25 Dec 2006

Christmas Day


I'm sitting on Duncan's bed, trying to help him get to sleep with my comforting/guarding presence. He pushing a new toy train (it puffs steam and chuffs and there's a tiny red light in the funnel) up and down his bed and chatting to himself. It's been a good day. It's been a nice few days.

The highlights for me;

When I was tucking Thomas into bed on Christmas eve, he hugged me and told me he'd love me forever.

Lady drew a beautiful picture of herself and her brothers for Santa; Santa liked it so much, he wrote her a little message to tell her so.

Thomas wrote a letter to Santa, which he read as, 'Dear Santa, I would like 5 presents please. I like you, from Thomas.' I may have seen a random selection of letters, with his name written perfectly in the middle, but Santa understood perfectly.

Duncan asked me to draw a picture of Santa, so I did. Then he wanted a Santa book. So I made a book, stuck the pages together, and he dictated the story and told me what pictures to draw, then we read it together. There's no doubt now that for the 1st time, he understood exactly what was gong on this Christmas.

At 6.30 this morning, we were all downstairs and everyone was delighted with their presents. Duncan was so excited and happy. He was shouting 'hooray!' and kept hugging me tight and squashing his face next to mine and kissing me saying 'cuddle you' and 'thank you!'

Thomas gave me one of his chocolate coins 'for being a very good adult'.

Lady looked so beautiful in her new pretty combat trousers, you know the cute ones with loads of pockets and a bit of pink embroidery so Action Man wouldn't be seen dead in them.

I played a new Harry Potter Cd Rom with Thomas and Lady; Santa decided against getting a Nintendo DS etc.

We had visitors; Gordon's mum, my dad, step-mum and her 2 sons and we all chatted, drank bucks-fizz and ate crisps.

Gordon did all the cooking while I washed-up and peeled vegetable and played with children. Our meal was wonderful. Gordon's desire to improve the taste of Christmas dinner each year has obvious benefits.

The rum-soaked Christmas cake I'd made was bloody excellent. I alternate each year between soaking the fruit in rum or in whiskey to celebrate our family's Jamaican and Irish roots. ;-)

Doctor Who (the only telly I watched) was great fun.

I thought back to Christmas 3 years ago. Duncan was 3, and because he often had his hand down the front of his nappy, he'd sometimes (or often?) inadvertently smear, well you know what. That Christmas day, I remember washing a whole box of wooden trains and track, hosing him down in the shower, and Gordon getting out the carpet washer and getting to work. Wow, we've come a long way.

Anyway, like Shane says, happy Christmas yer arse.

21 Dec 2006

Other stuff on the homefront

SO, it being nearly Christmas and all, we put up our Christmas tree. (This was a week or so ago; I just never wrote about it then.) It's a plastic thing, bought a few years ago when I came to the realisation that a fresh smelling pine, elegantly draped with lights and beautiful glass baubles, really wasn't the thing to have in the house with a couple of curious children, and lets be honest, one of whom who seemed to be in training for a career in the demolition industry. So each year we dust off the fake tree, and hang the cheap plastic baubles and all the wee decorations that the children have made over the years. One of my favourite things on it is a photo-bauble of Duncan wearing a Santa hat, looking straight at the camera with his tongue poking out. It was made in his old nursery, and he looks such a picture of mischief and fun.

The children had a lot of fun dressing the tree and I managed not to get too crabbit about mess and malfunctioning lights etc. Duncan was especially excited about the whole thing. He was jumping around and marching up and down the kitchen, wrapped in a length of tinsel. singing Jingle Bells! I can see that this is the first year when he understands and shares in the excitement of Christmas. He tells people who ask him what Santa (or Santy as they say here) is bringing him, that he's bringing a present, a 'Thomas real water tower'. Well, we shall see if the old man in the North Pole got the e-mails Lady sent him.

There have, funny enough, been a few parcels delivered from Amazon over the past few days. Duncan did notice them, but I managed to convince him they were all for Daddy. One large package arrived containing a Major buggy. I'd forgotten that it had been ordered for him by the OT. It's a large stroller, designed for disabled children, and we decided to try it out right away. We took a trip to the beach. Duncan enjoyed sitting in it, he had a huge grin on his face and his arms in the air. He got out for a good run around on the beach with Lady and Thomas. When we were going home, Thomas wanted a turn in the buggy but Duncan didn't want to get out so Thomas just sat on his knee and Duncan put his arms around him and held him tight. They looked so cute together, but it was kinda hard going up the hill so Thomas got out after a while. I was pleased that it worked so well for Duncan though, I think we'll make plenty of use of this. It beats having to carry him on my back when we go for a walk and he gets a bit overloaded or tired.

All together

My sister C. flew in from London last weekend for her Christmas visit. I picked her up on Friday evening, then on Saturday afternoon, we went with Lady to do some Christmas shopping before driving all the way to my brother's house way out west. Lady stayed the night with them; she and her cousin A. are great friends. Then C. and I went over to another brother and went out to a pub in town with him and his girlfriend. It was such good crack. I chatted to a few people I knew from way back when I was at school, and to a few others I'd never met before. So much bullshit spoken in one short evening, well...not so short since we didn't leave until about 3am. I'm always on my worst behaviour when I go back home!

I'd booked a room in a restaurant for Sunday lunch so I could join all my siblings, our partners/spouses, our children and Dad and G (our step mum) for a Christmas party. I cannot actually remember the last time we were all together. I have 1 older brother and 3 younger brothers and 1 younger sister. So there were 13 adults and 9 children at the party. The restaurant is situated right in the middle of northern Ireland, so even though we were driving from North East and South West, no-one would have too far to go. My dad and step mum had picked up Gordon and my boys since I was away in our car. Lady travelled with my brother and his family and I met them all in the restaurant. I had wondered how Duncan would deal with the situation and when he first saw me, he was upset and crying asking for a "Christmas train", whatever that is! We all went into the room and a large table had been nicely decorated for us. The children were able to run around a bit and play together and Gordon and I took turns doing 'Duncan duty'. Someone had to stay right by him all the time since twice, he slipped past us all and into the kitchen, which really wasn't the safest place for a curious, agile, autistic boy. He enjoyed going outside for little walks or pushing buttons on a couple of game/gambling machines in the bar area. We all ate our meal; plentiful and fairly typical pub-grub standard. Then we all exchanged presents. We had decided to buy one gift for each adult and child, sort of a secret Santa thing, except 2 of my brothers had already bought gifts for all the children by the time I'd told them abut this plan so the children all ended up with a pile of gifts. We all truly enjoyed ourselves. It was marvellous just to have everyone in one place like that, and getting along so well because we really do. We may have driven each other mad at times when we were children, but as adults, it's just great to be part of a large family. Our children range in age from 9 (nearly 10) to 3 and they had so much fun together. I'm so glad Duncan was happy enough to just do his own thing even though we did have to be apart from the main group often when we were looking after him, but that's OK.

After a few hours, we packed up the bulging gift bags in our respective cars and drove off, each to their own corner of the country. My sister had to go back on Monday evening, so we just had a nice quiet day until then. We've all agreed that we will do this again regularly.

12 Dec 2006


We arrived in Barcelona around midday on Tuesday. The airport bus dropped us very close to our hotel so we dropped off the bags and walked down La Ramblas to the harbour. Our hotel was right on this, the most famous street in Barcelona, a great location, thronged with people at all times of the day and night, home to bird sellers and flower stalls. I'd been warned by so many people to be wary there at night, but it never seemed that risky to me. Like anywhere, you just have to be careful and alert.

We had lunch by the sea, and although it was the middle of December the temperature was 20 degrees (C, obviously), so a nice change from chilly, damp Ireland. Gordon picked the restaurant. He'd eaten there before when he was in Barcelona on business, and he'd been wishing then that I was with him, so this time, I was! After we'd eaten, we wandered round the city, going wherever we felt like and ended up in a food market off La Ramblas. It was amazing, hundreds of stalls of fish, meat, offal, fruit and breads. We bought some cakes (passed on the entrails) and returned to our room. The hotel was terrific, the room was clean and comfortable and the staff were so helpful.

In the evening we wandered around for an hour or so, keeping an eye out for somewhere good to eat, but enjoying the sights too. Then I started to feel too hungry and tired and demanded to be fed (I don't do well on an empty stomach) so we went to a restaurant we agreed looked good. It was a wonderful meal, with lots of fresh fish and a nice bottle of cava which all left me feeling good!

We didn't even leave the hotel next day until 12, and headed across the street to a cafe for breakfast. I loved that at that late hour, we were automatically handed the breakfast menu! It was pouring, but we borrowed a sturdy hotel umbrella and were perfectly protected under it. To escape the rain, we went to the Picasso museum first. That man's work is fascinating. I was almost completely ignorant about him, and seeing the progression in themes, ideas and styles all together like that gave me a real appreciation for just why he is so revered. Like so many great artists, he was BIG on perseveration!

In the evening we took the metro to Gaudi's church, probably the most renowned Barcelona landmark. It was one of those moments when the splendour of what you're seeing just hits you in the guts. I looked round when coming up the metro steps and caught my first sight and although I have seen photos of Sagrada Familia, it was something else to behold it for myself. It looked like stone that had come to life, columns went into the ground like triffids, steeples looked like honey comb; it just appeared so organic. I loved it.

