“It’s Chrriiissstmaaass,” shouted Noddy Holder on, arguably the best festive record ever, Merry Christmas Everybody (Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl excepted). I wish it wasn’t. As I alluded to last time out, the build-up to the big day can send autistic kids spiralling out of control, and our boy is no exception. The mess in the house has reached Armageddon-like proportions. No sooner is it cleared away then it reappears

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You may have noticed that Christmas is coming. For many, it will be the dreadful music that shops suddenly feel the need to inflict you with that indicates that ’tis the season to be jolly, for others it will be the infamous, but tiresome, John Lewis ad. For us, it is the deteriorating behaviour of an autistic child – or, as his teacher noted recently: “There has been some silliness”. Whether all of his ‘silliness’

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When he 'greets' me as I pick him up from school, he seems a bit subdued. Maybe he's just tired; it is Friday after all. Or maybe it's because it was Children in Need day, so things would have been a bit chaotic in class – either that or he's annoyed with me because I didn't sort out anything spotty for him to wear (administrative error). As we come out of the gate he just

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Last week we had to say goodbye to our faithful friend of the last 14 years, our black Labrador, Ferdie, or to give him his pedigree name, as DS1 now insists on calling him, Abbot Ferdinand of Anna. DS1 had never really shown much interest in the dog. I always got the impression that, to him, he was an inconvenient moving object that often got in his way, left dog hair all over the place

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Last weekend, given that we didn’t really do anything, was (almost) a pleasure. After the traumas of the preceding week, a quiet weekend at home to re-centre was certainly in order. Admittedly getting him to do his homework was out of the question. To avoid his outright refusal to do it, we try not to say, “Come on, let’s do your homework”, because this is invariably met with a simple, “No”. We have adopted a

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EGYPT 2017 We leave Aswan aboard a felucca, the Egyptian single-mast sailing boat that once carried goods along the Nile. Nowadays, their precious cargo is tourists. We sail towards Luxor, passing villagers swimming, washing, playing and even riding their donkeys in the water. The river is not as congested as I expected, just a few feluccas, the odd rowing boat, a couple of cargo boats and some cruise ships are our only companions all day.

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EGYPT 2017 As we leave the confines of our hotel, a wizened old man approaches us. He smiles, sort of, showing off his four remaining, tarnished teeth. “You need taxi?” he asks. We do, so he leads us to his cab, crossing a four-lane highway by simply holding up his hand and walking out into the stream of cars, like Moses parting the Red Sea. As he pulls out into the minefield that is Cairo

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It’s meltdown season. It’s come later this year, must be down to that global warming. They are not all full on, though – more daily wobbles. Having said that, his teaching assistant (TA) accosted me after school and handed me a form that said he had been involved in an incident that had resulted in him hurting his head. Under ‘Other relevant notes’, it stated: “ headbutted another child.” “Oh.” Well, what else can you

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He’s been on edge all day. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because it’s half term and it’s a culmination of him having held it together at school for six weeks and, now, being in the comfort of home, the pressure valve has been released. The steam is coming out, but it’s yet to boil. I have a feeling I know what it’s really about, though, but he denies it when I ask. “Noooooo!”

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I wasn’t sure what to write about this week, so I invited DS1’s friend Andreas around for his tea – and it didn’t disappoint. In the main, they played well together, DS1 didn’t seem to be too controlling and they were, by the sounds of it, having fun. It suddenly went quiet, though. Now, although you long for these moments of peace, a nagging fear always leaps into my head: ‘What the hell is he

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Carrying on from where I left off last time, it’s fair to say this period of homework appeasement has worked. Well, when I say worked, I mean we haven’t had any arguments about homework. He still won’t do it. That was until the wife discovered a foolproof method of motivation. For a while I have been meaning to write a blog about how DS1 doesn’t respond to rewards for doing something (likewise with consequences for

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The other week we had a meeting about another acronym. We met with DS1’s Senco to discuss his IEP – Individual Education Plan. This is basically the action plan the school is putting in place for the term, to start meeting the requirements that came out of the EHCP. During the course of this meeting I encountered another acronym – SPAG. Brilliant, I thought he must be learning cookery. Spag bol is my signature dish,

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I had real difficulty getting into the upstairs bathroom the other day. There was a trail of clothing on the floor, some skeleton wristbands dotted about and a couple of black plastic strips (that appeared to have been cut off the strip curtain – like off of the ’70s – in his playroom) stretching across the room, tied onto the tap at one end and the light chord at the other. “What’s going on here?”

