Can’t you take a joke?


I am 37 years old. During my lifetime, I have been seriously sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, groped and told I have ‘beautiful blowjob lips’. I have been bartered over, whilst present in the room. “Suck my dick, and I’ll pay for your dinner,” “I bet you’re a right dirty bitch,” “You look like someone who can handle a cock,” are just a tiny example of things that have been said to me.

I am 37 years old. During my lifetime, I believed many of these things being said to me were compliments. I believed all the uninvited assaults and harassments were my fault. I believed that objecting to these assumptions about my character made me boring and unlikeable. The times I did speak up, I was silenced with five innocuous words. “Can’t you take a joke?”

I am 37 years old. I have finally realised the power of these words. I want my daughter to understand these words. I want my daughter to understand where the blame really lies when she inevitably hears these words. I want my daughter to not be afraid of these words like I always was.

Many won’t understand that what they are saying is belittling, hurtful and archaic. They may believe that their words are a joke (or ‘banter’, whatever the fuck that means). They may accuse you of being over sensitive and/or lacking a sense of humour. These people lack the intelligence to even begin to understand. They are fucking idiots. However, their idiocy doesn’t provide them with a free pass to go through their lives causing hurt and anguish to other people.

There will also be those who know they are in the wrong. They will use words to see how easy it is to knock you off balance, to make you believe it is your fault for taking it the wrong way. To make you believe you somehow deserved it. They will know that a line has been crossed. They should feel ashamed but whether they do, I don’t know. All I do know is, they will try to pass the shame onto you. They are fucking cowards.

I am 37 years old. For the rest of my lifetime, I will not be afraid of those five words. I will defend my body, my self-respect and my right to object. I will push back against misogyny and sexism with the fierce female determination I inherently possess. I will not carry the burden of shame gifted to me by fucking idiots and cowards and neither will my daughter. I have a voice. It will no longer be silenced by ignorance.



Finding Mum

Back in 2013, when my body was ravished by exhaustion and broken from a human exiting via, what used to be, a teeny tiny hole, I wrote “I had a dream…and it wasn’t like this“.

Four years on, I’m still struggling under the heavy weight of parental responsibility. I have a 7 year old now that lays on the guilt thick and fast…

7yo: Did you know that when people don’t eat food, they can actually die?
Me: Yup. They starve to death.
7yo: I haven’t had breakfast yet.
Me: I see what you did there.

I have a 5 year old, who is thriving at his specialist school for kids with autism, learning to talk like Father Jack and who lovingly punches me in the face when it all gets a bit too much.

I still hide in corners in the hope of not being asked another fucking tedious question or having to subserviently wipe arses that are now clearly no longer in need of my assistance. This act of trying to gain mental health time is usually rewarded with one child falling down a well that I wasn’t even aware was at the end of the garden or the other one eating four jars of chocolate spread in record time. Don’t ask why I have that many jars of chocolate spread in my cupboard. I just do.

So, 7 years into parenthood, what am I doing? Well, I did have a little dream and now the kids are being looked after by actual grown ups qualified to teach kids useful shit, like spelling and reading and stuff, I decided to pursue it. I’ve gone back to school.

I’m inspired by my fellow females – some I knew before we became mums, others are as a result of becoming a mum. They’re all following dreams in some way; teaching yoga and mindfulness, moving to NYC to kick American arse, quitting day jobs to set up new business ventures, expanding their families and nurturing babies, all whilst coated in the sticky crust of motherhood.

I remember the first fog of motherhood. It was all consuming and overwhelming. There were even dark moments when I questioned if I’d done the right thing. To be honest, I still do. Especially when I’ve got two kids screaming at me for answers to their intolerable lives that I just don’t have, or I have been the cause of.

I am finding me again though. Perhaps a different me that wouldn’t have been able to exist had it not been for motherhood.

