pot his plants.
Up the garden path, every flower had to be smelled by Y, every wind chime "chimed", and every rock upturned. Y was in her element...BUT
As far as IN the nursery was concerned, Y's favourite toy had to be the "Little People" [Playmobile]. She talked to them as friends, involved them in her imaginary games, and would introduce them to other children and their parents. They were a form of "safety toy" that I have spoken about in previous chapters. Without them around, Ys world would be a frightening one and full of anguish for her.
All seems fine but the trouble is that "little people" are pocket-sized! On a daily basis Y would want to take them home...and a meltdown would ensue when "Furmage" told her firmly and clearly "No" and that they would have to
stay in the nursery for other children to
Y of course was unable to converse
to staff why she needed to take her safety toy home, and so we all had to work hard in finding alternatives for her during the transition back home from the nursery.
As Y got older she became more bold, finding ways to sneak a "little person" home with her. However, she was always foiled by "Furmage" who would playfully "frisk" her coat pockets before home time and tease Y for her intuition! That is until one particular day...
If I was expecting Y to look worried I was in for a disappointment. Y was laughing...and really laughing. What about I did not know; that is, until she held my hand and took me into the kitchen saying that she knew where Twinkie was! Something in me made me feel a lurch in my tummy...Oh Lord! What had Y done?
One of our kitchen drawers is very deep and I suppose most people would keep saucepans in there.
We don't...it just holds a pile of tea towels
and a couple of long table cloths.
A nice, soft squidgy pile of freshly laundered
cloths that a cat would love to nestle down in for an afternoon nap! Yes, Y had found Twinkie, and then decided that Twinkie would love to do just this! She gently opened the drawer and there was the cat...not asleep as Y had expected but looking daggers at us and obviously very, very cross! She leapt out and ran...much to Ys glee...and was not seen for a few hours more.
Y told us that she had given Twinkie a lovely bed and just could not get her head around why it was not the right thing to do. I tried to explain to her that the cat needed food and water, did not like being in a confined space, and it was not the best place for her...and weeks later, after going over and over it whenever Y asked again "why?" I thought she had grasped it!
Twinkie remained fearful of Y but gradually a degree of trust was sort of restored. Life went back to normal with Twinkie being attached to George and ignoring Y most of the time...until....
A few months ago 3 things happened in quick succession...
Firstly, Y decided that Twinkie would fit in a large deep biscuit tin! At that point, despite being relatively calm,
I did get cross...this was unacceptable and Y
had to really get to know quickly cause and affects.
Tears from Y, my raised voice,
and lots and lots of "I'm sorry, mummy!" from Y for several days afterwards.
Secondly, Y had progressed to trying to pick Twinkie up, despite the desperate struggles the cat made to free herself. Y would wait until we were all outside or busy, find Twinkie, sneak her into the playroom, close the doors and then drag the poor cat into her arms. She meant well but just had no idea on how to handle the cat, despite being shown, or understanding that the cat was unhappy. So, again...tears from Y when the cat was removed, stern voices from myself and the boys...and Y was only allowed to stroke Twinkie when one or other of the boys was holding her. That way Y could learn to handle the cat appropriately and enjoy her; the cat would become less fearful...and peace would be restored!
Thirdly, Y would go over and over what the cat needed in order to stay safe including food, water, a comfortable place to sleep etc. All very well and the education seemed to be working. NOT! One evening, again Twinkie was nowhere to be found. Y had gone to bed and was asleep for once. I did the usual check last thing, tidying up all the books and games that she had got out in the five minutes after "lights out", closed drawers that had been dragged open putting away clothes as I went, and generally ensuring that in the dark her room was not a hazard if she needed to get up in the night!
As I went to put away some of her jigsaws, I noticed a funny smell and noise from one of the larger toy boxes.
Opening the lid gingerly I jumped back startled as
Twinkie emerged with speed, ears back and hissing.
She had been placed in the toy box, complete with
towels, water, cat biscuits and cheese by Y who
was still asleep oblivious of my find. I was mortified...how could she do this to the poor cat?
The rest of the evening was spent trying to coax the cat to come out from under my bed, and then trying to get my head around why my little girl was doing this?
Nothing I had said seemed to have gone in re her treatment of animals...or had it? I had told her what Twinkie needed...and in the toy box was exactly that! Y had taken it as I had said it and acted on it. She had ensure Twinkie had everything she needed...but could not put into the equation the other factors such as the fears of the cat being shut up, the need for the cat to roam and feel free, or the deep set anguish that the cat must have felt.
What was I dealing with here? Y loves animals and wildlife and yet she cannot treat them kindly. She is curious about them, but will take a bug apart to satisfy her curiosity unaware of the damage she is doing.
It has been a long struggle to try to get through to Y about safe care of animals, wildlife and anything living. She does not seem to grasp it...and yet will recite what an animal needs and how to look after it. She is mortified when she hurts and animal and yet cannot look ahead to what she is doing and the affects it will have.
Tomorrow the same issues will materialise with the cat, and I have to work hard not to allow this to become a negative battle for us. It is exhausting with the constant reiteration of how to treat an animal which has to be gone through several times daily.
I am logging her behaviour and will be seeking advice from therapists. Fortunately, Y is about to have some hours at a specialist school as well as continuing at a mainstream school. The specialist school will allow her to do more practical elements of education, including swimming, horse riding AND...she will be able to attend the Forest School!! This interaction under supervision with nature could be the positive turning point that she needs. The staff will immediately see what she is like with wildlife and be consistent in helping her manage her own behaviour so that it becomes more appropriate.
I have asked for 2 years or so that Y has hours not in mainstream and at last it is going to happen. It was something that I had to instigate myself, but fortunately staff were supportive and in agreement that there is a balance to be found in Y's education. Like all children, we need to nurture their positives so that they can reach their optimum potential...and if it is along the more practical and supervised routes then that is as fantastic as any route that is more academic!
The visits became more frequent over the years as many pairs of glasses were needed...usually because she had sat on them, undone the frames "to see how they went together", or simply lost them. All this did, however, was to increase her social skills as she would do all the talking, being so comfortable with this wonderful group of professionals. No longer was she afraid of hospitals, dentists and clinics but could adequately ensure that her voice was being heard and that her opinion was definitely being taken into account.
A year or so ago, Scrivens changed its staff around and the Sherborne branch had a new member...Davina. Before Tim left he ensured that Davina was introduced to Y and that she gelled with her. This was never going to be an issue as the two of them immediately got on, Davina being even more focused on Y's needs and attentive to her stories. When Y appeared in the clinic everyone would without hesitation welcome her,
introduce her to other clients,
and chat to her.
Y would be allowed to watch
glasses being tightened,
mended, cleaned, and was
allowed to try on the multitude
of varieties of frames to keep
her busy and happy...
[really important if one the boys was their having eye tests themselves].
Y was the entertainment for the clients and staff, having them laughing and smiling as she fired questions about anything and everything at them. Her knowledge, needless to say, about prescriptive lenses is pretty good now!
When I started writing the Y Tales, Davina began to read them and would refer to them whenever she saw Y, encouraging Y to tell her about her antics in detail. Davina would refer to them as her "bedtime stories to read" and would ask for more to be put up on the website when she had run out!
Davina is getting married on October 7th...
and one day in the spring Y had a letter sent to her.
