Oh yes, dear Reader, it's been a while but today we've been back into the kitchen to prepare for a Halloween Party with TheBoyWhoLikesWarwickDavis later on.
Step 1: Prepare the pumpkin
Take your pumpkin. If you are not sure if it's the perfect one or not, don't worry, choose one of the other three that arrived because Dad can't work how to do internet shopping.
Other successes in the vegetable ordering category included three potatoes and a single courgette. Ask The Boy to draw a face on one of the pumpkins.
Cut it out while he goes back to the computer as he's "tired." Realise your knives are about as sharp as a teaspoon. Decide to use a teaspoon. Ask yourself why you're even doing this. After twenty minutes The Boy will come back and tell you he can build a mansion on Minecraft quicker than you can carve a pumpkin. Tell him he isn't helping. After fifty minutes...
The Boy comes in and declares it's the best pumpkin he's ever made. Dad decides to up the ante and declares he can make a Homer Simpson face out of one of the other pumpkins. The Boy is thrilled. Dad gets to work.
Spot on. Now on to step 2...
Step 2: Make a spooky graveyard cake
You will need:
Realise the battery has gone in the scales. Just guess everything. Put some butter in a pan and ask The Boy to break some chocolate into little pieces. Tell him to stop eating the marshmallows. Ask him to stir the mixture while complaining that he's burning.
Tell The Boy to come back into the kitchen. Add what's left of the marshmallows to the pan.
Listen to The Boy explain how he gets 'tireder more quicker' than anyone else. In between the moans of agony listen to the phrase "Looks like cow-pat, looks like cow-pat" being repeated over and over as he stirs reluctantly.
Just throw in the Rice Krispies and let's get out of this kitchen as quickly as possible.
Place the delightful mixture into a lightly greased tray. Decorate.
There. A scary pumpkin, spooky graveyard cake and Homer Simpson.
Happy Halloween from both of us x
Sometimes it's easy to forget just how far The Boy has come over the years. It's half term, and Friday's four hour journey to visit family up North took closer to eight. And sitting in traffic on the M6 reminded me just how painful the trip used to be. The Boy trying to open the car door at 70 miles per hour, or Dad being struck in the back of the head with a book because we aren't there yet, they're all things that by and large seem to be in the past now. Instead we played games to pass the time.
"Let's play I-Spy", I said.
"Okay. I'll go first"
"I Spy something beginning with N"
"I've only just started guessing..."
"Right. Now do you give up?"
"No! N... N... Nissan?"
"Don't worry. Erm... Nettles?"
"No. Give up?"
"No. The answer is Nothing... My go again as I won..."
I was worried about once we arrived too, the greeting he might have in store. As a toddler whenever we arrived he would ignore his grandparents outstretched arms and run straight past them to say hello to the dogs and the goldfish. An hour later I'd hear him screaming, seemingly in agony, and I'd rush to his aid to discover The Grandmother had given in and tried to sneak a hug from her grandson who she hadn't seen for months... Confused and hurt, she'd step away and retreat once again.
So while we're stuck in traffic on Friday I called my mum to let her know we'd be arriving late. I said I'd let her know when we get closer. She was on speakerphone, and at the end of the call as I said goodbye, The Boy suddenly grabbed the phone. Lifting it to his mouth, he blurted out, "Love you, Nana!"
"Love you too sweetheart", she replied, the pride in her voice echoing around the car long after the call had ended.
Monday morning, and another week at school rolls into town... For once though, the idea of the week ahead doesn't fill me with dread. Yes, there's hope in the air...
After such a rocky start to the new term, The Boy had his best week at school "ever" last week. There were three days where he did more independent work than he's ever managed since he's been there. Part of me wanted to write and tell you about it sooner, but another part thought I might jinx it all if I did.
The Boy's whole demeanour changed over the week. He was happy. Bursting with pride as I picked him up each afternoon. And which came first - was he happy because he was 'doing the right thing' or was he 'doing the right thing' because he was happy? I don't think I'll ever know. I just wish I could bottle the way he felt last week, and then whenever things don't go so well we can take out our secret potion and dab ourselves down with it and make all well with the world again...
