Silver Linings

It’s a while since I posted an update about Dylan. I’m not sure why: life has continued its twists and turns, with plenty to reflect on as ever. I’d like to say that my silence here has been because I’ve been writing poems but I’m not sure that’s true. Work more likely ūüė¶

Well, I’ve made a bit of space today for a quick post about ¬†silver linings. As I type that I call to mind a favourite song which Dylan and I often listen to while driving so let’s have a burst of that first…

Silver Lining Number One

I often say that what matters is not the error but the fix.¬† When my students complete evaluation forms at the end of semester it frustrates me when they complain about a problem I thought I’d responded to during the module.¬† ‘Please don’t focus on the things that went wrong’, I want to say to them before they fill in the form: ‘think about what I did to make it better’.

Something went a bit wrong at Christmas when Dylan didn’t have a Christmas card or present to give to me. I had assumed Dylan would bring something home with him as this is what has happened every year since he moved to residential care.¬† I will never forget the impact of this the first Christmas; Dylan’s gift and card were completely unexpected and moved me to tears. ¬†Before that, I had never received a present from Dylan that ¬†I hadn’t chosen and bought myself.¬† The soaps and candles Dylan gave to me that year were the sweetest indicator of my son’s growing independence. Since then, Dylan has brought gifts for me every Christmas, birthday and Mother’s Day without fail.

So ¬†I was puzzled that Dylan didn’t have even a card for me and sister this year. Dylan seemed conscious of his lack of something to give on Christmas morning; we have built a routine in the last three years for the exchange of gifts and something in Dylan’s body language made me imagine him anxious or sorry (though this could have been projection). I took the label off a Christmas hamper meant for my father and gave it to Dylan to give to me instead.

Afterwards, I wasn’t sure whether to say anything to staff at Dylan’s residential home or not. I felt a bit of a Diva complaining that I hadn’t had a Christmas present.¬† In the end I did, however;¬† the exchange of gifts with family and friends is important social learning which Dylan needs support with. ¬†And I was glad that I did mention it as it turned out to be simply one of those things that had slipped through the net. They thanked me and assured me it wouldn’t happen again.

As I have observed, what matters is not the error but the fix.¬† After Christmas, parents were asked to send the birthday dates of family members for the diary. And here is Dylan delightedly clutching the gift he made for my February birthday. The new social enterprise coordinator, J, ¬†is now supporting¬† residents to make their own presents. It’s a small thing, but a silver lining to a parent.

Silver Lining Number Two

As I’ve noted before, When Dylan is very upset he destroys the things he loves most. These incidents¬† – in which Dylan can become consumed with despair – arise, I assume, from our¬† failure to understand what he is trying to communicate. Dylan has, in the past, shredded cherished photographs, leaflets, Filofaxes, schedules, clothes, ¬†books and DVDs.¬† Afterwards, when Dylan has calmed, he faces the additional distress of no longer having the comfort of objects which meant a great deal to him.

Over the years, there has been a lot of ‘re-buying’ of pajamas, books and DVDs. The ripping of PJs, in particular, has proved quite challenging.¬† Dylan is a man of taste;¬† his preference is for classic trouser and jackets, usually in good quality (but nonetheless rip-able) fabrics. At the end of last summer we decided to call a halt to the expensive replacement of PJs by keeping Dylan’s clothes drawers locked. He does still rip PJs from time to time but he no longer has free access to them for ripping sprees overnight.

When we moved to locking Dylan’s drawers I felt sad. It seemed to me a regressive step and a reduction in Dylan’s independence. Each time we have decided not to replace something Dylan has destroyed – a photograph album, a Filofax – I have felt the erosion of his independence and dignity in the loss of the object itself.¬† So it was with a heavy heart, following a particularly distressing incident recently, that I suggested the time had perhaps come to lock Dylan’s DVDs away.

There was something about restricting Dylan’s access to his DVDs which I found difficult.¬† He has his favourite films on his ipad (which Dylan has not so far attempted to break) but the DVDs serve a deep need which Dylan has for physical artefacts. He likes to look at the covers, open the cases, hold the discs in his hands – the pre-play rituals which Dylan associates with his DVDs can last for anything up to 30 minutes. Because of this way Dylan has of organising and handling his DVDs, I had never seriously considered limiting his access to them.

Once I’d accepted that a lockable cupboard was the only way forward, however, I decided I may as well commit to the project and take the opportunity to re-organise Dylan’s room.¬† The residential home donated a heavy duty, clear-view cabinet where Dylan could keep his DVDs. I took leave from work and spent a day shifting, scrubbing, polishing and sweeping.¬† Relocating Dylan’s (somewhat depleted) collection provided an alternative¬† space for Dylan’s books, allowing surplus shelves to be moved out of his room, creating a sense of light and space. This, I said to a member of staff who came to see how I was getting on, might be the silver lining.

Based on my experience of making changes at home I had decided it was probably best for me to re-organise things while Dylan was out.¬† If he could see my completed ‘suggestion’ he might accept the change but would almost certainly resist any moving of furniture if I tried to involve him in the process.¬† I wasn’t sure how Dylan would react to the re-organisation but was in no doubt that he would let me know if he didn’t approve. So I was a little nervous when I heard Dylan bounding up the stairs, returning early from his swimming trip. I hadn’t quite finished. I pushed a pile of rubbish out of sight, straightened his duvet, lined up his remote vehicles, sat Buzz and Woody on his newly-positioned chest. They can see the TV from there, I said to Dylan. You can sit here, look. And see: here are your DVDs.

Dylan’s eyes darted quickly around, taking everything in.¬† Then he smiled his silver lining smile…

Three Years and Three Months: A Mother Adjusting

There is increasing pressure to evaluate things immediately. Have your students secured employment within six months of graduating? Did you enjoy this evening’s production? How would you rate your learning on this module? ¬†I tell my students that some of the things they are experiencing will make different sense to them in the future. I’m not saying an instant impression is worthless but I always regret that we don’t revisit our evaluations months (or even years) later.

And so it is the case when supporting a disabled adult to leave home.  Although it is over three years since Dylan moved to residential care, I am struck by the extent to which transition is an on-going process and one that I am definitely still evaluating and adjusting to.

Exhaustion

When Dylan first moved to residential care I set myself the challenge, during the first 100 days, of recording my feelings about the process. That created a rich picture of the minutiae of adjusting to Dylan’s move: my daily blog posts were full of laundry, food and bedtime routines. ¬†What I was too up-close to see at the time, however, was how exhausted I was.

Now I remember sometimes having to stop the car on the drive home from visiting Dylan, too tired to continue safely. There was a particular lay-by where I would sit, windows down, chanting half-remembered poems and songs to wake myself up. When I wasn’t visiting Dylan after work in those early weeks, I would be asleep on the sofa by 7pm. Perhaps my sleepiness was a mechanism for dealing with the emotion of the situation but I think I was also chronically tired after years of caring.