In the envelope was an invitation to Davina’s' wedding...
Y had been invited and "if mummy was going to behave
she can come with you, Y!"
The excitement of this little girl when she opened her own post...and even more when she discovered what it was...nothing can describe it adequately enough!
So, this coming week it is going to be shopping for a pretty dress and shoes ready...and of course a suitable present for the newlyweds. A present of Y's choice so watch this space!!!! It could be ANYTHING, but if she chooses it then Davina and her new husband will get it!
Good luck to both of you and I know that the first chapter of book 2...The Y Tales...will be all about the wedding day and what Y did there!!!
And a huge thanks to the lovely staff at Scrivens Sherborne for making my little girl feel cared for and loved...
So, Y had retaliated...biting the outside rim of one of the little boy’s ears!
This unacceptable behaviour of course had to be addressed immediately and so Y was promptly removed from the classroom and was only able to return once given a very firm talking to. I was mortified...firstly Y shut her cat in biscuit tins and toy boxes, and now she was biting the ears of her friends! The knowledge that I needed more help from the educational psychologist and behavioural team was stronger than ever! How was I going to get her safely into adulthood when her actions are so unpredictable.
And YET, the TA was now really smiling!
"Y explained to me, Rachel, that the boy had been very naughty shouting and yelling at her for no reason, and that was a way to let him know that it was not right to do this!"
The word "naughty" was the clue...and the fact that Y had been with her Godparents over the weekend! It suddenly all made sense!
Whilst I was away, one of our Springer Spaniels had been in serious trouble! The compost bin, complete with chicken carcass had been found, torn apart, and carcass eaten! When she was prised away from the carcass,
she was not a happy dog, snarling,
bearing teeth and growling.
The two Godparents, unfortunately for Dotty, understood dogs very well, having taken their Springer to behaviour and dog training classes. They decided that Dotty was NOT going to get away with this, managing to remove some of the chicken despite the anger received.
Afterwards, one of them had bent down and gently but firmly bitten the outside of the dogs ear! Apparently, this works and the dog then knows it has done wrong...PLEASE do not take this as Gospel and do it to your pet as I have no idea if it is a true fact or not! The last thing that I would want to do is to bite the ear of a dog! Also, despite the fact that Dotty
then knew that she had done wrong then,
she would have NO worries about doing it
again for the prize of a chicken carcass and
accept any punishment once the food was nicely ensconced in her tummy!
Back to Y though who had witnessed the dog being "naughty" and then the subsequent actions of the adults...she had absorbed all of this and had registered in her mind how to deal with naughty Springer Spaniels. In fact, she had obviously gone that one step further and had decided it was the way to treat "naughty", shouting, snarling, yelling, growling "anything", INCLUDING little boys!
Of course the TA then understood Y's actions when I explained all this to her and fortunately we both found the funnier side, despite having to immediately find a large range of alternative more appropriate ways for Y to demonstrate when she was less than happy with someone!
The little boy has forgotten about this thankfully, as has his mother who was understandably rather irate about the whole episode! So far there have been no more incidences...but I am waiting...
What will Y do next?
HNT's website will be undergoing updates during the coming weeks. This will have an impact on pages/information available.
So, how thrilled I was that Y had understood about the bumblebees the first time! For the next few days, back she would go again to that hole in the ground in the courtyard to watch the bees whizz in and out, and then off she would go to find them buzzing around the lavender. That was until....
One day the following week we all had to go in the car into Sherborne. As per usual, the last minute rush ensued as we attempted not AGAIN to be late for an appointment.
For those with a special needs child,
this will not be a surprise as inevitably
the child at the very last minute will be
distracted, going off on a mission somewhere.
BUT, on this particular day, the boys were ready in the car with Y, all calm and ready for "the off".
I should really have known at this point that life was never that easy and something was amiss! Down the drive we went, across the road and off towards Sherborne.
For once my stress levels were low and
nothing could possibly go wrong!
Y had her Rupert bear book cover
with her [her "safety" item of the week!],
and the boys were looking forwards to
the days adventures.
As I drove along the road [a dual carriageway!!!] the wonderful silence was suddenly broken by a weird noise; but a weird noise that could not be mistaken. A low humming noise; a humming noise that sounded remarkably like a bumblebee! In the mirror I saw Y, compete with Rupert Bear Book cover attempting to retain a very cross bee
by stroking its back, her hand cupped
around its body so it could not escape.
Y had brought the bumblebee for a ride...after all, it was where I said it should be; on flowers! It's just that these flowers were on the book cover and not real flowers in the garden.
Pulling over in a layby the bee then had to be carefully removed, much to its relief. Poor Y, however, was totally distraught. She absolutely could NOT understand the difference between flowers in the garden and those on the book cover. She had done what I said bees needed; her bee friend had not been to Sherborne and so she was taking it out for the afternoon; what was wrong with that?
The afternoon, needless to say, was not going to go the way we had hoped. Every other question from Y was "why are the flowers on the book no good for the bees?"
She would then repeat over and over the answer, seemingly accepting the reasons, and then ask the same questions as to why the bees could not come in the car yet again.
This constant barrage of repetitive questions is exhausting to deal with, but I knew I would have to keep answering and explaining in simple language and using other communication tools for several hours in order for Y to eventually grasp the concept.
Days later, the bumblebee adventure would be raised again with the same questions, but with time she started to understand. Six months later she was telling everyone that bees had to be on real flowers in the garden and why, that they could not come for a ride in the car and why, and several interesting facts about life as a bumblebee!
Phew...no more bumblebees!
HOWEVER!!!!!...the need for insects to be in the garden has only got as far as relating to a bee with Y!
She still fills the car with woodlice,
has been known to bring snails and worms
along in her pockets for the ride, and
last week decided to smuggle Twinkie [our cat!]
inside her coat when we went to collect son, George, from the station....aa-h; poor Twinkie...but tales about Twinkie are for the next chapter!
Y has had a much more settled few weeks which has made us all less on the "alert" as to what she may do next. In fact, the only thing of great significance was when we went to collect George from school one afternoon!
I have described in full what Y is like with our lovely cat, Twinkie. Although she still seeks the poor creature out on a daily basis, this has become less intense and Y's attention seems to be migrating more towards the garden and the emerging wildlife as the weather warms.
And looking back, I do wonder if her way with animals and creatures is partly my fault, stemming from when she was about the age of 2!
6 years ago, we had been out.in fact to court where the final approval of Y for adoption with us was signed off. It had been a lovely day and at last, after the traumas of the adoption process now over, we were all smiling and relieved. We came home and, as all the English tend to do, decide tea MUST be the first thing on the agenda! I placed Y in the playroom next to the kitchen on the floor by the large wooden toy box and was watching her from the kitchen whilst brewing the said tea.
After a few minutes I noticed a new toy next to Y on the floor...a snake. I was surprised as I did not think that the boys had a long rubber snake. Perhaps it had been given to one of them for their birthday at some point? Perhaps it had always been there amongst the pile of toys and I just had not noticed it?
I was about to walk back into the kitchen when I went cold!! The snake had flicked a tongue out at me! For a second I thought that I must be imagining this...
but when the snake did it again
and then started to move,
my deepest fears were met.
In the playroom was an adder...
probably come in with the cut wood
that was heaped by the fireplace!