So in a usual shout out to my fellow ladies, trying to adult and navigate the dangerous (for us, not the kids – I have no idea how many times a bumhole finger has been poked in my mouth) territory of Parentland, keep those dreams alive. All dreams have the same value. There is no hierarchy to dreams. No one dream is better than another. They’re yours and yours alone and they hold the power to make you feel brilliant and inspired. And if you feel like you’re a million miles away from those dreams, don’t despair. Just say ‘fuck’ a lot. It has helped me no end over the last seven years and will no doubt continue to, looooooong into the future.

Now…mental health time over…where the fuck are the kids?…*Retrieves one from a well and confiscates four jars of chocolate spread from the other*

My kids are just mocking me

Three words that can change everything

Before you start guessing, it’s not ‘I love you’.  No, the words I want to tell you about are far more powerful and I discovered them purely by accident.

I would class my six year old daughter as high maintenance.  That may be unwarranted. She may be just like every child but my only other example is autistic and believe it or not, his needs are pretty straight forward – keep everything exactly the same, only feed him crisps, let him be naked from the waist down and we’re onto a winner.

My daughter has the ability to take me from calm to rage in a very short space of time, usually when she’s being so bloody ungrateful.  I try to cater for all her quirks as much as possible in a way to ensure her life is nourished; full of adventures and experiences that will fill her brain with wonderful memories.  But no matter what I do, she seems to always find something to complain about, using those immortal words, “it’s not fair!”  (They’re not the three words, by the way.  I’m keeping you hanging on for those just a bit longer.)

The reason I want to fill my daughter’s life with happiness is to ensure she knows she’s loved.  I suffer with, as the wonderful Jack Monroe put it, a wonky head.  It’s on perfectly straight but my brain likes to make me feel very sad sometimes.  During these times, I’m not a great parent.  I have no patience.  I’m emotionally distant.  I tumble into a black hole and disappear from view from my children.  I know this because my usually happy to go to school girl finds it hard to get through the day without an emotional wobble about missing me.  These children are a lot more attuned to our feelings than we give them credit for.

‘Attuned’ is a word I’ve only recently become accustomed to.  It’s a word that has helped shift my wonky head into seeing there is a something more than love.

During my low periods (and I’m not talking about my menstruation), I try to tell my daughter as much as possible how much I love her.  The guilt I feel about not having the energy or inclination to bake cakes or ride bikes or just sit with her and listen to what she has to say overwhelms me, but I know that as long as she knows she’s loved, she’ll be okay.  So sometimes, when she’s irritating me, I’ll tell her, “I love you, but that thing you’re doing…please stop.”

It was when she was feeling a bit poorly, and my wonky head was starting to metaphorically straighten up.  She was desperately telling me all of her symptoms. She felt hot, her tummy ached, her head hurt and she couldn’t sleep.  I was giving her all my usual concerned patter, getting her medicine, giving her a cold flannel for her head, rubbing her tummy, but nothing was making her feel better.  She looked up at me, her eyes full of urgency and discomfort and something compelled me to softly say, “I believe you”.

I saw her exhausted, tensed up body visibly loosen and she finally laid her head on the pillow and was able to succumb to her tiredness.  As I laid with her and she fell asleep, I reflected on those three words.  Why had they made such a difference when all of my acts of love hadn’t?

I have surmised it was because of this.  In that moment, I had actually attuned to what she needed.  To just have me say, “I hear you”, “I get it”.  She had probably got so used to me ‘listening’ when I’m a million miles away in my head, that the confirmation I was actually present in the here and now and completely understood, helped her cope with her symptoms.  Or perhaps she just needed me to be in the here and now because that’s where she was.  Where all children are.  In the moment.

It’s made me realise that she’s not actually that ungrateful or high maintenance.  There’s me naively thinking I’m loving her unconditionally, but it’s entirely dependant on her being grateful for all these wonderful, exciting experiences I’m providing her – these things that aren’t happening till tomorrow, or three hours later. She’s not thinking about that.  She’s a child living in the moment and at that moment, something catastrophic may have rocked her world.  Like, I’ve given her the wrong temperature water to drink, or the swing didn’t swing enough.

