Well, like many autism parents I approach school holidays with dread. The change in routine, being almost housebound for the duration and the fact it’s just me and Whirlwind for most of it – it’s not surprising sleep patterns are disturbed, snappiness takes over and meltdowns are a daily event…….and that’s just me!
When Whirlwind was at our local infant school I’d got the holiday planning down to a fine art – for the month beforehand I’d stock up on non-perishable groceries and household essentials leaving fresher items to be bought online and delivered once a week, various low-stress activities planned and organised and one day of respite for me each week and despite it not being perfectly calm we’d manage the holidays without either of us being hospitalised or arrested so I’ll take that as a win in my parenting box!
Obviously this routine and planning went out the window during the two years that Whirlwind was without education, there was little difference for us whether it was term-time or school holiday time as he was at home 24/7 for the whole 24 months and since he started at his new school I’ve been struggling to create a new routine for myself.
This half-term I decided that we’d be a little more organised and, due to the progress he’s made since starting at the autism specific school, we’d try a couple of small things out of his comfort zone. Everything was put on his calendar and discussed with him and I can only say that it’s been a resounding success.
Monday – a quiet day at home, mummy needed to do housework in the morning but we had a movie date in the afternoon with a DVD and goodies. Obviously this was always going to be a winner as he was able to entertain himself with Minecraft in the morning and curling up together on the sofa to watch a film is a nice, low stress activity. Success Rating 8/10 (we lost two points here as I let myself get stressed over the fact he is unable to watch a movie without providing a running commentary but this was a fail on my part not his)
Tuesday – another stay at home day BUT with a visit from my daughter-in-law and grandson built in. Again, staying home kept the activity low stress but Whirlwind plus Little Pea (grandson) can lead to hyperactive play from both of them, luckily on this occasion Whirlwind worked really hard to regulate himself with minimal prompting and did a great job of remembering Little Pea is half his age. Success Rating 9/10 – one point lost due to over excitement at the return of The Flash on TV which led to a small meltdown.
Wednesday – today was my respite day and Whirlwind’s 1:1 took him to Wheelgate and I caught up on some bits around the house. Due to the cold Whirlwind asked to come home early (I don’t blame him!) and they played Minecraft in his room for the final hour. Success Rating 9/10.
Thursday – today was one of our ‘experiments in trying something new – a play date with a friend from school. Up until now the only play dates Whirlwind has managed are the ones with Little Pea or Sonic (my best friend’s son, also ASD) and these are only successful as we’ve built them up over several years. Anyway, one of his school friends lives around the corner and, buoyed by the reports of their good friendship at school, I decided it would be nice to try a play date at home for them. Well, what can I say both boys surpassed my expectations for a first visit – there were huge smiles, giggles, co-operative play and turn taking, a true 10/10 success. When school friend’s mum collected him we realised that I’d forgotten that this coming Monday is an INSET day…..oops forgetful mummy moment, thinking that Whirlwind’s taxi and escort may not know this fact I sent a quick text to the escort to let her know, her reply cemented in my mind the fact that she is perfect for her job “hope you have had a nice week and our boy is feeling better, 31 cuddles from me xx”. OUR boy, not your boy but OUR BOY – if I had any remaining doubts about her trustworthiness or caring then they were most certainly laid to rest at that moment, well at least once I’d mopped up my happy tears from reading her reply! 10/10 twice over!
And so we come to Friday and the day of the ‘Big Experiment’ – the dreaded grocery shop (da-da-DAHHHHH). A few weeks previously I’d visited the new Morrisons that’s just opened in our town, impressed by the layout (wide, well organised aisles), lighting and noise level etc I’d decided that HERE was a supermarket that Whirlwind MIGHT just tolerate. So I started dropping little bits of information to Whirlwind and over the weeks we formulated a workable plan, we’d get there early before it got too busy, we’d have a breakfast in the cafe and then we’d have a pootle round the aisles but if/when he’d had enough we could leave. So we got the bus to the shop and made our way straight to the cafe part, Whirlwind was most impressed with the food available (I was most impressed with the ‘bottomless coffee’ on offer!) and completely devoured (in his words) “the best bacon sandwich EVER”.
Buoyed by this huge success (I can’t remember the last time I managed a cafe visit with him) we found the disabled children’s trolley with the big comfy seat (note to Morrisons, even though it was early there only appeared to be one of these trolleys available but they are ESSENTIAL for children like Whirlwind, please consider providing more), Whirlwind strapped himself in and off we went – did I get everything I needed? Probably not but then again I don’t manage that when I shop without him, did we get everything we wanted? Yes, EVEN A NEW TOP THAT WHIRLWIND HAS PUT STRAIGHT ON!!! Whilst queuing to pay things got a bit much and he put my coat over his head to create his ‘safe space’ and block things out but we managed a shopping trip with NO MELTDOWN. The staff there are definitely autism aware and were ready and willing to help in any way they could, even down to checking if he was ok when the door alarm went off nearby and he was clutching his ears! I haven’t managed a supermarket shop with Whirlwind since he was still a toddler and I could hoist him over my shoulder in a meltdown situation but I know that my Amazons can ‘get’ just how huge of a step this is…..in fact, he’s now added to his calendar “Monday – INSET Day, lunch at Morrisons”! Success Rating – off the charts.
In summary this half-term has been one of firsts and feels, it’s proved that being in the right school is making a difference to his stress levels, it’s proved that he now has ‘professionals’ around him who actually care, it’s proved that with planning he is now ready and able to at least attempt things outside his comfort zone and it’s proved that he continues to amaze me with the progress he is making. I’m off to sob happy tears now while he de-stresses with Minecraft – catch you later Amazons x