Quick as a flash I grabbed Y and jumped on top of the toy box, calling out to the boys to stay where they were. The last thing I needed was for the snake to be startled and become angry...boys will be boys and be very inquisitive; a bit inappropriate at that particular moment!
The 2 menfolk working on the logs behind the house had come in for lunch...and were there debating what to do. They swayed from "trap it" and "kill it" to many other ways of trying to dispose of the snake...
which by now was getting restless.
I won't go into how it was removed here...but needless to say that by the time this had happened the snake had become very angry, had shot back into the toy box, under the toy box and behind the toy box on several occasions. As I stood on the box, long flowing dress on with Y in my arms, I had horrible visions of the snake sliding up the inside of my dress or winding itself around my feet! Panic...which transferred onto Y.
Y must have sense the urgency and fear in me...and then witnessed grown men trying to deal with the cross snake. Was this where her future treatment of animals and wildlife had stemmed? Had I inadvertently shown my daughter, who is somewhere on the autistic spectrum and takes things literally, a way to treat animals albeit the wrong way? Was I responsible for her reactions to this day with anything living?
In my defence, her SEN was not apparent at this early stage in her life, and so it was some time before I could recognise that all my actions and reactions would be absorbed by Y and repeated without her ever questioning whether the action and reaction was right. If I shouted at the snake and asked grown men to tackle it...she would think that this was fine for all creatures possibly?
Y has had problems with her eyes since birth...slight stigmatism and a possible "lazy" eye...and so regular trips to the children's Ophthalmology Department in Dorchester was on the cards from the start.
To start with these visits were pretty uneventful as Y would lie on my arms and just accept that some strange folk with odd shaped torches wanted to shine bright lights near her eyes. As time went on, however, Y became aware that these strange folk also had a variety of other tools
that they wanted to use on her,
including EYE DROPS!
For anyone out there who has had a child with eye issues, the putting in of eye drops to really allow the pupils to expand and hence allow a more thorough examination of the eye often means child melt down! For Y the melt downs became bigger and bigger! She was petrified and, before each visit to the hospital, would cry and ask if the drops had to be used.
Much cajoling had to be done and different tactics used each time...arriving just in time so we were immediately taken down for the tests; arriving an hour before hand so that she could play with the wonderful toys in the department;
taking her best teddy so he too could have
the drops put in;
promising a treat afterwards. I tried every trick
in the bookto ensure my little girl was
less fearful, but nothing worked.
Eventually the need for drops lessened and regular eye tests became sufficient for the ophthalmic teams to ascertain if Y's eyes had stabilised. Sadly for one lovely consultant the stopping of the eye drops came a little too late and he had to administer the final dose.
Sitting on my knee and looking very defiant, Y glared at the man, growling as she does when she really is not at all happy. As he lent forwards towards Y with the drops bottle, legs apart either side of the seat of his chair his face became contorted with pain...Y's quick angry action had meant that her right foot had made contact with a very delicate area of his. I do hope his wife has forgiven her!!!
The drops eventually got into Y's eyes despite the lull whilst the poor man got himself together again the best he could!
So...no more hospital appointments needed soon after this incident [I always wondered why that was!] and Y was "discharged" to be under the care of our local opticians...Scrivens.
The delight in Y was immense and she quickly became a real favourite of the team. She knew the staff by name, particularly loved a man called Tim, and would often make an unannounced visit just to say "hello!" In return she always had a tremendous welcome, the staff wondering what she had been up to and how she was getting on with her glasses.
So, onto the train, out came the toys, snacks and books...and off we went for what I thought would be a relaxing journey....NOT!!!!
We had just gone beyond Tisbury when Y started to look at me out of the corner of her eye and start to giggle. As her mother, I immediately recognised that giggle and knew she was up to something. When she did not stop and the giggling got louder, I asked her what was so funny. She produced her large toy rabbit, which is clothed with removable trousers and hat, and began to laugh really loudly, still giving me that naughty half-look sideways. I could just not see what she was finding so funny and so asked her again...
"Look!" she said and half pulled from under the rabbits hat a piece of string.
I am as blind as a bat with no glasses on, and so had to find them on top of my head to look more closely. Still nothing, she had a piece of string there...so what?
"Look" she said again, this time pulling the "string" a bit further out.
As the "string" was closely followed by something black, my stomach lurched...and VERY rapidly in as harsh a voice as I could muster quietly so other passengers did not hear I said...
"Don't you DARE let that mouse out here!"
Yes...Y had brought Maurice along for a ride, to "visit my sister as he had not met her yet, and to play with her cat!"
Y knew she had done wrong, but the innocence behind her thought processes could not be argued with. Why not bring your mouse along?
My fear was that Maurice would escape, some one would take fright, and the alarm would be pulled. That would have put HNT in the spotlight I suppose...especially if I was then charged with being a terrible mother unable to control her autistic daughter!
The remaining journey to Andover seemed to take a lifetime...and when the train pulled into the station I have never escaped so fast off a platform in my life. Meeting us was my sister and partner, the latter of which I asked politely to remove Maurice from the rabbits hat and dispose of. Aah...he pulled by the tail out fom the rabbit Maurice...dead, half decomposed Maurice! Yes, cat Twinkie had done her job those few days ago, but had not disposed of her prey very well; certainly not well enough for a child with SEN not to find!
Poor Y...she just could not understand why we felt bringing Maurice was so wrong. I explained to her about the fact he was dead and that he would not be able to see the train, my sister or her cat, and that once dead we needed to leave animals alone.
She was mortified poor girl...her friend, despite his state, was her friend that she talked to, nurtured and fed. Her first "bereavement" and we had to deal with it that day immediately!
The day was good, however, especially when Y found more wildlife in the garden at my sisters, all her makeup and jewellery, lots of things in bedroom drawers!...
and a grumpy cat!
The return journey had to now be more peaceful surely! Well, actually NOT...
Salisbury loomed...the train stopped
...I was starting to doze off a little...
"Excuse me madam, but the train divides here...you need to be in the front 3 coaches!" A beaming guard loomed over us!
NOOO!!!! No wonder the coach was empty...how can SW trains be so cruel!! Here we were, Y settled, I actually relaxing after the day, and NO disruptions!
A quick and flustered grab of the toys, coats and Y...and off the train [helped by lovely guards who realised that I needed a hand], and back on again into a VERY packed second class carriage. Here there was HUSTLE, BUSTLE, NOISE, URGENCY by me as the train needed to leave the station, my slightly RAISED VOICE...EVERYTHING that Y could not cope well with. I could sense her uncertainty, her slight recoil, her agitation starting to build.
A seat was found...our backs to the engine this time which is never as good for us...and facing a poor Uni Student whose books on the table in front of her
spelt to us ygolohcysP dlihC...!
Child Psychology! Thank goodness...
she would understand Y if anyone did!
There she was, trying to study...
6 pack of lagers on the table!!.
and grinning her head off as Y
began to play up to her attention. Dropping her little doll onto the floor just so that the student picked them up for her; smiling that naughty smile [the same one that she did when she produce Maurice on the outward journey] as she dropped the little doll again and again and again!
All was calm...Y was happy, she had not escalated into a meltdown with the change...she was coping! I felt a sense of relief and a feeling of warmth again in me.
