I’ve been doing a little bit of reminiscing about the things that made my children happy when they were small.
These would probably be Edward’s top 10 happy inducing activities in his early years:
- Watching Finding Nemo (every day) and Watching walking with dinosaurs (every day, once he’d finished with Nemo)
- The beach – playing for hours in the sea and sand.
- Watching Laurel and Hardy films – he’d literally run around in excited little circles as each slap stick moment occurred. It used to send the rest of us into fits of giggles watching him watching them!
- Thinking about and then eating strawberry Pavlova, which he called ‘dream cake’ as he did actually dream about it once.
- Religiously watching the water go down the plug hole at the end of every single bath.
- Playing with his wooden bricks.
- Laying out his dinosaur top trumps cards in various different combinations on his bedroom floor.
- Having books/charts and lists read to him. (the same ones again and again).
- Thinking about big numbers – he’d actually jump up and down with excitement, hands flapping wildly by his side as his peels of glee filled the room. I can still remember Nick telling him about a very large number which had the name ‘google plex’. Edward almost exploded with excitement over this (Incidentally Google Plex is also the name of the headquarters of Google Inc.)
- “Daddy fighting” – a bit of a rough and tumble with Nick which he absolutely loved.
I’ve also been thinking about my other three kids who are not autistic and what lists I would have made for them when they were the same age. There is of course some overlap between their top 10 and Edwards, but their lists would definitely have been weighted towards more sociable activities like playing with friends and baking with me.
I’ve realised looking back that Edward was quite capable of having a thoroughly great time without that much intervention from us or indeed anyone.
This week I read an article by Keith Stuart, author of A Boy Made of Blocks, a book about a father and his autistic son and how their relationship is transformed through their shared adventures in the virtual world of minecraft. Keith is the games editor for the Guardian and he’s also a parent of an eleven year old autistic boy so it’s not hard to see where his inspiration for the book came from. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my holiday list.
Keith wrote about his own son’s love of the beach and reflected that the beach is a peaceful permissive space where people act differently; they are generally calm and relaxed giving each other space and respecting boundaries, but also have a more open and sociable mood.
I’ve been thinking about how much Edward has enjoyed trips to the seaside over the years. I think it’s partly down to the fact he loves watching how water moves but it’s also probably because he’s experienced being with a more relaxed and chilled out version of me on these occasions. I’ve not had to hassle him to stop doing an activity he’s enjoying because it’s time to do something else because our only goal has been to be at the beach. If he has wanted to spend 4 hours building a sand fort that’s exactly what he’s been able to do. The constraints of time have a wonderful way of disappearing when you are at the beach with a beach loving child. Imagine what life would be like if we could take this beach vibe, which Keith Stuart describes as a sense of benevolent calm, into our everyday public spaces.
I used to be very aware of other people’s stares when I was in public with Edward. Those times when he got loudly irritated and cross about something after everything got too much for him would cause me to die a little inside. I’d often be more focused on avoiding a public spectacle but this usually resulted in me unwittingly escalating the situation further. If I’d managed to stay calm and focus on Edward rather than worrying overly much about other people’s thoughts and opinions maybe we’d have had some less stressful days out.
I like the idea of bringing the beach vibe into everyday life.
If you are out and about with a child this summer who is having a hard time, I hope you can put the judgy faces of onlookers, and indeed any self judgment, to one side, whilst you generate that much-needed sense of benevolent calm.
Lets all keep calm and carry on parenting!