1

Ant squashing

Still on a mission to do ‘something different’ with Ellen, we suggested that it might be a nice idea to return to Waddesdon Manor today, look around the house (which was closed last time we came) and have a picnic in the grounds.  To compromise a bit, we suggested Ellen could have McDonalds en route; whilst we picked some edible food from the supermarket.  Part of the plan was to get a pudding for Ellen, so that although she had had already eaten her favoured food, she would still be included in the picnic.

Oh the best laid plans…

After we had parked and walked up to the welcome desk, we were greeted with the news that the tickets for the house were already sold out for the day.  Problem 1.

Problem 2.  Rich had forgotten to buy Ellen a pudding.

Problem 3. He’d picked up sparkling water by mistake too.

Problem 4. It looked like it was going to rain.

It turned out that none of the above really mattered to Ellen.  Sure, she wanted to look around the house, but she was pretty happy looking at the aviary instead and was even more interested in the fact that the statues, which had been wrapped up in January, were now uncovered.  Picnics with a view?  Nah, much more fun to try and squash any ants which dared to try and crawl onto the picnic rug and then make up a rather morbid song about their demise. Plus, she managed to bags the back seat on the bus back to the car park and it didn’t rain until we were driving out.

Even better, we’ve got a reason to go back.  Having failed twice now to look inside the house, perhaps it’s third time lucky, I might even try and be organised and book online.

IMG_3546

Outside the ‘house for birds’

0

Scribblings of difference

We visit Tring Museum quite a lot.  It’s hard to answer the welcoming ‘have you been here before?’ in a neutral tone.  Oh yes, we’ve been here before and we have a very set routine.

First phase – visit the gift shop.  Unfortunately Ellen is very keen on the display of plastic animals that they sell there and today she bought the white tiger.

‘Oh you must have quite a collection of these at home’ says the sales assistant, presumably recognising us from our previous excursions.

‘We’ve got elephant, orange tiger, lion, rhino, giraffe, zebra and hippo…’ chants Ellen.

‘We must get a few more in then and stock up’ smiles the sales assitant.

‘Please don’t’ I reply, thinking of the groaning shelves back at home.

Second phase.  A very slow and detailed walk around the galleries, with Ellen pointing out all the creatures of interest to her new purchase, in this case, white tiger.

But today I’m going to disrupt this routine and throw a curve ball into Ellen’s familiar pattern.  In RDI speak this is called ‘same but different’.  We’re doing the same thing that we normally do, but changing it ever so slightly.  The aim is to slowly build Ellen’s resilliance and help her cope more easily with the inevitable fluctuations of daily living.

So, ‘Let’s draw our favourite animal’ I say.

‘I don’t think so’ replies Ellen in a sing-song voice, deep in conversation with her white tiger about his friend orange tiger.

Undeterred I set up the stools by the tigers, get out the paper and pencils and I wait.  This is the beauty of RDI.  I have learned that simply waiting is a powerful tool.  After only a few seconds and without any further argument, Ellen comes and sits down.  After a little bit of time positioning white tiger, Ellen gets to work drawing the orange tiger.  I am instructed to draw the Jaguar, which I can only half see due to the glass partitioning.  It is the experience not the end result, I chant internally, flushing when passing visitors curiously peer over my shoulder to look and then veer away as if physically repelled by my amateurish scribblings.IMG_5226[1]

This is Ellen’s drawing (I’m afraid ‘Jaguar with partition’ is not on display at this moment in time).

 

IMG_5228[1]

I know I’m biased, but I love it.

1

Sleeping Yoga

Today Ellen and I went for a taster yoga session.  This involved a great deal of preparation, including stocking up on plenty of carbs before the workout.

IMG_4787[1]

Preparing for the workout ahead

Ellen did some yoga at school a few years ago and often ‘strikes a pose’ being surprisingly flexible for one who’s inclination tends towards the sedentary.

Lynn is a very experienced teacher of yoga for children and those with special needs and she let Ellen have a good look around the studio before we started our taster session.  I filled in the obligatory information form and then we removed our shoes to step into the studio.  Ellen sat and watched as Lynn and I moved through a few basic moves (including three ‘ommmmm’ chants at the beginning) but then obviously lost interest in us and seemed to wander off towards the door.

