I-Phone? – Nah, I’d rather have a soft toy thanks…

It was Ellen’s birthday at the beginning of January and we gave her my old I-phone as a present – she was distinctly unimpressed.  Despite its ‘rainbow’ case, it was tossed aside as if it were a set of old spanners.  Her favourite present was a toy elephant from the Disney store, who accompanied Ellen everywhere for the day. The I-phone remained abandoned on the sofa until I rescued it in the evening. We had to laugh, Ellen is not a typical teenager.

Now before you throw your hands up in the air at our foolishness, there was some logic behind the gift.  We have been trying for a few years to get Ellen to use a mobile phone.  First of all we bought one of those big-buttoned analogue jobs, designed for the elderly.  Although the big buttons suited her, the phone itself was too difficult for her to navigate.

Fast forward three years and as she uses her I-pad daily, getting her the I-phone seemed the obvious step.  Not only is the screen more visual, but it has games and a Find My Friends App.  If she does one of her disappearing acts when she’s out and about I can track now her with the GPS (all very James Bond!)  So we’re slowly easing the I-phone into our trips.  So far she’s taken it on two weekend trips out with her carers and has texted me when she needs picking up – with minimal assistance apparently.  It’s slow but steady progress.

Today we had a shopping trip.  Ellen had some Birthday money and a New Look voucher to spend and she was very keen to visit HMV to buy a ‘new Bambi’ and a ‘new Finding Nemo’ DVD.  I helped her pack her leopard print handbag with her money, vouchers and of course the I-phone.

The shopping trip was very successful.  Ellen found her DVDs and didn’t have a melt-down when she had to put a third one back as it took her over her budget.  She got her money out of her purse and took her change.  In New Look, Ellen browsed the racks with half an eye on her new DVDs and other other half on the lookout for any leopard print items.  Ellen isn’t exactly a fashionista, but she knows what she likes.  Leggings, hoodies and animal print are her top choices, but she’s not always terribly discriminating.  She did conceded that the animal print mini-dress which she had first picked up admiringly wasn’t something she would actually want to wear – and so put it back, before quickly finding a pair of leggings which she liked and were the right price.

Ellen with her purchases

Ellen with her purchases

Before we had arrived at the shopping centre, Ellen had said she wanted to go to Giraffe for lunch.  I had actually started picturing myself eating one of their amazing vegetarian salad concoctions, before I was abruptly brought back to reality with a bump.  ‘Actually’ she said ‘I want to go to McDonalds’.  I lifted my sinking spirit with the thought that we would at least have the chance for Ellen to practise ordering again.  Sadly I wasn’t so great with my own I-Phone and failed to record the exchange, so you will have to take my word for it that it went much better than last week; due mainly to the fact that, despite it being much busier, we had a server with communication skills and common sense and Ellen spoke up much louder – yay!


Ellen with her favourite lunch - note I managed to get a sandwich from Pret!

Ellen with her favourite lunch – note I managed to get a sandwich from Pret!

Over lunch I suggested that Ellen could send a text to her sister (who was off sick at home with a heavy cold).  I leaned over the table and showed her what to press to open a new message and how to select the right recipient and then I left her to it.

A few seconds later, my own phone buzzed.  I had a text message from Daisy. ‘So are you coming home now?’ she asked.  I was puzzled.  We still had quite a few shops to visit.

‘Ellen’ I asked – ‘what did you put in your text to Daisy?’  She wasn’t willing to get her phone back out of the bag where it had been slung as soon as she had completed her chore.  After some coaxing I managed to get her to show me the message.

‘I come in minute daisy’ it said.

I laughed.  ‘Ellen we’re not going home yet’ I said.

‘I know Mum’ she replied, smirking into her chips.



The Scaffolding collapse

Today Ellen has a bad cold, her nose is blocked and she has a slight temperature.  Unlike most people, she is delighted to be unwell.  Being ill means that she can’t go to respite this evening and has to stay at home – heaven as far as she is concerned.

The fact that she is under the weather also means that most of my carefully laid plans for our activities today have had to be put on hold. They all centred around a need for me to practise scaffolding – instead of speaking for her, I try and support Ellen in answering for herself.  This is all very well in theory, but I find that even chanting ‘scaffolding, scaffolding, scaffolding’ to myself as we enter a shop doesn’t stop me from butting in.  I need practise.