Across the road, there was a Christmas fair. Rows of stalls and almost all of them selling figurines and for the crib, all different types and sizes of Marys and Josephs etc., and others specialising in moss, bridges, gravel in various colours (to recreate the Bethlehem road network?) animals and little battery operated fake fires for the stable. Wandering around were loads of families with young children and there was such a happy, festival atmosphere. Even late into the night, there were many children out and about with their families.

For our final meal, we decided to eat really late, so we'd be out as Gordon's birthday began. So we went to a restaurant called 7 Portes, for some Catalan food. We didn't arrive until 11. 15 and I was worried that we'd be turned away, but no, they were still seating diners at midnight. It's different in Barcelona!

The food we had was great (a bit salty for me, but perhaps that's the Catalan way?) One irritating thing though; our lovely waitress brought our meals to the table, announcing in Spanish (or Catalan, I couldn't tell though they're quite different) what they were. I'd ordered a stew of monk fish, Dublin Bay prawns and potatoes and Gordon was having Paella. We both paused to admire the plates, before getting ready to eat. Suddenly a sour faced waiter swooped over and snatched my plate away without a word. He went on to berate our waitress who'd obviously given me the wrong thing. I felt a bit guilty because she had said what it was, and I, who only know about 10 words of Spanish (most of which are found on Mexican food menus) didn't realise it wasn't what I ordered, it just looked about right! Anyway, apologies were made, we waved them off, I had my meal and we tipped her well at the end because the nasty waiter had left her almost in tears.

But anyway, we were able to see in Gordon's birthday together and enjoy some good food in a great setting. I was feeling on such a high, my face was hurting later from chatting and smiling so much!

We managed to have breakfast in a local cafe again before going to the airport and getting back home. I was so happy to be back. The house was, as expected, a bit of a mess. All 3 children had a great time with their grandparents. My Dad told me that my step-mum enjoyed spending that time with them getting to know them better.

So Barcelona, we really enjoyed our short time there. It was great to be away from the children for a while and do things on the spur of the moment, and not have to keep tabs on some small people. But best of all, was going home and having all 3 of those small people run up for a hug and show or tell how much we missed each other.

4 Dec 2006

Dancing with Happy Feet

Lady had another grading in Jujitsu on Saturday, and has gained her yellow belt. She's so happy and proud, as are all the rest of us. When she came home with Gordon, Thomas ran over to hug her and congratulated her; it was really nice.
Apart from that I had a great morning out alone having my hair cut at a fancy place and I'm really starting to look forward to our trip away now.

Yesterday morning we all went to see Happy Feet at the cinema. I enjoyed it at first, it was all very sweet and a bit Moulin Rouge like, and the cute, odd penguin dancing to Stevie Wonder was fun to watch. But, I wish we'd all left at least half an hour before the end; it really dragged on, Robin William's voice-over was annoying and some characterisations were kinda racist and the whole environmental theme was way over the heads of almost all the children watching. Why can't more children's films just be pitched at, what do you call them again, oh yeah - children! It would have been better to preach just one worthy message while entertaining with a nice story. Oh and one more thing, at the end (sorry if this spoils it for anyone) the humans decide to quit their destruction, because of how cute the dancing penguins are, so basically, the elephant seals, who can neither sing nor dance and nor look anything close to cute, well they're totally effed!

Anyway, while we were watching it, my own little Mumble was wriggling about, walking up and down the side aisle (the cinema was only about 20% full) and he kept dancing along, doing the jiggly feet thing and all! It was funny to see his timely demonstration that some children dance instead of singing; we did like the neurodiverse penguin thing. He also lay in the aisle for a bit and then as it went on for far too long and he (and Thomas) lost all interest, he ran to the exit and started to chew his top before stripping down to his vest. I did move about the cinema a fair bit to stay near him.

Later Gordon went shopping and came home with an inflatable punch bag (oh, and the eggs, milk, juice, tea etc. too!) That was a big hit (boom boom!) Lady started demonstrating her martial arts skills; I haven't seen her do it for a while and I was well impressed at how good she looked, but then, she is a yellow belt now ;-)
Thomas and Duncan just enjoyed bashing the bejaysus out of it. Duncan for some reason keeps trying to lie on it and quoting from Finding Nemo, specifically, 'swim down, swim down.' I'm not getting the connection at all yet.

So anyway, I'm lying in bed typing this before starting my day. I've got to tidy and clean like crazy, make it appear half decent for my dad and step-mum who, like angels, are looking after the children when we go away - tomorrow. Woo hoo!

30 Nov 2006

Counting down

I'm amazed that November is ending. We've several things to get ready for the Christmas season; gifts to buy, cards to make and send, Christmas cake to make. We'll be making a paper chain advent calendar this year again (tear a link off per day, the chain gets shorter as Christmas gets closer) and I want to make a Christmas pudding for the first time. I'm also counting down the days until Gordon and I head off to Barcelona next week for 2 days. It's his birthday (a big one) and I'm so excited. I've never been to Spain and I've heard and read so much about how wonderful Barcelona is.

Today, Duncan had one of those days when he just wanted to be around me all the time. He dictated another book, all about himself and his siblings.

Lady puts on her Jasmine top. Lady wears her Jasmine top.
(Duncan loves it when Lady wears this dressing up outfit, from Disney's Aladdin film. He likes to hug her warm, bare tummy, but she doesn't wear it often and has now hidden it from him.)

Duncan was good as new. Duncan was delighted today. He gets Daniel's Thomas the next time.

Thomas watched Harry Potter in Duncan's room.

I can remember getting all excited about Duncan using 5 words in a sentence for the first time, now he's dictating stories then reading them.

I also had to do several drawings; Buzz Lightyear, several trains, Rocket from the Fimbles, and lots of Chinese Dragons; and he is so particular, it took many tries before I was able to produce what he was describing. He'd seen one on the DK World Explorer CD Rom, a few days earlier with Lady.

Lady wants to do some badges for Brownies. She's starting with a care for animals badge, and has to write about looking after the guinea pigs and a few other things. She read through the book listing all the options, and has decided that she'll do the sports badge (jujitsu) and disability awareness badge next. She wants to inform people about her brother's autism, so we'll look at it together and see how that could be done.

They're all asleep now, poor Duncan fell asleep with his little hand stuck into a pot of frozen peas. He burned his finger tip by opening the printer, when some paper became stuck then he, as usual, tried to sort stuff out for himself.

28 Nov 2006

Lady swims, Duncan reads, Thomas multiplies

After all the drama and mood swing of the past few days, yesterday was delightfully calm and productive in comparison. Lady got stuck into her maths book, and worked really hard. Thomas mostly played PC games, especially The Polar Express and Timez Attack, a free downloadable game. He's played it so often now that he can answer many of the multiplication questions himself. He also read for me; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? We're going to make our own version of that book today. He might even decide to draw something other than a rainbow (the only thing he currently will draw) to illustrate it!

While the others were busy, Duncan and I remade his 'Trevor' book on the computer. We Googled images and he chose which ones to use. He also picked photos of me and himself, then instructed me on where to place everything on the page and what size to make them. We're very proud of our efforts, so I'm sticking it on here!

In the evening, I took Lady swimming. She went in and I watched from the side. I have never seen her swim before, she swam the width of the pool, and has never had a lesson, but splashed about lots with her friends at her summer scheme. I'll go in with her when my hands heal again (my intermittent eczema problem) and help her develop a better style. It was lovely going out alone with her though. She is such a great girl, so happy and positive. The town was lit up for Christmas, and she declared everything to be gorgeous! Then in the pool, she kept catching my eye and giving a little wave, before diving under the water!

And now, our book!

Duncan wants a new train. Duncan wants a Daniel’s Trevor train.

Mummy buys a Trevor train on Ebay.

The man in the train shop puts Trevor into the parcel.

Then the man brings the parcel to the Post Office.

The postman puts Duncan's parcel into his bag. He brings it to Duncan’s house.

Duncan opens the parcel.
Duncan takes out the new Daniel’s Trevor train.

Duncan is very happy!

27 Nov 2006

Good and bad

Over the past few days, I've listened to a lot of wailing, at high volume, produced by a small boy right next to my head. It's been awful at times. He has been upset about so many things. I have not coped at all well with this. I've been horrible sometimes, and have gotten so wound up by all the noise and aggravation, that its all escalated until we've ended up clinging to each other, both in tears. I need to buy some ear plugs. He hates to see me cry or be sad; he wipes my eyes and says 'no Mummy sad, Mummy just happy' which always does help me smile again.

But, even through all this, there have been some wonderful developments and experiences for all 3 children. Duncan has been reading a little booklet I made him, complete with pictures, showing how I'd bought him a train on Ebay, and describing how the man in the train shop would parcel and post it, then the postal worker would deliver it. He loves it! He keeps carrying it round with him and reading it over and over. I have to improve the little pictures a bit every so often too; he'll stare at one for a while, then ask me to, for example, draw in a wooden floor, complete with knots in the wood, or the bricks in the wall of the house picture, alternating bricks in brown and orange. It's so important to him to get it right, and he works so hard finding the words to communicate what's in his head.

His ability to read has taken a huge leap forward over the past few days too. I remember someone telling me that it seemed her child became more difficult to deal with when he had a surge in ability with some other skill; perhaps that's what is happening here. Anyway, he has been pointing to each word, reading it clearly, skipping the few words he doesn't know yet, and carrying on with the story. I have never seen him do this before, he never seemed to recognise that they were all individual words before. Gordon watched him with me on Friday, and was so proud of him (and a bit misty eyed too!)