Managing to work independently has always been the hardest thing for him. Doing anything independently. So many believe that those with autism crave solitary lives, but for The Boy nothing could be further from the truth. He craves interaction. He needs someone alongside to reassure him constantly. His greatest fear is being alone. Without another person to remind him that he exists it's as if he might well disappear forever.
So, when I collected him on Friday, in amongst the 'Gold Award' certificates for his record-breaking week, there was another certificate. 'Star of the Week'. And it was awarded for "being very polite to visitors". And this certificate really made me smile, because I know the visitor in question. I saw him myself at home time on Wednesday. In many ways it's The Boy's nemesis, the person so many schools have tried to prevent him from ever meeting. It was the OFSTED inspector.
I asked The Boy if the inspector asked him any questions. "No", he answered incredulously, "I asked HIM questions."
"What about?" I asked, wondering what burning issues with the education system had been discussed at such a high level.
The Boy shrugged his shoulders. "His favourite cake is lemon meringue pie", he said.
As a child I loved reading. Loved opening a book for the first time, the smell, the newness. No better feeling than bringing a new book home and seeing how late I could stay awake to finish it. And Enid Blyton books were the best books of all - Mr Pinkwhistle, The Magic Faraway Tree, Adventures of the Wishing Chair. I remember as the house slept, a small boy hid under the duvet at night with a torch, escaping into secret lands...
The Boy can read. Pretty well too. For years it was a skill no-one knew about, just another thing to keep from the rest of the world. Young children are taught to read aloud, but he could never master that. He refused to sit and read with anyone. The process of reading the letters and then forming words was tough enough, never mind having to say them aloud to someone afterwards. For a long time it was assumed he just couldn't read at all.
He loved picture-books though. Even from a very young age. They say a picture paints a thousand words, and for so many of those with autism, there's never been a truer phrase spoken. He could spend hours looking at pictures, taking in every tiny detail, writing silent masterpieces and volumes only for him. At night time, there was no bedtime story, not in the conventional sense anyway. He would just sit and turn the pages, drinking in the pictures, creating a story in his head that was ten times better than the stupid words could ever be.
And then one day when he was playing the video game Lego Star Wars, I snuck into his room and realised he was reading the instructions on the screen. Secretly, away from the prying eyes of the world, he could read. How he'd learnt to will forever be a mystery...
And now his secret is out there he continues to read well. At school he even reads out loud to the class. But whether it will ever be a source of enjoyment for him remains to be seen. At the moment words are just a means to an end, there's little pleasure in them, they're simply a source of information - a gateway to the visual world, not an escape from it.
The other day, he was off school for one reason or another, and so we did some lessons at home. One of them was English. I said that we were going to take it in turns to read to the class as he normally does, and to go and choose a book. And he came back with The Magic Faraway Tree. Dad's favourite. And as he sat next to me and he started to read I looked down and saw his chubby finger following the words, and I was transported back all those years ago. It could have been me, hiding under the duvet, getting lost in the Land of Do-As-You-Please with Moonface and the Saucepan Man.
Secret readers together.
The Boy loves animals. Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs. It doesn't matter what animal it is, it's a friend for life.
I suppose he's never had a fear of them, that's the thing. Now, I'm not suggesting for one minute he's Dr Dolittle or anything, there have been plenty of animals that have been roughly handled, poked and even had the old 'finger to the eyeball' treatment along the years. But for some reason animals seem to get him. They tolerate him far more than some people are able to.
I remember when The Grandmother's dog had puppies, and The Boy as a toddler rolled round the lawn with them. And in a way he fitted in with them more than he was ever able to in the playground. They climbed all over him, biting him, scratching him, licking him. And looking back at the photos of that day it's hard to imagine a time when he was ever happier.
