Literary Influences and a Dog Walk

Ellen holding the lead!

Ellen holding the lead!

Walking the dog is a necessary every day occurrence in our household.  Walking the dog with Ellen is not.

As I may have mentioned before, Ellen is by inclination a couch potato.  She does not like anything which remotely seems like exercise. She also doesn’t like to go out at all if it is ‘too rainy’ (most of the last two months) or ‘too dark’ (most of Winter).

I was full of a cold yesterday and after doing our usual job at the local village shop and getting lunch at McDonald’s, going for a dog walk was about as much of an activity as I could cope with.  Not only did I feel under the weather, but the McDonald’s server managed to throw us another curved ball by responding to Ellen’s ‘a plain cheeseburger’ request with ‘do you want that as a meal?’ As I wondered how many ways are there to order a McDonalds, I had a little giggle as my question reminded me of the famous Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem ‘How many ways do I love thee?’ http://www3.amherst.edu/~rjyanco94/literature/elizabethbarrettbrowning/poems/sonnetsfromtheportuguese/howdoilovetheeletmecounttheways.html.

However much fun I was having with my literary irony, I was also frustrated with myself because yet again, I had to intervene to ask what on earth a ‘meal’ was and so basically felt like I took over the interaction, when I’m supposed to be standing back and letting Ellen speak for herself – grrr

Determined to do better with the dog walk, I made sure I gave Ellen plenty of warning of the activity and told her about it whilst she was happily munching her McDonalds.  When the time came to go out, I met a bit of resistance from Ellen who was loathe to leave her play station game, but I explained that we needed to take Phoebe for a walk and that because I was poorly (only a slight exaggeration!) she would need to hold the lead.  One of the things I’ve learnt from my RDI training is that if you meet resistance you need to stand firm and wait for your child to do what you are asking.  I have had moments where I have had to stand my ground for 30 minutes repeating ‘I’m just waiting’ intermittently, but luckily yesterday the technique worked pretty quickly and after less than a minute Ellen did put down her DVDs, put on her wellies and took the lead.  Great!

Past attempts to get Ellen to hold the lead have not been terribly successful, she has been apt to let go as soon as Phoebe pulls at all – not ideal!  However, one small bonus of all the rain we’ve been having is that our road is closed due to flooding, so I could let Ellen take the lead without fear that we would meet a car.  I needn’t have worried however, despite the fact that she obviously didn’t like holding the lead when Phoebe pulled she didn’t let go until I told her it was safe to do so.

So far so good.  The next thing objective was to use non-verbal communication as much as possible.  I pointed at the mud and the barbed wire fence (which we went through) making ‘oooh’ and ‘aahhh’ sounds and Ellen seemed very happy to play along.  We ‘squelch squelched’ through the mud and Ellen pointed the way we were to go.

Then – thank you untidy fishermen – we found a can at the side of the canal, I made a big fuss about it not being where it should be and flattened it slightly so that Phoebe could pick it up.  As a Cocker Spaniel she has a natural instinct to carry things in her mouth and so we set off for home and the recycling box.  Phoebe however had other ideas, and after carrying the can for a few minutes she ran off into a field to bury it. This gave me a great chance to do some comical expressions, pointing and shrugging when she came back without the can.  Ellen thought it was hilarious – but as a one-time Green Party voter, my conscience may force me to go back and retrieve it later …

Phoebe before she buried the can

Phoebe before she buried the can

While things were going so well I thought it would be a good opportunity to extend Ellen’s competence even further.  Usually when we get back from the walk Ellen just throws her boots off and marches in the house, but this time I carried on the story of the missing can by opening the lid of the recycling box, pointing inside it and then wagging my finger at Phoebe.  Ellen was still engaged in the interaction and happily passed me the towel so I could dry Phoebe’s muddy paws.  I then showed her how to feed Phoebe, including telling her to sit before you put the bowl down.  Ellen did all this without any complaint at all – a major achievement!

Phoebe sitting for her food

Phoebe sitting for her food

Despite a few tricky moments, the day ended with some great positives, so perhaps in future I should use Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s wise words for more than just ironic reflection.