SUDDENLY, laughing at the student again, Y looked at me and then over her shoulder...she had caught a glimpse of the ALARM PULL which was situated directly above her head. My heart reached the pit of my stomach as mum and child's minds met in sync! As she jumped up, reflex reactions in me also jumped, both of us reaching the alarm pull simultaneously!
The student grinned,
Y was laughing her little head off,
other passengers were looking...
and I was almost in meltdown myself
as I said to my fellow traveller...
"Phew! That was close!"
to which the reply was...
"Yes; but it would have been bloody funny wouldn't it!"
Well...from an outsiders point of view watching my little girl...yes it would have been!
From Y's point of view; I don't blame her for wanting to pull that red handle...why not? I would have done!!!
During this time, however,
Y looked extremely puzzled.
Her brow was one long frown
and she peered continuously
at the screen. Suddenly she
sat up straight and with a
very determined voice stated...
"Don't be silly mummy. They're not Guards. They're in fancy Dress...were they going to the party too?"
How the boys contained their laughing I don't know...it was the direct serious nature of the statement that made it even more funny. Y thought the Queen's Guards
had bears on their heads...
and in fact all looked as though they
were trying to be a character from
one of her Rupert Bear Annuals.
She thought the Yeoman of the Guard were another type of Treacle Eater Clog Dancers and were going to use their staffs in some sort of dance at the party, and the household cavalry were going to perform some jousting match in front of the Royal stand!
And actually...looking at the pictures I could see her point. She had seen medieval jousting at our local Sherborne Fayre, joined in the street dancing with numerous brightly clad groups at various fetes and festivals, and I could immediately recall the character from her Rupert Bear annuals.
Unfortunately, the boys laughing made Y pretty cross and so no explanation of the pomp and ceremony and the history of the Guards could be made at the time. Maybe another time when she and I have some time together.
As it was, the final decision to stop the slide show was made when I put up the photograph of The Royal Family at the start of the garden party.
"Now you are being REALLY silly mummy...
that's not the Queen.
The Queen wears a Crown and
definitely doesn't carry an umbrella!"
And with that Y stomped off..
to find woodlice!
Two days ago, the sun was shining and we decided that it was time to give the gate around the vegetables a coat of paint.
Actually, it was going to be little Peter's job and would hopefully keep him happy for an hour or so. Armed with a bucket of wood stain and brush off he went....
promptly spilling half the wood stain all
over the floor and down his trousers!
Never mind, the rain which we are bound to
have this summer would wash the courtyard eventually!
Y was determined also to join in and was very upset when she was immediately told by Peter to "go away!" in no uncertain terms. Of course she wanted to paint! The gate was definitely big enough and long enough for her to do one end whilst Peter did the other, but as all parents know "sharing" at times just does not happen between siblings. This was now "Peter's Gate" and was not going to be anyone else's!
So with a grumpy Y in tow I tried to placate her by getting her to join in other tasks in the garden, but of course the fixation for her now was the absolute need to paint in some form or other. Bugs, bees, and even earwigs
would not take the place of painting
this morning...and off she stomped
growling and muttering under her
breath into the house.
Ten minutes later Y reappeared...arms full of tins and brushes. She had raided George's precious paint box and had discovered oils, watercolours, pallets and a range of beautiful unused brushes of every shape, form and size. The grin on her face was enormous as she showed me her hoard.
The delight in her must have been immense
when she realised that she too could now
paint in the garden and have even better
tools than Peter had to use!
Of course, the sad end to this part of the tale is that the paints and brushes had to be removed and put back into George's room before he returned...much to Y's annoyance. A meltdown was inevitable and I had to quickly think on my feet as to an alternative way for her to be creative. It was really unfair wasn't it...if only I had thought ahead and brought a second wood stain brush!
AAh...an idea...one that I thought was great at the time but have now lived to regret......
I rummaged in the utility room and found some old paints that had been lying around from when the bathrooms were painted...one nearly full pot of white metal and wood paint, and one egg shell emulsion. Y's face lit up when she saw me with them...and she decided we could mix the colours in a large bowl for her. We managed to find some old used brushes that were really only worth throwing out as they were rather congealed but would "do" for now, and then a rag of a jumper that would cover Y from head to toe. I was determined for her not to be completely white by the end of the morning!
So, into the garden we went to seek out an ancient pallet, stones and planks of wood that Y could decorate with her own paint pot. By this time, needless to say, Peter was "bored" and had become quite slapdash with his handy work. More wood stain was on the stones, less on the fence...and he offered Y the brush! Too late...Y now had her own equipment and was on a mission to produce an amazing piece of artwork! Bad luck Peter...he just had to carry on! As we told him later...if he had shared in the first place...etc etc etc!
Work began and sitting on the courtyard floor Y got busy! She painted everything in her sight, but unlike Peter very carefully and with real precision. One thing that is certain with her is that her art and colouring in school is precise and accurate, colour never going outside even the finest of lines. So off I went to pot plants in the raised beds and quite positive that both children would be happy for the half hour before lunch.
My 7 year old daughter has global developmental delay and is on the autistic spectrum. Although she is highly functioning, she still has many common traits of children with SEN...such as having fixations on objects, and an extremely imaginative mind!
Y's real love is of her Rupert Bear annual...because Rupert has a face that smiles and that she is able to chat to continually throughout the day. Rupert goes everywhere with her, is propped up watching her when she eats or does any activity...to make her "feel safe" as she will tell you. If Rupert is not around...disaster ensues and it is as if the whole world has ended for her...and meltdown begins!
Y also loves wildlife...any type from bumble bees to birds, butterflies to woodlice. In fact, the latter were her favourite until the day she met Maurice the Mouse!
One hot day last year she spied, to her delight, a field mouse squeezing through a hole in our barn wall in order to reach a plant growing alongside. Having watched it intently for several minutes, talking to it as if it was a real person, she told me that it was now HER mouse and we named it Maurice!
Each day she would go to see if Maurice was around...even dragging her little garden chair to a spot where she could watch for him, sometimes armed with foliage to put by the hole in the wall for him to eat. Most days she would come back looking rather forlorn as Maurice "didn't come to see me today, Mummy!"
The days went by and autumn meant we spent less time in the early evening outside and migrated into the sitting room where there is a large inglenook fireplace. I had forgotten really about Maurice, even though Y kept saying that Maurice now visited her in the house each day and she was feeding him! I would answer the statutory "Yes", "No", "that's lovely Y", etc really only half listening and at best presuming Y's imaginary friend was just that...in her imagination. How wrong could I be....
One evening, son George [who is nearly 17] and I were watching the late news...and we suddenly met Maurice!
He appeared from where Y had said he was coming in from,
and just sat and looked at us...not worried about us at all...
and obviously awaiting some crumbs from the biscuits we were eating!
Oh no...our house is an old farmhouse stuck in the middle of fields...mice are NOT the best thing for us to see here!
The following day I asked Y about Maurice and she described openly how he would come in through the hole, watch her, and she would go to the kitchen and get bits of bread and cheese for him!
PANIC...was there more than one Maurice in the cavities!!!
To my relief a day later Twinkie, our cat, walked around the corner of the drive with a mouse hanging from her mouth. PHEW!!!...although I then had to get the courage up to tell Y! Poor Maurice! I knew there would be upset and so I thought I would leave it a few days and see if she said anything about him not appearing...and then sort of "white lie" by saying that perhaps he had found a warm place to stay in during the winter months.