Visiting children's farms was always one of his favourite trips out, and it still is. Feeding the animals, having a cow lick your hand or a llama have a little nip are all part of the fun. Trying to catch chickens, or telling the bigger goats off for pushing in, it's better than any birthday party.
But animals have caused pain in his life too. The sudden disappearance of the goldfish one morning after Dad cleaned the tank with Fairy Liquid... The unbearable sadness and silence that followed the death of The Grandmother's dog last summer. And when the hamster died, the unforgettable howl into the dark pleading, "who will look after me at night time now?".
Then this morning, his all-encompassing love affair with the animal kingdom came to an end. A scream came from his bedroom. "GET OUT!! STOP FOLLOWING ME!!!!!!". I rushed in, panicking, wondering what was going on. "GET IT AWAY!!", he yelled, pointing to the wall, "KILL IT!!!!!!!"
It was a Daddy Long-Leg. Turns out he's only human, after all.
I can remember quite clearly leaving school and thinking of the freedom that lay ahead, and thinking that I'd never have to spend another day of my life sitting in a Headteacher's office again.
How wrong I was...
Over the years with The Boy I've spent a fair amount of time in different Head's offices. Some straight out of the Ikea catalogue, others more Hogwarts. Some with papers thrown everywhere in a constant state of disarray, others as bare and clinical as an operating table. Regardless, it's still a strange feeling. A flashback to your own childhood. And still that sense of being in trouble.
Then the other week I found the tables turned... I was asked to speak at a conference for Headteachers of Special Schools in Hertfordshire. I performed the show for them, then did a Q&A session afterwards. I'll be honest, I was terrified. A room full of them...
I apologised at the start in case I swore, then proceeded to swear far more than I ever have. It wasn't really intentional, honestly it wasn't, it's just that I was goody-two-shoes at school, and so at the age of 42 I felt like I was pushing boundaries. Get me. The maverick. Yeh, Mrs Headteacher, I'm swearing and there's nothing you can do to stop me.
All my worries were unfounded, they were a great audience, even at 11am in the morning. One of them, we'll call him 'S', even danced and pirouetted like the ballerina he was born to be. Then after the show we talked about how parents could support schools more, and vice-versa. And the key word that kept coming up was "honesty". On both sides. Just to be more honest and open with each other.
The whole event was a bit of a revelation to me - as a parent of a "difficult" child I haven't always seen eye-to-eye with every headteacher. And that's probably because I always saw it that I was coming at a problem from one child's perspective, and by nature of what they do they're coming at the same problem from multiple perspectives. But listening to them talk made me realise what an impossible job they do at times. And how sometimes their desire to put the child at the centre of everything can be made so frustratingly impossible amongst the pressure of Ofsted inspections, endless bureaucracy and budget constraints. But ultimately, we all want the same thing - for children to develop, thrive and be the very best they can be.
Then driving home afterwards a thought occurred to me... there we were discussing how beneficial it would be if we all learnt to be more honest, yet the very best example of this was right there under our noses. One of the most incredible aspects of children with special needs is just that, their honesty. There's a truth in everything they do. No matter how severe the disability, you will always be acutely aware if a child with special needs doesn't like you. If they don't want to do something, they won't. And although that honesty can be tough to deal with sometimes, it can also provide so much of the joy and humour too.
Sometimes in life, the real lessons to be learned can come from those you least expect.
Now, here's a question for you. Purely theoretical. Let's say, for example, that you err... you write a blog on a website. And you promised everyone that you'd write a blog a day for seven days. And then it got to Day 7. And your son's school was closed so he was home for the day. And then your son was going to his mum's house for the evening. And a friend you haven't seen for a while asked you if you wanted to meet in the pub. But you've got a blog to write...
UPDATE: Good morning, I survived! I thought I should let you know how the voting went.....
Thank you for letting me off the hook, I shall reward your kindness with another blog later!
This blog is about bringing up The Boy. He's 12 years old and autistic. It's written by The Dad. It's my words, my view. Other people will think differently and have different opinions. Good.