Luckily even unwell, Ellen is happy to force down a McDonalds.  For me, McDonalds isn’t just a vegetarian’s nightmare, it also represents a brilliant opportunity for Ellen to practise speaking to someone she doesn’t know, as she is motivated to participate – if she gets it right she gets a burger and chips!

The McDonalds we visited today was quiet, in fact there was only one person serving, a young girl who looked very sympathetic and welcoming.  Unfortunately for us, just as we got to the front of the queue, a young lad suddenly jumped on the till next to her.

‘Who’s next’ he called.  Here is a transcript of the conversation.

Ellen: (mumbling) plain hamburger.

I say nothing, server looks blank.  I raise my eyebrows at Ellen, she looks at me.

Me: Say it again, he didn’t hear.

Ellen: (getting annoyed) she said plain hamburger.

Server still looks blank.  (For God’s sake I think, make an effort!)

Me: Say it again

Ellen: (even more annoyed) I said – a plain hamburger.

Server: a plain hamburger yeah? (Hallelujah!)

Long pause.

Server: Anything else?

Ellen: chips.

Server looks blank again.  I look at Ellen and raise my eyebrows.

Ellen: (louder) chips.

Server: and fries yeah?

Ellen: And water

Server again looks blank (he’s good at this)

Me: Say it again loudly

Ellen: She said water.

Server: A water as well yeah?

Me: Yes, and what about for me?

Ellen: A coffee

Me: Yes a cappuccino

Server: And a cappuchino?

Me: Yes: (If they’d served gin and tonic I would have ordered one at this point)

Server: Anything else?

Me: That’s it.

Server: So that’s a plain hamburger, fries, a water and a cappuccino? Eating in?


Me: Are we eating in?

Pause – eventually Ellen shakes her head.

Me: No

And finally, painfully we get to the end.  We haven’t even begun to start on the payment part of the transaction yet – let alone manners!  Ellen’s tone throughout was a cross between Basil Fawlty and Marvin the paranoid android.

Listening back to the conversation I notice that although I start quite well with the scaffolding, I very quickly take the lead again as Ellen fails to respond in time (or what I perceive to be ‘in time’).  In fact, the whole conversation was 1 minute and 6 seconds and there was no one waiting behind us, so why did I feel this ridiculous need to speed her along?!

Over dinner tonight we’ve had lots of family fun practising being the servers at McDonalds and taking Ellen’s order.  It’s amazing the numbers of ways you can do it, and the variety of voices, although that blank vacant look may take a little longer to master….



Making Marmalade…the easy way

‘Seville oranges now on sale’ pronounces the board outside the farm shop.  ‘I’ve got a great idea, let’s make some marmalade!’ I say to Ellen in my most upbeat voice.  ‘I don’t like marmalade’ she replies.  I however, refuse to let the idea die in its tracks.  ‘Well Paddington Bear loves marmalade…and so does Dad’ (I add rather as an afterthought) and pull into the farm shop car park.

For this very simple Marmalade recipe – handed down from my mother-in-law and enticingly not requiring a single inch of muslin – we needed 4lbs of Seville oranges and two lemons.  The farm shop has a large set of scales hanging in the middle of the fruit and veg area and Ellen and I took several trips back and forth with oranges to fill the scales up to the 4lb mark.  As we transferred our hoard to a bag, Ellen reminded me that we also needed two lemons.

Don't forget the lemons!

Don’t forget the lemons!

The nice thing about making marmalade from Ellen’s point of view is that there are long gaps in the action where she can get back to the serious business of TV/Ipad viewing.

Firstly we put all our oranges and lemons into the large jam pan and added 4 pints of water.  ‘We need to heat the water up, so that the fruit cooks’ I say to Ellen and she immediately tries to turn the oven on.  Close though, and with a bit of directional pointing, she gets the right knob on the cooker and her work for the minute is done. We have an electric oven which doesn’t heat up quickly – so more quality TV time for her.  The next stage is that when the fruit is softened you need to separate out the pips and cut up the skin of the oranges into marmalade-sized pieces.  Ellen helped scoop the pips into a separate bowl – but I wasn’t brave enough to hand her the knife!  Finally Ellen weighed out the sugar and then was allowed to leave again whilst it reached setting point.  At this point, the thought of letting her loose on a pan of boiling marmalade didn’t really appeal, and so she was allowed to finish the task at this point.  Her father is now happily supplied with a year’s worth of breakfast fodder.