I’ve used “I believe you” a number of times now, all with the same effect and all in different circumstances.  Not to fob her off  – she’s already proved she’s far too attuned for that.  But when I can see I haven’t really been present.  I get easily absorbed in looking at my phone, or needing to answer that email, or trying to tidy the shit tip that is my house and actually, she really needs to know I’m here. In the here and now, present in the moment and I totally get her.  No ‘I love you, but…’, just unconditional, ‘I hear you’.

I can’t always fix her feelings.  I can’t always fix mine.  I suppose sometimes, it’s just about letting them be.

Sleeping with a peacock on her head. Because peacock.






The truth about autism parenting

Search for funny memes, quotes and cartoons about parenting and you’ll be inundated with an expanse of choice. Type in ‘funny autism parenting memes’ and the selection is somewhat depressing.

Autism isn’t funny, some of you might be thinking. Autism parenting is really hard and shouldn’t be laughed at. Well…this is where I obviously differ. Finding humour can make things feel more normal. It’s important for me to find humour in all aspects of my parenting. I don’t discriminate between my children – they’re both equally irritating.

I don’t see my son’s autism as bad thing, nor do I see it as a superpower. My innate operating system is Windows 8. He runs on OS X. I basically understand OS X, it just takes me a while to sometimes ‘get’ it. He thinks Windows 8 is fucking idiotic and makes no sense whatsoever. Perhaps he has a point.

He also has biological toddler genes, so sometimes it’s really hard to tell whether he’s being a massive pain in the arse because of his operating system or because of the psychopathic toddler personality winning through.

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me or think I’m somehow admirable for how I manage. Because of my boy, I have developed some amazing skills and gained invaluable knowledge that I will be forever grateful for.

Ninja skills: I have the ability to predict a strike and intercept with lightening precision. 86% of the time. Not only could I catch a fly with a pair of chopsticks, I could also put a jumper on it, get a pair of trousers on, not bother with shoes and get it strapped into a car seat all whilst blocking blows to the face and keeping a calm demeanour.

Running skills: I was never one for sports at school, least of all running. Now I can go from zero to sprint in 0.4 seconds at any given opportunity. Even from a sitting position.

Language skills: I don’t bother with silly, quirky language any more and say exactly what I mean. If I don’t want to have to break out the ninja skills, I say the dinner is ready when it is exactly ready, not five minutes after I’ve finished faffing arranging the food perfectly symmetrically on the plate. I also show what I mean -for example, what is five minutes? Is it a ‘Dad’ five minutes going for a quick poo which is in fact twenty minutes? Or is it his sister’s five minutes putting her shoes on which is actually an eternity? Neither. It is the exact amount of time is takes for the last grain of sand to fall through the hourglass.

Detective skills: Like a Chief Superintendent scanning a crime scene for evidence, I have the ability to hone in on possible clues to indicate reasons for a meltdown or an incident and will immediately log it in my memory bank to ensure that it never, ever occurs again. It’s not always obvious and can sometimes take a great deal of investigation. Other times, seeing two kids and one Thomas The Tank Engine toy, it’s a no brainer. *Breaks out ninja skills.

Planning skills: Taking into account all previous incidences that have been permanently embedded in my brain, I have to carefully execute meticulously thought out plans and have a back up contingency plan for any unforeseen circumstances that may have been impossible to predict. Not only could I perfectly carry out a counter terrorism hostage retrieval operation, I could grab a 6-pinter of milk from the shop and still be home to watch 40 episodes of Thomas before bedtime. Or the same episode 40 times. It varies.

Those toddler genes have a lot to answer for.

Pair of pliers with tea. Standard. Nothing to see here.
The pliers was his idea. Not part of an emergency backup plan.

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A smile is all it takes…

I’ve almost entirely stopped caring now about the judgements I receive when I’m out with The Boy. He is a fairly sizeable 3 year old and it’s not unknown to receive a disapproving look when I’m carrying him or pushing him in the buggy. I don’t care that it looks like I’m carrying a 15 year old boy like a chimp baby.

He rarely has shoes on. This is mostly met with amusement and bewilderment at how he walks across sharp gravel like it’s soft grass. I’m passed caring about that.