The big news for Thomas, is he now wears glasses. He is slightly short sighted and really only needs to wear his new glasses for stuff like watching TV. Thomas is so proud of then though, that he wears them all the time. In fact, he's decided to start sleeping on the bottom of their bunk beds, so he can get into bed, pull his duvet over himself, and then finally, he removes the glasses, puts them carefully into their case and places it on his chest of drawers.

He walked around on Friday and Saturday, with a zig-zag scar drawn on his forehead, so he looks more like his hero, Harry Potter.

On Friday night, he and Lady both spent the night at their friends house. It was a sleep over for his 12th birthday, and there were, oh, about 20 or so children sleeping there. Thomas was so excited when I'd told him he would be staying, and immediately went to pack his bag. He had a great time, hanging out with his best little buddy, and apparently, he's a dab hand with these DS electronic games now too!

Lady loved it too. They watched a bunch of exciting movies, and she slept with the 2 big girls also staying over. The best bit, she told me, was when she and another girl, were on an exercise bike belonging to D (the very brave Mum hosting this whole gang). They both raved about chocolate birthday cake, pizza and pop, and were all fast asleep by 7.30 the following night. Thanks D!

(Update, the new 'Daniel's Trevor engine' has just arrived in the post, exactly as described in our story! Hurrah!)

21 Nov 2006

Our week out

Since there's been a man painting in our house for the past week, we've been spending every day out. It's been costly, stressful, tiring, enlightening and fun all mixed up.

On Thursday, we went to my Dad's apartment for the day. The children love it there. Lady and Thomas played snakes and ladders and 4-in-a-row, and Duncan checked their cupboards for sweet things/looked through the Argos catalogue/played with trains. My step-mum encouraged me to go out for a while, so I took the opportunity of meeting up with Gordon for lunch at a (quite upmarket) restaurant. It's clientele was mostly men in suits and elegant ladies, with hair that's 'done' once a week. We had a really nice meal, and when Gordon went back to work, I went off and spent some of his hard earned cash on some clothes for me. I got back to the children after a couple of hours away feeling like I'd been on holiday. This is certainly one of the benefits of living quite close to your parents!

On Friday, it was my mother-in-law's turn to put up with us for a while. I had to leave Duncan and Lady with her while I took Thomas to the optometrist for an eye test. He was so solemn sitting there during the test, and even when he couldn't make out the test letters, he always had a guess- he'd never admit to not knowing! So, he is a bit short-sighted (not surprising since Gordon and I both are) and we went off to choose some frames for him. He's delighted of course, bring him closer to his goal of looking like Harry Potter.

After that, my MIL had to go out, so to use up some more time, I took all the children to the transport museum. I asked Lady to stay with Thomas and make sure he was OK so I could stay with Duncan. At first, Duncan was 'stuck' in the cafe, crying for cakes or chocolate bars, but I knew he wasn't hungry as he'd just eaten before we arrived. He also had a hard time getting past the big display case of with the model railway and a Percy and Thomas train in there too. He kept trying to open the glass door, while I tried to distract him with something else, and threatened to take him home. After a bit of noise, he started to run off to look at some other things. A group of men were setting up some model railways for a one day exhibit the following day. I was right beside Duncan, with my hand on his shoulder, making sure he didn't cause any harm to the intricate, lovingly arranged sets. He did reach out and touch one signal post, even though I was whispering to him to 'just look, not touch.' One of the men setting up snapped at me, 'don't let him touch anything.' Duncan was struggling to get away from me again, and I thought 'grumpy ould f.' and called Lady to tell her we'd have to leave right away. Duncan cried and said he wanted to go on the big engine, so I relented and took him to climb into the cab of one of the steam trains. And that was the turning point, from then on he was great and we all had a lovely time. About 20 minutes later, the man who'd spoken to me earlier came past. I avoided eye contact, feeling very offended and all, but he came up and apologised for snapping at me earlier. Wow, I wasn't expecting that! I did appreciate it though. I told him that I did have to stay close to Duncan who's autistic and loves trains, but could inadvertently cause damage. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if Duncan joins their group in 10 years time!

The rest of that day was spent having lunch in the McD place, running about in the forest park (we all patted a beautiful Great Dane) and watching part of a DVD in the car while it rained.

Yesterday we went to the local indoor play area. We arrived at 11.15 but couldn't go in as they only can let preschool aged children in before 12. So we had an early lunch, more junk food at the drive through, then went back for 12 on the dot. The children had the place entirely to themselves and made the most of it. Thomas was brave enough to go down the huge, high, inflatable slide with Lady, and Duncan went on a bouncy castle for the first time. He spent more time in the ball pool though.

We then drove back to my Dad's apartment for the afternoon and Duncan did some reading practise using the Argos catalogue; he can now read all sorts of important words like 'busy time Thomas' and Grrr, Roar, Ding and Toot.

14 Nov 2006

That's a wrap!

On Sunday, the whole family went for a walk down to the beach, then we drove to the drive through at you-know-where. There were happy faces all round.

We're having our hallway and kitchen painted this week, using a washable paint. So, we're getting out during the day so the man doing the decorating can get on with it, without lots of little helping hands. Yesterday Gordon took time off work and we went to W5. Lady and Thomas stayed with Gordon while I looked after Duncan. We managed to run around every square metre of that 5 floor building. Who needs a gym? I don't!

In between all the running (and chasing) lots of things captured his interest for long enough to warrant a pause for further investigation. My favourite bit, was when we played with some plastic dinosaurs and and made some frame-by-frame animation films of them bashing into each other - as you do! Suddenly Duncan decided to move on to something else, so he ran off, and as I went after him, I heard him say, 'that's it, that's a wrap!' I have no idea where he heard that before, or how he was able to say it in such an appropriate setting.

He uses lots of expressions from the Green Eggs and Ham book now too. It's great for expressing a disinclination to acquiesce, like, 'I do not like it here or there' or 'I would not, could not'. When I turn off his light at night, he says 'Not in the dark!' And he sometimes follows up with the rest of the line, 'not in a tree, not in a car, you let me be!'

I think it's magical, seeing how he adapts all these scripts in his head, chops and sorts them and uses them in such a logical way!

Today we spent the day with some friends. (I had warned my friend D to 'brace herself' for our arrival!) We all had a great time and us mums had a good natter.

Lady and Thomas have become very interested in a boy band from a children's TV show set in Belfast. It's called Bel's Boys, and I keep hearing snippets of their songs, mostly sung by Thomas when he's sitting on the floor building a puzzle or whatever. He wants a guitar for Christmas (so does Lady). She also told me that when they were at W5, a teenager said Thomas was cute and he responded with 'I'm not cute, I'm a singer and I do rock!'
So there!

10 Nov 2006

Some outright boasting

These were taken in W5, when our friends were over with us a few weeks ago. Don't I have some fine children! (See, who's playing with toy trains in behind Lady!)
Then there's Thomas looking oh so grown up!

Last Sunday, Duncan finally persuaded me to make this cardboard Percy train. He'd seen a photo of something similar (only much more professional looking!) when he'd been Googling his beloved engines, and kept asking me to get 'cardboard, green paint, red paint, yellow paint, black paint.'

I pulled them all out of my seldom used art box and we all went to work, with Duncan directing proceedings 'yellow number six, that size (and he shows us with his hands) goes there.' He loved it when it was finished.

Gordon has been away since Tuesday and will return on Saturday; another conference, this time in Prague. Nice work eh!

We've been getting along fine, We had friends over yesterday. Thomas was delighted to hang out for ages with his bestest buddy and Duncan loves the Crazy Frog music toy we were so kindly given. Lady and the boys were playing some macabre game that involved at one stage, leaving some of the bits of Gordon's plastic teaching skeleton (the one we store in the closet) in a corner of the garden, sprinkled with strawberry milkshake mix ('it's supposed to be blood'). They had a load of fun, and I had, as always, a really nice chat with my friend.

Today, they boys took turns on the PC. Thomas played his Jojo in Numberland game all the way through (showing some pretty advanced maths skills) and then Duncan took over. He called me over to help him, and I looked at the screen. He had typed 'fiorence magic roundabout' into Google. He learned how to write 'Magic Roundabout' by himself yesterday, and I had written the word 'Florence' down for him a few days ago. He was obviously typing it from memory, just mixing up the i and l keys. What a guy!

7 Nov 2006

Do reward systems help?

Yesterday, the whole family enjoyed a walk in the country park, with the low sun coming through autumn trees. Lady walked alongside Thomas, and I smiled to see her arm protectively on his shoulder when were on the narrow path along the road. Duncan rode on my back until we reached the forest and he dashed off along the beech leaf strewn path. It really was beautiful. We passed under the viaduct, just missing a passing train, and carried on to the waterfall. Duncan was in front all along, and I was running after him calling for him to stop or slow down. He didn't want to go home, and wanted me to carry him again when we were back on the road. Gordon and I tried to get him to walk; I walked on ahead and he sat on the ground crying. Soon, he ran up to me and I gave in (as usual) and picked him up again. We will be getting a buggy for him soon, so perhaps this particular issue will hopefully be sorted out, but...

