In September this year I wrote a couple of posts reflecting on the role which blogging had played in developing my thinking about autism and my practice as a parent to Dylan. One of the posts focused on the process of writing and the other on the role of online dialogue; both factors, I suggested, had contributed significantly to the way in which I support Dylan.
I wrote those posts to mark the end of Living With Autism and the beginning of the 100 Day Transition Project I called Living With(out) Autism. The new name was an attempt to capture the dual, and shifting, nature of the space I would occupy in the early months of Dylan’s transition into residential care. I wasn’t sure, at that point, how my writing would change or if a daily blog could be sustained. In Learning By Writing, for example, I expressed doubts about my ability to produce the shorter posts required for a daily blog and questioned whether such posts would be of interest to readers. In the last 100 days, however, I have discovered I was wrong on both counts.
As well as being pleasantly surprised by my stamina and ability to write more briefly, I am pleased that the everyday focus of my transition blog has been of interest to others. Above all, however, I am glad that it has been capable of supporting my learning and development. Shifts in understanding are not always dependent on critical incidents and some of my strongest insights have emerged from the most quotidian of days; like a good poem, my 100 day project has encouraged me to ‘shake the ordinary into new shape’.
Sometimes the insight came not from the day itself but from the process of writing about it. Making daily blog posts is such an intense activity that the project has been almost as much about the writing, for me, as about the 100 Days. Considering Living With(out) Autism to be partly a vehicle for writing practice feels acceptable – even appropriate – because the focus of my project was transition, a process which affects me as much as it does Dylan. While my blog posts have tried to consider transition from Dylan’s point of view, more often (I think, though I haven’t checked) they have focused on my own needs as I adjust to living without Dylan.
There is a sense, then, in which this project has been about the working out of new identities for Dylan and for myself. I have always been aware of my multiple identities as poet, academic, mother to my children and Dylan’s advocate. Since Dylan moved to residential care, however, the balance of these identities has shifted; some have moved sideways, into the wings, while others are stepping forward, out of the shadows. My self-identity will, in future, no longer be constructed quite so much around my relationship to Dylan. Furthermore, instead of being Dylan’s ‘carer’, I am now simply his ‘mother’; this makes a difference to how I think about myself as well as to our relationship.
A few people have asked what my plans are after the 100 Days. There are a couple of academic papers I’d like to write. Maybe I’ll get around to starting the novel I’ve been turning over in my head these last 20 years. I think what I want to do most of all, however, is focus on writing poetry for a while. But who knows – perhaps I’ll take a complete break from writing and do none of these. I’ve also been asked if I’ll post updates about Dylan in the future. I haven’t ruled that out (perhaps as an occasional strand of a more general blog rather than a focus in itself) but I hope I never feel compelled to tell Dylan’s story as I did when I started this blog in 2013. When Dylan was born I wished for ordinary happiness for him; now, more than ever, I bless the unremarkable, quotidian days.
I’m marking at the moment. One of the observations I sometimes make on a student’s work is: ‘This essay doesn’t end, it just stops’. I fear I may be tying myself in a similar knot. To close, therefore, I will simply thank each and every one of you for reading my posts and for your interest in Dylan and his story. It has made a good difference to us. I wish you a happy and peaceful New Year: I will miss you.
The photos were taken in Sheffield city centre this week. I like the multicultural, multi-faith nature of my hometown. Dylan has his head turned to the sky, by the Christmas tree, to look at the statue of Vulcan on the town hall. All his life he has loved this: ‘A man! A man!’ he cries. In the last three years I have watched my son become one.