We have decided to take a temporary break from publishing our usual posts in order to share how our contributors are handling current lockdown measures.
You may find that some of these posts may seem to put an overly positive spin on difficult circumstances but please note that in no way are they denying these exceptionally challenging times for many people around the world. These posts celebrate our autistic writers and how they are adapting to change and uncertainty.
By Rhi Lloyd-Williams
The world has changed again and change is never easy. We need time to adjust and work out new routines. I usually have a busy household, but things are even busier here. My eldest and his partner had just moved back in temporarily before this began, meaning we have four adults, a teen and three children here now.
The children are unsettled by the idea of being home schooled. They want it to be exactly the same as school, which it not only can’t be, it shouldn’t be. So much of school routines are in place for crowd control, we can cut through that to the learning, but that’s another change.
My worries are around resources and keeping us all as happy and safe as I can. I’m one of those people who usually has large stocks of food in, but with two extra adults and all our usual sacks of pasta sold out, I do worry about keeping on top of supplies.
I’ve been using that worry to fuel digging over my vegetable garden. For a while every time I found myself caught in nervous energy I would plant another seed. My peas are just starting to sprout, their noses poking through the soil, my chillis, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, perpetual spinach, cabbage, kale and cucumber plants are on their way. Everyday I check on each of them in a circular routine that helps soothe my mind.
We have a black kale and a cabbage plant from last year still producing greens, but it will be a couple of months before this year’s crop starts providing in any meaningful way.
The schools have sent home learning packs for each child. With an age range from reception, to last year of primary, to GCSE, it’s tricky to teach them all together, but that’s what I aim to do as much as possible. We need each other right now.
The teen is happy to do his work through the computer, it’s getting him to join in that takes the effort, but he does. His begging for a Nintendo Switch for Christmas has led to utterly joyful evenings of all five of my children dancing stupidly in competition. It’s been just what I’ve needed to see after the exhaustion and stress of a situation outside my control.
I wanted to have a form of structure to the day to keep things familiar for the children, but not to be too rigid. We have been beginning each day doing yoga together, following a YouTube video. We’ve found a great channel called Cosmic Kids that combines yoga and children’s stories. I do this with them to help me wake up.
Then the eldest gets on the computer and the other three do some tasks from their packs. I don’t want a rigid amount of sitting at a table, particularly for the younger ones, so after half an hour or so the two small ones do some colouring (fine motor skill activity dontcherknow) whilst the older sibling gets online to finish her story, do something her teacher has set and connect with her friends.
We’ve called up two old computers from their dusty graves, rejected for their lack of gaming potential, but luckily good enough for homework. Thank goodness the Welsh Government invested in getting super fast broadband to rural Wales. Without it we wouldn’t have access to so many brilliant resources. We’ve been taking virtual tours of zoos and the pyramids too.
At 10.30 I kick them all out into the garden feeling enormously lucky that we have that option. There are sacrifices you make when living in the middle of nowhere, but now they are all worthwhile.
After the break it’s time for the children to plan what we have for lunch. We made quiche on the first day. The two small ones dropped an egg each and for a moment I was not the chilled-out-parent, I felt the fear of limited resources and wished I had chickens too. Too late now. The dogs enjoyed the eggs. We made a quiche that was so much better than I could have hoped. My middle child chopped veg under close supervision and they all felt they contributed.
After lunch I had planned something else. When we moved in there was an old cement deer in the garden. We kept it because it was more effort to get rid of it, but now we could make it special. I gave the three smallest a colour and paintbrush each. Smallest’s was red and he was given circles to paint, next up was blue and diamonds, and my middle child was yellow and triangles, and with that we made that deer a multicoloured patchwork of colour.
Then the little two went outside to find beetles and put them in the magnifying pot, and I realised that I hadn’t been alone enough, and handed over supervision to my husband so that I could escape upstairs to decompress. I am grateful for that option too.
Each day will have a different path but a similar routine. We have a volcano to make. We will use all the tools we can; the packs, the virtual zoo/museum/landmark tours, YouTube lessons, computer games, listening to each other, dancing around the kitchen, watching TV for fun, deciding to blow off learning and accidentally learning properly instead.
This is about keeping going and not stopping. We will garden, I will teach them the patterns and times of the seasons and how the earth works. We will think about soil temperature and planting intervals and they’ll accidentally have to do maths. We will learn about ecology and ecosystems and accidentally learn biology. We will give each other space when it’s needed and accidentally learn to respect each others’ boundaries.
I will minimise how much I look at social media and try to focus on the good that is being shared. I will resist my urge to join in the justifiable complaining because it is not practical and becomes cyclical. I will recognise that I am struggling to keep on top of replying to emails, and I won’t beat myself up for that.
We are going to let our interests guide things as much as possible. I’m lucky that my children share my interest in nature. We will count birds, we will find beetles, we will engage with the world as it is. We will eat together and laugh and we will remember that we are doing all of this to protect our most vulnerable. We will make our own routines and through those patterns we will feel connected.
By Florence Neville
Regular Autism HWB readers will know how much I need routine; so it was inevitable that I would be planning my household’s daily structure long before the schools closed. For me, that structure is one strategy that helps me hold back the waves of panic that otherwise threatens to overwhelm me.
Our day now starts at 7am – although so far, either myself or Simon (my husband) have got up long before the alarm, driven by ingrained routine or anxiety. Whoever is up first potters around downstairs opening curtains, stretching out a kinked back and setting the table for breakfast. Then we wake our teenage daughters up, handing them phones as motivation to open their sleepy eyes and reminding them to be downstairs in half an hour.
We are all washed and dressed, with the washing-up and vacuuming done and the dog walked, ready for work at 9am. The girls do 3 forty-five minute study sessions each, Simon works from home, I get on with making bread, kombucha, kefir, cheese etc. I used to regard these jobs as boring, now I find them soothing. Armed with a face mask and surgical gloves I am also on call to deliver presciptions around the village some mornings when the local pharmacy (where I used to work) struggles with the increased workload.
The afternoons are unstructured. In the UK it has been gloriously sunny since Saturday and so Simon and I have walked the dog for longer distances and the girls have been out running across the fields. Our village is quiet and each day we see fewer people out and about as the pubs, cafe and charity shop each closed their doors for the forseeable future. Today, as I write this, my daughters are in the garden letting off steam by practising kickboxing. It’s painful to even watch, one has a black belt and the sound of her feet hitting the kickpad ricochets off the buildings!
I am exceptionally lucky to have a self-motivated family. We manage not to feel overcrowded in our 65 sq m home, partly because we have shared interests. When it rains we read, drink endless cups of tea, play board games, scroll our phones, bake biscuits. There are apparently one or two 80s and 90s movies left that the girls still haven’t seen so that’s a good goal to rectify by the time school re-opens…
And then, by 6.30pm, our pre-lockdown routine is back on track. Supper, washing-up, room tidying and getting ready for bed before TV at 8pm (we are currently watching Firefly – a treat for me and Simon to rewatch and share with the girls.) As long as I manage not to check social media for one last time before bed I can almost forget what’s going on outside and get a sound night’s sleep.
Along with Flo, Rhi Lloyd-Williams is a co-founder of Autism HWB. She is also a writer, poet, parent, playwright, blogger and all round good egg. She writes about autism on her website AutistRhi.com and you can find out more about her play, The Duck, at Autact.co.uk