This is a recurring thing round here, Duncan cries long and loud enough, and I cave in. It's not right. There are some things that are causing problems, that have built up over time, and I can see now that I have set up these situations Oh, it's not all the time, I can distract him most of the time, and I don't even mind the low level whining for things that he does when we're at home. What is the biggest issue of all, and what I would most like to change right now, is the problems we have about going out. Everywhere we go, he knows where there are sweets and cakes available. And worse still, are the trains, oh god the trains!! Every time we are driving home, having gone out anywhere in the car, he starts shouting and crying asking for whatever train is next on his wish list and saying 'No go home!' I used to buy one every week when I took Lady to drama, and had to wait around in the town for an hour. That wasn't too tricky as they were cheap and easily available. But now, he's looking for engines which aren't available anywhere except via the internet. I've bought a few, to give him as presents when (for example) Gordon returns from a conference, but sometimes he's just had them from the postman as they are delivered too.

Oh dear, this is very boring to explain. But if anyone is still reading at this point, how can I get us all out of this. I don't want to punish him when he starts shouting. He's not doing it to be naughty; he's learned that there's a good chance that he'll get what he wants from that kind of behaviour.

I don't usually use reward type systems with the children, but perhaps this is what is required now. Gordon and I were talking about some sort of way to let him build up credits to earn the toy he wants, so he knows that they would still be available, just not because he's shouted at me. I would not punish him for doing the wrong thing, he takes really badly to being told off, so if I was to remove stickers (or something), he'd be freaked out.

I need to go off and analyse my behaviour now ;-)

2 Nov 2006

Quit the pity

A few days ago, when we were coming back from a walk, a woman was walking past our gate when she stopped and gestured to me to come over. She told me that she had been driving past the house a few days ago when my little boy was out on the road, waving and standing in front of her car when she was driving. I was surprised, as I couldn't even think when that might have happened and explained that he's autistic. She told me she already knew, she'd spoken to his Granda previously (my Dad knows my neighbours better than I do!). She said that she saw him run back to the house, so I suppose she felt it was safe enough to leave him then and not inform me at the time.

As she was talking, Duncan came out again in his bare feet. I asked him to go get some shoes, and he pointed at her and said 'Go away!' Lady was around and she said, 'he's saying that to Mummy because he wants her to get him something.' She was obviously trying to prevent the woman from feeling bad, but Duncan came right up to us, looked straight at the woman and told her 'Go away woman', so there was no mistaking his meaning. I apologised in a sort of general way, and she looked pityingly at me and said that it must be very hard on me. I was well flustered by then (thinking about what might have happened to Duncan that day, wondering how it happened etc.) that I was only able to mumble something about him being a great boy, but one with limited understanding at times.

I soon figured that it must have happened the day the cavity wall insulation and loft insulation were installed. The men kept coming and going and leaving the front door open. I kept Duncan engaged with stories and as many little 3d pictures of trains as he wanted. But I had to go upstairs for a moment, and Lady came up to tell me that Duncan had gone outside and was climbing up the ladder. I ran down and brought him back inside straight away, but the road incident must have happened just before that.

Thankfully we live on a very quiet road; only vehicles going to the houses on the street need come down it.

As I've thought about this several times in the days since, I get a shiver of fear for what might have been. Aren't children great at doing that to you? I also can't help thinking that if I'd been in her position, and I saw a young child I knew was autistic (and therefore developmentally delayed) out on the road, I'd get out of the car and make sure he got home and tell his parent about it at the same time. Perhaps I'm trying to offload some of my own guilt onto her though.

But I just can't forget the pity thing either. I know it's harder raising a child like Duncan than children like Lady and Thomas. But I don't know if people realise when they say that, how it upsets me to see him singled out as a source of pity for his mother. He is my son, and brings me more joy than I can express. What's to pity?

1 Nov 2006

Halloween and all that

So where are we; halloween, family parties, children learning stuff and making mess, ah life as usual.

Last Friday, Gordon's Mum came over to mind the children for a few hours in the evening and Gordon and I went out for a meal. It was the first time we'd been out together for ages, and it was lovely. Then on Saturday night I was gallivanting again. This time Gordon stayed at home and I went to the home town with Dad and G for my cousin's engagement party. I always have such great crack when I get together with all my cousins and aunts and uncles. The bonus was, I was asked by yet another cousin to help pick the fancy dress winners in the party he had organised downstairs from our party; the power, the POWER!! (For the record, the grim reaper won, with 2nd and 3rd places going to the naughty policewoman (she must a' been foundered) and the gangster.)

I stayed the night in my Dad's place, and had a long lie in the next morning. It was bliss.

On Monday, we started the day with a walk to the beach. I should really have prepared for the wet trousers and socks that ensued, but I hadn't, so Thomas had a cold, wet walk home. Duncan had removed his trousers, socks and wellies and strode into the sea with his two skinny pale legs sticking out from his big winter coat. He insisted on being carried most of the way home which was knackering. I'm hoping to get a Major buggy for him soon. The occupational therapist has ordered one. Then when he's feeling overloaded or tired, he can just sit down and hide behind a Thomas book or something, instead of wanting to be carried.

For the rest of that day, we all worked really hard, with everyone concentrating mainly on reading skills. Lady took one of those reading tests and although she had a score which was just the same as her chronological age, it was clear that she simply guessed lots of the words, when I knew that she would be able to 'sound them out'. So we did a bit of the 'Toe by Toe' phonics reading book we used when she was younger then she read some of her 'Pippi' story aloud.

She really loves the Dorling Kinderly 'explorer' CD Roms we have. Both she and Duncan played the World Explorer one quite a bit recently. Duncan particularly likes the bit about the Pacific Ocean; he recites chunks of it now!

We took Duncan over to spend some more time with his Granda, and the rest of us went to the folk museum where there were special events for Halloween. Lady had dressed up as a witch; I had painted a (crude!) web and spider on her green face, and she wore some deep red lipstick. It looked good actually. Thomas wore his Harry Potter quidditch costume, not really scary but he liked it! They both had small toy brooms, and Thomas sat on his and rode the whole way rounds the museum. Lady began to feel self-conscious as she was the only child with her face painted and she started to get grumpy and negative about the whole thing. Everything was starting to wind down by the time we arrived too, even though there were 2 hours to go before closing time. It was cold and windy so got back in the car to go get Duncan. We decided that we'd buy a spooky DVD, go home, cook the burgers I'd bought earlier and have a home movie night.

The film we choose was 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and we all snuggled on the sofa to watch it. (The film was OK, funny in parts but far too long; the kids liked it though, especially the ghoulish bits which would have freaked the bejesuz out of me and my equally wimpy siblings when we were their age.)

So now I'm all caught up again!

24 Oct 2006

Annie and Clarabel arrive

Our friends arrived from London on Thursday. It was wonderful to see them, the girls whom I'll call Annie and Clarabel and their mum S. (It's OK S., I promise not to call you Bertie here). S. and I met at antenatal classes meaning Lady and Annie were born a few weeks apart. They've been friends since they were babies and have a real close sister-like bond. Clarabel is a 5 year old, cute little imp of a girl. I miss seeing them, as we used to spend a lot of time round their house and they in ours, and we were always available to mind each others children when necessary (though I was easily the main beneficiary of the free child-minding!)

The children clicked back to being together instantly and spent hours playing with dolls and dressing up and reading and watching films and drawing. Me and S. did OK too, we managed to find plenty to chat about, heh, no problems there!

My Dad drove over on Thursday and took Duncan off to stay with him for the day. He'd only been away for 20 minutes when he phoned me. I worried that something might be wrong, but no; he wanted to let me know some of the cute things Duncan had done on the journey. First he'd pointed at some cranes in the city (Belfast is laden with cranes right now) and said it was the harbour ('cause of Cranky the crane in the Thomas stories) then he pointed out the hospital where he'd been recently and told his Granda it was the dentist. Also, my Dad was singing to him and playing an opposite game. He said, 'do be do be do!', Duncan replied 'do be do be don't!'

So Duncan spent a few hours with Dad and G. in their apartment. They took a trip to the pet shop, and just had a lovely time. He was able to communicate all his needs perfectly, even when a tiny train picture I'd made earlier was binned by accident, Duncan let them know so it could be retrieved again. Oh, another first too; when he went to the loo, he said to Dad, 'Go away, no adults.' I didn't even know he knew that word! It's clear that spending time with his Granda is really good for him, and I know Granda and G. enjoyed it too!

At 6 o'clock, he gathered up all his toys, packing them into his bag, went to the door and announced 'I must go home.' So, he did.

While he was away, we had a trip into town and had a hoke round the shops. That night, the girls took ages to fall asleep, preferring to natter into the night. Eventually they dropped off, only to wake at 4.30 am, put the lights on and come ask me if it was morning! Well, nooo my darlings...

On Friday, we went to W5, obviously. It's our favourite place to go. Annie and Clarabel loved it. They had an exhibition of some of the sets from the Wallace and Grommit movie. The detail and humour in these sets is stunning. I made the mistake of looking at something Annie wanted to show me for, oh all of 15 secs and when I looked back to check on Duncan, he had gone. I asked the 2 women on the door of that room if they'd seen a small boy with curly hair whizz by; they had not, but that didn't mean much. I had them warn the person on the main exit to make sure he didn't go out (they all have walkie talkies) then ran down stairs to look for him in the cafe area and sweet shop where he usually goes. He wasn't there but I found him minutes later in another area. He'd only been out of sight for about 4 minutes. After that, I was kept very busy tailing the boy as he explored and investigated. All very nice for him but knackering for me!

At least the girls and Thomas all went off to sleep early that night. Duncan was still buzzing 'til after 10 though. Yawn!