On the run-up to Dylan’s move to residential care I promised myself I would enjoy doing all the things I hadn’t been able to as a carer. I assumed I would be out and about, taking advantage of my sudden freedom to do as I pleased. What a mistake that turned out to be. Only very recently, more than three years after Dylan left home, have I found myself with a little more energy. I have started going out after work more often and staying up slightly later in the evenings. ¬†I am amazed how long it has taken me to feel able to do this.

Involvement

Since Dylan moved to ¬†residential ¬†care I have phoned the home almost every evening.¬† This is not something I’ve enjoyed doing (I’ve written about that here).¬† An attempt to use Facetime with Dylan hadn’t worked, however, so a¬† telephone conversation with staff was my only option and my need for reassurance about Dylan was enough for me to overcome my dislike of using the phone.

The calls have been a hit and miss affair. Sometimes I was able to speak to someone who had been working with Dylan that day but more often the member of staff had to look for information about Dylan ‘on the system’ .¬† My experience has ranged from feeling reassured after a friendly chat to being upset¬† by staff abruptness. Evening¬† telephone calls from parents, I quickly realised, were not usual; even having established that nine o’clock was the best time to call, I knew my calls could be an irritation, particularly if staff were busy. They ¬†were important to me, however; this was my son and I wanted to create a space in my day to connect with him.

Although the calls could be frustrating they helped me to feel involved in Dylan’s life. This summer, however, I had to re-think my routine. In June I heard that I had won a Northern Writers Award which involved funding to be used to complete the book of poems I am working on. I needed to spend some time away from home, free of distractions, in order to get on with the project. At the artists’ colony where it was suggested I go for a week, however, I would have only limited and intermittent contact with the outside world.

What was I to do? I knew I couldn’t turn down the opportunity because of a routine which was (I¬† knew in my heart of hearts) beyond its use-by date.¬† As Dylan was not aware of my daily calls, he would not know I wasn’t calling the setting each day; the only impact would be on me.¬† What was the point of me knowing whether or not Dylan was settled for the night? I couldn’t do anything about it. Staff would contact me in an emergency.¬† There was no guarantee that Dylan wouldn’t get ill or have an accident while I was away, but it would be very unlucky. I knew I had to go.

So as not to spend my week away worrying about being out of contact with Dylan, I practiced for it the week before I left: ¬†I didn’t make any telephone calls in the evening or send any emails, other than responding to a request for information. The trial week helped me to break my evening routine and I coped perfectly well, while I was away, without a mobile network or internet connection.¬† In fact I did more than ‘cope’; I had a productive time and returned with the confidence to go away again.¬† Furthermore, I seem to have broken my habit; I haven’t made any evening phone calls since.

I report this because I am struck by how individual a process transition is for parents.¬† I have no doubt there are a range of parental responses to a disabled adult child moving into residential care. Probably there are some parents who never make an evening phone call, some who call occasionally and some who make regular calls for a limited time.¬† Perhaps some ¬†parents telephone every day for the rest of their lives, but I suspect this is rare. I’m prepared to accept my own extended transition period might have been a bit of an outlying spike in the pattern of parent behaviour, ¬†but everyone has to find their own way. ¬†I am very grateful that staff at Dylan’s care home allowed me to take the time I needed and that no one ever suggested to me that I didn’t call.

Although this is progress there is a downside as well.¬† Since I’ve stopped making daily phone calls I don’t feel as involved in Dylan’s life as I did. Some evenings, to feel closer, ¬†I bring Dylan to mind and sit with gentle thoughts of him. I suppose this is not dissimilar to my meditations on other people I love who have moved away. In this respect it is, I suppose, a natural letting go.

Letting Go

There has been another ‘letting go’ recently; since the summer I have accepted a more relaxed approach to the dietary routines which have previously been an important part of Dylan’s care. This was triggered by our holiday on the Isle of Man where¬† it was difficult, some days, to find a vegetarian option which Dylan wanted to eat. Two or three times during the week I let Dylan have a non-vegetarian option rather than ask him to wait until we found something else or were back at the cottage. This made eating in the community easier for Dylan and less stressful for me.

Although I never experienced Dylan’s vegetarian diet as a ‘problem’ while he lived at home, it has proved one of¬† the most challenging aspects of his move to residential care. Dylan has a limited diet (only things which are beige and bland to taste and smell) but he eats with huge enjoyment (I have written about Dylan’s favourite foods here).¬† When Dylan moved to residential care, something which was very important to me was that he should continue to eat familiar food which could comfort and support his transition. The psychological benefits of such foods are well-documented in relation to communities in exile and more generally.

My ‘100 day’ posts often focused on food and my frustration at the constant need to justify Dylan’s vegetarianism. At the height of the silliness, it was suggested that this might have to go to a ‘Best Interests’ panel for discussion as it could be considered a deprivation of Dylan’s liberty to eat meat. I asked whether Dylan’s diet would be similarly challenged if he were a vegetarian on religious grounds? When I claimed ‘cultural practice’ , however, I was asked to explain in what respect Dylan’s vegetarianism could be classed as ‘cultural’.

The constant¬† challenges and explanations were wearing.¬† Although the issue didn’t go to a Best Interest panel, in the event, Dylan’s vegetarian diet has been the focus of constant discussion at periodic reviews and¬† whenever there was an ‘incident’ involving food. Many of the ‘incidents’ in relation to food turned out to be triggered by Dylan being offered unfamiliar vegetarian foods.¬† So while he may love ‘vegetarian Kiev’, this is a particular brand of Kiev (quorn, entirely beige) not any old Kiev¬† – and especially not a Kiev made from aduki beans (wrong colour, texture and flavour).¬† So when Dylan rejected an aduki bean Kiev one night (and grabbed a chicken Kiev¬† being eaten by another resident) it did not mean that he does not enjoy his vegetarian diet.

Well, I am rehearsing old arguments here. ¬†Although I found the issue of food the most exhausting and frustrating aspect of Dylan’s move to residential care, things did settle down eventually and fewer questions have been asked, recently. ¬†In this context, my relaxation of Dylan’s dietary rules this summer could seem odd.¬† I am sure it surprised staff when I announced, at Dylan’s recent review, that I was happy for him to have a non-vegetarian option while he was out in the community if he preferred it to the vegetarian option.¬† Having realised, while we were away, ¬†that this can be a sensible option, it seemed only right to apply the same principle to Dylan’s everyday life.