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NIGERIA 1992 Just after entering Nigeria we come to a police stop. A tall, well-built policeman jumps onto our truck and starts chatting away – a really friendly man, full of smiles and laughs. Suddenly, he smacks his left forearm with his right fist really hard, repeatedly. “I’m really strong,” he tells us. He turns to Martin. “Hit me,” he says. Not one to disobey the law, Martin gets stuck in – walloping him as

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DS1 came flying down the stairs and thrust a piece of paper into his mum’s hands. “I’ve made a list of my top ten things,” he said. It read: Dad (obviously) James (his monkey) Harry Potter stuff Watching the Harry Potter films Scooting Mum (sixth on the list – oops) Gold things (not sure what happened to yellow) Playing football Eating choclate (sic) frogs Making Thief of Death play (the current stage play he was

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The first week back at school seems to have gone remarkably well. A couple of times I’ve had to double check that I’ve picked up the right child. The first day back, DS1 headed in, smiling and chatty, his hair full of product. Remember the trauma of the haircut not so long ago? The marvel that is Lisa has been back and he happily sat down and had his haircut without complaint – even chatting

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Somehow, on his EHCP, one of DS1’s strengths is listed as: “He loves walking.” This statement comes from the fact, that at the time of the meeting, he had started walking the South Downs Way with his mum. He certainly enjoys the outdoors and loves running around the countryside – once he’s there. The trick is to get him out of the house in the first place and convince him that he does indeed have

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A couple of weeks ago, the draft EHC Plan popped through the letterbox. The boy has been approved for funding to have additional support in school, and a dossier of his needs, required outcomes and how they are going to be achieved have been collated. We had 15 days to respond and advise of any changes we wanted. Being the organised people we are, we sat up late with a bottle of wine on the

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Last week was DS1’s eighth birthday. Birthdays are a big deal, like they are for any kid. Although they can be a touch traumatic – a sign we should have recognised when he was just two. We took him to a kid’s festival. All the greats were there: Rastamouse miming live; a giant Peppa Pig – he was scared sh*tless of her; and Bob the Builder – he burst into tears and begged to be

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BURKINA FASO, IVORY COAST 1992 It was becoming very hot and I am starting to feel really sick. The last thing I need is an 18-hour train journey, but, I thought, if the train is half as good as the one from Ouagadougou to Bobo at least I could sleep it off. The train station is unbelievably huge, as it was in Ouaga – there are around 12 ticket desks, but only one is open.

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MALI, BURKINA FASO 1992 As we cross the border from Mauritania into Mali, I notice a dramatic change almost immediately. We are in real Africa. The Africa I had imagined. There seems to be a more relaxed attitude here, a feeling of warmth (not just from the sun, but from the people as well). In Mauritania, and to some extent Morocco, I had felt like an uninvited guest. Tolerated rather than welcomed. But here, I

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I’ve wanted to write a feel-good blog for a while but each time I try I reach an impasse – there's just not the same entertainment value in it. But a recent trip up to Suffolk to see some old friends proved to be the catalyst I was looking for – and, more importantly, a real step forward for the boy. Our annual pilgrimage to the East Anglian coast means that DS1 is familiar with

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There was a knock on the front door. A flash of blonde hair rushed past me, up the stairs and into his room. I opened the door. “Hi, I’m Lisa,” said the visitor. “The hairdresser.” I welcomed her in. “He’s run upstairs,” I said. “That’s OK,” she replied. Lisa was used to this. She has kids with autism herself and specialises in cutting the hair of the likes of DS1. I went upstairs to find