On Saturday, my Dad came out to our house on the train and once more, he took Duncan off with him for the afternoon. They went to the park where Duncan spent all his time in the sand pit, barefoot (in Northern Ireland in October?) and happily digging and piling sand. Afterwards, they stopped at a shop for ice-cream. Duncan tried to get out of the car via the front door and G, my step-mum, had to hold him until Dad got back. He fought and shouted, and when he was settled again he apparently looked at my Dad and said about G, 'I don't like that woman!' Thankfully she wasn't offended! And she was able to buy her way into his affections again by being the one to hand over the ice-cream; good move!

This time, the rest of us went to the zoo. There were few other people there, which was a new experience for our London visitors. We all had a nice time and a good work out going up and down those hills. The highlights were the penguin who flirted with everyone through the viewing window into their pool, and the elephants.

Our guests went back home on Sunday morning leaving us all alone again. We'd had such a nice time together, especially Lady who I was delighted to see, gets on with her friend just as well as if they'd never been apart. They really do love each other like sisters, and I know they will always be close.

Gordon returned from his conference in Chicago on Monday afternoon, feeling utterly exhausted. I am too, and hope we can get things back to normal again soon. Having him away for so long is hard, though it wasn't so bad this time having friends here and so much help with Duncan. I have been a bit low though and need to get my routines in place again, and hope and pray the boy starts going off to sleep a bit more easily soon.

18 Oct 2006

Green Eggs and Ham

On Monday, I was in the charity shop dropping off a load of stuff and then in TK Maxx buying Lady a winter coat. Somehow I also ended up with a load of new CD Roms for the children.

One was Green Eggs and Ham (a bargain at £2) which I thought the boys might like. Well, Duncan just loves it and spent ages playing it yesterday, following the story, repeating the words. I had to draw the train (obviously). I've also had to cook many fried eggs (no yellow bit) for the boy, so more benefits there.
I never liked Dr Seuss as a child, but I know now it was because I never heard the books read aloud, I was trying to read them to myself quietly, and they just don't work that way.

Oh, I've seen the paper linking TV viewing to autism. It's a joke, it has to be a spoof. I'm hoping the authors will come out someday soon and say, 'see how easy it is to sucker you all with some dodgy theory.' Just stick in the word autism and the media opens up to you. Sorry, strike that, they'll ignore most stuff like studies on autistic cognition and studies flagging up the errors in the earlier 'measles in autistic guts' stuff, but come out with any hare brained idea of what the cause of autism is, and they're falling over themselves to give you column inches.

Gordon has gone to Chicago for the week. Yikes! Thankfully, we are having guests this week. Our much anticipated visit from some really good friends from London. Lady in particular is very excited; her best friend in the whole wide world is coming!

I must go help her now. She's a bit fed up with the boys and I just heard her say 'I think sisters are better than brothers.' Thomas answered 'I thinks sisters are pretty', which was very nice of him.

12 Oct 2006

You will...I won't

Lady and Thomas have been badgering me to get them a new baby brother or sister, in a similar way to how they'd ask for a new bicycle. Lady took Thomas to her room yesterday for some 'baby training'. They had the dolls out and were pretending to feed and change them, that way, they'd be able to help me when (their word) their new sibling arrives. Well, it's nice of them to make major life changing decisions for me isn't it!

Lady was also teaching Thomas about the solar system yesterday. We read part of a new book I found in the charity shop (great places those). It's called the Great Big Book of Knowledge and is full of facts. She loves it. She also did some French on the computer, and some writing. She did her maths and science -reproduction just happened to be the next topic on the CGP workbook we use, so that was very interesting!

Duncan played with trains, browsed BBC schools online, being very taken with this song especially, and he watched a few more Thomas films on YouTube. He enjoyed the film of Thomas set to Firestarter by The Prodigy, so that's music appreciation covered!

Duncan and I have a new game. He was quoting some Thomas the Tank lines one day, saying 'You will, I won't' which comes from a conversation between Edward and Thomas, or so he tells me! I joined in saying in a deep voice, 'You will', he laughed at me and answered, 'I won't!'
We repeated this a few times then I said, 'You can', he paused for a few seconds, then giggled and said, 'I can't'.
After a few more turns, I said, 'You do'....'I don't.'
'You are'...'I'm not.'

Last night Thomas woke up while we were all in bed and shouted out in fear from his bed. I hurried to comfort him, calling out as I went to reassure him. He told me that he was frightened of the spider on his bed. Earlier, there had been a big spider in Lady's room and I'd put it outside. I told him that it was definitely outside now so he wasn't to worry. He said 'OK, then I'll just go back to sleep' then lay right back down. It made me laugh how he went from terrified to fine so easily. Later though he called out again. This time he thought there was a lizard on his pillow! I said there were no lizards in our house and climbed up to hug him. I dusted some crumbs off the sheet and he said 'Oh, the crumbs must have been in the shape of a lizard then!' That's rationalisation Thomas style!

Just to note, while I was writing, Thomas came downstairs with his toothbrush and some 'adult' toothpaste. He wanted to use it to brush his teeth but wanted to know if it would make his nose go on fire (obviously Lady had warned him it had this side-effect!). I told him it was safe so he went off to brush. Duncan was at the time sitting beside me, but playing on the computer and apparently not listening at all. He turned to me, fixed me with that special look, thought hard and said, 'Thomas no fire on teeth, no fire on nose!'

So that's 2 autism myths busted right there! He's paying attention to his environment even when it appears he's not, and he empathises. You go my boy!

10 Oct 2006

Magic and big questions

What a great day we had yesterday!

The boys came for a snuggle in my bed and Thomas and I played a game of sakes and ladders on my laptop. Straight after breakfast they gather round the computer to play the 'troll in the dungeon' game aka Timez Attack. Well, Lady played it and the boys looked on. It's good fun, and you have to answer multiplication sums to defeat the troll, so it's educational too. Honest, it is.

Later my friend D rang to say she could come over. Thomas and Lady overheard and were all excited; they love to have visitors. I told them that we'd be meeting the French boy who is staying with D's family for 6 months. Thomas immediately decided that he should be Lady's boyfriend. So they came over so we had a great gang of kids running round. We had a nice lunch together and it was a pleasure to meet the new arrival.

D had a tiny Mrs Incredible toy thingy attached to her mobile phone, which she'd placed on the high window sill in our kitchen. Obviously Duncan caught sight of this and went to have a closer look. He just calls Mrs Incredible 'woman'. D kindly gave him the tiny character; she knew it was just the kind of fiddly detailed thing he loves. He was delighted with it and played with 'woman' all day; singing to her and having her dance, making her run fast, then go slow, putting her inside trains and carriages, and just looking and looking, holding her right up to his right eye with his left eye closed.

Unfortunately, 'woman' wasn't designed for so much handling and by 7 o'clock, she'd been decapitated. Duncan brought her to me and asked me to 'fix it'. He looked at me intently, the way he does when he's trying to figure out how to communicate something new to him. He said 'woman's...' then paused, touched my neck, then said 'fix woman's...' so I filled in the gap, 'Fix the woman's neck'. 'Yes, fix woman's neck. Fix a head. Poor woman, poor head, poor neck. Woman go a hospital.'


He said all that!!! Yes, he sure did.

We had another visitor yesterday too. A woman just finishing her teacher training has come out to play with Duncan, via the NAS befriender scheme. She's been coming for a few weeks now and is making great friends with all the children. She plays chase and tickles with Duncan, chats with Lady and plays snakes and ladders with Thomas. Yesterday, Thomas showed off his (rather fine) trampoline moves, and she got on for a bounce with him. When she was leaving, Thomas begged her to stay for one more game. I told Thomas that M. had to meet her mother in town, 'and we don't want her Mummy left waiting for her.' Thomas saw the logic in that, 'Oh yes, 'cause her Mummy might be worried that she's been eaten by a monster!' I picked Duncan up to say goodbye to M too, he asked to kiss her! I told her she was highly privileged, I don't think he's ever asked to kiss anyone before, except immediate family. But then M is very attractive!

It's early, but so far today has been magical too. Duncan came into my bed at 7.30 and lay chatting to himself, 'summer, no summer, yes summer' then he asked about the 'woman' and the state of her neck, then he talked about Daddy. 'Daddy not go away, Daddy come back.' I assured him that Daddy would be back from England soon. Thomas joined us and started talking about feeding babies and why they drink mummy-milk and asked again how they're made. I told him about how they grow in the mummy's uterus. He asked how it gets started, yip he really did. I told him that there's a special sort of seed, a sperm, which joins the mummy's tiny egg and a baby starts to grow. He asked if we had any sperm in our house, I told him only Daddies have sperm, so he decided that after breakfast Daddy should give me some so we could get a baby. Oh lord. Sadly, Daddy's away right now!
Lady came in to join the throng, before we all got up for breakfast. It's a good job no-one's at school. I love our chilled mornings.

Right, time to get on with some stuff.

8 Oct 2006

What really matters

I have been feeling really pissed off this evening. I got involved in a local forum, where I felt duty bound to challenge a autism = horrible disease to be cured view, also charlatans like DAN practitioners were being heavily promoted. (Some USA residents have joined up now to tell all these Irish mums that their children are mercury poisoned, never mind that we never had mercury in any vaccines here...)I haven't done this personally much before and I found the experience of trying to converse with people denigrating the opinions of autistic people and twisting my words to make me appear to prescribe doing nothing to help children in need, wearying and depressing. I should be stronger and stand up to it, but I've had enough. I just want the warm embrace that comes from conversing with people who are on the same level as you, who can talk about people in a respectful and appreciative way, who can share my delight in all my children for their unique talents and personalities. I'm grateful for all the blogging Mums and Dads who also have one or more children who aren't standard issue, and who always talk of them with love and respect. I'm grateful for the Posautive YouTube group. It did my heart good to watch a few of those films tonight.

