“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 like a rash you can’t just shift.
There are hundreds of pieces of paper with things scrawled or drawn on them everywhere – a sure sign his head is ‘busy’.
Having covered every last thread of carpet in his bedroom with stuff, he moved onto the lounge. Here, he emptied the entire contents of his carrier bag-full of Match Attax onto the floor – on the pretence of wanting to reacquaint the cards with their respective albums. But, there didn’t seem to be much putting away going on – just a series of matches he was playing with them, as he became distracted from his original intention.
Meanwhile, the cards had spread across the floor like a tsunami of mini-footballers as he tried to locate various ones – completely ignoring any advice on how the best way to look for them (and tidy at the same time) and save himself a whole load of time and effort now and in the future might be achieved.
The cushions that make up our sofa and armchair were flung on top of the card mountain, along with a couple of blankets. The angle of the TV had been altered (along with handprints all over the screen). And the back door key had gone missing.
Otherwise, all was as it should be.
In fact, space was now at such a premium that when he suddenly got the urge to do some art he used the window ledge in the spare room as his easel. Needless to say, there was paint all over the window, the ledge itself and the bed.
This, as you can imagine, did not go down too well with his father.
Maybe my timing in trying to deal with this particular problem was off, but he has this habit that I’m trying to stamp out. He is prone to demanding that I go and fetch stuff for him, when he is perfectly capable of getting it himself; or demanding that I look something up for him on the Internet, when, again, he is perfectly able to do so himself.
For example: “Get me a blue pencil,” he demanded.
“No, you want one, you can get it,” I reasonably replied.
“You get it!” he insisted.
“Stop treating me like a slave,” I bellowed.
“I’m not,” he answered.
“Will you two stop rowing,” the wife interjected.
“No!” we both shouted simultaneously, exchanging a half-smile with each other, before continuing with the argument.
“Stop treating me like a slave. You are perfectly capable of doing that yourself.” My much-repeated refrain fell on deaf ears yet again.
I dug my heels in, waiting for the inevitable crash and burn.
He didn’t let me down. “You have to get it for me.”
“You’re closest,” he cried, as he ran up the stairs (yes, I wasn’t even on the same floor as him or the item he required) and around the other side of me.
Now, maybe his demand that I get things for him is my own fault. I have on occasion fetched and carried when I probably shouldn’t have, but I’d reasoned that this was for the greater good, i.e. it got him to do something else I’d been trying to get him to do, such as homework. Then again, when he is being ‘autistic’, his demand avoidance kicks in and any request to do something is not going to be actioned – and the only way to move on is to do it yourself.
And at this time of year, in particular, such behaviour seems to be accentuated.
However, on this particular day, the miracle of Christmas came true. He’d been out in the garden and came back in in his muddy shoes and made to go up the stairs.
“What do you need, mate. I’ll get it for you,” I said, trying to avoid mud going up the recently hoovered stair carpet.
“I need a pen,” he explained. “It’s OK, I’ll get it, because you don’t like me treating you like a slave.”
Arse. Still, maybe, my pleading with him throughout the day to stop treating me like a slave had finally hit home. Later, we proceeded on a pilgrimage around the house tidying and cleaning.
Sometimes it pays to get mad as hell.
Needless, to say, we’ve slipped back into our bad old ways. But for one brief moment, victory was mine.
A couple of weeks ago, I steeled myself to attend the school ‘Family Day’, where parents go into class and take part in a craft-based activity with their child. This year’s novelty craftathon was to make three Christmas trees out of straws, cardboard and card respectively, with the decoration at your own discretion. The kids were split into groups of three, and fortunately one of the other kids in DS1’s group’s childminder had come in – and she knew what she was doing.
DS1 was, how to put this, not a lot of help. He was very fidgety, couldn’t stick to the task he was given – being more interested in what the others were up to, or rather trying to do (or was that disrupt) what they were doing. This involved blowing bubbles in the paint through a straw, blowing the sparkly decoration bits all over the table, drumming with various implements, painting bits of cardboard that didn’t need painting… the list goes on.
I managed to distract him from his campaign of hindrance by sending him off to fetch stuff from the stuff table, which, charged with responsibility, he duly did – but this was only temporary respite.
All this caused distraction for the other kids. At one point I looked around and only the childminder and I were at the table, busily making trees – not a child in sight.
Somehow, we produced three passable specimens – one was even close to winning a prize. The idea was that each kid would take one of the trees home. DS1 had decided which one he was having, and became quite agitated when the other two voiced the fact that they’d quite like that one too. He stood gripping the tree in question with a steely expression on his face, resisting any suggestion to put it down and sort this out in a fair manner – by drawing lots. I left it for the teachers to sort out.
