I’ve been trying to comment on this annual phenomenon all week but have simply been too busy being a Carer. So before it’s shoved on the shelf for another year by those who have enough time and energy to celebrate it, perhaps I can make one or two observations? Ask a few straightforward questions?
Why are proper and legal Carer’s assessments so rarely carried out AND delivered on by local authorities?
Will the (delayed) Carer’s Act actually be robust enough to deliver any real change for those in the Carer’s role?
Will proper emergency and future plans be put in place with this Act?
Will adequate respite services be promoted, extended and provided to give every Carer a chance to recharge even once a month?
Everything else is window dressing and insult to a group of people who save the public purse an estimated £10.8 billion per year.
A year and a bit into our dog adventures as a family, I remain absolutely smitten with my love for our Labrador, Bailey. This weekend we have had my good friend Barry’s dog staying for a few nights. Skye is a beautiful wee Dalmatian cross and a sweeter wee dog you’d struggle to find.
As autism parents we have something of a stressful life and recently it has been particularly difficult for us all as Andy’s sensory processing differences continue to plague him.
For a while yesterday afternoon things really started to get to me. Like so many others, I too, am prone to bouts of anxiety and depression and yesterday the pressure and worry about Andy had me in a downward spiral. Experience teaches us though, that as George Harrison sang, all things must pass and this sentiment often helps me through this type of difficulty.
This morning I took Bailey and Skye for our usual walk in the woods behind our home. The sun streamed through the deep greens of the foliage and the woods and trails were quiet. I walked slowly but steadily and became engrossed in the surroundings and my canine companions, happily bounding around . My thoughts slowed and my anxieties dissipated as I stole an hour to myself with these beautiful dogs. My mood lifted and things seemed better as I returned to family life.
I don’t know how I managed without a dog for so long.
Andy’s period of hibernation from the world has largely continued this week. He has been mostly still confined to his room or on an odd occasion ventured downstairs.
The best it got was a late evening of hyperactivity where he made it into the garden. It was something of a false dawn ( or dusk !) however as he resorted to type the following day. It was a lovely sight though to see him burst into the garden and reconnect with the outside world with excited stims. (See pic!)
One of the problems seems to be the interaction between Andy’s various autistic traits. Like a domino effect the hyper sensitivity to bright light, that confines him to his darkened room, eventually becomes the routine. The need for repetition and rigidity then conspires to make this the ‘ norm’. The same way this rigidity can be utilised in a positive way to reinforce helpful routines around everyday activities e.g. Personal care, it can also trap Andy in less positive situations.
We will keep observing, supporting, loving and encouraging Andy, but it is taking time that the outside world often fails to understand and accept.
Andy is having a bit of a miserable time just now. Once again it appears that his sensory processing differences and the bright weather we are experiencing are combining badly for him.
For nearly a fortnight he has been largely confined to the perceived safety of his bedroom, eyes crinkled against the light, wrapped in a duvet. The few times we have been out it has been like smuggling a hostage out, with hoods up and blankets over his head.
Of course Andy cannot tell us , so as always we are making educated guesses, while monitoring him closely. He has not been eating much though has been drinking, but even making his way to the bathroom in his own home, is appearing to be a challenge for him. This ‘ micro transitioning ‘ from one environment to another makes life very difficult. Getting in and out of the car or buildings or into the garden can all prove highly challenging. The unpredictability of it all makes plans virtually impossible.
I love my precious boy with every ounce of my being, but seeing him like this is awful. It’s also why I would take this aspect of his autism away in a heartbeat if I could.
Some weeks the up and down nature of life as an autism parent leaves you feeling a little drained.
The week started with a follow up meeting to a complaint about desperately poor practice that affected my precious boy and my disappointment at realising that what was considered unacceptable previously is now become just the way it is. Suck it up innocent young people with disabilities your life chances just got fewer because things are getting so bad that we have changed the goalposts again.
My involvement in the local health care policy forum saw me attend a meeting that was considered positive by some, but involved more talk of cuts in budget and provision. We are fighting not for the services, but rather the right to simply have our views heard.
The local initiative for autism services has resorted to type as the ineffectual private members entity it previously was.
Finally our failing education system sticks with the ‘ every thing is fine here’ mantra.
The daily struggle of supporting Andy bookends every encounter with authority and I’m tired of the dishonesty that affects my precious boy and so many others like him.
Jen and I have just returned from a short break with David and Helen. This trip however marked several milestones.
It was the first time we had went over seas leaving our precious boy at home in Scotland. We spent 4 nights in Germany at my best friend’s home. It was a challenge for all of us and had been a long time in coming. As a family we have arrived at this point through a slow and careful process of Andy becoming more and more comfortable at respite and of us being able to overcome our anxieties and build trust in our Carers. Dealing with our emotions, our guilt, sadness and anxieties and recognising our responsibility to give Helen and David new and exciting experiences takes time and effort. They finally got to fly in an aeroplane and go to Europe. Andy was happy and relaxed at respite. Our Carers stepped up to the challenge too, and kept Andy safe and happy.