How do I make sense of this change of heart?  Mostly, like the relaxation of my daily telephone calls, as part of the process of adjustment to a child moving into residential care.  I think this is particularly relevant in the context of someone who lacks capacity. If Dylan cannot make informed decisions about issues such as diet, who should do so on his behalf?  Parents are used to taking such decisions and, I would argue, continue to be best-placed to inform decision-making during transition.  But over time (three years and three months, perhaps) it is probably right that a parent starts to step back and relax into a partnership approach.  In this spirit,  I have decided to trust staff to offer Dylan a vegetarian diet at the home but to have flexibility, if they need it, when out and about.

Is there any loss involved in this, as with the reduced telephone contact?¬† I think so, yes. As I noted above, the food we eat reminds us of home; it connects us to our family and community and creates a sense of belonging and identity.¬† Whatever a health care professional may say, I claim diet as ‘cultural practice’. ¬†In this respect, even a slight shift in Dylan’s separates him from home a little. But this is probably no more than the adjustments my daughter might make to her diet as she learns to live away from home. So perhaps it is a sign that, like his sister, Dylan has flown…

 

Images:

The photograph of the porthole window is the view through the shipping container I stayed in during my residence at Cove Park. The photo of the rainbow over Loch Long  (featured image) was taken from my writing desk at the end of my week away. The other photographs were taken on outings and home visits during the last few weeks.

Dylan On The Island Of Sodor

I had the idea to take Dylan to the Isle of Man after reading that it was the basis for the Thomas the Tank Engine stories. The Isle of Man forms the Diocese of ‘Sodor and Man’ and the island’s Bishop is known as ‘Bishop of Sodor and Man’. There is, however, no island of Sodor;¬† the name is Old Norse and refers to the Scottish Hebrides which were once part of ‘The Kingdom of Mann and the Isles’ but over which the Bishop no longer has authority. The Reverend W Awdry modelled his fictional Island of Sodor on the Isle of Man, inspired by holidays he spent there as a child.

My research suggested the Isle of Man could be an ideal holiday destination for Dylan as well:¬† far enough to require an overnight stay in a hotel (which he loves), a ferry trip (which he adores) and (once on the island) trams and trains galore. ¬†I am happy to report that the island didn’t disappoint…

Day One

I have kept my resolve of ‘no more Premier Inns‘¬† and Dylan, it turns out, is perfectly happy to stay in any chain of hotel.¬† What this has taught me is that Dylan uses language creatively:¬† when he said ‘moon’¬† (based on the Premier Inn logo) he meant hotel. Without the word ‘hotel’, Dylan found a word to describe the thing he wanted to talk about.¬† Now that we are not staying in Premier Inns, he uses the word ‘bed’ instead of ‘moon’.

Our en route overnight stays in Liverpool also reminded me how keen Dylan’s memory is. We had visited Liverpool once before and Dylan had enjoyed riding a carousel at the Albert Docks.¬† I had forgotten this but Dylan hadn’t; he said ‘horse’ repeatedly over dinner that evening and afterwards set up such a pace along the quayside I fell over trying to catch up. He was heading for the carousel I realised later (unfortunately, not working).

The fall was a shock: I sprawled flat out on the cobbles. Of course, people rushed to help me and I brushed them off – but afterwards I realised I was sore and bruised. It was a good reminder about supporting Dylan; after that, I made sure I kept him within reach, at the end of my voice. ‘You have to wait for your mum. Dylan’, I said. ‘I’m not as quick as you are’. For the first time, I had a sense of what it feels like to be an ageing parent.

Day Two

We left England in a heat wave and sailed to the Island of Sodor on a perfectly still sea. The next day, however, we woke to soaking rain. ‘Henry, Henry’, Dylan kept telling me. It took me a while to realise he wanted me to talk about the story where Henry stays in a tunnel because he doesn’t want to get his paint wet. It turned out that we would talk about Henry a lot during the week ūüė¶

After a drenching on the coast path above Peel on our first day on the island, we headed back to our cottage in St John’s, the centre of the Isle of Man and the site of a Viking Parliament (or ‘Thing’). I was interested in the history and politics of Tynwad Hill but Dylan was more interested in the Tynwald Inn. He really enjoys spending time in pubs;¬† a packet of crisps and a couple of pints of blackcurrant cordial make Dylan very happy indeed.

We had daily ‘programme strips’ and an assortment of symbols with us and each evening Dylan and I would negotiate activities for the following day.¬† Later in the week Dylan picked out a ‘pub’ symbol and, looking to see if I agreed, added it on our programme for the following evening. I love it when Dylan’s symbols become genuine two-way communication like this.

 

Day Three

More rain so we drove to Port Erin where we took a steam train to Douglas. Dylan’s delight in the crashing waves in the bay reminded me not to assume that bad weather is a bad thing.

Day Four

As well as steam trains the island has an electric train line. Today we took it from Douglas as far as Laxey where we visited a water wheel – another of Dylan’s special interests. Then, it was up Snaefell, the highest mountain on the island, by electric rail. We couldn’t see much but sometimes it’s the journey not the destination that matters.¬† Dylan seemed to like riding the electric trains even more than the steam trains.

Day Five

today we woke to a strange silence on Sodor:¬† it had stopped raining.¬† We chanced the coastal path, tracking the southern peninsula between Port Erin and Port St Mary. We didn’t see any porpoises in The Sound but it was a fabulous day. The only tricky moment was when the steam train back to Port Erin which I had promised we would take (and clock-watched all day, so as to be in time for) didn’t turn up ūüė¶¬† Dylan was rattled but he accepted the ordinary alternative (under any other circumstances his heart’s delight) of a country bus…

Day Six

More rain. More road diversions (something to do with Quad bikes and the TT). Undeterred we found a way to Ramsey where we took the electric train south to Laxey, the point at which we had left the line earlier in the week. This was not my best idea; having been to Laxey before, Dylan wanted to re-visit the wheel and take the mountain train again. And the train timetable wasn’t set up to accommodate my itinerary; we had a long wait on the platform for a northbound train. Back in Ramsey, it was still raining…

Day Seven

On our last day we woke to sun ūüôā I had been told to make sure I visited one of the island’s many glens so today we followed a Greenway before plunging into Glen Maye. Here was justification for rain: green, lush, strangely tropical.¬† Oh it was glorious! The attraction, for Dylan, was a waterfall; he watched the water, transfixed. The glen winds down to a small cove where Dylan threw stones. Then it was a scramble up to the coast path and on to Peel where we visited the castle and (at last) paddled in the sea.

Day Eight

Douglas is famed for its horse trams but we hadn’t seen them all week due to the rain. Dylan had seemed curious about the ‘horse and carriage’ symbol we had with us so I was pleased to see them in Douglas on the day we were leaving. They operate to a strict timetable, however, and there wasn’t time for us to ride around the bay before check-in for our ferry.