Not to worry, she had just decided she was more comfortable with her shoes on.  Again Lynn was fine with this and praised Ellen when she returned, shoes on, for her standard legs apart hands on hips pose ‘good idea Ellen, let’s do some side bends’ she encouraged.  Ellen did join in, even with the Tree pose, until then she had an unfortunate mishap related to the monthly female condition and obviously felt rather uncomfortable.  Another small interruption followed whilst Ellen went to the loo, but with no change of clothes available, even I was beginning to wonder what on earth would happen next…

However, Lynn remained warm and inclusive throughout the session, nothing Ellen and I could throw at her rocked her from her yogic calm.  Finally, we reached the relaxation stage, which was obviously Ellen’s favourite as she stayed in it long after Lynn and I had got up, chatted, got coats on and were ready to leave.  Ellen’s verdict…? She’d like to go again….hopefully Lynn will not have left the country…

IMG_4788[1]

Peace at last

0

What I’m good at: Hiding

Every so often, professionals who come to see Ellen, talk about ‘seeking her views’.  This is of course a very laudable aim, but these knowledge-seekers are often repelled with a get out! from Ellen or if they’re really lucky, she’ll tell them she’s good at eating chips.  They usually back away looking rather crestfallen at having, as always, to rely on parental views alone.

I understand their frustration, but I’ve spent 19 years trying to find out what Ellen’s thinking and feeling so their five minutes of failure gives them just that little insight into what it’s like trying to second-guess someone day in day out.

Another of these questionnaires plopped onto the mat last week and today, I sat down with Ellen in an attempt to fill it in.

Mog decided that this was the exact moment to demand attention, and his determination to sit on the questionnaire, although rather unwanted by me, did get Ellen in an excellent mood for the boring task ahead.

IMG_4700[1]

Mog ‘helping’

Things I’m good at was the first question.  Hiding Ellen wrote, no doubt inspired by the fact we had just come back from the pet food shop where she had hidden amongst the fishing rods in the tackle and bait shop downstairs whilst I was paying for my dog food.  She thought it was hilarious.  Not so the two, grossly overweight fishermen who were sat in the cellar trying to ignore the fact that Ellen was dancing in the corner.

Things I like, things I don’t like and new things I’d like to try.  In an attempt to get a more relevant answer, I added ‘at college’ to the end of this question.  I like playing on the swing and going to Morrisons.  I don’t like the fire alarm.  I’d like to try cooking. (Ellen actually does cooking at college and has done for three years but heigh ho – they’ll like that I’m sure).

Things I admire about me.  This is a tricky one.  Admire isn’t a word that Ellen really understands.  What do you like about yourself?  I asked her.  There was a long pause.  In the end she wrote.  Funny.  Lovely.  No room for modesty in the autistic brain obviously.

My aspirations and goals for the future.  Again, how many special needs people understand the word aspirations?!  However, once translated by me, Ellen wrote: I’d like to work in McDonalds.  The headline flashed before my eyes ‘McDonalds announces profits warning as teenage girl eats all the chips.’

We carried on slowly through the questionanire, but I don’t think I really felt I had an insight into Ellen’s mind until we came to the last box.

How I need to be supported to be heard and understood.  Without any prompting from me Ellen wrote: I need help how to hear me.

Yup, that sums it up nicely.

0

Jewellery Making

Ellen was lucky enough to be given some great craft sets for Christmas and no doubt we’ll be working our way through them all over the upcoming weeks and months.  Given the choice of which to start with, she rather surprisingly chose her new jewellery making kit.  Surprising because of everything she received, this looked the most challenging.

I soon found out why she chose it though, as the projects leaflet inside the box contained pictures of tiger and zebra earrings and pendants.  Without hesitation, Ellen chose to make the zebra necklace.

This involved rolling out thin pieces of alternate black and white clay, sprinkling them with water and then pressing them together firmly by rolling a cup over the top.  It was a great activity for our current RDI objective, because there were bits that she found really difficult, like moulding the hard clay between her fingers to soften it up, but also bits that she found much easier – like rolling the clay into long sausages.  I was therefore able to use my ‘easy’ ‘a bit tricky’ and ‘difficult’ prompts fairly evenly thoughout.

Ellen has sensory issues surrounding her fingers and didn’t like the feel of the clay, so she tried using a pair of gloves initially, but when these proved too cumbersome she took them off.  I found this quite encouraging as it seemed like her desire to make the jewellery was stronger than her sensory issues.

IMG_4529[1]

Ellen making a hole in the zebra clay

After rolling with the cup, we then had to cut out two shapes, one 2p-sized and the other 1p-sized, before making holes for the thread and then putting the pieces in the oven to bake.

I have to continually remind myself not to step in and over-compensate for Ellen, it’s very difficult not to try and improve things and make them perfect.  This is Ellen’s necklace and it needs to look like her necklace!

IMG_4530[1]

The clay’s ready for the oven!