The following weekend I needed to go to Andover to see my sister, and as the boys did not want to go I thought it would be fun for Y to come with me on the train...
it was only going to be an hours
trip which she would cope with.
So, armed with a multitude of toys
to help entertain her during the ride
including her large toy rabbit,
we set off to the station.
The first thing that we had to do was to remove all the woodlice from the car, her hands and pockets...and leave them on the grass at the station car park.
She had brought them along for the ride...ahh!
I did retain the largest one though for her to
have on the train...
giving fellow passengers much amusement
as Y talked to it nonstop along the journey!
As predicted, lunchtime came and Y showed me her handy work; Peter was in a huff as he now had had enough of his chore and wanted to play on his bike which was fair enough, and all were hungry...including George who had returned home.
Lunch went quite smoothly in the garden. The dogs were lying in the shade and Twinkie the cat was nowhere to be seen...a blessing as Y, as you know by now, makes a beeline for her immediately she comes into sight. Hopefully Twinkie would stay out of sight until we went out in the afternoon!
Suddenly there was a roar from George...
an angry roar as he appeared from the kitchen
with Twinkie in arms.
"Y...what have you done to my cat?"
George was furious and fuming...steam almost visible from his ears! Oh Lord, what had happened?
Twinkie at that point leapt from George's arms and staggered in a very odd way under the nearest car! What on earth was the problem?!!
"Y has painted Twinkie and the paint has made her fur all stiff and now she cannot walk properly! It's completed matted!"
I have never seen George angry like this...surely he was wrong? BUT...no...when I turned to see Y's face I knew instinctively he was right. Y's face was frozen...and then she started to cry.
"Don't cry Y...just tell me what has happened"...being cross, and demanding what Y had done would have escalated the situation and I would not have got to the truth. Previous occasions of a similar nature had taught me to tread carefully and in a nurturing way [even though I may have been extremely cross inside] as this was the only way for Y to calmly tell me the story behind the event. She would always then be honest and tell me in detail how it happened.
"Did you paint Twinkie?"
"Yes I did"
"Ok...can you tell me why you painted her?"
"I painted my hands all over
and then wanted to stroke Twinkie"
This I could see as during the morning Y had decided to completely cover her hands with the paint and half her feet, and then came running into the house with glee to show me. Of course this ended up in stern words as to why it was not such a great idea and that the paint should stay on the wood, followed by much scrubbing in order to remove the said paint! My kitchen sink, needless to say, is still white with an egg shell tinge!
BUT...poor Twinkie...it turned out that Y had NOT merely stroked her with painted hands but had decided that a bit of "touching up" of the cat was needed...i.e. covering her patches of grey [Twinkie is a Tabby!] The cat had undergone a repaint to make her "all white".
Fortunately, by the look of it the cat had managed to get away before too much damage was done. However, as the paint stiffened on her fur it made her look as if she had become some sort of yard brush with bristles sticking out in all direction. Her walk had become one as of a cowboy with her hips swinging out further than usual to take steps, and her back looked as though it had a Mohican haircut!
As expected, this time Y had to be severely spoken to as the paint could have been toxic. I hope she has understood and we now wait with bated breath to see if it has sunk in...We will ask her repeatedly about the dangers of paint over the next few weeks to reinforce this and use stories and other means and tools to repeat the learning.
In the meantime, poor Twinkie...has been subjected to a haircut and a bath! Cats, for 90% of the time, want to kill their owners...or so it is said! I think in Twinkie's eyes, this has now gone dramatically up!
I had gone to collect Y and there appeared to be no "little person" in any pocket...a break through! Y did not need a safety toy with her...or so I thought! As we went down the path, Y started to giggle...that giggle and grin that I described in chapter one that means she is "up to something"! I immediately knew...somewhere on her person was a toy.
"Y, why are you laughing?"
No response as she ran faster down the path towards the gate.
Catching up with her I laughed and jokingly said, "Where are they?"
With a huge laugh, Y promptly lifted her dress to knee height.
[her dresses were always long due to her then tiny stature!]
Stuffed down her tights [both legs!] were a number of
"little people". How she had walked without any wobble
or anyone noticing was beyond me. How and when did
she squirrel them away?
The toys also filled her dress pockets...but how could I be cross? My little girl and progressed...she could now joke with us, play a game on us, work out how to get past "Furmage" without being noticed! Y had also known it was wrong to "steal" and so had openly indicated to me what she had, so that I found the toys before getting home. She had made a joke of it all and even laughed as she returned her "booty" to "Furmage".
I remember wondering how to explain all this to "Furmage" without feeling too much parental guilt...but I need not have worried! The good lady herself was at the door of the nursery, hands crossed in front of her tummy grinning...she too had recognised the progress in Y and her social skills and what a break through it all was.
We kept in touch with Mr and Mrs Furmage after Y went on to mainstream school. My little girl is winning her battle with SEN...she will reach her full potential if she comes across teachers that are as caring and knowledgeable as "Furmage" and if she gets the specific support throughout her schooling in whatever form is needed at any one time.
I cannot thank Yeovil Opportunity Group and "Furmage" enough for the start they have given Y...without them life would have been so very different.
BUT...now for the sad part...
"Furmage" gave up running the nursery at the end of last term. Ill health and the need to have time relaxing with Vic, her husband, were behind this very difficult decision for her. When the door closed for the final time it must have been heart rendering for her, as well as for all the parents and children who had benefited so much from her support.
I remember asking Vic what they would do over the summer holidays and his reply was "We don't need to go away as we live in the most beautiful part of the world", and how right he was! I gather trips to Lyme Regis which was a favourite place of "Furmages" may have been on the cards but otherwise nothing too far.
I wish I could see "Furmage" once more and really tell her what a difference she has made to Y and myself...but sadly this is not possible as yesterday I heard from Vic that "Furmage" had suddenly been taken ill and had died only the day before. My heart goes out to him and them family but what wonderful memories of her they will have.
Once the Y tales are ready for publication, and the art work completed, this first book will be dedicated to "Furmage"...and I am hoping that Vic and the family will let me have some photographs to add from the nursery days of this amazing woman.
Book 2 stories are already piling up as Y gets older...but for now,
"Furmage" ...............THANK YOU!
Interestingly, Y will recount this episode. She remembers such finite detail....and so now I have been able to explain to her about adders and the fact that they are ok if undisturbed. Many trips to Portland and especially Church Ope Cove have helped her understand this as at certain times of the year there is a real chance adders will be seen. She will tell you of their colour, where they live, when they get angry, and about their bite...and then go into a long tale of when there was one in her playroom!
So...going back to Twinkie and other animals...maybe yes, this is where her strange behaviour stems from. BUT, as I said at the start, Y seems to be better with Twinkie over these last few weeks, accepting that she cannot just grab at her or hide her...or so I thought...!!!
We had gone to get George from school. The other boys stayed at home but Y insisted on coming too.
So, shoes on and into the car, and off we went.
Y seemed happy enough and was, as usual
cuddling her Rupert Bear book cover and rabbit.
As we drove down the drive
[which fortunately is fairly long!!!]
Y started to laugh.
It was that giggle that I described in chapter one; the one that made me immediately think that she was up to mischief! In fact...I did not just "think" this but KNEW it!
