A POP to the zoo

POP was my mantra for today; Pace, (don’t) Overcompensate and Pause.  We were going to the zoo and I was keen to try and achieve some quality RDI-work in amongst the animal-gazing.

Ellen 'still looking' at the sleeping lions

Ellen ‘still looking’ at the sleeping lions

At the moment I’m working on social referencing.  This all revolves around what happens when Ellen encounters uncertainty.  What she should do when she meets something she is uncertain about is look at me, her guide, for confirmation of what to do.  It’s catching those moments and pausing for long enough to let them evolve without leaping in which is my stumbling block – hence the mantra.

Whipsnade Zoo is only a fifteen minute drive from our house.  We have been members for around fifteen years and it’s a place where Ellen is very comfortable and has a set routine.  In order to create opportunities for uncertainty, I had to shake things up a little and I had a list of four ideas:-

1. Make sandwiches to take with us  – I make Ellen’s and she makes mine.  This was fraught with danger as Ellen likes ham and I’m a vegetarian but it all went smoothly and I captured some lovely referencing on camera which all revolved around what to do with the cucumber.  Before your imaginations leap into muddy waters; let me reassure you; it was about whether to put slices of cucumber in our sandwiches or not, and whether or not to use the dry end of the cucumber (after I’d plucked it from my sandwich).  To my surprise Ellen also nodded when I held up the lettuce and so I put some in her sandwich although she has never eaten it before – and as it turned out later today wasn’t the day for her to start either.

2. Ellen to get her membership card out of her handbag and hand it over at the entrance (i.e. without help from me).  This went less well.  I thought Whipsnade would be empty today but when we got to the one open gate there was a queue of mothers and buggies.  Ellen waited for a few minutes and then obviously decided she had waited long enough and just walked past everyone into the zoo.  No-one stopped her either so she could have got away with it – but I dutifully led her back .  Our entry task was slightly hampered by the fact that Ellen had a zebra toy in one hand and a tiger in the other and would not let me hold them.  I waited though and pointed at her bag, she nudged it with the zebra’s nose – whilst looking at me.  This went on a few times before I opened her bag, took out the purse and offered it to her.  She was then able to pluck her card out and hand it over, so although I half-overcompensated by opening the bag and getting out the purse, Ellen did do a bit of social referencing too.

3. Ellen to ask for her own chips at the cafe.  It took a while for us to get to the cafe.  Ellen was fascinated by the baby hippo and whilst other people came in, gagged at the stench and left, we managed to stay for 45 minutes.  Baby hippo was asleep.  Mummy hippo made one very loud noise and the third hippo did a poo.  Riveting stuff.  We then repeated the same thing at the lions (without the pooing).  I was starving by this time, but Ellen wouldn’t budge.  She ‘hadn’t finished looking’ she kept saying.  The only thing that finally got her moving was when I sat down on a bench and started eating my sandwich.  ‘You can’t eat your sandwich there, you have to eat it in the cafe’.  Fat chance I thought – but we did finally make it on to step 3.

Ellen with her chips - before the lettuce was ejected.  Tiger looks on...

Ellen with her chips – before the lettuce was ejected. Tiger looks on…

At the cafe Ellen was still hampered by the zebra and the lion toys but I paused at the trays and when she looked at me I indicated towards the stack.  She nodded so I picked up a tray and we walked towards the hot food counter.  ‘I’d like some chips please’ she said perfectly.  The only trouble was there was no one there to hear her!  The server was still walking over from another counter, so she had to repeat herself, but he understood her first time round (one up on McDonalds).  As soon as the chips were on the tray however, I was abandoned and Ellen went and sat down at one of the tables and started eating her sandwich before I’d even got past the till.

4. The final part of the ‘uncertainty’ plan was for me to pause outside the cafe after lunch and wait for Ellen to look at me for confirmation of where we were going next.  This was an abject failure!  I paused as planned, holding out the Whipsnade map like a lemon whilst Ellen marched off towards the tigers without the slightest hint of uncertainty.  She knew exactly where she wanted to go and didn’t need to look at me for confirmation.

However, I think it was overall a pretty positive visit all – still with plenty of room for improvement on my part.  But for once, we were outdoors and the sun was shining.  I also asked Ellen to take a photo of me with the ostriches and she agreed (I was only holding the soft toys so she could use the camera – honest Gov) and above all we had fun.