Ellen's 'to-do' list at the Village Shop

Ellen’s ‘to-do’ list at the Village Shop

Ellen seeing what she had to find next....mmm no Milky Way on the list

Ellen seeing what she had to find next….mmm no Milky Way on the list

Earlier in the day, Ellen went in to the village shop to do her shelf stacking job. Now she is so comfortable in this role, I decided it would be a good idea to try and extend her a bit by giving her a list of things to locate, rather than Ellen controlling what she wants to find.  The staff at the shop had compiled a brilliant list which was not at all straight forward.  Some items were in boxes, some were high up and needed the step ladder, some were stored under tables and for some there were slight distinctions in brand or flavour.  This is definitely a route we will pursue over the next few weeks, perhaps adding in quantities.  She still managed to sneak out a few Milky Ways though – which weren’t on the list! 😉

Her hint must have worked though, as for her ‘wages’, Ellen was given a jumbo Milky Way and not surprisingly, left very happy.





New Year – New Goals and Presents!

My new RDI goal for the next two weeks or so is to “become aware of and eliminate any unconscious ways that you…have been assuming too much communicative responsibility for the student”.  I do this all the time.  I started talking for Ellen when she was smaller because her speaking voice wasn’t very clear and people found her difficult to understand.  Now however, it’s become a bad habit and Ellen often looks at me to talk for her and I do it without even thinking.  This is a biggy.  Ellen’s speaking voice is much clearer now and she understands so much more herself – so why do I continue to do it?  As well as habit I also think I often speak for her out of embarrassment for myself and for other people.  What if Ellen ignores them?  Takes too long to answer?  My new resolution is to think – so what?

I had two activities today to test this out on.  Firstly, we were back on shop duty after a couple of weeks off, where Ellen needs to occasionally interact with other shop volunteers.  Secondly Ellen was going to be ordering her own McDonalds at the inevitable lunch-time pit-stop.

At the shop all the talk was of the flooding which occurred in the village the day before.  For five hours a group of local residents used brooms to sweep the huge swathes of water away from the houses until the fire brigade arrived.  Naturally everyone wanted to talk about this – everyone of course except Ellen – who has now got into a routine of finding items to put on the shelves and went through the task mechanically.  As far as competent shelf-stacking goes, it was a successful activity, but it didn’t require any communication on her part at all.  To top it off I prompted her to say goodbye as we left!

McDonalds was far more successful, mainly due to the fact that Ellen has far more motivation – she has to talk else she doesn’t get her food!  Instead of videoing the interaction (I’m not quite thick-skinned enough for that!), I attempted for the first time to use the ‘voice record’ function on my iphone.  Ellen placed her order correctly if a little quietly and quickly.  The server woman checked every item with Ellen and she nodded.  On the voice record I can be heard saying ‘yep’ after each item (probably wasn’t necessary).  ‘Do you want ketchup?’ the woman asked.  I repeated the question to Ellen and she replied ‘no’.  ‘Eat in or takeaway?’ was the next question.  ‘Takeaway’ Ellen replied, a little too quietly, the woman didn’t hear so I repeated it. (smack wrist).  Ellen wasn’t interested in finding the right money, as by this time her attention had been grabbed by the fact that one of the bottles of water was slightly squashed in at the top.  ‘It’s not right’ she said looking at it quizzically.  Still plenty to work on from my point of view!

Last port of call was the garden centre, where Ellen’s task was to pick a present for Grandad’s birthday.  Her budget was £10 and it took quite a bit of browsing for her to find the right item (a massive jigsaw of a train and an indoor watering can had to be returned to the shelves as they were over budget).  Luckily they had a massive sale on so she managed to get something quite substantial for her money – I’m sure Grandad will be thrilled!

Present wrapping

Present wrapping

Ellen helped wrap and label the present and then we put it safely out of the way so the dog didn’t tread on it.  Wouldn’t want it to get ruined….