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It’s about time we had a new acronym. Last week, I met an Ehco. No, not the talkative electronic device that Amazon is pimping (I know the spelling is different, but the pronunciation is the same), but a woman from the special educational needs team at the local borough council (unfortunately, her name wasn’t Alexa). To give her her full title, she is an EHCP Co-ordinator. Her job is to assess – or rather to

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The other day we were doing some quizzes on a Harry Potter website. The format was multiple-choice, but when DS1 didn’t know the answer he steadfastly refused to guess. “You do it,” he said, hiding his face with his hands, not wanting to see the outcome. “Why don’t you want to guess?” I asked. He didn’t answer. “Is it because you’re scared of getting it wrong?” “Yes.” A couple of questions later, he went into meltdown

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A miracle occurred the other day. We were over the park playing football, sweating like pigs in the boiling sun. “Be good to have a shower after this won’t it,” I said. “OK.” I nearly fainted on the spot. “What?” I managed to not exclaim out loud. Did my ears deceive me? Had he just agreed to have a shower? The last time he had one of those was in 2015. Washing is not DS1’s

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Yesterday, I found myself gripping DS1 firmly by the shoulders, shouting at him, six inches from his face, about the fact he’d refused to eat a piece of toast but he wanted me to make him another one. The frustration was boiling over. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself back from the brink, apologise and move on. “It’s a piece of toast,” I thought to myself, “what’s the point”. It’s not always that easy.

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Last week DS1 had a school trip to a woodland area a few miles from where we live, known as The Look Out. He really didn’t want to go. When he was younger, we used to go there quite a bit: there are miles of trails to run around, an adventure playground, hands-on science exhibits and ice cream. It doesn’t get any better. But for more than a year now, he has refused to go

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WESTERN SAHARA 1992 We’d been in the desert for five days, with no idea how long we would be here for. We – that’s our old Bedford truck, another English overland vehicle, a Polish 4WD and a couple of Land Rovers – were camped up about 20km outside the small town of Dakhla in the Western Sahara. To the left of our camp (or right if you were facing in the other direction), there was

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“I’m going to watch the trailer, then I’m going to watch the film. Again.” We have just finished watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and DS1 has gone straight into round two. No break. Harry Potter is his latest obsession. Last weekend we downloaded the first film, and that has been on a seemingly continuous loop ever since. Next weekend, we will be onto the third one, no doubt. We are reading the books,

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DS1 loves music… or rather, he did. Every year since he was born we have taken him to a music festival. Indeed, he celebrated his first birthday playing in a field listening to some punk band or other. For the last four years we have taken him to the Bearded Theory festival in Derbyshire, which takes place over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. A couple of weeks before this year’s event, I asked him if

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“Dad, Duff just took a corner… But Lampard takes all the corners.” DS1 is watching the DVD of Chelsea’s 2004/05 Premier League-winning season – for what seems like the millionth time. “Lampard was being rested for that game,” I reply. “What? Lampard was being rested?” He always repeats a fact I give him, as though he doesn’t quite believe it. Then he continues as if he knew that piece of information in the first place.

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“What did you have for lunch today,” I ask. “Jacket.” “And pudding?” “I never have pudding.” DS1 has school lunches. The meals on offer are varied, but like any child he has his likes and dislikes. Fish and chips, sausage and mash, spaghetti bolognese are favourites. Anything else, and he’ll have a jacket potato with cheese. He never eats pudding. It may not cover all the required food groups, but at least he’s having a

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“Come on, let’s do your reading,” I say. “No.” “OK, so what are you going to do? Remember there’s no iPad until you’ve done your homework.” Resigned to his fate, he picks up his reading book. He sits down and starts reading. Well, maybe. He’s looking at the book, turning pages, but not reading out loud. “You need to read out loud, so that I can hear you,” I say. “I am.” You’re not.” “I

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NAMIBIA 2012  We were on the road again, this time towards the NamibRand Nature Reserve. As we leave the highway, en route to Wolwedans Dunes Lodge, we encounter numerous springbok, oryx and zebra. The springbok run and leap in front of our car, accompanying us as we make our way along the 20km track that leads to the lodge reception – a personal antelope escort service. The lodge overlooks the plains, and the mountains beyond.

