Well, isn’t time a funny thing? I had absolutely no inkling when i started this blog two weeks ago that so much would change in such a short space of time. To be honest, if you’d have told me, I wouldn’t have believed you! WTF?!?
I hadn’t planned for my blog to go in any particular direction, in fact if anything, I thought perhaps I might go back over old ground, filling you in on the past few years, my autism journey with Martha, how I survived divorce, both emotionally and financially … blah blah. That’s kind of how i saw things going, (and they may still do at a later date), however now that things have taken a funny turn, I thought I’d talk to you about the here and now instead.
So, we all find ourselves in a very unusual situation. Something I for one had never considered possible in our lifetime. Call me naïve but it genuinely hadn’t crossed my mind that something like this might happen. From Monday (or even last week for some of you) many of us will have our children at home for the indefinite future. Aaaagghhhh!
For those of us with autistic children, this is a particularly scary challenge. In saying that, I don’t mean to undermine the scale of the task for any parent of neurotypical children however, as I’m sure most of you know, individuals with autism in particular, struggle with changes to their routine. They like things to remain the same. Martha won’t take any pleasure or excitement in not going to school. It’s part of her daily routine and that makes her feel safe. She knows what to expect and when things will happen. She’s not a huge fan of weekends or the holidays as to her, these are unpredictable times which can be both frightening and worrying for her.
At the moment, because Martha has an EHC (Education, Health and Care plan) in place and attends a school for children with higher end additional needs, her school is officially staying open for the time-being and I can make the choice whether to send her, or not. After much consideration, I have decided not to.
Government advice is that if you can, you should keep your children at home and so that is what I have decided to do. You may think I’m mad, and that if you had the option, you would send her, and it’s true, that if I could keep her in school a little longer that she may be calmer and happier, and that Elke and I would stand a chance of getting our work done in peace (Elke’s school work and my business work – which of course most of us still have to fit in somewhere amongst all this!). However, realistically, how long can that go on for? The school will assess on a daily basis how long it is able to stay open, and i feel it’s inevitable that it too, will close at some point. Also, we’re all beginning to understand more about the importance of social distancing and I’m not sure I want to expose either Martha, or anyone at her school to any higher risk than necessary.
My feeling is, that life is going to change for a while and we will have to find a new way of being. We may as well start that new routine altogether, from Monday, and try our best to make it the new ‘normal’. For a little while at least anyway.
The girls are spending some time with their Dad this weekend, which has given me a couple of days to get my head around the idea and make some preparations. In order for the next (however many!?) weeks to work, we will need to make our days as routine and structured as possible. This will be as much for my own sanity as anyone elses!
We will get up at the same time each day, and each day will be timetabled. That sounds almost draconian but I don’t intend for it to be rigid or inflexible, just enough so that we can all remain focused, productive and so that Martha can feel certain about what we are doing next. Schools working with autistic children predominantly use something called a visual timetable – something most of you may be familiar with from when your children were in nursery? This helps with the child’s expectations about what is coming and what they need to do to get there. It reduces anxiety levels because it takes away uncertainty and helps eliminate unpredictable and unexpected things from happening. They also use a simple ‘Now & Next’ model, to help learners understand that first (now), we will be doing this piece of work, but then (next) you can choose an activity yourself (or have playtime or a snack and so-forth).
- Household chores (includes making meals, feeding cat, washing up, sweeping, watering plants, emptying bins)
- School work (includes specific assignments / worksheets provided by school, reading, educations apps and activities)
- Exercise (go for walks, trampoline time, netball practise, gardening tasks)
- Down time / Fun (reading for pleasure, tv time, tablet / phone time, choose time – maybe playdoh and other sensory activities for Martha)
We’ll then break each day into chunks and assign headings into each section of the day, ensuring there’s a nice balance between work, fun and exercise, and allotting plenty of sensory input to keep Martha on a level.
I’m not going to stress out or put added pressure onto any of us to have to keep up with school work, or worry about how to teach certain subjects. I will use the time to teach them what I can; life skills and experiences. It will certainly include any suggestions and activities provided by school, where possible, but it will be peppered with teaching them how to weed and plant, how to wash the dishes and clothes, baking, nature walks and being creative too. This time together is going to be important to all of us and something we will remember for the rest of our lives, so I plan to make the best of it that I can.
On a completely different note about surviving the coming weeks, I know there are many of us in difficult financial and professional positions. The economy is suffering badly and people’s livelihoods are threatened. We have to look for new ways to work (where that is possible – and I realise that for many, it is not!) and try to be creative in how we get through this to the other side, supporting one another as we do so.
Karl, my partner, is a self-employed jewellery-maker. At the moment, his main form of income comes from selling his jewellery at markets, events and festivals, most of which have been cancelled for the unforeseeable future. Both he and his fellow makers, artisans and independent small businesses will struggle to survive over the coming months, and so Karl has set up a little project called ‘A helping hand’.
The campaign aims to share the details of as many fellow makers as possible on both Karl’s website and Instagram feed as his small way of helping to raise awareness of their businesses and products, and to encourage people to make small, online purchases to help these businesses survive during these unprecedented times. Rather than bulk-buying bog roll and pasta, why not make a considered purchase of something either useful or beautiful from someone who will wholeheartedly appreciate your custom?
We have many maker friends who produce wonderful, handmade, quality products such as candles, soaps and pieces of art or jewellery that can be bought as gifts to cheer up someone self-isolating, or just to lift your own spirits at this difficult time when we could all use a little ‘pick me up’. Please take a moment to visit https://rooksandroses.uk/makers-community/ or https://www.instagram.com/rooksandroses/
As I was making preparations earlier today (preparing a visual timetable, sensory treasure basket, collating ALL the snacks and filling the hot chocolate and biscuit jars!!) I put on my 40th Birthday party playlist at full volume and danced my way around the kitchen like no one was watching (I hope they weren’t. I really go for it when I’m alone!). It’s full of tunes that lift my spirits and remind me of brighter times. In these times of coming together and sharing what makes you happy, please feel free to take a listen and dance around your own kitchen. I’d love to hear if anyone else has an uplifting playlist they’d like to share. If you do, please pop the link in the comments.
This Thursday evening I have plans for drinks and nibbles with some of my best girls! I can’t wait to see them as we’ll all need a break and an outlet come Thursday evening. The fact it will be a ‘zoom date’ through my computer screen and I won’t be able to give them all a huge hug is secondary – It’s all about the virtuals now dontcha know!
I love how we’re finding new ways to be and embracing the current situation. I hope you can all find a bit of happy in the coming weeks. Lots of virtual love to you all.
Stay safe x