The ear-piercing scream and lurching towards me to swipe at my face or bite me? Yeah…sometimes a little harder to take but all in all, I don’t care about everyone else. I’m just concentrating on trying to make things better for The Boy. Mostly for my sake – I’m no angel – but a little for him too.

Today was one of those days. I’d taken him to his favourite place. Did everything he liked in the order he liked it. Made our way to the highlight of the day and all was going swimmingly. We arrived at a short queue for the steam train but all was good in the world because I’d pre-purchased the ticket. It was a minute maximum to keep him from losing his shit and becoming angry hulk boy about not getting on the train instantly. Then the big decision…whose poor carriage do we get into knowing there was going to be some ‘social issues’ whenever other human beings are involved.

Carriage full of kids. Avoided. Carriage with a small space left. Avoided. Carriage with chairs that can be climbed over (despite people sitting on them). Avoided. An end carriage, closed in, only two other people – an older couple. This will do. In my head I’m already feeling sorry for them and apologising for The Boy. I know I shouldn’t but I do do this.

We get on. The Boy instantly wants to stand next to the window. It’s where he always stands. Shit. “Ted, sitting here.” I try knowing it’s futile. He tries to push his way to the window again. “Ted, sitting here.” Desperately trying to redirect him knowing it’s pointless. In my head I’m hoping the couple get it and offer to move, but they don’t. He tries again. “Ted, sitting here.” Aaaaaaaand….meltdown.

There’s the scream. Oh, and here comes the biting. Now he’s smashing his head against the bench. Still screaming. Perfect.

The couple just look at me, horrified. “Ted, sitting here.” Utterly pointless but I try, mainly to show them that I am trying. Still they stare at me, waiting for me to ‘do something’ to stop the noise. The Boy lurches towards the woman’s leg and grabs her ankle. “Owwwwww!” she shouts as The Boy buries his nails into her skin. Fuck. I wasn’t expecting that. “I’m so sorry. He has autism and doesn’t understand why I’m stopping him standing next to the window, where he always stands.”  Still nothing. Just a stare boring into my soul, whilst leg rubbing. They’re looking at me like I’m the most abhorrent parent in the universe.

In a second, it flashes across my mind. “Get out. Just apologise and get out. It was a fucking stupid idea bringing him here today.”

As I’m visualising taking him off the train, my mouth opens and what came out even surprised me. “Would you mind if we swapped seats?”

She looked at me like I’d just asked if it would be okay if I pulled my knickers down and take a dump on the floor. She didn’t answer me – just stared. After an excruciating five seconds, she and her husband stood up and let The Boy stand near the window, making their annoyance well known with their audible tuts and sighs.

The train moved forward. The Boy was calm. Sweaty and red, but calm. I held him on my lap and kissed the back of his head. Inwardly, I was laughing. Laughing at the lunacy of the situation that I find myself in so regularly. Laughing at the rage The Boy must have felt when he gouged the poor woman’s leg. Laughing at how the carriage was eerily silent after what had probably felt like an eternity of screaming.

About halfway into the train ride, all was still calm. Everyone had resumed normal business. The kids were chatting busily with their parents, asking a million questions and dispensing a million facts. The traumatised couple sat next to me had relaxed into the ride and were chatting about the flora and fauna. All was well.

As I looked up, I noticed the mum sat opposite looking at me. She held my gaze and then she smiled. She continued to look into my face for a few seconds before we both looked away. In those few moments, she had said a thousand words:

“It’s okay.”
“I understand.”
“I don’t judge you.”
“It hasn’t bothered me.”
“You’re doing great.”
“We’re in this together.”

I don’t know what her experience of autism is, nor do I care. She just got it and wanted to tell me. That’s when the tears unexpectedly erupted. I buried my head into the back of The Boy’s mass of tangled hair and let a few tears fall. I’m sure she wouldn’t have wanted me to have cried at her show of kindness, but it meant so very much.

