Duncan is growing up. He has changed again since his eighth birthday. I still have to be very careful in many circumstances, and he still can, um, surprise me by, for example, finding a pot of poster paint and decorating his trains, getting more than a little splashed around the bathroom in the process. But, I tell myself, it is so much better than when he would never have considered, as he now does, trying to avoid messing up the carpet. And there was a time when it was a substance more unpleasant than poster paint that I sometimes had to clean from various surfaces and objects.
But he is desperate to be allowed to ride his bike like the other children, up and down our street. I used to walk alongside him as he rode, fearing an impulsive foray into someone's house or worse, onto the road, but that was when he was on a smaller, slower wagon. More recently I have been able to stand outside our gate and watch him as he goes, shouting for him to turn and come back when he goes far enough. I wonder what the neighbours think sometimes. This used to be a quiet street until my children started to ride around and seemingly unearthed a host of other kids to bomb up and down the street with, pretending to be a police-dog-rescue-squad, or whatever. And then there's me guldering (as we'd have said out west where I grew up) orders at my son.
One day a few weeks back, I was talking with a neighbour as Duncan rode, and he went out of sight for a minute. Our road sweeps around in a crescent, making it fairly safe as only people with dealings in these houses have cause to drive here. I went to fetch him but couldn't see him or his bike. I called out and shortly a teenager came out from one of the houses asking if I was looking for a little boy, and one matching the description I gave turned out to have popped into their house to use the toilet. Oops! I apologised and for once gave the autism explanation, which she understood since she said, her best friend has autistic brother.
Yesterday some of our neighbours came round for a very informal dinner. The children were in and out and all about. Duncan got out with Lady and came riding up the street proudly bearing a creme egg. Where on earth had he got that? Thankfully he was able to explain it was from one of their friends' houses. The dad told me later, when I was once again apologising, that Duncan had quietly come in, opened the fridge, helped himself, politely said "thank you" then left. He did this twice too. Ah well, at the time I was feeding their kids some hot-dogs!
Earlier this week Thomas convinced me to take them to an indoor soft-play place as these same friends were going. It's a nice place, with a decent cafe and comfy chairs to entice the parents. I lost sight of Duncan almost straight away and climbed to an upper level to look for him. I spotted him streaking out of the cafe place, with a pink doughnut in his hand. I ran down and caught up with him. "Sorry Mummy! Mummy go pay for it," he said, showing me he knew that what he'd done was wrong. I paid for the already eaten pastry, and I don't think the busy staff had even noticed the little Artful Dodger's pilfering.
Anyway, my three children enjoyed their play, especially so as they had a few other friends there too. Just when I'd decided to give them ten more minutes, they all came to me supporting a distraught Duncan, bearing a red, sore looking eye and a face full of tears and snot. A boy had punched him right in the eye! Thankfully Duncan was with his siblings at the time so I was assured that he was blameless, and also that the transgressor had been noted and sternly spoken to. I cleaned him up and followed Lady to meet the thug, who was no more than five years old. I told him that he must not punch people, that it hurts and is very rude. The boy said that Duncan was being rude to him, which Lady denied, and I reiterated that it doesn't matter, he could go to an adult if he thought someone was doing wrong, but he must not hit them and hurt them.
I told one of the staff about it all then we went home. Poor Duncan's eye was red for a while. It's shocking to think that such a small boy would decide to just punch another child like that. I wondered Duncan ignored him, or appeared odd in the way he wandered around talking to himself, making this boy feel it was OK to punch the weirdo. Gordon was worried when I told him, saying that such ill treatment is just beginning for Duncan. I refuse to accept that. I will work on Duncan as best I can to help him learn strategies to stand up for himself and stay safe, but I will also do what I can to change the prevailing attitude that difference should be feared and punished.
When I was talking to Duncan about it all later, he reminisced about the doughnuts and the "turntable" (roundabout thing) and then about the "naughty boy punch Duncan." He wasn't too upset, because we all helped him know that the other child did wrong, that hitting and hurting is bad, and we don't want anyone to hurt our boy.