In the drivers mirror I saw her face; the huge grin, the hunched up shoulders as she tried to stop laughing, and the glance over her shoulder. And then I saw...and ground the car to a halt with a shudder!
There peering over the back seat
from the boot peered Twinkie!
A rather perturbed Twinkie wondering
where she was going. In fact, probably
a very worried Twinkie as the only time she comes in the car is when going to the vet!!
Y was in fits of giggles. She had decided that Twinkie needed an outing and that coming to Sherborne would be fun! After all, “George is at the school and Twinkie would love to see where he went each day!"
Y's description as to why the cat may enjoy the journey made sense. Why should she not come along for the ride and see a place she had never visited before?
Needless to say, the cat was removed from the car much to the stress of Y and it then took most of the evening to placate her and make her understand why it was not sensible for her to ride in the car. AGAIN, Y will tell everyone about this journey, and although now laughs when she tells them, she ALWAYS has a serious warning to the listener that they should not do this and why!
The lesson has been learned I hope...but the best part of it all is that Y has developed a real sense of humour! At times, usually when we are in a hurry to get somewhere and we are running late, Y will suddenly say in her loudest voice...”guess what, mummy! Twinkie is here in the car"
For a child on the autistic spectrum who can take life as face value and often very seriously, this is a brilliant breakthrough as she will be able to join in and understand jokes and be more spontaneous in her speech and language.
We are now just awaiting the next chapter from her...what WILL she do next!
We have a beautiful tabby cat called Twinkie...or rather, perhaps I should say that 17 year old son George has. He had Twinkie for his 9th birthday and the two are inseparable!
When George arrives home from school, Twinkie immediately appears from where she has been hibernating all day [usually from one of the barns] to seek George out. He cannot even put down his bags before she arrives, winding around his legs and purring deeply. AND, it's not just "cupboard love" either. She crawls up his shirt to nestle either across his neck and shoulders or on his chest, throws herself lengthways across his lap when he is computing, and loves to knead his bare legs in the summer with her sharp claws!
If the response from George to this attention is not immediate or is deemed in anyway inadequate by Twinkie, it gradually progresses from being affectionate and loving up a scale to completely annoying! She will sit next to the computer allowing her tail to swish across the screen so that George cannot see; she will plonk herself squarely actually
on the computer keyboard; she will
sit facing George staring straight at
him until her bright eyes cannot
be ignored anymore!
Twinkie is also great fun! She plays with the two springer spaniels, but is definitely "the boss" when it comes to putting them in order. She chases balls of string, loves to be dragged around on a cushion on the kitchen tiles, and adores ice cream! The children all love her and it is reciprocated...that is, until it comes to Y!!!
Y....sadly Twinkie is frightened of her. When Y appears, Twinkie's ears go flat, her back arches, her eyes become like saucers and she will cuddle up to George even more. If Y gets too near, Twinkie will scrabble away and hide...sometimes under the desk or beds, sometimes behind the refectory table leg [which can completely shield her from sight] and
sometimes, if there is time, making
a getaway outside.
The story of this fear goes back to when Y was very small. Her fascination of wildlife and creatures in general have been there from the start. Her overly curious mind has made her want to investigate every inch of the said creature, wanting to know exactly how each part works and "why"! Insects have been collected in boxes to be "looked after" only to be discovered by myself or one of the boys days later and sadly rather dead!
We cannot go past anyone in the street with a dog without Y making a dart for it and wanting to cuddle it!
It has taken months to install in her that not
all animals want this attention that some
animals may be aggressive, and she always
needs to ask the owner’s permission before
stroking the pet. At last she seems to have
grasped that idea, and will very politely ask
the owner four questions...
"Can I stroke her?"
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"What's his/her name?"
"What type of dog is he/she?"
The questions NEVER vary...and once told Y will never forget! It can be weeks later that she sees the same dog and owner again, but she will again make a beeline for them, calling out the pets name and going through the same four questions with the owner.
The problem starts though as she gets to the last question...I know that then I have little time to react! As soon as the final answer to this question is stated, Y will investigate the poor animal...every orifice, paw, tail, eyes....literally everything, unless I am there to stop her. We go through the ritual of "just stroke the dog, Y" demonstrating how it is done caringly, but every time when you think she has got it, the fast fingers shoot out and the animal has some part of its body examined! Most owners are pretty tolerant of this and for that I am grateful. If they weren't I would constantly be deemed as a terrible mother who cannot control her daughter!
A trip out to Sherborne is therefore never easy...and walking at the coast...well! It's not the physical walking that is so shattering but the constant vigilance on what Y is about to do and what animals are around that she may just want to give her undivided attention to!
So, back to Twinkie. The cat has not escaped the daily attentions of Y. When people say that 90% of the time your cat would actually like to kill you as their wild ancestors would have done, I would never have believed it; until it comes to Y!
One weekend a year ago, Y was playing upstairs in her bedroom...quite happy and singing to herself as she often does. The boys were all busy in the garden and the house was peaceful and everything seemingly appeared to be for once calm. The two spaniels were asleep in the sun and I remember feeling good about the world...until...
Peter suddenly enquired as to where Twinkie was. It was, as I have stated before, unusual for her not to be with George. Everyone stopped...yes; unusual to say the least. A search started in case we had inadvertently locked her in one of the barns, she was asleep in the car [often a lovely sunny and warm place for her], or she was in fact snuggled up with the dogs. Nothing! I remember the tension in the air rose slightly...had she wandered down the drive onto the road at the bottom? Was she safe? Had she been hit by a car? Seemingly far-fetched for most people reading this but a real fear for us as her sister, Moppet, had done just that as a kitten and the scenario had not been good when she had met a lorry!
So...again...the search and again, nothing! Eventually Y came downstairs asking what the commotion was all about. I set about calmly explaining that Twinkie was not to be found, worried that Y would react and go into a meltdown.
I explained that she was probably
hunting or had found a nice cosy
part of the garden to settle down in.
A few weeks ago I had to be away in London for the weekend. As usual, on these odd occasions of my absence from home, two of Y's Godparents came to "hold the fort". They have known the children for several years and so have grown to understand Y's wonderful ways. They can mostly also manage her slightly more bizarre behaviour and so when the day loomed, off I went quite happily on the train.
I knew that I would have to be completely focused on the journey as ahead lay what would be without doubt the most ferocious of interviews. Notes were out,
mini essays that I written were read and
then re-read, along with my detailed and
carefully planned out business plan which
I knew would be shredded in time by the
My mind kept wondering back, however, to the children. I did hope that they would be ok without too many hiccups. Y would be fine and enjoy the different company I was sure.
Turning over the pages of my application form I was suddenly very LESS sure, as there, drawn right across the middle of the third page was a huge smiling face; the handy work of none other than Y! Too late to do anything about it now accept rummage frantically through my file of "extra copies" of my precious paperwork and find a replacement.
The weekend went well; the interview less well! [but that in itself is another story!!] So I returned home on the Sunday eager to get back to "normality" and hear news of the children. I was met by them full of excitement and, as usual on these occasions, was immediately asked by the three boys "did you bring anything back from London for us?" Y on the other
hand decided to bypass this and just head
straight for my suitcase allowing everything
to spill out all over the floor in a heap.
