It all started so well, with the disco definitely over and the sun shining. We were optimistic enough to be able to ignore the fact that neither the hot or cold taps in the sink yielded water, of any temperature and that the floor to breakfast was audibly tacky! We set off cheerful and confident then had to back track a bit as we were on the wrong side of the river and ran out of path. Everything was pretty soggy and we noticed and astonishing number of huge black slugs, I must remember to look up and find out more about them.
The scenery is huge, yes flat and very different from the Surrey hills where I live but the views go for miles, the fields are filled with potatoes and wheat (maybe barley?) and the walking is easy. We passed a small wind farm and discussed the opposing views, we passed barges and boats and we wondered about mooring and maintenance and generally it was all going very well. We found a small village shop and bought food for lunch and then the views disappeared and the rain came down. We ate cold pork pie and decided the tuna fish and cucumber sandwich was a mistake and moved on to chocolate …
Walking along the hundred foot wash we had to use the road as the footpath was impassable and kept having to jump into the ditch as cars rushed past at speed. The afternoon wore on and the rain continued. There was no question of giving up , we had to be in Ely by 4 to meet a group of parents but the company definitely kept the spirits up. What may have seemed meaningless jokes and nonsense to others kept Tom and I amused for the last couple of hours as we steadily got wetter and colder.
We found the bed and breakfast booked for the night and stood ringing the bell. When the door opened the hostess looked absolutely appalled and we noticed the cream carpet, white walls and narrow hall lined with fragile ornaments. It was clear we were not quite what was expected.
I explained that really it was only me staying but could we change into dry clothes before a meeting. We were invited to remove our boots and socks before entering, which was reasonable enough but in a small space with hands and fingers numb it takes ages and we had to carefully avoid catching each other’s eye or helpless giggles would have ensued. The air of disapproval was profound, I wiped a muddy scuff mark off the wall with my wet sleeve so fast I hoped she thought she was seeing things and held my breath as Tom turned narrowly missing china ladies with his rucksack. We were given green towels to use and asked not to use the white ones in the room and then we were in. Everything in the room was also white…how stressful but elegant!
5 minutes later we were out and arrived to meet parents at the Old Dispensary where the welcome was a striking contrast. Hot drinks, biscuits, chairs and huge smiles and our spirits lifted once more. Tom took off to catch the train back to London, his company has been amazing and I relish the fact that the bed and breakfast lady probably thinks I have a toy boy!
The group was made up of staff from the local special school, speech and language therapists, parents, a music therapist, someone who works with children on the spectrum at home and a couple of gentleman who were driving. The conversation and discussions were open and fascinating. We thought through chunking up the holidays into bite sized portions, adding drawn timetables to give structure, coping with adding movement breaks into persistent iPad use and drawing the number of sleeps as a series of beds to show time passing. Of course it is easy to give advice, it is putting it into place that is so much harder but the opportunity to hear the realities of living with autism, to discuss ways forward that each family can adjust makes good sense and I am learning a lot.
There is a movement afoot to start an autism hub in Ely that focuses on getting practical support and useful information to parents early and quickly. It was great to have the speech therapy service there keen to join and to think through how such a hub might be able to provide a space for intensive groups in the holidays to support parents and their children in developing communication. I feel very fortunate that so many people gave up their Sunday afternoon to meet me and share ideas. Thank you it has given me so much to think about. By 6.30 we had to leave but with all hands on deck the room was cleared and the next booking for the hall could pile in.
I was invited to supper with Rachel whose motivation and interest had pulled the previous meeting together and got it organised quickly and at the end of term. No mean feat! I was hesitantly offered a lift, the concern being that I might feel I was cheating by not walking, honestly a car never seemed more attractive and I am not proud! We arrived at Rachel’s house where her husband had valiantly been barbecuing in the rain and sat down to a delicious meal and more conversation.
Rachel’s brother Joe has autism, he understands a lot but does not speak spontaneously. He has an additional diagnosis of verbal dyspraxia and the deep concern to get him talking was tangible. This reflects our urgent and fundamental drive to communicate and share interaction, it doesn’t go away and it is so confusing to find different attitudes to oral motor programmes and work on articulation. Such programmes are available and the hope is that if they were accessed and intensively applied that spontaneous social communication with speech would follow.
We thought about using intensive interaction therapy to build the fundamentals of communication and shared interaction, how to reduce direct questions as dependence on prompting is a major issue for Joe, how to increase modelling and how to fill his day with practical tasks that give him pride in his achievements and something to communicate about. We covered a great deal of ground and much of the message was extremely difficult, there is no quick fix to this problem and the way forward is going to require a lot of work over time. Joe has an incredibly supportive family but this doesn’t mean that it’s easy. All the while Joe sat with us at the table, ate a second tea, and behaved beautifully. What a good boy, he is much loved and approved by his family. Thank you for welcoming me to your home Rachel.
I returned to the bed and breakfast eyeing up my boots by the door, still soaking wet but felt I had to abandon them to their fate. A hot bath and a long soak followed. It has been such an interesting day, there is so much to think through…at 11 pm I decided that on balance it was reasonable to think an offer to dry the boots would have been forthcoming but as it clearly wasn’t it would be OK for me to put them on the towel rail in the bathroom. I sneaked downstairs once more, leapt out of my skin to find someone else also creeping about with boots only to find it was my own reflection in a mirrored wall and carried my boots aloft. It took only 5 minutes to rinse off the worst evidence of the day, line the heater with strips of loo paper and balance the boots in the perfect position to dry. It took a further 30 minutes to wash away all evidence of mud, splashes, excessive use of small sink etc!
More rain is forecast I think I will have to buy a new waterproof and will dream of essential features for packamacs …