Explaining this to Dylan was difficult. He was insistent, pulling me towards the horse and trying to climb into the carriage. A quick-thinking passenger¬† suggested we ride as far as the Villa Marina and walk back in time for our ferry. I was a little nervous about whether Dylan would get off when the time came but I decided to chance it.¬† I am glad that I did as it turned out that Dylan had a particular reason for wanting to ride in a horse tram. As we set off he turned to me and said ‘Pinocchio’, with an air of satisfaction. Pinocchio? I replied, puzzled. Then I remembered that, at some point in the story, Pinocchio rides in a horse and carriage; Dylan had made a connection between his life and his books.

On the boat, Dylan loves to look out at the wake behind us.  I had pre-booked seats in one of the lounges and we were lucky that this gave access to a small deck at the back where Dylan could stand. He was there for over an hour after we left Liverpool and it was the same when we left Douglas. As we pulled away, the Isle of Man seemed tethered under cloud like myth.

Day Nine

We stayed a night in Liverpool again on our return journey (sadly, the horse carousel was still not working). Before we left next morning, we called in to see an Egon Schiele/Fancesca Woodman exhibition at the Tate. I hadn’t been to Tate Liverpool before so this was a great opportunity to visit and an excellent end to the holiday. How lucky I am that Dylan shares my love of art – his visual intelligence and sensitivity make him a most excellent person to visit with ūüôā

Stopping to picnic on the way home, we needed sun hats; England was as warm as when we left. We had had such a good time on the Island of Sodor, though, the rain didn’t matter. ‘We weren’t like Henry’ I said to Dylan. ‘We didn’t mind getting wet’.

 

 

Being Harry: Autism and Virtual Reality

While I was watching England hold their nerve against Columbia last week,  Dylan was in Whitby with his key worker and another member of staff. Dylan is impatient for the sea and the overnight trip had been planned to help Dylan manage the wait-time for his summer holiday.

I know that not everyone is interested in football. However, the progress of the current England team is so unexpected that even those without any interest¬† in the game (my Dad, for example) are aware of what is happening.¬† It feels a bit like fantasy football.¬† I’m sorry that the trip has coincided with the England match, I said to Dylan’s key worker.¬† I had an idea he might otherwise have been¬† watching the match in the pub with his mates.¬† That’s OK, he replied.¬† I would have been working anyway.

Team Changes

Dylan’s key worker also told me he would be moving on soon.¬† I wasn’t surprised by the news. I understand that young people, wanting to start a family of their own or buy a first home, have financial considerations which affect decisions about work. As I’ve noted before, support workers are not well paid for the job they do. ¬†Caring for others is one of the most demanding and valuable of roles and yet it is also one of the mostly poorly rewarded. As a consequence, staff turnover is high.

Dylan has been lucky to have been matched with experienced staff¬† but, even so, he has already had three different key workers. When Dylan’s first key worker left I was devastated. It hadn’t occurred to me, at that point, that this would be a feature of life in residential care. When Dylan’s second key worker left, after a fairly brief succession, I realised the role would always be temporary. The key worker may be the warden of the key but I shouldn’t assume they would be around long enough to unlock the door (as it were).

A potentially positive outcome of this situation, however, ¬†is that it has helped me identify one of the¬† arguments I will make on my application to be appointed Dylan’s Welfare Deputy:¬† given the high staff turnover in the care sector, the continuity of support which a family member provides is invaluable, particularly in the context of someone who, as well as lacking mental capacity, ¬†is autistic and non verbal.

Harry’s World

An American friend emailed recently to say she would be visiting with her teenage children next month.  Maybe we could visit Harry Potter World? she wrote.  I was excited by the idea but when I looked online I realised it was impossible; Harry Potter World is already booked up for the summer.

When Dylan’s first key worker moved to a new job she organised a trip to Harry Potter World for Dylan and another young adult. As well as a fabulous day out for the staff and residents, this was a good way of marking E’s departure. So when Dylan’s current key worker told me he had a new job, I commented that the trip to Whitby was perfectly timed in terms of helping Dylan make a connection with saying goodbye.

The trip to Harry Potter World was Dylan’s first immersive experience (I’m sure he would love Disneyland but I’ve never had the oomph to take him). Dylan, apparently, had a marvellous time,¬† ‘laughing all day’. They had arrived slightly early for their tour, having driven down from Yorkshire,¬† and the Harry Potter staff, realising the wait might be difficult for Dylan, had let them join an earlier tour and proactively made adjustments for Dylan, such as front row seating. ¬†I couldn’t fault their practice, his key worker told me, it was an absolutely brilliant day.

 

Virtual Reality

Afterwards I wondered what Dylan had made of the experience. Did he think he was at Hogwarts? Does he believe Harry Potter is real? I remembered a conversation with a clinical psychologist at a time when Dylan’s ‘behaviours’¬† were a cause for concern. As we worked through his ‘incident charts’ the psychologist noted the link between Dylan’s anxiety and the films he watched.¬† It may be the case, the psychologist suggested, that Dylan cannot differentiate fantasy from reality. Perhaps, when he is watching a distressing scene in one of his DVDs, he finds it difficult to regulate his emotional response. Dylan’s extreme reactions to some of his films are understandable if you imagine them as responses to situations he believes are real. After all, these are extreme situations:¬† separation; loss; death; war.

Apparently there are ‘immersive cinemas’ which offer a total sensory experience. As well as a film being a visual and aural event, the senses of smell, touch and taste are engaged.¬† Thus during an ocean scene the audience might be sprayed with water; in a domestic setting, smells of home cooking could be released into the auditorium. I’m not sure whether this would be a good or a bad thing for Dylan, given his heightened sensory function.

I have similar reservations about the possibilities offered by Virtual Reality Headsets.¬† As they have become available on the mass market I’ve toyed with the idea of buying one for Dylan. Some aspects might appeal ¬†– Dylan spends so much time watching films that the idea of him being able to enter an immersive and participatory environment is quite exciting. I’ve seen some people, however, become disoriented ¬†when using the Headsets and describe the experience as unsettling. Equally, therefore, I can imagine Dylan being made anxious by such full engagement of the senses.

Fantasy Football

Right now, I feel as if I’m wearing a Virtual Reality Headset. England? In the World Cup semi-final? For the first time I changed my plan for spending time with Dylan last weekend. After the 120 minutes plus penalties marathon against Columbia earlier in the week, I wasn’t sure Dylan and I could spend Saturday afternoon together without one or both of us becoming frustrated. Dylan can cope with a little bit of football on TV but he has his limits. And I really wanted to watch the England v. Sweden match. Could I pick Dylan up on Sunday instead of Saturday? I asked staff.

It really does feel like a Fantasy Football Tournament. The scenes from the Samara Stadium last Saturday seemed beamed from a parallel universe.Are those fans trapped in Virtual Reality, I wondered? Has my TV turned into a giant VR Headset? When England won I toyed with the idea of getting on a plane to Moscow to find out.