Reassuring them that I had indeed something for each of them, and that they would get these once their Godparents had left, they scurried off in different directions whilst I eagerly waited to hear from the two adults how the children had been. All had been apparently fine with no real major hiccups. The house was in one piece, Twinkie had not been held hostage by Y, the dogs had enjoyed all the walking and attention, and miraculously all the homework had been completed. The typical guilt of them being super parents for the weekend, where I often struggle to keep it all together as a single parent, started to wash over me...but was quickly put to one side again when the children reminded me that this was novel to the Godparents as they have no such daily pressures of parenting.
Monday...3pm...time to collect Peter and Y from their primary school. As I got to the school office entrance I was pounced on my Y's teaching Assistant.
"Rachel, I need to speak to you regarding Y today!"
My heart sank, but then caught the slight twinkle in the TA's eyes and the slight upward twitch of her mouth. Maybe this was not going to be as bad as I had initially thought; maybe I would not be in for a mammoth ticking off after all? Maybe the lack of the stern face that said "you must be a terribly bad mother to let Y do this" was not coming? Maybe Y had not done anything too mischievous?
"Today, Rachel, Y bit another child's ear!"
Oh Lord, my first positive vibes had
been shattered in one sentence! Yet,
still the TA looked slightly amused as she
explained what happened.
A little boy in the class had stumbled over one of Y's chair legs and had let out huge wails, shouting and getting angry as though it was Y's fault. Y had been deeply upset at this...firstly she cannot do loud wails and yelling as it actually hurts her ears, secondly she was being accused very unjustly of causing the accident, and thirdly she had just had enough of the day in general, was tired and wanted herself to go home. I gather there was a bit of foot stamping too [as all little boys do when cross] and this just added to Y's agitation!
Well, as has now been seen I was really lucky to be invited to The Queen's Garden Party last week as Founder of Hidden Needs Trust. However, family illness...i.e.: son Peter suddenly being admitted into hospital the weekend before...meant that it was touch and go whether I would be able to attend. However, thanks to the amazing care the paediatric staff at Yeovil Hospital gave to Peter I found myself running around on the Sunday frantically trying to find dress, shoes, hat, gloves and bag ready for "the off" on the Monday!
In some ways this proved to be beneficial to Y as there was no real "run up" to the event and she had very little time to worry about the fact that I was to be away for 3 days. When the suitcase came out she promptly wanted to help with packing...not really very helpful as all my makeup of course had to be tried by her first! This means every inch of her face plastered, every colour of my nail varnish used and then a million wet wipes needed later much to her annoyance as she was made back to her original colour!
But...she seemed very happy that mummy was going to see The Queen and even told me how to address her Majesty! This was a break through as usually if I am away she is very fretful...maybe the thought of her wonderful Child Sitter coming for the 3 days helped! i.e.; late bedtimes, lots of fun and attention, and plenty of treats!
On the Monday morning off I set for
3 days of great fun with HNT Co-Worker Pete.
I rang home each day just to check that all
was ok on the home front and that
no disasters had happened.
Had Twinkie the cat, been harassed by Y?
Had Y put her in the Child Sitters car
and taken her for a ride?
Had Y bitten any other child's ear?
With nothing drastic being reported back the days went without any anxiety on my part, knowing that my little autistic daughter was obviously feeling safe and not getting into too much trouble.
I returned on the Wednesday evening to a bouncy family, Y immediately asking what I had in my case for her.
Presents were given out and after
getting full reports from the boys
on how everything had been,
it was time to get them all to bed
with a promise that photographs would be shown the next evening.
I climbed into bed tired but still buzzing with memories from the former 3 days...what an honour it had been to represent HNT and the SEN children and their families. The children I support will love the photographs and tales and maybe one day will be able to meet the Royal Family themselves?
Suddenly I noticed something hard under the duvet, on top of one of the pillows...2 little plastic people, one pink and one blue. They had been placed carefully so that only when the duvet was pulled down could they be seen. Immediately I knew who had put them there...Y! Thoughts whizzed through my head...why had she put them there and when? What was in her mind? There was definitely going to be some significance to this.
Chapter 1 described the adventurous time on the train with Y [and a rather DEAD Maurice!] getting up to my visit my sister. Chapter 2 was going to be about the lovely relaxing time I had with my sister...somehow this just didn't happen as you will see!
What actually followed was an exhausting 4 hours at her immaculate and not-so child friendly house. After all, she is slightly older than me, has one child who is in his last year at University, has a very important job in London and a wonderful partner...why should her house be child-proof, let alone autism friendly!?
We spent 6 hours watching Y's every move, following her wherever she decided to go, explaining that the majority of what she found fun to play with was actually "not a toy", and picking things up she readily discarded. We put away jewellery and other items she found in the bedside cupboard and had to on numerous occasions remove the [understandably cross!] cat from being squeezed, pulled, carried and chased!
This little girl may be tiny,
but what energy she has!
So, a day catching up news with my sister, who I don't see more than twice a year at best, clearly was NOT going to happen. The odd word and phrase was passed between us...usually along the lines from her of "does she always do this?" and "you must be exhausted at the end of each day...", followed by grunts from me
as I save yet another item
from Y's clutches, was the
highlight of the visit.
BUT...Y was totally happy.
Maurice was forgotten,
she was running around intrigued
by the new environment and totally absorbed by all the wonderful new "toys"...in my heart I was also happy; shattered but happy. She was coping with the different environments, noises, sensory inputs and people well...yes; a breakthrough and I was happy!
Teatime...a cup of tea in peace, surely was due; a few minutes before the return journey to Sherborne. Y seemed tired and placated, and a video was found for her to relax to. Ahh...bless her...within a few minutes she was up again, intrigued by the candle holders and fireplace. No tea today!
Suddenly it was 20 minutes before our train home.
A rush into the car, back to the station...and fortunately NO time to search to see if the dead Maurice was still there where he was left. Y immediately remembered though where he was and was distraught with grief...her Maurice was staying behind! Another counselling session re mice and bereavements would be on the cards on the train!
But for now, onto the train with seconds to spare...a wave to my sister...and then to relax!
We quickly found a seat...ooh...don't tell anyone but we were in First Class with No-One telling us to go into second! A table, in fact a WHOLE carriage, to ourselves; slightly wider seats and blue seats NOT red ones! Luxury...and all the toys in Y's bag again came out ready for the "off!"!
Lesson to all...never try to clean up polystyrene balls with a hoover! When you are half asleep and try it that is, I suppose, excusable. BUT it definitely is NOT a good idea. The hoover spits the balls all back out from every orifice it has...a bit like a pump actioned machine gun with balls flying everywhere! There was only one way this bedroom and landing was going to be cleaned...by a stiff garden brush and by hand. Every book page had to be wiped, every teddy shaken, every bit of wall and ceiling brushed, every picture frame washed! I think we finished 21/2 hours later...suddenly the laughter had gone: it wasn't funny any more and frustration started to build!
For 3 days, yes 3 days!!...
I continually found tiny balls
in places I never would have
thought they would have got into.
The next day, Y awoke and was mortified that Dave had in fact "died"! She cried and was so sad. She no longer had him to watch her and chat to. BUT she had learnt a lesson as was apparent when I asked her what had happened to Dave...
"Dave was crinkly, mummy. He made a noise when I squeezed him, I wanted to know why, so I found some scissors and cut him open!"