Also, I'm thinking about my children and how wonderful they are, and my husband who is like no-one else I know; cleverer, kinder, a bit eccentric, insightful, talented. He's gone away to a conference for a few nights so I'm a bit lonely too.

Bah, feck it. I know what matters, and it's not those folk.

5 Oct 2006

Duncan's assessment

Gordon and I took Duncan along for a one-off speech and occupational therapy assessment session yesterday.

I'd been asked by the clinical psychologist I saw with him last March if I wanted this assessment. Again, I thought there would be little to gain by going, but I wanted to be able to write on his DLA application that we were waiting for the assessment. You need to have input from the professionals to get the benefits, and the money would all go into savings for him to use when he's older. (Although, we still haven't had a decision on the claim we made in June due to some cock-up in the benefit's office.)

So, the others were again sent off with a grandparent (Gordon's mum this time) and we set off. I'd drawn a little cartoon book for Duncan, showing that we were going to the 'nice hospital' (where you can play with all the toys) as opposed to the 'nasty hospital' (where they pull your teeth out ;-0).

The occupational therapist (OT) had set up a marble run and Duncan sat down and started playing with her right away while we talked to the speech therapist (ST). I had nothing but positives to report. They had a copy of his file from the OT and ST at his old school, and it's clear that he is much more capable than he was described on those old reports. I explained my methods of working and playing with him, using his interests (that'd be trains to anyone not in the know!) as a way of making all sorts of connections and discoveries. I told about his ability to type the train names on Google to find pictures, and how he'll get a book to copy the names he doesn't yet know how to spell. I told how he knows that even when he's looking for pictures of 'James', he needs to type 'James Thomas Tank' to narrow the search criteria. He did a few picture puzzles, and named the objects. he picked up all the marbles and puzzle pieces when requested to and packed them away. He drew pictures of me and his dad, giving Gordon a nice head of curly hair! He was focused and happy. They had him do a game in which he lay on a skateboard on his tummy, went down a small ramp, them got off the board, picked up a picture of some clothing (i.e. 'red hat') from a selection spread out and put it on a picture of a boy. I couldn't see the point of the exercise, and neither could Duncan. He enjoyed rolling down the ramp though, letting Brio Percy freewheel in front of him! He did the picture things though, so he could go back for another go down the slope.

In all, it was clear to them that he was thriving, they couldn't really think of anything else to recommend. Gordon was impressed with me. He saw that this is what I do. There is a point to all this reading about autism. It helps me know better how Duncan is thinking, what his motivations are, what the potential pitfalls are and gives me ideas and strategies to adopt.

We still have problems to tackle, it's far from being all rosy round here. There are the tantrums, the shouting and crying when he wants something that I can't or won't give him. But I can re-direct him much more often now. It's tiring some times; when he's at his most challenging and the very noise he's making is grinding me down, then I have to be at my most imaginative and (when appropriate) playful.

The Voyage is ongoing, but now we have much better charts, and the crew are gaining more experience as time passes too.

Totally Thomas

This boy is so cute.
He has been interested in writing letters to people lately; his cousins, aunts and uncles and our friends who came to stay from England a few weeks ago. Right now he's writing one to our friend Debs! These missives consist of his name written in capital letters (always capitals!) on one side of a folded piece of paper, then the proposed recipient's name spelt phonetically by himself and written with reference to an alphabet book. He asks for my help for those difficult 'letters' he can't find in the book, like GR and SH! Running out of space isn't a problem either, one merely continues writing the remaining letters above the earlier ones.

He's still a big fan of snakes and ladders and engages all our visitors in a quick game. He also enjoys 'pludo' (more commonly known as Ludo). He does his 'computer work' every day, which involves playing a Thomas the Tank CD-ROM or his favourite, Jojo in Numberland. This is aimed at children older than him but he can do the whole thing. He loves counting and sorting. He'll spend ages looking at a number square or tape measure. It's amazing seeing how much he just learns in that 'soaking it up from the atmosphere' way!

Gordon was watching TV the other night and after an ad for Tesco came on, with voice-over provided by Ronnie Corbett, he remarked on how Thomas is a bit like Mr Corbett. And he is! He tells funny stories with a totally straight face, earlier he told me about a dream he had in which he, Lady and their little cousin were in their Granda's car when they fell into some lava. Another day, he told me about his dream that he was at the South Pole and a penguin kissed him.

On Sunday, my youngest brother, his girlfriend and their delightful daughter (also 4) were round with Daddy and my step mum. We all had a nice time and it's so good to see them as we live so far apart.

29 Sept 2006


The bad tooth came out today. We were nervous about how it would go, but tried to prepare Duncan as much as possible. I'd made a little book about it, showing how we'd end with a trip to the toy shop, so he knew there would be something to look forward to. We'd practised putting an imaginary mask on our faces, and we had taken a hospital identity bracelet home to play with.

Gordon dropped me and Duncan off at the children's hospital, then left Lady and Thomas with my dad and step mum. As soon as we arrived in the waiting room, we were shown to the ward, where a bed was prepared for Duncan. There was a portable DVD player, with a Thomas film already going, and a selection of Thomas books and toys. Gordon had briefly mentioned to the nurse on Monday, how Duncan likes trains. The other families all remained in the waiting room. Duncan was happy and relaxed, holding his new Brio Percy toy train (which I'd ordered from Ebay, and had thankfully arrived the previous day). The anaesthetist talked to me about the option of administering a mild sedative, and we decided to opt for this. So just 5 minutes before he was due to go into theatre, the nurse gave me a spoonful of Nurofen, with a small quantity of ketamine, and Duncan took it without too much trouble. Then he was wheeled in on the bed to theatre. I held him on my lap while the anaesthetist gave him the nitrous oxide. That was difficult. He struggled when the gas started to flow, but I'd been warned just in time and was able to hold him for the few seconds it took to take effect. He drifted off so quickly, was put on the trolley and we went out to wait. I was tearful at that stage, seeing him struggle, then so helpless was distressing. About a minute later, the dentist who wasn't operating came out to say he'd had just one tooth extracted (already!) and after a few more minutes, we went back to the ward where we was already awake. He was disoriented, upset, bleeding slightly in his mouth and thirsty. I cuddled him, he had some juice, and more quickly than I could have imagined he settled again in my arms. He started asking for his Brio Percy. We couldn't find it, though he'd been holding it as he went to theatre, and the nurse remembered putting it on the trolley. Everyone started looking all over for it; they all recognised how important it was to Duncan. But we just couldn't find it and Duncan was most upset. We had to leave, though the nurse promised to have a good look for it again later, and to let the cleaners know to keep an eye out also. She told me that if it didn't turn up, she had one at home that her sons didn't play with much, and she'd send it to us. How nice is that?! But while we were waiting outside for my dad to pick us up, Gordon was called on his mobile; the train had been found, wedged in the trolley wheel! Hurrah!

We made a quick trip to the toy shop to buy a Thomas Aqua Draw, then on to the apartment for some bacon rolls, before Gordon went to work and the rest of us came home.

Duncan was sleepy and quiet. After playing with Lady and Thomas for a while, he started to get a bit cross, so I took him upstairs to lie down with me for an hour in my bed. We had a nice snuggle, and Brio Percy was rolled up and down my shoulder. He just jumped up again, wanting a drink.

Lady and Thomas have been great throughout all these events. They love going to visit their grandparents, in fact, when I woke Lady early today, she said, 'Oh fantastic, this is the best day of my life since I went to Jamaica, or since Duncan and Thomas were born!' She does go in for hyperbole! She also wanted to see the damaged tooth, and reckons the tooth-fairy will throw it on the reject pile.
Thomas was worried about Duncan when I told him what was going on. He said, 'I don't want my brother to be sick.' Wee sweetheart.

As on Monday, my dad and step mum were amazing. There were a few posts on the hub recently about wonderful, understanding and helpful grandparents. I can totally identify with that. My dad and Duncan have a really special bond. He knows exactly how to engage him and as soon as they got together, they start playing. Dad revels in Duncan's achievements, and tells everyone about all the funny and clever little things he does and says, just as he does for his other 7 grandchildren. That love is returned as all the children adore him too.

26 Sept 2006

More on dentists

We managed to get a pediatrician to examine Duncan today at the children's hospital dental department. It was awful and wonderful. Duncan was highly stressed and didn't want to go into any of the rooms. He just kept shouting out, saying he wanted a 'Brio Percy' (his latest train request) and I was desperately and uselessly trying to distract and entertain him. We were asked into the examination room very shortly after arriving, and I had to prise is fingers from the doorway, so adamant was he that he wasn't going in. He was literally terrified. I held him on my knee and the doctor was able to stick the little mirror into his open mouth and in less than 30 seconds had seen enough to know what treatment was needed. By this stage I was actually in tears, so I took Duncan into the corridor while Gordon had a quick word with the doctor. I was feeling a bit embarrassed (with myself) and very, very sorry for my poor boy. He was crying, telling me he was so sad, shouting out that he was finished. I started spelling out train names on an alphabet poster on the wall as I sat on the floor holding him. He noticed what I was doing and helped me finish a few words and was then over the outburst.