If England do get to the World Cup final this year, I told myself, someone will set up an It’s Coming Home theme park where we can re-live the matches, as players or fans, in a fully immersive world.¬† The theme park will probably be somewhere just off the MI – ¬†hopefully in the north, rather than the south, in honour of the contribution made by South Yorkshire to the winning England team. So while Dylan hangs out with Harry Potter, I can celebrate with Harry Maguire…

 

 

Note:

The photographs of Dylan at Whitby and Harry Potter World were taken by staff on the trips.  The other images are sourced from the Internet and to the best of my knowledge are copyright free.

The photograph from the 2018 World Cup shows England players celebrating a goal in their match against Sweden at the Samara stadium on Saturday 7th July. The goal was scored by Harry Maguire (second from right in the photo) who is from Sheffield, my hometown. In the photo he is being congratulated by John Stones who is also from South Yorkshire (Barnsley). The photograph shows Kieran Trippier on the left and another Harry (Kane) on the far right.

The final photograph shows the 1966 England World Cup squad. I was alive but too young to remember ūüôā

 

Mothers

In the news recently, a claim that ‘missing microbes cause childhood cancer’. New research, apparently, suggests that a child’s immune system can become cancerous if it is not exposed to enough bugs early in life:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-44199844

Although we are reassured that ‘This study is absolutely not about blaming parents for being too hygienic’, ¬†imagine the impact if you are the mother of a child with cancer? As well as dealing with the distress of witnessing your child’s illness, you are offered the possibility that your own care-giving practice might have been responsible. ‘Another way to knock mothers’¬† I thought to myself when I read the report. I’ve about had my bellyful recently…

Mother blame

Last semester I was asked to take a seminar group for a module which focuses on psychological perspectives on educational processes. I don’t usually teach on the module and I found the opportunity interesting and often valuable. One thing I was struck by, however, was how often mothers are blamed for poor educational outcomes.

I was already aware of the link between early literacy and maternal education, a relationship which tends to act as an indicator of socio-economic class.  Last semester, however, I encountered research which linked  child outcomes to psychological factors such as maternal self-efficacy, maternal self-esteem and maternal resilience. While these may also be associated with social class, I found it interesting that there was no mention of paternal well-being; rather than associate poor outcomes with the broader context of home, they were laid firmly at the feet of the mother.

As well as linking mothers to outcomes in relation to child development and achievement, research studies have suggested a relationship between mothering and a child’s experience of school. Studies of bullying, for example, have suggested that ‘maternal hostility’, ‘maternal mental health’, ‘maternal demand’ and early motherhood all positively correlate with a child ‘having a participant role in bullying behaviour’.

A framework of ‘cumulative risk’ identifies ten key factors which affect educational outcomes, four of which focus explicitly on mothers: mother-child interaction during infancy; maternal mental illness; maternal education; and maternal anxiety (the other factors involve ¬†structural risks, such as family size and minority ethnic group, and circumstance, such as life events and family support). Mothers have also been blamed for not doing enough to assuage educational disadvantage;¬† not only do they comprise 40% of the cumulative risk to children, mothers are the key ¬†to protection as ‘maternal resilience’ is identified as most likely to offset risk.

Had I been resilient when my children were young, I asked myself?¬† Was I emotionally available through those difficult post-diagnosis years?¬† Did I control my anxiety about the future? Make appropriate demands on my children?¬† Had I kept my spirits up and sense of identity intact? I couldn’t, in all honesty, answer Yes to any of these questions…

Bettelheim and beyond

Most mothers with a child who has been diagnosed autistic hear about Bruno Bettelheim’s ‘refrigerator mothers’ at some point. Even though we are assured his work is now discredited, for the mother of a newly-diagnosed child it is very difficult to encounter Bettelheim’s claims. I certainly experienced them as cruel following Dylan’s diagnosis: I was doing everything I could to support my child, yet here I was being framed as the problem.

You’d think this was a thing of the past. In recent years, however, a new form of mother blame is gaining currency. Mothers (for it is typically mothers, not fathers) are framed as ‘infantilising’ their autistic children by over-protecting them and failing to recognise them as autonomous individuals. This is a discourse which has emerged in tandem with a commitment to developing independence, an agenda freighted by the voices of self-advocating autistic adults.

Two assumptions seem to be at work here. The first is that a non-autistic mother of an autistic child will necessarily privilege the neurotypical and try to ‘fix her child up’ and/or be over-protective and infantilise her child.¬† Allied to this is the suggestion that mothers who are not diagnosed as autistic themselves have no right to speak for their autistic children due to their lack of understanding of autism.¬† A recent blog by Paula Sanchez refers to the “warring factions of ‚Äėautism moms‚Äô and autistic activists”. In the article, Sanchez caricatures a neurotypical¬† ‘autism mom’ and an ‘autistic mother’:

https://autisticmotherland.com/2018/04/20/from-autism-mom-to-autistic-mother/

Sanchez¬† urges¬† ‚Äėautism moms‚Äô to ‘prioritise your child‚Äôs autonomy over and above everything else’ ¬†and to encourage their autistic identity as part of the process of self-advocacy.¬† While of the view that non-autistics can probably never understand being autistic, however, Sanchez acknowledges: “it wasn‚Äôt working out I‚Äôm autistic that influenced my parenting. It was much more that as I became more confident as a parent I became more able to do what my son needed. I no longer felt like I had to perform some idealised version of the ‚Äėgood mother‚Äô.”

Who speaks?

As the mother of a non-verbal autistic man I find it useful and often illuminating to hear the testimony of autistic adults who self-advocate.¬† Their voices give me new ways of thinking about Dylan and how he might experience the world. The demand by autistic self-advocates for ‘nothing about us that isn’t by us’, however, challenges parents (such as myself) who advocate for and on behalf of a son or daughter.

Once again I find myself struck by the complexity of the intersection of intellectual disability with autism. As someone who lacks mental capacity, my son is not able to take part in the conversation; not only does he not have a ‘voice’, he is unable to make informed decisions about his life.¬† As I have argued elsewhere, concepts such as ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’¬† take on a different shape when viewed through the lens of intellectual disability.

So who should identify Dylan’s best interests? Who speaks for Dylan and other autistic adults with intellectual disability? Sanchez acknowledges, in the post referred to above, that: “My autism does not give me some special power to intuitively know how to parent and support other people‚Äôs autistic children.” The fact I don’t have an autism diagnosis might prevent me from understanding some aspects of Dylan’s experience,¬† but the deep and enduring relationship I have with him as a mother must surely have heft? And, as I have argued elsewhere, the alternative to advocacy for those with intellectual disability is not self-advocacy, it is silence.