‘Measure not the work
Until the day’s out and the labour done,
Then bring your gauges.’ (Aurora Leigh, bk. 5)


Step back in time – to Kidzone

Kidzone is an indoor adventure playground in Berkhamsted which has been operating for at least fifteen years; I used to take both kids there quite a bit when they were younger and have had more than one nightmarish Kidzone party (sugar + screaming + running + chips) to contend with in my time.

Ellen and I were supposed to be going pottery painting this morning while her sister Daisy was at her tutor, but out of the blue she announced that she wanted to go to Kidzone instead.  I checked their website http://www.thekidzone.co.uk as I wasn’t sure she would be allowed in, and in fact their age limit is twelve.  However, on phoning I was told that it was more to do with height than anything else (another bonus of Ellen being tiny) and if Ellen would enjoy it and it would ‘do her good’ they were more than happy to welcome her 🙂  So nice to get a positive and friendly reaction to disability!  On the downside rather than sit rather genteelly painting a small piece of pottery I knew I was going to have to squeeze and wedge myself around some equipment built for five year olds – definitely time to put a belt on my jeans…

Luckily for me, but unlucky for Daisy, I had got the date of her tutor wrong, so we ALL went to Kidzone!  I sent the two girls in whilst I tried to park the car- on a rainy day in half-term it seems that strangely other people may have had the same idea as me.  By the time I got in, both girls were up on the frame and so the games began.

The girls running away from their mother...

The girls running away from their mother…

Inside, Kidzone hadn’t changed a bit from my memory (or nightmares).  This obviously suited Ellen’s autistic desire for sameness perfectly and as a result she didn’t hesitate to launch herself at the equipment.

When the girls were younger I used to look with envy at the parents who sat in the cafe enjoying a coffee and a read of the paper whilst their children ran around happily, only bothering their parent when they wanted a drink or a bit of a rest.  If I had any idea that I might be that parent today though I was much mistaken.  Ellen spent the first half an hour wanting me to ‘find’ her and Daisy and the second half an hour wanting us all to take turns on the equipment.  I thought I was fit, but after 45 minutes I was gasping!

From Ellen’s point of view though this was all good stuff.  Her general temperament inclines towards ‘couch potato’ mode and she resists any form of organised exercise like running and swimming.  Presumably at Kidzone she was having too much fun to realise or care that she was exercising as well so perhaps this is the key to her future fitness.

Ellen coming off the slide for the tenth time!

Ellen coming off the slide for the tenth time!

Today, as you may notice from the photograph, Ellen was ‘Mirror Woozle’ (see an earlier post for a full description of the Heffalumps and Woozles).  Mirror Woozle was very keen to pose on all the items of equipment and would stand alert in ‘photograph’ mode until I obliged – much to the bemused looks of some of the other kids.  Ellen also surprised me with her determination to climb onto a large ball-shaped swing.  Usually, if she can’t do something she gives up straight away, but with this she kept trying and even let me help her get on it and swung for a bit until she announced ‘it hurts my f****!’ very loudly and I hurriedly helped her off!

Mirror Woozle mastering the ball-swing

Mirror Woozle mastering the ball-swing

All of a sudden, after we had all climbed and slid and swung and balanced to our hearts content, and I was beginning to seriously regret wearing a thick woolly jumper, Ellen announced that she had had enough and it was all over just as quickly as it started.

‘That was actually quite good fun’ announced Daisy as we walked back out into the persistent drizzle.  And yes, it was.  One of the goals of RDI is to provide positive episodic memories for our children (i.e. personal representational memory of an event tied with emotions and unique meaning for a person – thank you http://www.thinkautism.co.uk/page3.htm).  In this case, I think Ellen’s episodic memory was probably more positive than mine!




Visiting Tiggywinkles – in a monsoon

Ellen at the entrance to Tiggywinkles

Ellen at the entrance to Tiggywinkles

With my uncanny knack of picking the wettest and windiest days to do outdoor activities, today we visited St Tiggywinkles in Haddenham http://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/.  The car park was empty when we arrived and it was hard to find a piece of it which was not under water.  Not surprisingly we were the only visitors – so there’s always a silver lining.  They even have umbrellas you can borrow.

