I need to report a brilliant night and a new ‘special interest’. The night was one that I am going to store in my memory bank and try and recall during any forthcoming bad nights. The children were with their Dad this weekend. Unusually, he texted today to say that he had had to abandon the soft play centre when M and L started to argue badly. L was being particularly prickly, and M was being particularly argumentative. A bad combination. However, things subsequently improved enough that he took them to see his parents for Father’s Day.
While they were having a challenging day together, I set off to buy a few things for the sensory, chill-out room I mentioned in my last post. I spent around £130 on rolls of paper, colouring books, crayons, pencil-crayons, a beanbag, a soft toy football, a cuddly dog, a twisty baby puzzle, a multi-textured baby ball, bubble wrap and a pop-up ball pit and ball. It was £130 I haven’t got but I’m sure those of you in the business, will understand my consuming need to do anything to try and reduce the chance of meltdowns. I can’t bear the thought of having another week like last week.
The children came home with pictures for the chill-out room (yet to be officially named) that we stuck on the door (M had printed one out saying ‘keep calm and carry on’). They also decided they wanted a pile of magazines in there. They were so excited when they saw it starting to take shape, although I had an anxious moment when I realised that L had fully expected to start painting the room on his arrival back home (just in time for tea and the bedtime routine). Luckily he seemed to accept it with disgruntled good grace when I said that the painting was our project for the coming weekend. They had a really fun half hour playing in there and then L gradually started to take it over. He had instantly bonded with the cuddly dog and was looking very proprietorial as M decided to bow out gracefully and go and read in her bedroom.
The initial joie de vivre and bonhomie thankfully continued as we began the bedtime routine (the point where my anxiety levels usually shoot through the roof as I wait for a meltdown to start). L actually got in the bath without a murmur (after flatly refusing one for a whole week) and played happily for half an hour while M lay on my bed looking through old photographs on the laptop. And here’s where the magic happened.
Whilst tidying over the weekend I found a French workbook and CD I had bought a while ago and forgotten about. Last term, L joined his first ever after-school club. He has never, ever wanted to do one before but when the school advertised a new French Club, ‘Le Club Français’, L was just as adamant that he wanted to do this one. I was very nervous when I signed the form and sent off the cheque for the club. It was quite expensive and I wouldn’t get a refund if L decided he didn’t like it (which I was sure was the likely outcome). My worst fears were almost realised when L had a crisis of confidence a week before the club was due to start and became incredibly anxious. His Dad had a little chat with him about his own experience of doing something he had been nervous about and then enjoying it, and amazingly, L decided to try one session and see how he felt. He loved it.
Le Club Français has turned out to be the hit of the century, the highlight of L’s week at school. He has described feeling very happy after the club in a way he never talks about any other aspect of school. I’m not quite sure what it is that he loves so much, whether it’s what they do, how they do it, or just the fact that he chose to do it. I don’t need to know really, and I am quite bowled over by the pleasure he gets from it (he proudly showed me three stickers he got last week).
His love of French, I think, started on holiday to France last year when we went to visit L’s Grandpa (now re-named Papi) who has a house in the Limousin, close to Lac de Saint-Pardoux. And here is where the autism gene may be advantageous. Whilst often unsure of himself and awkward in social situations, L’s alternative empathy perhaps reduced his self-consciousness about speaking French when we were over there. He happily shouted out ‘bonjour’ at high volume to everyone we saw, whereas big sister M and I were much more shy, imagining only too well how we sounded to any potential recipients of our poor accents and lack of follow-up vocabulary. He enjoyed the freedom of France, playing outside the house, in sight of the village dairy farm where cows would be herded up and down the road twice a day. Perhaps, oddly it was relaxing for him to be let of the hook from having to communicate, understand or be understood. Nobody in France had any expectations of him language wise.
Anyway – as I gave him the French workbook, his little face lit up and he went off to his bedroom to play the CD. He danced to a jaunty little’ counting to ten’ song (he had learned to count to ten in Club this week) and ran excitedly into M’s room every time he heard a new word he liked. He even remembered to knock on her door each time he went in (a new rule I have just introduced to try and instill some sense of privacy for each of the children so that they can retreat more safely into their own rooms in times of crisis). M was so touched when he then invited her into his room to help him complete the first few pages of the workbook and gain the gold stars for completing each page. I hovered nervously on the landing expecting the mood to change but it didn’t. M went off to bed again to read, and L continued with his book, the CD singing merrily away in the background.
As M lay snuggled in bed, drowsily awaiting sleep, L suddenly rushed into her room. I leapt to attention from where I was relaxing on my bed. A last minute room rush often heralds the start of a series of attacks followed by meltdown. As I got to the doorway, adrenalin starting to pump, I saw my beautiful, Christopher Robin headed boy, bend over his sister as she lay there sleepy and vulnerable, and … kiss her (well, according to M afterwards it was a very close air kiss). He then skipped happily back into his room and got into bed. It is hard to describe just how much those moments of true affection mean to M. It was much needed proof this week, that her little brother, who she loves very deeply, and from whom she craves love in return, actually really does love her back.