Black & White Boy

At the moment I am considering whether to actually implement the visual timetable at home for the morning routine.

My wife and I have discussed it a few times over the last few months but never felt it was definitely necessary, but at the moment I think that perhaps it is time.

For the uninitiated, a visual timetable is just a row of pictures or words which tells L what to do and in what order.  So for example, the first picture may be of him waking up, next its him going to the loo, then choosing his breakfast, then waking mom or dad up, then eating breakfast etc. etc.

L has a habit of becoming deeply obsessed by things, whether they be TV programmes, computer games, moshi monsters, anything.  Once he is in an obsession then he rarely talks about anything else, sharing every last detail with us.  Now, I don't have a problem with him sharing this with us - sometimes I encourage it.  It is a rare gift to have such a detailed understanding of something and this is where I think his future lies, in having that depth of knowledge on a certain subject.  Let's hope its banking systems, or maybe music, but whatever it is, it doesn't concern me that he won't be able to hold down a job in the future.

Now, at the moment, as we gear up towards christmas, L has been asking for a Skylanders set for the Wii.  He has been asking for this for about 18 months now, so we are going to let him have one.  In order to prove to us though that he can handle it (bearing in mind previous comments about time on the computer and his very poor level of competitiveness) we have said he can have half an hour on his DS every day.  Between us, my wife and I have also agreed that if he is naughty, this isn't something we will take from him - we feel he needs to play regularly in order to learn to control himself.  It may be folly, but thats what we're trying at the moment.

Anyway, in a morning now, as soon as he wakes (about 3 hours too early for me, about 2 hours too early for my wife!) he is asking if he can have his DS time.  We have two more rules in the house, firstly, no computers before breakfast, and secondly, no computers before school. 

Having come off the back of the weekend, this second rule caught L a little by surprise and led to a tantrum.  He has been struggling with the morning routine for the last few days though, hence my thought about the visual timetable.

What does amaze me though, rather wonderfully, is that as soon as he gets to school, he seems to be a wonderful young boy, and when he comes home he is happy and courteous and accepts when he is asked to come off his DS.

At the moment (and I am acutely aware that this is a time-limited offer), we have two L's.  The first is struggling to get through the morning routine, the second is a typical happy boy.

So, until the next report of a playground incident, or a fight with his brother, or a tantrum in the early evening, I am happy to report that life is good.  As long as it starts after 9am.

Ros Blackburn

We had the pleasure the other week of spending an evening in the company of Ros Blackburn as she delivered a talk for local group of parents and teachers dealing with autism.

Ros Blackburn is severely autistic but makes a living from public speaking and should anyone get the opportunity to see her speak then I would certainly encourage you to.

Firstly, she is inspiring in that despite her autism (because of her autism) she has forged a living. She's not dead in a corner, she isn't in prison, she's a normal human being making a living. This is a particularly optimistic note.

Now during her talk she touched on something which I think applies to L. I should say that she is quite forthright in her views, especially that if a child can do certain things then they are most certainly not autistic. I disagreed with this but clearly she has a very clear, experienced and specific view point. The talk dealt with severe autism and conditions such as dyspraxia and aspergers syndrome. She doesn't really deal with the autistic spectrum, as per the title of this whole blog, she too sees the world in black and white which is of course perfectly understandable.

Anyway, she starts off by stating that she only knows what she is taught shown or told (again, I have no notes to reference so I may be paraphrasing). This means that, as she beautifully explained it, she has no gut to advise her. She can't rely on instinct to tell her what's right or wrong. She needs strict rules to follow otherwise she is stuck.

Consider for a moment the following sentences and what you would do for each...

"can you open the window?"
"can you speak French?"
"can you swim?"

You would perhaps respond to each question differently. An autist would instead refer to their internal rule book, perhaps deciding that "can you...?" means answer yes or no. Or, it may mean go do it please.

In my mind as she was explaining this I thought well why don't you clarify the question? I understood that the question is ambiguous, that "can you swim?" could be interpreted as go and find a swimming pool and jump in it and swim, and that there is no reference point in the autistic mind to try and figure out which is the appropriate response, but I still don't quite understand why you can't clarify the question.

I suppose this would mean clarifying everything - there must be so much that we take for granted that we understand, but how do we learn these things?

Anyway, the lack of a gut feeling certainly reminds me of L. Perhaps not do much in the misunderstanding but certainly in the need to have things examined, to prepare himself for what is about to happen. His reference points which most of us use - previous experience, mirroring the reactions of others, common sense - are all somewhat distorted and so he deals with things differently.

It is a testament to us that we manage this quite well with him.

Even if I do say so myself!

Being reborn

We have taken the decision to discuss L's condition with him. He has always been an intelligent young man and his issues mostly stem from frustration as a result of some kind of misunderstanding, so we decided to tell him about his condition and what it means.

He took the news with a typical stoicism which he seemed to take as an understanding of why he reacts differently to other people. It helped that we had a book to read with him called "so I have autism" or something like that (I realise I get these details wrong quite often, much to my dear wife's chagrin - if I am wrong on his occasion then I will come back and edit this post.).

It lead a few days later to a discussion which is heart breaking in a sense. L was asking about his autism and wondered if there was any cure.

"not that we know of I'm afraid, we just need to help you live with it"
"can I go back to being unborn and try again?"

Perfectly reasonable question I think, but when delivered with the logic and burning desire to change things, it was somewhat heartbreaking.

It was my wife who was asked so I tell this story from her perspective (and again likely with a load of details missing or wrong!) but it was nevertheless very affecting for us all.