A year is a long time in autism

 

The other day I was having a meeting about potential freelance work.

As a home-based writer and editor I’ve had to try to become something of an expert at ‘kitchen table networking’ – horrible, trendy phrase that basically means pitching out what you do to all manner of people you meet in the expectation that some of them might be in need of words for websites or a bit of PR support or have a great story that they’d not only love you to pen for them but want to see in a magazine… (There’s more hits than misses, obviously!)

Over the past year – since we discovered Blue-eyed boy is ‘on the spectrum’, atypical, whatever you want to call it – I’ve also become something of an expert at weaving this into conversation if I need to explain how I fit my work around it.

But when it came up during this particular discussion, and I dropped the A word, the face of the person opposite me immediately fell.

“I’m SO sorry,” they said, as a semi-awkward silence hung in the air for a couple of seconds.

“Oh. Well, that’s okay. My son is actually doing really well,” I replied, in slightly bemused fashion.

I drove home still feeling a tad puzzled.

Is it the done thing to say you’re sorry when someone tells you their child has a specific condition or additional needs? Doesn’t it sound a bit like you’re apologising for their child? Is this exactly what I would have said a few years back before our family’s own autism journey began?

Not that there’s really any right or wrong here, at least to my mind. No the thing that I found eye-opening about the whole scenario was how now, a little more than 12 months after Blue-eyed boy’s diagnosis, it wouldn’t even occur to me to feel sorry that he is autistic.

It’s just always there, an integral part of who he is, the quirky to his character if you like, and 99 per cent of the time there’s nothing I would change about it because the A word goes hand in hand with Blue-eyed boy and will do every single day he’s on this planet.

Of course there are things about it that I could do without. His occasional sensory overload on the school run meaning I end up lugging him to and from the car in my arms reminding myself just how unfit I am.

The fact that even a slight cold can throw off his eccentric eating habits for days leaving us limited food options of cereal, brioche and pasta. All beige coloured, of course.

The lack of extended conversation (three word sentences are EPIC!) meaning that although he’s really popular at nursery, I’ve only found this out by chance because he can’t tell me the names of any of his friends.

But hey, these just make life a little less dull.

So from the little boy currently eating his spaghetti looking out over our back garden and the fields beyond hugely enjoying his dinner entertainment of a tractor (‘ello twactor!) driving back and forth out of the window, please don’t feel sorry about his autism.

By all means apologise if it makes you feel better to have something to say, we appreciate the sentiment – but in this house quirky rules.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hairdressing – With A Side Of Honesty

Since having kids one of my favourite things to do is going to get my hair done.

Yes of course covering the ever-thickening grey strands with a healthy dollop of artificial colour is a highlight (forgive the coiffeur humour!) but actually the best bit is sitting down for an extended period of time with people bringing me magazines and hot drinks.

A rarity these days, to state the bleeding obvious.

The thing I’ve never been that keen on about the hairdressers however is the chit chat, the small talk etiquette of it all.

For some reason I get really paranoid that I’m not giving the hairdresser good value in the chinwag department. Do they want to talk? Are they sick of talking? Why do the stylist and customer over there appear to be actual besties when I can’t think of anything interesting to say?

It’s bloody ridiculous, but sometimes I get so tense about the ‘awkward silence’ that I’ve sunk as low as asking my hairdresser about their holiday plans! I know that’s supposed to be their line but there’s only so much conversation you can have about the current state of salon straighteners…

What is even worst though, and I know I’m not alone here, is dragging the kids to have their tresses trimmed. There is literally nothing so stressful – except perhaps making them have their feet measured, or getting them to stop running around in cinema.

Thankfully these days now that she’s five Mini-me has quite taken to it all. Mainly because we’ve started going to a new place where they use ‘princess glitter spray’ and because I let her watch the iPad.

Blue-eyed boy however is another story.

Not only does he HATE the hairdressers, but ‘The A Word’ means that any outing to the barbers is now fraught with even more stress and, well, just basic hideousness.

We start gearing up to it several hours (or days) before actually leaving the house and only then attempt the trip armed to the gills with snacks little man is happy to consume this week, with at least a couple of episodes of Twirlywoos downloaded onto phone in case, horrors!, the Wifi signal doesn’t work.

Once I’ve actually got him in the chair, I then have to plonk Beebies entertainment directly in his line of vision, plead with hairdresser not to obstruct view with brushes etc., have snacks open and handy just in case of need, and all this while simultaneously holding Blue-eyed boy’s arms down so the snipping can actually take place.

And god, the bit where they try to cut around his ears, or use the clippers. Let’s not talk about it or I might start getting emotional!

The sensory issues triggered by his ASD mean that Blue-eyed boy hates certain materials and the feeling of them on his skin, so trying to put on the bib protector thingy is a total non-starter and can cause him real distress.

He also hates having water sprayed onto his hair, the feel of the scissors, the hairdresser actually touching his hair, and any residual noise interfering with his enjoyment of Great Big Hoo and gang. So a fun time is guaranteed for all.

On our visit this week (put off I might add until my poor child was sporting an actual mullet) I decided to try a new tack – honesty. It’s all part of the adapting to ASD you see. I figure I’m going to have to explain Blue-eyed boy’s condition so many times in the coming months and years that I might as well start as I mean to go on.

So when the hairdresser expressed surprise that little man didn’t like the dinosaur cape that usually goes down a storm, and in fact screamed the house down when confronted with it, instead of mumbling something about him ‘having a bad day’ I told the truth.

I told her that my son has autism, that he’s been recently diagnosed so we’re all still getting used to it and that his symptoms on any given day can include: chewing his clothes, having a meltdown if a piece of fruit he ate yesterday is put on his plate, slapping away other children if he feels they get too close and using language sparingly and only when he feels like it.

I said that ASD is actually very common and could even affect up to one in 60 children. And then I apologised if all this would make her job a bit more difficult than usual on this occasion.

Not only did she not mind, she was actually interested. She took account of what I’d said and tried to make Blue-eyed boy as comfortable as possible. Working together we even managed to keep him in the chair long enough for a pretty respectable cut.

So the upshot is that I think I’ll be sticking with this new honest approach to hairdressing – and other outings.

It just probably won’t extend to not stressing out over small talk etiquette.