Tiggywinkles is a wildlife hospital that started in one man’s house around 35 years ago and is now, according to the slogan the ‘world’s busiest wildlife hospital’.  Today (or to be more precise 29 Jan when they last counted) they had a total 640 wild animals and birds receiving free care.  We saw about three.

I’m sorry that’s not true – it was at least twenty…  There is an outdoor trail where you can see some of the wild animals recovering, but understandably enough in the freezing downpour most of them were sheltering in their houses.  My umbrella was in danger of turning inside out as we battled down the path!  We did see some Red Kite’s very close up and they have a small indoor display about the Red Kites and all the various injuries which have befallen them – the strangest story was the one about the bird which was found in a garden covered in what smelled like cooking oil!  They tried washing it twice in washing up liquid but the oil wouldn’t come off and in the end they had to look after it until it moulted.

The fox was sensibly staying in it's shelter

The fox was sensibly staying in its shelter

Ah notice Ellen is carrying a large hippo toy.  While I was paying our entrance fee and sorting out Ellen’s activity sheet, she was busy perusing the limited gift shop.  It may have been limited but she still found a soft toy – and a big one at that!  Hippo wanted to come and look at the animals with us, so I coughed up another £3 for the privilege. I have to say none of the coughing up feels too bad when you know it’s all going to a good cause.

My RDI target for the next few weeks is to try to, and I quote, “effectively slow down your typical Experience-Sharing process to the point where you can consciously experience the typically sub-conscious, rapid adjustments you and other participants must make on an on-going basis” – got that?  So as we walked around the rain-sodden paths I limited myself to short statements.  ‘That bird is huge’ and ‘That bird has a broken wing’ etc.  Ellen didn’t say much in reply – or maybe I couldn’t hear her over the wind – but she and hippo were taking it all in.

Apart from the Red Kites and some ducks, there wasn’t a great deal to see outside so we went indoors where they have display cases of wild animal skeletons and the world’s only Hedgehog Memorabilia Museum.  This contained everything and anything with a hedgehog link including aeroplanes, coats of arms, knitting patterns, church plasterwork and figurines.  Our of everything there, the item Ellen was most interested in was a Bob the Builder puzzle – the hedgehog link? – he saves the hedgehogs from being squashed by Roly the steamroller…

The World's only Hedgehog Memorabilia Museum

The World’s only Hedgehog Memorabilia Museum

But the biggest hit of the whole visit was the mammal nursery, where baby hedgehogs/squirrels/voles and other small mammals are nursed back to health.  Most of them were asleep under towels but one hedgehog was obviously confused about the time of day, and much to Ellen’s delight was scrabbling in and out of his blanket, eating food and trying to escape through the bars.  We were so long at the window (at least 45 minutes) that I felt our patience was rewarded when one of the volunteers came along and began hand-feeding some tiny baby voles.  It’s a pity we were separated by the glass because I would have liked to ask her how the baby voles had been rescued – they would not have survived long in the wild without their mother, and let’s face it must have been hard to spot.  Apart from feeding, I had no idea until today how important the ‘toileting’ of small mammals is.  If they are not ‘toileted’ they can die, and I watched fascinated as the volunteer gently rubbed a cotton wool bud over the vole’s bottom, simulating how its mother would have cleaned it.  So tiny was the vole that it had to be fed by a tiny paintbrush dipped in warmed milk.  That’s dedication for you!

Ellen entranced by the injured hedgehog

Ellen entranced by the injured hedgehog

The rain was still lashing down when it was time to leave.  I was quite looking forward to a cup of coffee in the cafe, but I obviously hadn’t read the website clearly enough as although they serve coffee, the only places to sit are outside – mmm perhaps not.  But the lady on the front desk assured me that if we come back in the Spring there will be much more to see (more baby animals) and do (crafts at half-term) so we may well do that.  After all we didn’t manage to complete the activity sheet and anyway I’d really like to get a closer look at that hedgehog jumper knitting pattern…