Liminal mothers

Some academics (mothers of disabled children themselves) have questioned the assumptions which have been made about the role of parents in a disabled child’s life. Ferguson (2001) argues that parents carry their child’s impairment as part of their own lived experience and are therefore well placed to advocate for their disabled children and bring about positive change in their lives. Similarly Kelly (2005) observes that parents ‘act as experiencers, interpreters and agents’ through their intimate connection to the experience of their disabled child. Parents’ embodied experience of care-giving is not ‘second-hand knowledge’ of disability, Kelly argues, but rather a ‘partial knowledge’¬† which allows parents to share some of their child’s experience and meaning-making.

Ryan and Runswick-Cole (2008) have described the position of mothers of disabled children as ‘liminal’, rather than partial. They argue that mothers who are not themselves disabled must operate in a landscape of ‘oppressive mothering ideologies and disabling environments’. ¬†Because of their distance from mothers of non-disabled children, as well as their tenuous position within the disabled community, non-disabled mothers of disabled children occupy a liminal space. Ryan and Runswick-Cole refer to the resulting ‘difficult and contentious debates about the role of non-disabled people within the lives of disabled people’ and the way in which ‘the actions of mothers have been interpreted as constraints within their children’s lives’.

It is interesting that the two concerns highlighted by Ryan and Runswick-Cole ¬†– advocacy and autonomy – are the same as the issues identified in this post, written ten years later. It seems the current wave of mother blame may have been a long time gathering. In their 2008 paper Ryan and Runswick-Cole suggest that one of the reasons mothers might seek diagnostic labels for their children is in order to shift the discourse from ‘mother-blame’ to ‘brain-blame’.¬† While this may have been the case ten years ago, particularly in relation to autistic spectrum conditions, there has been a significant shift in the discourse to a celebration of neurodiversity and the claiming of autistic neurology as a vital part of self-identity. Against this backdrop, perhaps, there is a tendency to reposition blame (for a perceived lack of independence and the appropriation of voice) with the mother.

Liminal sons and daughters

Although I am uncomfortable with the way in which it is the mother, rather than father, who is subject to surveillance and criticism in relation to the ability to parent a disabled child, I am not averse to critical feedback and scrutiny. I often wish it were kinder, more supportive and more sympathetic. I would also prefer those without experience of parenting (even if they are themselves autistic) to acknowledge their own partial knowledge. Sanchez, in the post referred to above, makes some helpful observations and suggestions for building bridges between the ‘warring factions’ of autism parents and autistic adults.

What is still absent from these conversations, however, is any acknowledgement of autistic adults with intellectual disability. If the position of mothers of disabled children is liminal, then the space occupied by adults with intellectual disability is a similar limbo. As I argue above, the position of autistic adults who lack mental capacity is often unrepresented and overlooked. In challenging the ability of parents to advocate for their disabled sons and daughters, I would argue, we are putting the welfare of adults with intellectual disability at risk.

There is a legal system in the UK for the protection of the financial and welfare interests of those who lack capacity. It is a little-used system and one which is not easily accessed or much discussed.¬† In the last year, increasingly frustrated by the position of parents in relation to an adult child with an intellectual disability, it has become clear that it is a system I need to engage with.¬† So, once I’ve finished work and the football is over, my plan is to start the process of applying to the Court of Protection to be Dylan’s Deputy.¬† More about this in a future post…

Note:

The claims in the section of the post entitled ‘Mother Blame’ are from chapters 8, 9 and 11 of Woolfson (reference below). The images are sourced from the internet and to the best of my knowledge are copyright free. I’ve been unable to identify an artist for the image of the ‘floating woman’ but it was used as part of a lecture series on liminal space by Dr KD Farris. The image of the floating man is ‘Liminal Space’ by Nicholas Scarpinato.

Sources:

Barrett, E. (2017). Tied to the Worldly Work of Writing:  parent as ethnographer. Journal of intellectual Disabilities.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1744629517741008

Ferguson, P.M. (2001). Mapping the Family: Disability studies and the exploration of parental response to disability. In G.L. Albrecht, K.D. Seelman & M. Bury (Eds.), Handbook of Disability Studies (pp. 373-395). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kelly, S.E. (2005). ‚ÄėA Different Light’:¬† Examining Impairment through Parent Narratives of Childhood Disability. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 34, (2) 180-205.

Ryan, S & Runswick-Cole, K (2008). Repositioning mothers:  mothers, disabled children and disability studies. Disability & Society, 23 (3) 199-210

Woolfson, L.M. (2011).  Educational Psychology:  The impact of psychological research on education. Harlow:  Pearson

 

About Time

Dylan in Durham earlier this month…

The trip to Durham might have been successful in all sorts of ways but it didn’t satiate Dylan’s desire for a holiday. We had only been back 24 hours when the questions about ‘cottage’, ‘ sea’ and ‘boat’ started up again.¬† Dylan enjoyed our city break but it wasn’t the holiday he knows, in his sinew and bone, he has not yet had this year and which he is not going to let me forget.

Are you sure we can’t make him a countdown chart to our Summer holiday? I asked the staff at his care home.¬† I have booked a holiday on the Isle of Man, which I have an idea might be Dylan heaven: an overnight hotel en route, a ferry boat crossing, holiday cottage, sea all around us and trains, trams and funiculars. But that isn’t until the end of July.¬† I don’t think we can give him a three month countdown chart, the team leader reflected.¬† Having a picture of the holiday such a long way off could be difficult for Dylan.

So Dylan has continued with just his weekly programme. When he’s asked ‘cottage’ or ‘sea’ or ‘boat’ we’ve said:¬† not this week, Dylan, or later, or sometimes (in desperation) soon Dylan. Of course, none of these are easy, or I suspect meaningful, for Dylan. Time, as I have frequently noted, is one of the most difficult concepts for Dylan to grasp.¬† If you add to this our inability to explain to Dylan the practicalities of work and money, and that we cannot take holidays whenever we want to, then we have a potentially frustrating situation. Dylan is communicating beautifully with us and waiting patiently for a response, but it must feel as if all he is hearing is ‘No’.

The future is a cork board

Cork board with countdown chart added

One of our routines, when I return Dylan to his residential setting after his weekend at home, is to go through his weekly programme.¬† Dylan’s programme is fastened to his whiteboard and we talk about everything he will do in the week, ending with my arriving to collect him the following weekend. Dylan points to the pictures and I name them, sometimes signing and sometimes pausing to see whether Dylan is able to name them himself.

