“[DS1] is wearing Chelsea shorts, a Russian hat and one sock. I have no idea why,” pinged a text from the wife.

Now, I don’t think this is anything autism related – and it bears no relation to the rest of this post – but it’s definitely worth relating.

We never did find out the reasoning.

Over the last couple of weeks, DS1 has gone from showing the first signs of new-school-year wobble to transforming into a mature young man, openly discussing how autism affects his behaviour and what secondary school would be best suited to his needs.

The fact that this has coincided with me working in London, leaving the wife to do the school runs, is purely coincidental.

I’ll get into the rise and rise of DS1 in the following post, but for now I’ll deal with the downward slope.

As a matter of fact

The Saturday before last didn’t get off to a great start, when I was rudely awoken at 6.43am by a banging on the door to our bedroom.

“Stop banging on the door,” I asked politely – or something similar.
“I’m not banging on it,” he replied, indignantly. “I’m headbutting it.”

He is nothing but factually correct, my son.

As the week progressed, I could see signs of his behavioural mask slipping, as the sheer strength of mind he was using to stay in control at school started to slip once he was home – the mental strain and the resulting tiredness starting to take their toll.

A tsunami of mess was filling the house. His mainly tidy bedroom during the summer holidays had become a health hazard of flotsam and jetsam covering the floor. His Match Attax collection spilling out of his door, across the landing and into my study; random objects painfully discovered lurking in the recesses of the sofa.

He was falling off the wagon.

One evening after school, we were playing football in the garden and his need for control was coming to the fore.

We had been playing nicely when he suddenly collapsed to the ground, claiming I had kicked him and that he had a (horrific) knee injury.

His rolling around made Neymar look like a fine upstanding member of the footballing fair play community.

The object of his antics was to gain a penalty and, probably more importantly, so he didn’t have to fetch the ball, which was now at the other end of the garden. Which is not that far away as to render it an impossible task.

After checking I didn’t need to amputate his leg, I suggested that he go and get the ball and I’d let him have a penalty.

“You get it!” he demanded.

We were in a Mexican standoff. The sort where the protagonists are wearing the largest sombreros you have ever seen.

After several minutes of “You get it”, “No, you get it” – oh, we like a pantomime in our house – he hauled himself up, charged down the garden, screamed and promptly pushed his goal over (so that it fell against the shed), before falling to the floor with his fake injury, now just centimetres from the ball, but still insisting I get it.

“Don’t throw your goal at the shed,” I chastised him.
“I didn’t throw it,” he insisted. “I tipped it.”

I did say he likes to be factually correct.

No pain, no gain

It just so happened that the following day I had to drop some books off to the local Assist team (other autism support groups are available – but not, in my opinion, as good as this one; they like a chat, make you a coffee and sometimes offer you cake).

I mentioned to them that DS1 was starting to show signs of struggling after a relatively painless summer holidays.

“It’s that time of year,” they said. “We have had a huge increase in phone calls [since the kids have gone back to school].”

From a selfish point of view that was very heartening to know.

That afternoon, DS1 came out of school chewing on his bag strap (another sure sign of stress). He was also feigning another knee injury. Exaggerated limping, little cries of pain, and frequent stopping and crouching down to clutch the offending knee.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Shut up.”
“I only asked because I was concerned,” I assured him.
“Shut up.”

We continued in this stop-start, little yelp of pain manner until we were about halfway home. The crowds of people that bottleneck close to the schools having now dispersed, he felt safe to converse.

He stopped again and indicated the plaster on his knee.

“What happened?” I asked.
“I did it playing basketball,” he explained.
“Oh, did you fall over?” I enquired. Nothing gets past me.
“Yes, I got elbowed.”
“Oh, accidentally or on purpose.”

That was good. Normally accidental coming-togethers are very much intentional as far as he is concerned.

“And I was the captain,” he added for good measure.

I celebrated his candidness with a football magazine and a milkshake. I also let DS1 come with me.

Sitting in a generic coffee shop with the same name as a Brazilian-cum-Spanish striker who used to play for Chelsea, we chatted away merrily – flicking through his mag and generally shooting the breeze.

Call me sentimental, but it’s moments like this that I cherish – connecting with the beautiful, funny, intelligent boy who is always there but who can’t always cut through the autism fog that envelops him.

Once home, he even completed more homework than I had challenged him to do.

Whatever anxiety had built up during the day had subsided.

“Do you want some tea?” I asked him.
“Yes! I’m so hungry I could eat a human,” he replied excitedly, before plunging his teeth into my arm.

No humans were hurt in the playing out of this scene.

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