Jen and I are immensely grateful to everyone who helped make this happen.
On my way back to work today after a period at home and I’m in a reflective mood.
During my time off I have been involved in several DLA applications and appeals for children with autism. Returning to the ” normal” world of work immediately removes me from the constant duties of supervision and Care that are the daily responsibility of Carers.
It is hard to accept why the DWP are so reluctant to acknowledge or believe the extreme nature of autism and the tireless support Carers and parents provide.
Andy has been constant in his needs for support as well as wondrous in his beautiful autistic way of being. I am physically absolutely shattered but also as motivated as ever to respect and support his way of being in this world. We had some lovely moments over the last few days together. At a local leisure centre that we frequent Andy simply wanted to sit on a child’s horse ride and observe the world around him. I sat with him and watched him take in and process the sensory stimuli and activity around him. With understanding he copes in a world that is difficult and highly challenging to him. Awareness and acceptance are crucial to his wellbeing.
I will never stop fighting for this.
An end to austerity that punishes the poor.
A new fit for purpose ferry for Dunoon.
World peace and respect for all peoples, faiths and cultures.
That more people experience the joy of sharing their life with a dog.
Frank’s Law to be adopted by the Scottish Government.
A recognition of the problems in mainstream school for disabled children.
More (some?) honesty, listening and integrity from our politicians, councillors and heads of service.
A wide spread social model approach to disability.
Greenock Morton to win the Scottish Cup.
Lots of new local councillors in Argyll.
Night 4 of Andy being unsettled. It’s got steadily worse and tonight he is currently bouncing off the walls. Notions of Christmas holidays relaxing at home seem to have evaporated before they have even begun and all of a sudden a couple of weeks is looking like a long, long time when yesterday I thought I was looking forward to it!
Here are my tips for unpaid Carers at Christmas and other holiday periods.
NEVER get seduced by thoughts of holidays and relaxing because that experience generally doesn’t exist for you. Keep your head down and your expectations set at your normal level. Avoid mainstream images of celebrations and festivities.
Do not let your guard or indeed your hair down. Stay work ready and alert at all times. Look after yourself and never make plans. Never complain it only makes you look bad and feel even worse.
Never, ever underestimate the lack of awareness or desire to even try and understand your life by the majority of those around you- particularly those who make a living from disabilities. Always be polite and remember your manners when seeking basic supports and remember despite the massive savings you make to the public purse , despite the fact you are a massive net contributor, other more able and responsible people will decide your worthiness for help.
Remember also that these very folk will avoid direct contact with people with disability at all costs and would struggle to last ‘ a shift’ doing what they demand of you everyday.
This post is dedicated to out of touch social workers, professionals, policy makers and politicians – you know who you are! Do try to open your eyes and seek some exposure to the lives of those you claim to act for.
Now before I am accused of being all bah humbug and putting a damper on your festive let me quickly say that is not my intention.
I generally love our family life with autism but as always simply want to raise awareness of how autistic people and families can experience Christmas.
The loss of routine and the sensory bombardment of the many distinctive and unique elements of the festive can prove problematic for autistic people. Lights, decorations, loud music, crowds, social events, fancy food, unfamiliar faces, changes to television listings, homes overloaded with new and strange presents, waiting for taxis, loud fireworks, awkward questions from seldom seen relatives , new social demands -this list of potential problems is not exhaustive. For some autistic people however the whole heady mix can leave them on a knife edge of fight or flight leading to missing out on events and disruption and unhappiness for families.
So what can we do to provide a more autism friendly Christmas experience?
Well in general we try to celebrate but also keep things as normal as possible.
If you have guests by all means look after them but this does not mean it is impossible to provide familiar foods at the usual times for an autistic person.
We also try to always have an alternative from any problematic stimuli or situations.
In a relatives home that could be a bedroom or quiet space being available to seek calming refuge in. Runs in the car also help but obviously require the driver to avoid wine with a meal. We try not to stop Andy being exposed to things he might like ( and he has often surprised us) but always on his own terms and with a safe option to avoid anything troubling.
The unpredictability of autism can make planning and organisation difficult. A degree of flexibility around times for meals or visiting is helpful and an understanding that if an autism family has to cancel at short notice this is not as ignorant as it may initially seem.
Andy’s reactions to receiving gifts used to embarrass us but now we explain that it often takes him time to assimilate an new object and the expected social response is just not in his makeup. It does not mean he is unappreciative of the kindness offered to him.
Most people want to enjoy the happiness and fun of Christmas and autistic people are no different in that respect.
With a little thought, preparation, flexibility and understanding this is entirely possible and can make the season of goodwill extend across neurodiversity.