When I was talking Dylan through his week a couple of weekends ago, however, his finger didn’t stop pointing when we got to my arrival the following Saturday – instead, he gestured at the cork board to the right of his whiteboard.¬† He walked over to it, stabbing at it with his finger and looking at me quizzically. I’m not sure what you want, Dylan. I said. The member of staff who was with us pointed out that the cork board is where Dylan pins his countdown charts when he has them. He was asking what would happen after next week. ¬†So Dylan does have a sense of future time, albeit in a representational way: ¬†the future is a cork board.

The shop that sells the sea

So I drove away thinking about our summer holiday and how best to support Dylan with this. I calculated that if I speeded up a bit with my marking I could take a couple of days off work later in the month.¬† Added¬† to a weekend, this would give Dylan four or five days at the coast. That would do it, surely? ¬†So later that week I booked a few days on the Yorkshire coast; while we won’t need a boat to get there, it is by the sea and we will be staying in a cottage.

That afternoon I received Dylan’s weekly update; this is a summary of Dylan’s week with a particular focus on any ‘incidents’. The email opened : Hi Liz, He’s had a really good week this week no incidents so far he has been trying to get into travel agents while in [nearby town] but he was directed away.¬† Trying to get into travel agents!¬† How I laughed.¬† I have never taken Dylan into a travel agents and to my knowledge he has never been in one. And yet he had figured out¬† – presumably from the visual clues in the window – that this is a shop that sells the sea. How clever! Visual intelligence. Initiative. Creativity. Communication. And Dylan’s steel will and determination…

Managing time

I replied to the email to say I’d fixed something up for later this month.¬† The staff were also thinking of ways to respond to Dylan’s requests; his key worker had volunteered to investigate the possibility of taking Dylan on an overnight trip to the coast in June.¬† With countdown charts to the breaks in May and June, Dylan should hopefully find it easier to manage time.

When I saw Dylan last weekend he had the chart with him and seemed to be enjoying crossing off the days. Back at his care home he requested tape to fasten the chart to his cork board, next to his weekly programme (as in the photo above). Dylan didn’t seem as anxious about his schedule when I left and needed less reassurance than the previous week about the ‘sea’ and¬† ‘cottage’ (I am trying to play down the issue of a ‘boat’). When I telephoned for an update last night I was told Dylan has been calm and happy all week and that the chart seems to have helped.

The red book

Perhaps, as Dylan’s understanding of time develops, he will need new strategies for managing it? Something which seemed to help Dylan in the past was his filofax. Although this didn’t have countdown charts and schedules in it, Dylan used it as an ‘object of reference’ for the management of time. He was aware, for example, that it contained the key information and cards he needs to access the activities he enjoys. He carried his filofax everywhere and would bring it to us if he wanted to request an activity. The filofax seemed to be such an important part of Dylan’s life, and so precious to him, that I was horrified when he destroyed it one night when he was anxious and upset about something which the support staff, on that occasion, were unable to fathom.

Since then, we have used a notebook to keep records and pass messages between home and care home. Dylan knows these notebooks have replaced his filofax and he keeps them in the same place, but he has never had quite the same attachment to them. Last weekend I noticed we had filled the last page of his current book so I suggested to Dylan that we go to the store to get a new one.¬† We went to a large Office Supplies shop where Dylan bought his filofax three years ago. As I picked up various notebooks¬† Dylan pushed my hand back towards the shelf in his ‘put it back, I’m not interested’ gesture. This continued all the way up the aisle. Then Dylan escorted me to the filofax section where, after consideration, he picked one out.¬† I suggested some alternatives but he wasn’t having it; Dylan hugged the red book to his chest as if to stop me from taking it from him.

Anxious Times

Dylan stood the empty frame in its usual place when he came home…

I hesitated about¬† buying the filofax for Dylan because it was upsetting when he destroyed the other one – not just for those who care for Dylan, but for Dylan himself. Dylan only ever destroys things which matter to him; he seems to self-regulate, ¬†at times of high anxiety, by channelling his emotion through meaningful objects.¬† So although we have made¬† various ‘ripping’ resources available to Dylan, it is his favourite books and DVDs he tears when he is anxious. This means the aftermath of these events is upsetting for Dylan as he realises the loss of things which were important to him.

Dylan tearing possessions to self-regulate could be seen as a positive development in that he used to tear people’s ears when he was anxious, something which he now does only rarely. As the cycle of destroy-replace became increasingly entrenched, however, it no longer felt like a practical strategy. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with not replacing the things which Dylan rips. ¬†This has been partly effective in that Dylan hasn’t been tearing books and DVDs as he used to. What it has meant, however, is that his focus sometimes switches to other things.

I was devastated, a few weeks ago, to hear that Dylan had torn the photo of his Gran during an incident.¬† Like filofaxgate, it was the sort of event that was difficult to fathom. Why? Dylan loved that photograph. He kept it by his bed, took it on overnight trips and carried it with him at times of emotional need (or at least that’s how I perceived it). It was, as far as I was concerned, the most precious of his possessions (greater than even his filofax had been) and therefore immune from danger at times of distress. Well, I turned out to be wrong about that. When I told my daughter she was upset (for Dylan) and cross (with me). She reminded me that the photograph had belonged to her, originally. Don’t give Dylan photos of my Gran if you don’t have copies of them, she said.

Changing Times

The ‘duplicate’ of the one Dylan chose…

So the following weekend, when I found Dylan with a photograph of mum he had snaffled from my room, I took it from him:¬† That picture of your Gran belongs to mummy, I said. The next day I went through old albums.¬† I didn’t have the time or energy to make copies right now (a¬† project for retirement maybe) but ¬†I found some ‘duplicates’ – photos where another was taken soon after, so there is hardly a difference between the shots. I made an album of these, and some other photos, and showed them to Dylan. Would he like to choose one to keep, I asked?

I was surprised by Dylan’s choice. It is an aerial shot of me and Dylan on a beach in Dorset, taken in 2007. We are absorbed in the pebbles and too far away for Dylan and I to be ‘subjects’ in the photo (unlike the photo of his Gran, which was a portrait shot).¬† Presumably he chose this picture because it reminds him of a happy time? ¬†I liked the fact that Dylan replaced the photo of his Gran with something quite different. There is a sense in which it represents him moving on, perhaps; finding new ways of using the past to help manage the present.

About Time

When I collected Dylan last weekend he wasn’t wearing his trademark Breton hat.¬† I was shocked. Dylan is never¬† without that hat; it stays fixed to his head when he is out of the house and he is very good at looking after it. Where is your hat, Dylan? I asked. He hasn’t ripped it, has he? I asked the member of staff who was with him. She didn’t know. In fact she hadn’t noticed that Dylan didn’t have it.¬† But now I had mentioned it, Dylan was on it:¬† lost it, he said, lost it.¬† Then:¬† find it, find it.¬†

We checked Dylan’s drawers and cupboards and the cars and rooms of other residents. ¬†I drove to the pub where Dylan had been for lunch the previous day. The hat could not be found. Why don’t you wear a different hat for now, I said to Dylan, giving him a choice of three caps from his cupboard.¬† He chose a green one.¬† I’ll sort it out for you I promise, I said to Dylan.¬† I was telling the support worker that I had brought the lost hat back from Brittany and that Dylan had bought his first Breton cap in St Malo when we were on holiday in 2013, when I noticed Dylan looking at me as if he was listening to the conversation (as I think he quite often does).¬† Hey¬† Dylan, I said, perhaps we should go to Brittany next year and get you another hat? Boat, Sea, Cottage I thought to myself as I said this.¬† Dylan rolled his eyes as if to say About time.