We all have those desperate situations as parents, regardless of whether your child is impaired or not. Those moments when you think, “what the fuck am I doing? I have no idea what to do next.” You know you’ll get through it. You always do, but that bit of recognition speaks volumes and makes it feel okay.  A smile is really all it takes to make things feel a little better. Thank you to her. I will always be grateful for that smile.

Is it really good to be different?

For World Autism Awareness Week, I wanted to share some photos of The Boy, celebrating what it is to be different. I wanted to highlight his quirks and nuances and be proud of all the things that make him different.

It seems being different is celebrated in a way to help children that don’t quite fit in feel better about themselves. But should we really be celebrating difference?

I’m a persistent over-sharer, not because I get to hear people congratulate me on being brave for being different, but because I seek solace from those that say they feel exactly the same way. How many of you have felt relief after reading something that you could relate to on many levels? How many of us belong to groups and join forums just to be among like-minded people? Is that a bad thing? It’s human nature to want to belong, to fit in, to be accepted and to feel comfortable around those that are similar. It is what helped the human species survive in the first place after all.

My olive skin is a completely different shade to my daughter’s pale creamy tones. But we share the same DNA. My son learns and understands the world differently to me. But we share the same DNA. I have friends of all different faiths, backgrounds, colour and ability. But as humans, we are all variations of the same DNA.

Perhaps it’s not revering people’s differences that should be encouraged, but understanding and accepting that, actually, we’re not all that differentThere’s probably more that unites us all in our similarities than there ever will be to divide us in our differences.

As the research rumbles on into understanding autism, I hope that one day, autism will be viewed in much the same way as a personality trait or characteristic; something that is taken for granted rather than feared. I don’t want to cure my son’s autism anymore than cure his shaggy, light brown hair or round, green eyes. It’s part of him. Of his DNA. So, instead of celebrating my son for being special or different, I’m going to commend him just for being him; undeniably brilliant.

Photo credits to my dear friend, Maria.

Why can’t you be more like…

I thought having autism might free my son from my perpetual comparing but apparently not; as we all sat together in his group session for children with communication and socialising difficulties, I studied the only girl in the group. She’s a gentle soul, afflicted with over receptive senses that suppress her. She contorts her body to try and cope, making the space she is in and the world she struggles to understand as small as possible. She is completely silent apart from the delightful tinkle of laughter she emits when she’s being tickled and I’ve never seen a child so mesmerised by shaving foam. What I can see is a calm, passive, non-aggressive, quiet and amenable little girl – the very opposite of my boy – and for just a few guilt-ridden moments, I stare at her and wish that he could be more like her.

I see her for a snapshot of her life, once a week, and can only see enviable qualities that my son doesn’t have. What I don’t see is how long it takes to get her dressed. I don’t see her screaming in pain as she’s being washed. I don’t see her frozen in fear at the sound of a plane. I don’t see how very small her universe must be in order for her to cope. I’m guessing at these things of course. But we all have desperate moments.

Perhaps in a tiny snapshot of life, there’ll be someone looking at my boy and only seeing a passionate, curious, energetic, enthusiastic and happy child and perhaps wishing that their passive, introvert, quiet and shy kid was more like him. I wish that someone was me but it isn’t. In the fog of exhaustion, it is sometimes just too hard.

Now I’ve got it off my chest, I could make a solemn vow, from this moment on, to stop making comparisons when times get tricky…but I won’t. It’s a promise I know I will break and that will only add to the mountain of guilt that I was bequeathed the moment I became a parent. No…I will let the thoughts in. I will take a moment to look at them, accept their truth, and then let them float on by without further attention. I will remind myself that everything passes. I will remind myself that I am doing the best I can. I will remind myself that everything will be okay. I will remind myself that I am that someone (very nearly) all of the time.

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Remembering the details

There have been so many times since my children have been born, that I’ve reached over to pick up my phone and photograph a moment only to find my phone out of reach.  Frustrated at the missed opportunity, I’ve attempted to freeze frame the moment in my mind’s eye and fix it permanently into my memory box. I have long forgotten these memories or have no idea whether the ones I do remember were the ones I really wanted to.