Now I said earlier that it was also wonderful. What I mean is, the staff were amazing. They were so understanding. It turns out that Duncan's molar is dodgy, it developed incorrectly, but it isn't decayed and the rest of his teeth are in excellent condition. He does need an extraction though, and he has been fitted into their Friday list which is excellent. The doctor assured us that Duncan would be seen first (as usually there can be a 1 or 2 hour wait) and to cut back on the hassle on the day, Gordon was able to fill in most of the nursing paperwork today (after Duncan had calmed down and was happily eating nuts and watching TV in the waiting room) and he will not be put through a further examination, which usually takes place before the procedure. We need to arrive at 8am, he should be seen at around 9 and we were told we'd be leaving at 9.15. I felt close to tears again when I saw how much they were willing to do to cause as little trauma to Duncan as possible. Gordon was moved by their caring attitude too. Duncan wasn't impressed though; when the consultant came to talk to us in the waiting room, Duncan put his hands over his ears and very directly told him to go away.

While we were at the hospital, Lady and Thomas were being looked after by my dad and step mum, who live close to the hospital. The children all love going there to visit and having an appreciative audience to show off to. Thomas took a few dressing up clothes and his trusty snakes and ladders board. My dad is so helpful. He dropped us off at the hospital and picked us up again to save us needing to find a parking space, then (after we'd all eaten some of their delicious home-made vegetable soup) he drove Gordon back to his hospital as he had to go back to work.

It's all rather stressful and I'm dreading Friday, because no matter what, it is going to be hard on him. But we'll get through it together. He's a tough boy. He's my darling angel, who right now, is lying beside me on my bed, having just fallen asleep with his arm around me as I've been typing.

25 Sept 2006

Duncan's dental situation; Part 2

Thanks everyone for sharing your advice and experiences in reply to my last post about Duncan's teeth. It's one of his baby teeth that's been affected and we've been told that for first teeth, only extractions are performed under GA. We are hoping to get him dealt with in the next few days. He will definitely need a GA, it would be much too frightening for him to have the procedure under local anaesthetic. Thankfully, all our medical needs are met by the NHS, so I don't need to worry about insurance, and the local children's department is excellent.

Poor Duncan has been very unwell over the past 3 days, with a slight fever, pain in the tooth and swelling in his jaw. I tried to give him some ibuprofen with limited success at first. He hates taking medicine, so I had to hide it in his drink and get the medicine:juice ratio just right. For 2 nights he cried and whimpered in pain almost all night, and I had to lie right beside him. He was so confused by the whole experience that he didn't know where to put himself and flitted from one bed to another, desperately trying to get comfortable. Last night, I managed to give him a bigger dose of pain killer before bed and he slept right through. I'm glad to see that the swelling has reduced a bit too.

As usual when he's ill, he is very cuddly, and lies beside me or on my lap and gets upset when I leave his side. Yesterday he was feeling well enough to play with his trains and watch Thomas films on YouTube. Gordon spent the morning fixing Lady's computer which I had messed up completely by deleting a system file, then trying to fix it using a Windows disk I found lying around and then I ...well, I just cocked the whole thing up and he had quite a job sorting it all out from scratch. Afterwards, Lady spent ages playing with a French CDROM. Perhaps she's trying to learn a some French for when we meet up with our HE friends and their long-term guest. Thomas and Lady spent ages on the trampoline yesterday too. They are both very good on it. Thomas can do all sorts of fancy manoeuvres. I must see if I can get him into a gymnastics class or something, if he's old enough. I think he'd enjoy that.

While the children were all occupied yesterday afternoon, I started teaching Gordon some of the Salsa moves I'd learnt at my class. He was doing great at the end and the magical music by the Afro-Cuban All Stars helped. His Jamaican and Cuban roots were certainly in evidence!

It did me the world of good too, since I'd been feeling bad about Duncan and my liability in what happening to him. I also have been reading too much stuff about autism in the media, and that's always guaranteed to wind me up since there's so much balderdash printed. Though I read a lovely article today which counters the prevailing attitude; Understanding Autism by Kevin Leitch. I hope lots of people see it and reconsider what ideas they might have formed about autism.

22 Sept 2006

Duncan's Dental Crisis

I noticed that Duncan was poking in his mouth a lot over the past few days, chewing his clothes and mouthing toys. When I looked at his teeth this morning, I thought the tooth was cracked. I called the community dentist and managed to get an emergency appointment. She was very accommodating, and Duncan was frightened at first, but we managed, with him sitting on my lap, to allow the dentist to have a good look round his mouth. It turns out that one of his molars is decayed.

He will need either a filling or to have the molar removed. I think it would be less invasive if he had a filling. However, there is no way he could have the procedure under local anaesthetic, so he will need a general anaesthetic, or to be sedated.

I'm worried about the risks here.
I'd like to know, if anyone has any advice they could share on similar experiences they or their children have had.

There's always something.

21 Sept 2006

Our friends come to stay

We've had friends over to stay for the past few days and it has been marvellous.

I'm just going to name them (for blog purposes) Belle and Sid, and their children, Edward and Emily. Their real names are, as always, much nicer!

Belle and I were at UCL together, we met on the first day of classes and have been friends ever since. (I was going to write 'studied together', but since we did as little of that as possible, I thought it would be dishonest!) She is smart, funny, passionate and compassionate, and happens to be beautiful too. She was my second bridesmaid 10 years ago, then she married a wonderful man 5 years ago. They now have 2 gorgeous children aged 3 (almost 4) and 1 (almost 2). We now live on either side of the Irish Sea, so we were delighted when they announced they would be coming to visit us.

They arrived on Sunday afternoon, and straight away the children went off together to play. Thankfully, Edward loves trains as much as my children, so he was perfectly happy. Little Emily stayed safe in her Daddy's arms for a while, and when she was ready, she went off with Lady to play in the garden. She liked the guinea pigs, especially Daisy, and busied herself feeding them grass. The children all bundled along together for the 3 days they were here, sometimes building tracks, sometimes watching TV, sometimes playing outside. Lady and Edward invented a game in which they were secret agents protecting a precious ruby. Belle was amazed at how seldom she even saw her son; he was too busy doing his own thing with his friends.

We went on outings to the transport museum and W5, 2 places our family visits often. Our guests were very impressed and everyone really enjoyed themselves. Gordon joined us on our trip to W5, and we all ate at the pizza restaurant. That occasion was the 1st time our whole family has ever sat down to eat together in a restaurant, and it was a most successful meal.

Each night, when the children had all gone to bed, we adults sat and enjoyed a lovely meal courtesy of Gordon's great cooking skills. I usually provided desert and bread. We so enjoyed our time together. They left for the airport yesterday afternoon, and we were sad to see them go. It was a special time. Belle is one of the 3 people I miss the most since moving back to Ireland.

Duncan was perfectly happy dealing with extra people in the house. He just carried on as usual and enjoyed having a few more adults to tickle and cuddle him.

15 Sept 2006

No indeed

We had another day out at W5 yesterday, meeting with a few other HE families. As ever when we're there, we spent most of our time in the section with the huge wooden train set, the balls and water splashy area, and the house construction play area (complete with a crane and foam bricks). Lady and her friend J went off together around rest of the centre.

Duncan tried to grab the controls for the crane from another little boy, about 2 years old, who was not happy about this interruption and bit Duncan hard on his arm. His mother was affronted and apologised as I comforted Duncan, who was upset but not crying.

We all headed to the pizza restaurant for a noisy lunch. Lady ate loads, I can't believe the appetite that girl has sometimes. But she is always on the move too, so is lean and strong. Duncan ate some ice-cream, scooping it up with some toy chattering teeth Lady had just bought him. He was all excited about the purchase of 'false teeth'; he's had a thing about false teeth for a while now.

When Gordon came home, I asked Duncan to tell him what the 'naughty boy' had done in W5. Duncan said, 'naughty boy, bite' then demonstrated on his own arm. He showed Gordon where the injury was (there's a small bruise). We were happy that he was able to tell a story about some previous event, as he hasn't done that before.

There have been new additions to Duncan's repertoire of language. It might seem that I'm perseverating on this topic, but I find it helpful to record it here.
On Wednesday, in reply to something I asked (don't remember what) he responded with 'No indeed'!

When Gordon asked him last night as he was going to bed 'do you love me?' he replied, after thinking for a few seconds, 'yes I love you.' Gordon said, 'do I love you', some more thought, then the answer, 'yes, you love me.' That was the 1st time ever he used you, me and I correctly in such a sentence. What a star!

The other new phrase, is 'yes, I am' which is used interchangeably with his other mode of assent.

I love seeing this progression; unforced, unhurried - natural.

11 Sept 2006

Yes, I love you!

Duncan is talking a bit more these days. When you ask him if he wants something, he'll answer with either yes or no thanks, followed by the subject of the question. So I might ask if he wants some soup; 'no thanks, soup', or if I ask if will say goodbye to Daddy when he's going to work, he says 'yes, bye-bye Daddy.' He also uses this when he doesn't want to do something, so I might ask him to tidy his trains at night, and he says 'no thanks, trains in box.' It's such a polite way to refuse!

