Wednesday, 25 March 2015

An Autism Morning

It has been a couple of months since George (seven) received his very welcome diagnosis of high functioning autism. It was a long process, but CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) were wonderful and diligent, and we went away with what we needed. Now we're in a waiting game for more help.

(Credit. Creative Commons)

Some mornings with George can be very hard, involving screaming and shouting, hitting and biting. Everyone will be late for school. Everyone will emerge frazzled, stressed, wondering where we went wrong. But often even the milder mornings are difficult.

This morning George's shoes had to be just right. We had to stop on the pavement to get the tongues sideways because I straightened them when I made his shoes tighter, because they were too loose for him. His shoes were too loose because I'd had to dress him this morning, like we do most mornings, but this morning he was introverted and unresponsive, so I had to put the shoes on while his feet were upside down. The inside of his shoe had felt sticky, and needed more adjustment. Now the tongues of his shoes were wrong and had to be just at the right angle, with the tab sticking out, the straps done up just the right amount. I had to crouch with him in the street while he shouted at me, wondering what the neighbours must be thinking. I stood hovering some yards away from him while he screamed 'Wait!' because I was trying to simultaneously watch Ben (four) who had run to the end of the street, and be there for George, who was two beats away from a collapse.

I could have told him not to be so silly, I could have left his shoes and become impatient, told him we would be late for school, told him we didn't have time to fuss about things like that. If I had done that I would have left him screaming or crying or violent, so I went along with what he needed. Not wanted, needed. It's not about whims and fancies with him. It's about having to have things exactly right, or everything will be wrong.

We fixed his shoes, and walked on. None of us were allowed to walk in front of him on the way to school. How do you explain to a four year old that he can't run ahead of his big brother because we don't want him to have a meltdown? All I can say is, 'We don't want George to go into rage mode,' and feel bad about characterising something so out of George's control in that way, but knowing it's the only way that Ben might understand. In rage mode George might kick out or hit. He might scream and shout. He might collapse onto the ground like a dead weight. No, we didn't want that to happen.

This morning on the walk to school George just wanted to be left alone. He didn't want interaction. He didn't want people to look at him. He just wanted me to be with him, no one else. When he's like this he can be furious one moment, and then crooning with delight and gently stroking a dog on the path the next.

We stopped to get his coat done up just right, and of course Ben ran off again to the end of the next road, the busier road where the cars come down fast and where this week the lollipop man is off sick. It's hard to pay attention to Ben while also looking after George, so Oscar, who is now nine, had to watch Ben and keep him from the road.

This morning was a triumph. There are days when he is better and days when he is worse. Today could have been a bad day, it could have been lying on the ground screaming, kicking, biting. It could have been me trying to carry George and two school bags across the field. But today we got George into school willingly and relatively happily, because I stayed calm and patient, and because although George was feeling bad, he wasn't too bad. This is a sliver of what it can be like with George on a so-so morning. I know a lot of people have it much worse, but it would be nice if the people who don't have any experience of autism understood how even the easy days can be hard.


  1. I have no direct experience with autism, so your statement that he *needs* things to be just right is a revelation to me. It has shifted my understanding of the day-to-day challenges faced by autistic children and their parents. I hope CAMHS gives you the help you need.

    1. Thank you for commenting :-) Yes, I think it really is a need. I suppose with proper adult control he might find it easier to get around needs that aren't met, but certainly at his age it's very hard. I think if we pushed him past it nothing would be right until it was fixed, and that would pull down his whole day.