It happened just the other day. Me and my nearly three year old boy were on the sofa, watching a film. He was laying, following the curve of my legs and lower body, resting one hand on top of mine and pushing one of his feet down the side of my slipper boot I had on. Once he had firmly wedged his foot in and was satisfied with it’s position, he remained still. My phone in the other room, I was unable to capture the image; a moment when his little foot, small enough to fit in the gap, wriggled so warmly next to mine.

Going through thousands of photos files recently, looking for one picture in particular, I came across a video. I don’t know what made me click on it – there are hundred of videos. In it was my son about six months old and my two and a half year old daughter. My son is belly laughing and there is this beautiful interaction between the two of them. I’m filming it and as I watch it back I have absolutely no recollection of the moment or any details surrounding it. So it seems that even if I do capture the moments, I still may not remember them.

Technology has been in the limelight a lot recently especially regarding what kind of future we can expect for our children when everyone spends so much time staring at a screen. I have read articles demanding parents put down to their phones, stop filming, stop sharing on social media and live in the moment.

This forgotten video was a wonderful reminder that memories can become skewed. Through the day to day drudgery of trying to make each day perfect, feeling overwhelmed with guilt at not achieving it and focussing on a belief my children don’t have the relationship I yearned them to have, I had forgotten the details. A beautiful moment lasting a few minutes showed me the truth. And with each subsequent photo file, leaving a trail like breadcrumbs to lost moments, good and bad, they helped me challenge my self image as a mother which always seems to be heavily weighted with regret.

So I say, keep taking photos. Keep filming. Capture the details. Share them if you want to. Every so often, look back and remind yourself of what a good job you are doing. Remind yourself that your children are nourished, stimulated and loved. Remind yourself that you are perfect in their eyes. And then, one day, you’ll be able to remember the details together.

I don't know exactly when this was taken, or what we did that day but what I do know is, it must have been taken when Dad was at work and her little brother was still asleep so we're having undisturbed, tired mummy cuddles

“The Power of The First Hour” – inspiring or terrifying?

As my little girl in the photo is coming up to five years old, I thought I’d share again one of the first moments of meeting her and how it still makes me feel now…..


This is a photo of my first ever feed.  What do you see (apart from the carefully placed ‘x’ to preserve my daughter’s modesty)?  A loving first moment between a new mother and her baby?  Yet another lactivist exposing herself and wanting to show off how great she is?

This photo doesn’t make me feel good.  It makes me cringe.  Not because of my greasy hair, man arms or post baby belly.  Because, knowing what I know now, it is no wonder I had the difficulties I did with breastfeeding.

Save The Children have brought out a document which promotes breastmilk as a superfood, specifically colostrum.  Colostrum is bloody marvellous stuff.  “The most potent immune system booster known to science”.  Of course it is – it comes out of a woman (feminist hippy, get back in your cage!)   They have estimated that 830,000 infant deaths could be avoided if they…

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Strategies for spectrum children that might be useful for ALL children

There is a statistic that gets thrown about that dentistry is actually about 30% evidence-based and 70% anecdotal. I reckon that parenting is probably very similar and how I have made a five year old that only appears to have all the annoying traits of every other fellow preschooler is definitely more luck than judgement.

And then came my second born who turned out to have additional needs associated with autism. Everything that works for the neurologically normal child has no place in the universe with a spectrum child, mainly because they’re not experiencing the same universe. However, with a little gentle support and guidance (for me, not him), it all became painfully clear – I have to get into his universe. A world where things are literal and sometimes very overwhelming, to try and merge the two realities together.

Whilst on this journey, I have learnt many ways to help him (and me) cope and it became obvious how five main strategies in helping our spectrum child would also be enormously helpful to our non-spesh kiddo.

The Iceberg Analogy

Our boy is fairly non-verbal and his only means of communication presently is screaming, biting, hitting and physical positioning. Very antisocial behaviour which his father and I happily acccept (mostly) because we know he has no other way of dealing with whatever it is that is bothering him. However, we still have to be detectives to find out exactly what it was so we can (hopefully) avoid it the next time. I make this sound easy of course. A spectrum child may have an increased sense of smell, taste, hatred of lights and sounds, and many other things we take for granted that become overwhelming for them.