There was an incident yesterday when Gordon, Thomas and Lady returned from the shop. Duncan was crying and stopping them from opening the front door, because he wanted a new toy train, and I think that he knew they wouldn't have it and wanted to put off the certainty of dealing with his disappointment for as long as possible. Anyway, he tantrumed, everyone was cross about all the noise and fuss and for a while I felt so overloaded myself that I started to cry for a few minutes. Duncan was sitting right beside me at that point, and was crying himself, but he immediately noticed what I was doing, he stared into my eyes and started stroking me and kissing me in a most concerned manner saying 'kiss it better' over and over. He said, 'Duncan so sad, Mummy happy.' And he did make me happy again.

Later, the children all had a bath (and played with the new squeezy Thomas bath-toy) before bed. Duncan was tired and wanted to lie in my bed for a while. I tucked him in, and hugged him tight, saying 'I love you', he spontaneously responded with, 'yes, I love you.' Then he said 'Mummy cuddle Duncan.' So I did, but not how he wanted, so he clarified, 'Mummy and Duncan lie down, Mummy's bed' So I lay beside him for a few minutes to hug him properly.

This morning, Thomas had a request with his morning cuddle, 'Mummy, will you buy me a baby sister?' I laughed, then asked him if he knew where babies comes from, and he said that they grow in my broom!

10 Sept 2006

Fine as we are

The house is relatively quiet right now, as Gordon has taken Lady and Thomas out shopping. Duncan is sitting on the floor beside me playing with, well would you believe it, he's got the trains out!

We haven't done anything remarkable since Friday, when I took the children to a big playground not far from here, and we met up with a few other families whose children learn out of school. It was a lovely sunny day and they all had a great time. I was required to play several games of 'chase-kiss' with Duncan, so I had my work-out too!

A few times, I felt it was necessary to explain Duncan's actions or limited verbal understanding to other adults there. He wasn't doing anything wrong at these times, as he was actually on great form. I wondered if I should get him something visible (like a T-shirt with a message or a badge) that would explain in a non-condescending or pitiful way, that he won't understand them if they start jabbering away to him; especially for those times when I'm not right there. I don't mind telling people he is autistic. (Though I have problems with saying it when his behaviour is poor, as then it would just reinforce people's negative perceptions. For example, when he has a tantrum in public, I rarely make eye contact with people around us; I just shut them out and concentrate on Duncan and his needs.) Anyway, I don't know if it would be a good idea or not.

Thomas would have started school this term had he been going. Compulsory education here (not schooling mind) starts the autumn after the child turns 4. So what are we doing about this- well nothing. What happens right now works well,. The boy is happy and learning loads in his own way. Why mess with the perfect recipe!

Just to finish, I wanted to note, that right now, Duncan is engaged in his favourite pass-time, watching Thomas themed YouTube videos. He's found a corker; Thomas meets 50 Cent!) It's better on this site though, with cleaned up lyrics and all.

Go Thomas, like it's your birthday!

7 Sept 2006

We're all learning something!

On my last birthday, I thought about a few things I wanted to do, to be more fulfilled. One thing was to learn to dance, and last night, I went to my 2nd Salsa dance class. After only 2 sessions, I'm hooked. It's great fun, I've enjoyed chatting to the other people there, and I get to dance without needing to wait for someone to ask me to their wedding!

This morning, I took all the children out in the car with me. I went to the dump (as I'd cleared out our garage yesterday) and then we went to the shoe shop and they each got new trainers. I had a bag of mini-marshmallows to dispense when needed, and we managed fine. I was impressed at how smooth it went actually. Lady was great at looking after Thomas. He is always worried about going down unknown stairs, and Lady let him ride on her back so I could keep close to Duncan. Lastly, we called into a charity shop and left with a cuddly rabbit toy, a teddy-phone and a Muppet video (Duncan recognised it from a trailer on another video and asked for 'Pig falling in the water.')

There's been lots of learning happening here. Lady has worked hard at some maths worksheets I wanted her to do. When left to her own devices, she's played with her 'Human Body Explorer' CD ROM, watched her new DVD, (Bugsy Malone), invented endless new outfits for her dress-up wooden doll, drawn pictures and filled in her Brownies book, told stories to the boys using the trains and various props, composed a poem about the guinea-pigs and played outdoors on the trampoline. (She's learnt how to somersault-the other day she wanted mustard on her hot dog; she carried it outside, turned a somersault, and told me it was to shake the mustard!). Whew! That's not half of it, but what I can remember for now.

Thomas and Duncan pootle along as usual. Yesterday, I overheard Thomas asking Duncan to play a Pingu game on the computer with him; 'Duncan play Pingu falling in the water with Thomas? Yes play Pingu?' Duncan obviously thought that was a good idea as they were chuckling away together later, while gathered round the computer.

Duncan has been inputting all the train names into Google and YouTube by himself. I stay close by when he's doing this, to check the YouTube stuff especially. There are hundreds of Thomas The Tank films on YouTube. Yesterday, he was really getting into a film someone had made, with Thomas set to Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen!

Thomas loves the set of Magic Key books I got and asks me to read them regularly, then he gets all excited doing the 'game' at the end of each story. Sometimes I try to be clever and get him to read some words, or notice rhyming pairs, but he snorts in derision and says 'just read the story Mummy!' Fair enough. He is recognising all sorts of words now though, and wrote a letter to his friend in England (who really is called Thomas) ; I LUV YOU THOMAS.
I had to spell you, he spelled luv himself, and he copied Thomas from a DVD. Smart boy, eh?!

4 Sept 2006

Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time

Yesterday was one of those magic days that grace us every so often. We just had an easy time and enjoyed each other's company.

I knew it would be a good day from the start. We ate breakfast together; Duncan doesn't usually want to sit with us. Yesterday he wanted bacon and eggs (like in Thomas Comes to Breakfast) and ended up eating 4 eggs (no yolks). He's still so thin and wiry that I'm happy to see some protein getting in there.

Later I had a long bath, and was joined for a while by Thomas, who, as usual, had a great philosophical conversation with me. He's still very interested in the whole topic of life and death and has loads of questions about it all. He was also talking about how he'd be a daddy when he grows up. I asked him how many children he would have, he said, '42...or maybe 3.' He decided that if he had lots of children, he have to buy a castle to live in and then he'd be 'King Daddy.'

For the next few hours, the children played with the trains, Lady watched Bugsy Malone, I read a few stories to the boys and Gordon cooked a big batch of tomato sauce.

Late in the afternoon, we drove to a shopping centre and Gordon bought some clothes for work. I got a large bag of cashew nuts and Duncan stuffed handfuls into his pocket and ate them on the go. We had a look in the toy shop for the Thomas wind-up train he wants. They didn't sell it. He was disappointed, but I told him I would get it on the internet and he was happy with that. Then we went to Mc D's and Lady wanted a meal with the toy so she could get this little music player thing. It plays just one song, but she thinks it's so cool. She said she's now 'a girls-out-loud' fan, (they're usually known as Girls Aloud).

On the way home, we stopped off at a playground. It's right beside the beach, and there are great views over the lough. We were in time to see a massive cruise ship sail by. It was windy, and getting late by then, so there weren't many other people around. For the last 10 minutes, we had the place to ourselves. Gordon and me so wished we had taken the camera. The children had a fantastic time. They all went on the aerial runway, and they're strong wee scoots. Watching them whizz along with a huge gin on their faces and the wind in their hair, I was so happy and proud of them.

As we went back home, we talked about what a great day we'd had. The words of that great Van Morrison song, Coney Island, came into my head and I said to Duncan, 'did you have fun today?' 'Yes, fun today.' What else do I need to know.

30 Aug 2006

No excuse

We've had a busy few days. One of Lady's summer scheme friends came over on Thursday and another visited on Monday. We had more friends round yesterday too. At the weekend, we went to the cinema and rode the miniature train.

Duncan has been temperamental recently. He keeps shouting and bursting into tears. When he is loud, I may ask him to talk in a quiet voice. He always responds by telling me he is 'not happy.' I say, 'I know you are not happy, but can you be angry and quiet.' He will then say, 'not quiet, ever again.' He's also told me a few times, 'not happy, ever again,' and that he is 'fed up!'
'Fed up' is one of my phrases (such a stupid thing to say, I know), but I don't know where he heard 'ever again'.

This morning, he woke and was in a bad mood from the start. He shouted at me to get him a drink, then threw his cup of juice down the stairs (it has a lid, so only a little went on the carpet). I told him off and was very cross, so he burst into tears, said 'I'm sorry' and told me over and over that he was very sad. He sat on my lap with his arms tight round my neck, and I hugged him as I ate breakfast. I was feeling a bit frustrated, at his behaviour and mine.

Lady and Thomas went upstairs to play with the toy lorry (it opens out to make a town with lots of tiny cars) and Duncan went outside to play on the scooter. He raced up and down, happy and smiling, with a couple of trains in each pocket and I turned on my computer. I had a look to see what's new on the autism hub, and read Abfh's post Another Autistic Child Murdered.
As reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer, three-year-old Marcus Fiesel's foster parents, Liz and David Carroll Jr., intentionally left the boy locked in a hot closet with no food or water for two days. They burned the body and then reported to police that Marcus, who was autistic, hyperactive, and prone to wandering, had gotten lost in a park.

Oh how it breaks your heart. At least this time, the killers have been roundly condemned and no-one has tried to play the 'mercy killing' card. There are many difficult days when you're raising children, but there is never, ever an excuse for this.

You know what I'm going to do right now, I'm going to go up to my sons' room, hug them all tight, and read some Thomas the Tank Engine stories, then probably draw some trains.