Firstly, scissors in this house and hidden well away so I was astounded. Y had crept into my bedroom whilst Will and I were downstairs, rummaged through every drawer until she found the nail scissors! [my door now has a lock on it, I hasten to add!]
I asked Y what happened when she cut Dave. Her answer...
"He burst open and lots of stuff came out. It was like snow and I played in the snow!"
By now Y was grinning, full of excitement, as she told me how she jumped in the balls, made a sort of "Ballman", through the balls up in the air to see if they would stick to the ceiling...she had had such a fun sensory time!!!
How could I be cross with her! Why would she not want to know what was in the Minion? Why would she not have fun with this fake "snow"? Her little brain, full of interest and its highly inquisitive nature was doing what it did naturally.
A stern talking about scissors and rummaging through drawers that contained other peoples things was as much as I could muster, before she told me more of her night time antics with the balls. Her face, full of delight just melted our hearts.
As for poor Dave, we had to put him into a bin bag and then sadly he had to go. Y, unbelievably, was not upset at this point as I had expected her to be. When I suggested we got her a replacement Dave [one that was not stuffed!!] her reaction was simply...
"No. That wouldn't be Dave. He's gone...but I had great fun with him!"
What do you say to that? Dave was quickly replaced by a book cover; Little Miss Naughty
if I remember correctly.
This now came everywhere with her...
another face with a smile that she
could chat to, even though just
an image on a book.
It made me realise just how important these objects are to Y. She needs something she is completely attached to with her; especially at times of change or when she is uncertain about things. The object, however weird it seems to us, is the key to ensuring she feels safe, and when she has it with her she feels able to join in with others and her self esteem must therefore be up. Without the objects, there can be frequent meltdowns.
I wish teachers at school would recognise this! So what if she has a doll sitting on the table whilst she works, or looking at her from afar. It means she feels safe, can do her school work, focus and join in with the other pupils. The object will help her concentrate...and, maybe every 10-15 minutes, she can play with the object to give her overworked mind a break! She will, then focus for those minutes and work well, knowing there is a treat at the end of it.
As for all those who disagree with an SEN child having almost fixations on objects, we all have objects that mean so much to us. We may carry a photograph around in a handbag, have a favourite image on our phones, like wearing a particular object on a daily basis that perhaps has a nice fee and makes us feel warm. I am sure many of us remember going into exams or into an interview with particular "good luck" objects.
Just because Y takes slightly more random items around with her,, she is in fact not really any different.
The evening after my return from London,
the children wanted to see photographs of the
Queen's Garden Party.
Y, having peeled herself away from the
courtyard where she had been avidly
watching the bumble bees flying in and
out of their hole, was particularly
interested in the wildlife in St James' Park.
We had hit a really good time to visit as the birds were proudly escorting their very young offspring around the paths or encouraging them to take first tentative steps into the water from the nests.
Amazingly, Y knew many of the bird names including the Heron, Moorhen, Coot, and Pelicans. We have an enormous amount of birdlife here at home and of course she loves anything to do with nature and so I was not particularly surprised.
Suddenly she grinned...
"Mummy, did you know Mrs C is having twins?"
[Mrs C is one of the staff at Y's school and is 1/2 way through a pregnancy]
"Yes I did, Y, isn't she lucky!"
"That Pelican is going to come from London and get her babies out soon"
MMMM...Y had seen lots of cards
in our local stationary shop for
"new arrivals"! And of course on
many of them is a picture of a
Stork carrying a baby!
How was I going to explain this one?
Y is always very vocal when she sees a pregnant lady. Only 2 days ago, in the reception area of school was such a lady with rather a large bump. Immediately Y ran up to her, stared at her tummy and went...
"Ooohhh..you've got a baby in there!" in her loudest voice, followed by...
"When is it coming out?"
I don't think that she actually waited for an answer as something else had caught her attention and she had bolted off.
She has also decided very definitely that she would NOT want to have a baby herself and has told me on numerous occasions that they make too much noise!
Back to the photographs, and on from the birds and wildlife of the Royal Park to the Palace itself. The boys all loved the photographs of the various Guards, the horses and the marching. Questions were asked about the different roles the Household Cavalry had in comparison to The Yeomen of the Guard and The Queen's Guard, and time was spent finding information on the internet and more images. Fortunately Pete had managed to capture the music from the Queen's Guard band as they made their way to the Palace for Changing of the Guards so the boys could put music to images.
Charity Number 1187246
When I was growing up my wonderful Granny taught me how to stroke bumblebees bees. Her beautiful garden in Pulham Market in Norfolk was full of brightly coloured and heavily scented flowers that attracted a multitude of bees, butterflies and birds. I remember watching, fascinated, as the bees followed the runway on the petals which took them deep into the flower heads towards their reward.
My children now also have a love
of the garden wildlife, including little Y.
She will spend hours hunting for bugs and
beatles, but nothing excites her more than
the butterflies and bumblebees. She, as I did, will stroke the bees and watch them being busy.
One day last summer I noticed that Y kept visiting a particular place in our courtyard. On investigation it appeared that she had come across a hole in the ground...and the bumblebees were flying in and out. She had discovered their home!
"LOOK, Mummy...this is where they live!"
The excitement in her voice and the beaming smile said it all. For days she would watch the business of the bees, peering as near as she dared to the hole without disturbing them. Every morning she would check that they were still there. Every evening she would say goodnight to them.
All rather sweet until....
I had been out in the garden and for once Y had not appeared. Most unusual for her as the sun was out...a typical summers day! I thought I had better check what she was doing and ventured back to the house.
On entering the kitchen I noticed the door to the playroom was closed, but could see Y through the glass panel playing on the window seat. She was absorbed, talking away and obviously oblivious to anything else but the "toys" she was playing with.
As I opened the door, the noise hit me...a very loud droning sound, a sound that could not be mistaken!
The sound of a beehive!
In the large playroom window
were 22 bumblebees, all trying
to escape back into the garden.
Y had brought them in carefully,
one by one, and was happily chatting away to them as if they were her little friends.
When I asked her why she had the bees in the playroom the innocence in her voice and manner could not be argued with
"They have come go play Mummy! I wanted them to see my toys!"
Well...of course. Y just wanted the bees to share her toys and have fun! Why not? She has been taught to share her things with others, so all she was doing was being kind!
Having painstakingly removed all 22 bumblebees with care so as not to hurt them, BUT much to Y's annoyance and protest, I then had the task of trying to explain that the bees needed to "play" in the garden and not inside; that the flowers were where the bees especially loved to be, out in the sunshine and in the warm rays.
Y appeared to understand this and helped with the final 3 bees, ensuring that they were well settled on the lavender,
and explaining back to the bees
why they could not stay to play
in the playroom.
I watched with complete amazement as my little girl was being so caring and nurturing to these beautiful creatures. She chatted away to them, wishing them to know why she had to return them to the flowers and that she was doing so out of love for them. Her words were flowing, an achievement itself as her speech and language problems often still can be an issue.
But it was the fact that she had really grasped the concept of what the bees required and why that was so impressive. Usually any information takes time to be processed correctly in her mind, and needs to be repeated many times before I know that she has definitely grasped it. People are often fooled into thinking Y understands instructions as Y can say the correct answers and replies to questions. She can absorb and recite facts and has a remarkably accurate long term memory, but applying these facts to other situations is a different and more difficult thing for her.