The second half of the production process was much trickier, in fact it almost defeated me.  Our RDI advisor had asked me ‘what does Ellen do when she find things overwhelming?’, well the answer is she tries to walk off and leave me to it!  Getting the pendant threaded was fine but trying to fix the clasp to the end was almost impossible with the result that I pretty much took over.  Looking back what I probably should have done was abandon the instructions and instead had a discussion with Ellen about an easier way to finish off – i.e. just tie a knot in the flippin thing!  However, we perservered and it did give me the opportunity, many times, to say how difficult this bit was, but even so how we managed get it done in the end and I think you’ll agree it does very much look like Ellen’s own work!

IMG_4535[1]

Me modelling the finished product!

When we’d finished, we trekked off to McDonalds for Ellen’s weekly fix of a plain cheesburger and large fries.  One downside of her increased confidence in doing her own ordering is that she’s started adding some ‘unexpected items’, like today’s chocolate muffin.  Very happy with her illicit purchase, she laid out the cheeseburger, muffin and chips in that order on her lap in the car and proceded to eat them together as one meal – yuck!

0

Back in Perspective

We’ve had a six week break from RDI as daughter No. 2’s engagement with GCSE exams proved to be rather hostile for all involved – never mind learning how to modify your speech for an autistic child, there needs to be a communication guide for parents of an exam-stressed teenager.  In short – if you must engage in conversation – put a flak jacket on first!

Thankfully, a cease-fire having been declared (exams finally finishing), it was time to dust off the video camera and the imagination and plan a new activity around our current objective.  Perspective taking.

Ellen has shown many times her own individual perspective; at the weekend I was involved in the Circus-themed village fete and had manned my stall dressed as Marcel Marceau – however to Ellen I was a Zebra pure and simple.  She even made me a bracelet saying Zebra!

Zebra and Tiger at the Village Fete

Zebra and Tiger at the Village Fete

However, we are trying to test whether or not Ellen realises that different people may have a different view of the same thing, and that these views are equally valid.  She seems to have a burgeoning realisation of this; she will turn a book to show me if I say I can’t see something, and we had fun with blotto painting a few weeks ago.  We both, however needed to get back into the swing of planned engagements and so I picked what I thought would be a fairly simple task – to make animal faces out of coloured dough.

Do you know what it is yet?

Do you know what it is yet?

Unfortunately the dough was rock hard and even I struggled to mould it into shape. Mindful that the actual making of the faces wasn’t the main focus of the engagement, I did help Ellen roll and shape her pieces of dough.  Mine was going to be a zebra but Ellen nicked all the stripes off it telling me as she did so that it was going to be a panda. I’m not sure she’s quite grasped the idea that my perspective is ‘equally valid’!

What surprised me the most about the activity was not how easily we both slipped back into our familiar roles, but that on a couple of occasions Ellen used language in a more imaginative than purely functional way.  I had a go at guessing that the squashed black and yellow face at the top of the picture was a fish and rather than just saying ‘no it’s a lion’, Ellen to my astonishment said ‘it’s much better than that’ 🙂 .

The real Marcel

The real Marcel

look familiar?

look familiar?

Perhaps that’s how she felt about Marcel and the Zebra….can’t say I disagree!

1

Making Biscuits for an MP

There’s a General Election on 7 May – had you realised?  Well yes, unless you have managed to avoid all television, newspapers and the pamphlets through the letterbox that knowledge is pretty unavoidable.

The National Autistic Society are running an #ImOne campagin where members are encouraged to invite their parliamentary candidates along for a coffee morning to listen to our stories and concerns.  I hosted such a coffee morning yesterday (except it was in the afternoon – and he didn’t want a coffee) and our local Conservative candidate came along to listen.

Good excuse to make some biscuits with Ellen I thought.

Icing the biscuits

Icing the biscuits

Ellen is quite proficient at baking these days, but icing is a whole new ‘edge-plus one’ concept for her.  She happily took up the icing bag, but all my suggestions ‘perhaps you could ice a snake-shape or a circle?’ were ignored and instead she drizzled a salvador dali type symbol over each one.  Ho hum, this will test his mettle I thought, putting the plate out on the table.

Have a biscuit?

Have a biscuit?

He may have swerved my question about where the proposed £12 billion in welfare cuts were going to come from, mumbling something about always ‘protecting the vulnerable’, but he did listen, he did take away some actions and he did eat a biscuit!

Ellen of course was completely unmoved by the success of her creations, but maybe, just maybe, next time his is sitting in his office in the Treasury with his red pen in hand ready to slash at the figures in front of him, the image of these biscuits will make him at least pause think about the real people behind the numbers.