Fortunately, he won the draw and came out with a massive grin on his face, clutching his tree. I’d like to think it had been an above-board election.
All the fun of the fair
The school Christmas fair is normally avoided like the plague by DS1. We went once a few years back, but it was far too noisy and crowded. He freaked out and we haven’t been back since.
However, I always ask him if he wants to go, and this year he shocked me by answering in the affirmative. His friend Howard was going, you see, and DS1 told me he wanted to go at the same time and stay until he left.
We arrived as the doors opened so we would have a chance to acclimatise before it got too busy. We spent the first 15 minutes walking around and around the corridors, as he adjusted to the school looking and sounding different to normal. Eventually, I talked him onto going into the craft room, where he bumped into his mate Henry and his sister Bridget. They settled down and decorated a Christmas bauble and DS1 even spoke to the unknown adult taking the money.
Seeing they were as happy as Larry, Henry’s mum and I adjourned to the hall, where mulled wine was being supplied (or is that bought by us) in large quantities.
The kids were given some funds and left to have fun, checking in with us every now and again before rushing off for the next adventure. After a while I noticed Henry and Bridget were returning with various gifts that they had acquired with their spending money, and by the end they had bought all their presents for their entire family. DS1, on the other hand, had a bauble and four fungus amungus (look it up, I’m none the wiser) – one of which he had lost – to his name. Where the rest of the money had gone, who knows. I do know I had to spend 10 minutes searching for a tiny yellow rubber object on the floor. We didn’t find it. He was distraught.
He was becoming agitated and over tactile – his senses were overloaded – and I suggested we set off for home. He was insistent, however, that we had to stay until the end, and I couldn’t get him to change his mind. We were heading for a car crash.
The accumulation of noise and movement and crowds had taken their toll, his personal space had become invaded, and on the way home he became smacky and kicky, not just to me but his friends as well.
It was not the easiest of walks home.
In good elf
Not everything ended in tears, though. The trip to the pantomime (sausage-gate excepted) went well. So much so that Peter Pan is fast becoming his new obsession. Apparently, I make the perfect Smee because my stomach hangs over my belt.
The class nativity play, which his class had to perform in front of the whole school and parents in the local church passed off without incident. He even went on stage at the appointed time and nailed being a silent sheep splendidly.
Christmas does have some upsides, it seems – one, being the amusement that the Elf on the Shelf causes. I can’t quite believe he (and he’s not alone among his peers) still accepts that this toy elf visits the house while he’s asleep, does something ‘naughty’, stays there all day in his ‘frozen’ state, until the child of the house is asleep. He then “unfreezes”, as DS1 terms it, and returns to Lapland to report to Santa on whether the child in question has been naughty or nice, before returning to the house, gets up to some caper and freezes again, all before said child awakes.
DS1 loves this and he can’t wait to see what Ted (the name he has given his elf) has been up to in the night. The downside is that he comes tearing into our room at some ungodly hour to inform us as to what Ted has done.
The problem comes when you forget to move the bloody elf, and he is still in the same position the following morning. This happened to us the other day, when Ted remained sat on the Christmas tree trying to open a present.
Luckily (not for me, mind) I’d been ill in bed the previous day with a severe case of the two bob bits. The wife, with deft of hand, managed to sneak a Dioralyte sachet onto the tree and pointed it out to DS1. “Look, Ted must have the same illness as Dad,” she said. Amazingly, he bought it.
He cackled even louder later, when I told him that it must have been my medicine that Ted had stolen.
He later informed me that he had sprinkled the contents of the sachet over Ted to help him get better quicker, because “when he is frozen, his nose seals up like a toy and he can’t breathe normally”.
You have to be on the ball with the elf’s location, though, especially with the boy’s memory recall. One night, we set him up stealing snowflake stickers off the kitchen window. While this amused the boy, he remarked: “He can’t get enough of the kitchen can he? That’s the fifth time he’s been in here.”
On another occasion, he didn’t take kindly when ‘Ted’ left him a note on the toilet roll the cheeky elf had stolen. It read: “Remember, it’s important to brush your teeth twice a day and to have a bath or shower at least twice a week.”
In my misguided mind I thought the directive coming from Ted, and by association Santa, may have the desired affect.
But, by the time I came down in the morning, the note had been doctored and was now addressed to me.
I had no come back – how could I have known what Ted had written?
You have to hand it to him.