No More Moons

Dylan and I usually go away twice a year, at Easter and during the Summer. For the first time ever, we didn’t have a holiday at Easter this year. I wasn’t sure whether Dylan would notice but he was clearly disappointed.¬† Although time is not an easy concept for Dylan he makes associations with key events through the year and keeps track of it. So when I gave Dylan his Easter Egg he looked at me and said ‘cot’ quizzically. He was, I realised, asking me when we would be setting off to a holiday cottage. ‘Not this year, Dylan’ I said. ¬†‘Boat?’ he asked, hopefully.

I hadn’t booked a cottage (or boat) for Easter because I thought my marking might fall awkwardly¬† this year and that I would have to work through the break. In the event the students have only just submitted their assignments so I could have taken Dylan away after all. Perhaps next year I will. Meantime, I am experimenting with regular overnight trips instead;¬† the money that we would have spent on a week’s holiday I am planning to use across the year.¬† This should mean that I can take Dylan on a short break every six to eight weeks.¬† I will be curious to see whether ‘little and often’ is better for Dylan than less frequent longer breaks.

So last weekend Dylan and I went to Durham, a place he loves and which he has recently been ‘asking’ to visit again (‘asking’ involves Dylan collecting leaflets of things he is interested in and stacking these up in piles in his bedroom like ‘vouchers’). Conscious that the last time Dylan and I went on an overnight trip (visiting Brighton for his birthday) I ¬†vowed never again to stay in a Premier Inn, I decided¬† this trip would be a good opportunity to try and extend Dylan’s repertoire.

I knew that moving Dylan from the Moon wouldn’t be easy. Dylan has been fixated on ‘Moon Hotels’ for years and staying in Premier Inns has been part of the raison d’√™tre of our trips. Dylan adores the moon logo and enjoys¬† the familiarity of the purple branding and predictability of¬† facilities and services. The buffet breakfast (as much as he can eat of things he loves) is probably also part of Dylan’s love affair with Premier Inns ūüôā I figured that if we were going to stay somewhere different I needed to ensure it offered something the Premier Inn couldn’t; I wanted a hotel with compensating attractions. So I browsed the other hotel options with Dylan’s favourite places and activities in mind and opted for a hotel on the bank of the river which Dylan likes to walk, with a view of his beloved Cathedral.¬† I also had an Ace in my pocket:¬† the hotel had a swimming pool.

Staff at Dylan’s care home suggested that I show Dylan the hotel website and include a photo of it on his programme. This seemed to go well. The pool, in particular, captured Dylan’s attention and was the thing he talked about on the run-up to the trip; when he pointed to the photo of the hotel on his programme, the words he said were ‘pool’ and ‘swim’ rather than ‘bed’ and ‘moon’. So I set off for Durham optimistically, fairly confident we had prepared Dylan for the change of routine.

On arrival it was clear that¬† Dylan had ¬†understood we would not be staying at the Premier Inn; he didn’t protest at all when I made a right rather than a left turn on the walk from the railway station. I had put a note on the hotel booking to say I would be supporting my autistic son and if we could be allocated a twin room with a decent amount of space between the beds that would be appreciated. I had also said that if there was any way we could have a room with a river view that would be fantastic, but that space was the priority.

In my experience such requests are frequently ignored; I have often had to return to reception to ask for an alternative room.  As for adding a note about dietary requirements (I am vegan) I have wondered why I bother.  So I was amazed, on arrival at the hotel, to find that we had been upgraded to a family room (lots of space) overlooking the River Wear and that there was a jug of soya milk in the room.  Dylan seemed to enjoy the space and the view from the window!

Food is very important to Dylan and, happily, dinner and breakfast met with his approval. ¬†Best of all, however, was the pool.¬† I hadn’t scheduled it on Dylan’s programme as I needed to check it was safe and that I could supervise alone. This is important because Dylan is a non-swimmer with high risk behaviour around water: in the past, he has leapt into water fully clothed, waded out of his depth¬† and plunged underwater, attempting to stay below.¬† Fortunately, the hotel pool turned out to be ideal (it did occur to me that had I found otherwise it would have been very difficult to say no): ¬†fairly small, not deep and quiet. ¬†We spent a lovely hour in the water before breakfast on Sunday morning, an excellent way to start the day.

I had assumed that staying at a different hotel would be challenging for Dylan and that it would be important to maintain his other routines while we were in Durham. However, breaking the Moon habit seemed to loosen Dylan’s patterns more generally. So instead of having lunch in our usual caf√© on ¬†Saturday we tried a different ¬†place. I was thrilled; the vegan options were much better and Dylan caught the spirit of adventure and had a Panini.¬† I am guessing this was a positive experience because he accepted a different caf√© again the next day.

Dylan was also open to taking different routes around Durham,¬† changing the order in which we did some of his favourite things and trying new activities. So on this trip we walked further down the river path than we had previously and discovered Old Durham Gardens. Further on, we happened on a pub – this was just what we needed after a long walk on a sunny Saturday. Dylan enjoyed it so much I suspect future trips to Durham might involve a walk to the Rose Tree ūüôā¬† Then, on the rainy Sunday, we looked around exhibitions at the Cathedral¬† and Palace Green Library, something we hadn’t done previously. Again, this was a great success with Dylan’s interest captured by the acoustics of the Great Kitchen and a collection of skulls and bones.

I will be interested to see if Dylan builds some of these places into a revised repertoire next time we are in Durham. Another visit might not involve the same hotel – although we got a good deal on the booking it was more expensive than usual and I don’t want Dylan to grow too accustomed to such facilities ūüôā¬† However, I now have the confidence to try something different again if need be.

 

 

 

What have I learned from this experience?¬† That Dylan’s ‘routines’ are partly maintained and constructed by me.¬† Once he has enjoyed something, I tend to let him repeat the experience as it gives him pleasure.¬† This becomes a pattern that is familiar and dependable and which Dylan starts to recognise. However, he is dependent on me breaking these patterns as well as creating them and I should perhaps be more proactive in suggesting changes to routines. The memory of Dylan smiling and laughing on the train home should help me not to forget this ūüôā