This got me a thinking. Just because my son has ASD, does this make his feelings more valid than my daughter’s? Ugh. No, I suppose it doesn’t. Which really means I have to stop dismissing my daughter’s feelings so readily just because she is sobbing her heart out, frantically licking chocolate spread off a spoon, because I didn’t do something in quite the way she wanted. I have to not focus on the behaviour being exhibited (as fantastically irritating as that may be), but look at the cause lying under the surface and see what I can do to help.

Take-up time

My son has no concept of time and sand timers offend him. Getting him to understand that something needed to come to an end so we could leave the house, especially when he was micro focused on his trains, or transfixed with Thunderbirds, was always a bit tricky. Then I was introduced to the idea of take-up time – a short amount of time for him to comes to terms with the fact that something will be ending and something new beginning. I have found that he likes counting so whenever his activity needs to end, I explain, “In three, this will be finished” and give him a countdown from three using my fingers as a visual cue. Not a lot of time, 3 seconds, but it seems enough to allow him to cope with it.

I now use a similar strategy with my daughter. She is more aware of time as a concept, but has no clue what time means. So I use watches, clocks and timers as a visual way to give her time to come to terms with what needs to happen next. Yeah, I may still get the mind melting whinge noise on occasion, but on the whole, it really does work a treat.

No is a swear word

This has to be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Give up the N word. It’s not until someone tells you that you need to stop using it that you realise how thoroughly entrenched it is into daily life – especially with children. Every other word seems to be a teeth-clenched or exasperated, “NO!”

So what’s the thinking behind it. Well, spectrum children are very good at filtering things out, meaning that they can sometimes get mistaken for being deaf or ignorant. They’re merely having to bang the radiator repeatedly with a wooden spoon so they can focus on that rather than whatever it may be that is bothering them. Therefore, the word “no” gets filtered out too because it’s part of the background stimulation that is discombobulating them. Plus, they aren’t learning anything from the word. It doesn’t provide any information for the spectrum child. So what do you do instead? This leads me to the next strategy.

Say what you want, not what you see

The boy has particularly anti-social behaviour. Just saying “NO HITTING!” every time he hit or bit another child, made no difference to his intention because it provided him with no information on what to so instead. It also left me feeling very frustrated because I could see it meant jack shit to him. Therefore, giving him an instruction such as, “hands down” or “feet on floor” provides him with a clearer directive, and me a productive way to deal with the behaviour. He hasn’t stopped hitting or pushing but he definitely responds when he hears me saying, “hands down” meaning he’ll hesitate before sending a toddler hurtling off the top of a slide giving me enough time to catch them.

I think all children are very open to the power of suggestion, and hopefully now, my girl also benefits from clearer guidance focussing on the positive rather than the negative.

Backward chaining

Definitely my favourite. Spectrum children can disappear for hours in an activity that motivates them and have zero interest in anything else. This makes playing with a spectrum child quite difficult. Encouraging them to partake in other activities that might be a bit of a challenge for them is very important and how you do this is something called ‘backward chaining’. So you have a simple puzzle, for example, fill it in leaving just one piece out, then get the kid to put the last piece in, congratulate them and say, “well done for finishing.” The next time, you leave two pieces out and so on. This also works for getting dressed. Put all the clothes on, all bar one arm and then encourage them to do it. When they do, you say, “Well done for getting dressed!”

The thinking behind this is self esteem. We all know that sticking one arm in a jumper is not getting dressed but rather than laying out a pair of trousers and a jumper and saying, “get dressed and I’ll help when you get stuck,” by working backwards, it means there is less chance of failure; the child doesn’t get despondent because the activity is too hard and overwhelming therefore the activity always feels good.

So there you have it. Easier said than done. In fact, if anyone can give me ideas for alternatives to “NO BITING!” I would greatly appreciate it. “Kind mouth” or “soft teeth” just ain’t cutting it at the moment. Answers on a postcard….
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