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“That is a ridiculous game you play on your phone,” says DS1, as his Mum destroys coloured blobs in Candy Gummy Crush or whatever it’s called. “Dad thinks that, too,” she replies. “Did he say that?” DS1 asks. “No.” “How do you know he thinks that then?” he continues with his inquisition. “I can tell by the way his face and body look when he sees me play it,” she explains. “No, you can’t!” he

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The rules are simple, but the choices are less straightforward. Assuming money was no object, where would an A-Z tour of European football end up taking you? As a well-travelled 48-year-old Chelsea season ticket holder, I’ve had my fair share of trips to the continent following the Blues and England. Moscow, Munich, Barcelona, and Zagreb among others spring to mind, but there is still an untold amount of places – and clubs – to discover. In

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NAMIBIA 2012 It’s hot. And I’m sweating profusely, despite the air con. A complete contrast to the freezing December weather we left behind in the UK; our winter coats thrown into the depths of the boot of our 4WD, to be left unseen for the next two weeks. We drive out of Windhoek, heading for the wilderness of Erongo. After a couple of hours easy travelling on smooth tarmac we turn off the highway on

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At the Temple of Philae, on an island in the River Nile, near Aswan, DS1’s initial enthusiasm wanes. “I don’t need to see it,” he says. “I know everything already.” They clearly went into great detail about Egypt in his lessons at school. In fact, he’s learnt so much that our very knowledgeable guide’s integrity is called into question. “He’s lying,” he announces, before flouncing off – somewhat earlier than we’d planned – to the jetty

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DS1 packs his own bag, as we get ready to visit the Pyramids. He puts in a hoodie. “It’s a bit cold,” he says. Cold? It’s already in the mid-twenties and it’s not even 10am yet. This is the boy that wouldn’t wear a jumper to school in the midst of winter. His bag, courtesy of British Airways, was his constant companion on our holiday in Egypt – his comfort blanket. Every day, before we

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I think we’ve cracked it. I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think we’ve only gone and done it. It’s got a minion on it. DS1 isn’t into minions, but they are yellow – and yellow is his favourite colour. It’s got batteries. And it talks to him. This wondrous invention is an electric toothbrush. He loves it. He even asks to do his teeth. Early. He switches it on, listening to the buzz.

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The wife opens her beautifully made Mother’s Day card, with yellow and red 3D flowers on the front, handcrafted by her son out of card. She eagerly opens it up to find a greeting in (surprisingly) very neat handwriting: “To mum ducker, Happy Mother’s Day, Thank you for being lazy.” Luckily, she is used to his ‘sense of humour’ and she absolutely p*ssed herself. DS1 was in hysterics as well. Thankfully, it said ‘ducker’ and

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It used to be Match Attax (football cards to those of you not in the know). Still is, to a certain extent. Hundreds of them, maybe even thousands, all over his bedroom floor. And the playroom floor. And the lounge floor… you get the picture. He inherited a few albums of Match Attax via a family friend and has been collecting them himself for the past two seasons. I’ve even had to make him his

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Picking back up on the selective mutism theme, the Senco at DS1’s infant school believed his SM to be a means of control. She reckoned that by not talking he was exerting control over a situation that made him uncomfortable, and that he had quickly learnt that not communicating meant he could avoid having to do something he didn’t want to do. We railed against this scenario. The reason he wasn’t speaking, we believed, was

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This week I feel moved to write about the walk to school. Why? Well, yesterday we left on time, without any arguing. We walked at a decent pace, chatting as we went, arriving at school in good time. As I result, I was able to go about my day in a good mood, without feeling like I’d been 12 rounds with Tony Bellew – going over and over the events in my mind, trying to