Ellen's photo of me

Ellen’s photo of me

On the way back to the car Ellen suddenly said ‘what animals begin with the letter D?’ and this started a game which lasted all the way home.  She was considerably better at it than me and came out with things like ‘humming bird’ and ‘sad-faced monkey’.

It reminded me of the time I went on a school trip when Ellen was at her last school.  It was the end of term and as a treat they were all going on a trip to the zoo.  While we were waiting for the buses to arrive the teacher played this same game with the class.  ‘What animals begin with A?’ she began, and the kids called out a few animals and then one boy said ‘anteater’.  ‘No, no, no.  There is no such animal as an anteater’ the teacher said firmly.  There was an awkward pause as I was torn between not wanting to show the teacher up and accuracy.

Accuracy won and I raised my hand.  ‘Um, there is actually’ I said apologetically and the class erupted into raucous laughter.  Luckily Ellen only had a week left as no doubt she would have repeated ‘there is an anteater’ many many times.




Pub Lunch with Bee Heffalump

The Half Moon pub

The Half Moon pub

I’m lucky that I live in a small village with a great community shop and an excellent pub – the Half Moon.  Thinking of the RDI principle of ‘same but different’ I thought that as Ellen has been ordering her lunch from McDonalds for several weeks now, it may be time to see how she gets on ordering her lunch elsewhere.  I confess, I may also have been motivated by the fact that in the last couple of weeks there have been two separate incidents where cars have come off the adjacent bypass and rolled down the bank right by our regular McDonalds – it just doesn’t seem a good place to be this week for more than the usual reasons.

Today has also been a wonderful Spring-like day and the pub has a fantastic log fire which is very enticing.  It’s also just a few metres away from the shop where Ellen and I do our regular Wednesday shelf-filling job, so it’s convenient and I manage to sneak a bit of extra walking and fitness into Ellen’s schedule!

Just a year or so ago I would have been extremely nervous about taking Ellen into such a public place for lunch. The pub does tend to get quite busy and the tables are packed closely together and should her anxiety levels rise, so could her verbal levels.

I had told her that we were going to the pub for lunch and I pointed out the pub on the way to the shop.  We have been to eat there many times before, but never just the two of us and never in the main pub – in the past we have hidden away in a side room called the 19th hole.

Ellen seemed to take everything in her stride, completed her shelf-stacking and cardboard disposing-of list in record time and was out of the shop before I could finish paying for my purchases.  ‘I’m going to the pub’ she said when I finally managed to catch her up and asked where she was going.  Confidence was obviously not an issue!

Luckily it was quiet when we first arrived, just after 12. In fact we were only the second people in there.  Ellen chose where we were going to sit (near the fire 🙂 ) and then we looked at the menu.  Ellen was torn between the Jumbo sausage meal and the Farmhouse Ham but finally made her decision and we went up to the bar to order. I had managed to have a quick word with the landlady beforehand to tell her that Ellen was going to try to order her meal and she was more than happy to play along.  So up to the bar we went and the landlady asked what we would like to eat.  ‘Sausage’ Ellen said.  She had to repeat herself once but in the end the landlady got the idea that she wanted sausage, egg and chips.  I placed my order and then Ellen was asked if that was it.  ‘A blackcurrant’ she asked.  The landlady nodded.  ‘Would you like any ice?’ Ellen shook her head.  There was a pause and then Ellen said ‘And what would you like to drink Mum?’ Yay!  For me that was the best moment of the whole lunch

The lunch was enormous!  Far too much for us – even Ellen didn’t manage to finish all the chips which must be a first!  Phoebe the dog will be very happy with the leftover sausage she will get for her supper.

Ellen (as Bee Heffalump) with her Jumbo Sausage lunch

Ellen (as Bee Heffalump) with her Jumbo Sausage lunch

By the time we got our lunch the pub was full but Ellen coped with it very well.  So did the clientele. Despite the fact that Ellen had a yellow face and a large trunk painted on her face, no-one stared or acted in anyway out of the ordinary.

The only potentially awkward moment was when we stood up to leave and Ellen swung her coat right into the lady who was sitting at the next table!  ‘I do that all the time too’ the lady confided.

It’s such a great feeling to have Ellen so accepted in her local community and only makes me more keen to repeat the experience – but perhaps to order fewer chips next time!