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“Why don’t you take the Ancient Egypt trail booklet we got from the British Museum into school for show and tell?” I asked. “No. That topic was last term.” “That doesn’t matter, I’m sure your teacher and classmates would still be interested in what you saw.” “No! I’m not answering any questions.” “Well, just do the show bit then…” “NO!” It’s episodes like this that remind me just how high DS1’s anxiety levels can get,

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I’m often asked (well, a couple of people have enquired): ‘How did you know he was autistic?’ or ‘When did you realise?’ It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact moment. There were certain things that led us to believe there was something not quite right, but looking back, I guess, the first signs were when DS1 was two and we were on a self-drive holiday in Namibia (I used to be lucky enough to have a

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Next month we have a meeting with the EP (Educational Psychologist – yes, another acronym) for an assessment of DS1. His school (as do we) wants to apply for an EHCP (Educational Health and Clare Plan, if you remember), which will provide him with the support he needs in the classroom. This will be the third or fourth time we’ve met the same women… but so far these meetings have proved fruitless, mainly due to

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Olimpija Ljubljana 1 v 2 Maribor (07.05.16) “Let’s go and watch some football in Eastern Europe somewhere,” I said. Neal (a fellow Chelsea season ticket holder) and I were discussing the increasingly prohibitive cost of following the Chels in Europe versus the enjoyment we had travelling abroad to watch the beautiful game. The planning. The build-up. The culture of whatever place we found ourselves in. The people. The pre-match beers. The banter. The atmosphere. The

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Last week DS1’s behaviour took a turn for the worse. He was coming out of school chewing on the zip of his coat. A sure sign that he was very anxious – that something was playing on his mind. On the way home he was smacking me repeatedly (not hard, but enough to mean he was seeking some sensory feedback). He’d deliberately walk into hedges, run his hands against fences. Communication decreased and he started

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You may have seen a banner hanging from the West Stand upper tier declaring ‘Slovenian Blues’ and wondered, ‘What’s that all about?’ No? Well, I have. So, on a recent trip to Slovenia to take in the ‘Eternal Derby’ – Olimpija Ljubljana v Maribor – I had a beer or three with the co-founder of the Slovenian Chelsea Supporters Club, Matjaž Homar – along with his fellow Blue, Gregor Horvatič, or ‘Boy’ as he is

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I just thought I’d share with you the answers to a simile exercise DS1 did at school last year. It’s either a very informative piece on how he views things and people in particular or he has a wicked sense of humour. I’m hoping it’s the latter. He started off well enough: Quick as… a cheetah Slow as… a tortoise Small as… a mouse He then got a bit more imaginative with his answers: Sad

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So DS1 has refused to go to the football after-school club. Apparently he’s never liked it, even though he has done it every week without fail for the last three years. But more of that in a later post. His new thing is judo, before school… on a Monday. He loves it. But last week, he was told to turn up already wearing his PE kit, so they could get cracking straight away. And this

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Why call this blog ‘Autism rules ok’? Well, autism, it’s about rules isn’t it: rules that govern how a child with autism deals with the world; rules that, as a parent, you apply in a vain attempt to guide your child through life, to allow them to develop, to keep them in check; and the various strategies you can use to parent a child with ASD. But, when your child is autistic those rules aren’t

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So, where to start? It’s difficult to start at the beginning, because at the beginning we didn’t know. So I’ll start here and work my way backwards and forwards over the course of these musings. Bear with me. I’m a 48-year-old dad of a boy. The boy is seven years old. He has been diagnosed (in writing) with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), high anxiety and SM (selective mutism), and (verbally) with showing traits of PDA

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ZIMBABWE (1993) We’re standing at the side of the road, thumbs in the air, seeking a ride out of Harare towards the Bvumba Mountains, which lie on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border. Lorna and I plan to stay at the late author Doris Lessing’s place, now a guesthouse. We’d heard about it through some fellow travellers, Martin and Julia, who are going to manage the property for a couple of months for Lessing’s nephew, Trevor. Our first ‘lift’

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