He’s my Favourite, You’d Think, Right?

Countdown!

SEVEN SCHOOL DAYS until the Summer Holidays begin πŸ™‚πŸ™ƒ

The kids’ll GO WILD on life across the next 2 months – recharging on relationships and fun experiences, sunshine and no school work!! FAMILY TIME 😍

We’ve been taking swimming lessons weekly for months; a Spanish, Water Park holiday with Daddy, firmly in mind. β˜€οΈπŸ˜ŽπŸ’¦

Our 9 year old is really getting into running too and is already mapping out 5k park runs at the weekends, across some favourite northern cities, with his Step-Dad. His 2-years younger sister is desperate to be in on the action!

On the way to school in the car this week, Summer-time suggestions abound: 

PLEASE can we go to the beach?!!… Legoland…Go-Ape…Sea-life?”

…not forgetting the BIG adventure to Spain (for the first time) by aeroplane (for the first time)…

…sleeping in late, uninterrupted children’s television, water fights in the garden, meeting up with cousins/ best friends, soft play, pub meals, baking, Summer Clubs, new water-sports to try, City day-trips, Blackpool Tower!

But our Awesomely Aspergers boy, Caleb, is sort of caught between excitement and dread. For every suggestion made by his brother and sister this week, I watched him sink further and further down his car seat, face setting in stubborn opposition πŸ™ˆ

On the one hand, Caleb can’t wait to finish with school for a few weeks and be in the comfort of home…be done with work pressure and authority figures, swap his school uniform for Pjs until 11am, and wind down with his tablet! But he already anticipates his siblings will wind him up. I guess he represents your typical pre-teenager up to this point!

But add to this some bigger perceived challenges of venturing OUT; on top of new surroundings and broken routine – the beach involves the feeling of sand on skin; struggling to coordinate yourself to play watersports (and being highly suspicious little bro made this suggestion JUST to annoy you!); physical exertion in general too draining (unless it’s Football – albeit you opted out of watching the Euro Final when offered; and when playing, you’ve recently begun tackling like a rugby player)… bored of the park… sea-life – meh! …finding the sun too bright, longer car journeys too restrictive…and only just coming round to the idea of venturing abroad, mainly because your favourite car blogger (EVERRRR!) just did a road trip around Europe and Dad has promised free Icecream on tap!

On the surface it could look like I have the biggest soft spot for Caleb. Over-protective, nurturing preparation for activities, supportive and reassuring, taking up hours of my time and thought life.

The truth is I absolutely adore each one of my 4 children, and I feel keenly the impact of supporting Caleb on the other children at times, both in terms of them having to deal with a big brothers’ negative headset, anxiety or withdrawal on the lead up to their most fun times: What a dampener! …or the reduced attention they get from me as I try to coach Caleb through each day.

Don’t get me wrong, I do actually think he’s ACE. So loving. Great to relax and chat with. So compassionate and nurturing, especially with his baby sister…very keen to protect and see justice ….and so fun-filled when he’s chilled!
So VERY proud.


But daily EFFORT to support Caleb, to access what his siblings easily do, with gratitude… That’s not favouring. That’s not taking extra pleasure in him.

What that is is sheer commitment. Investment. Often exhausting. Sometimes upsetting. Rarely registered by him.

It is determinedly LOVING DEEPLY, without recognition. And choosing the challenges worth tackling, and letting other things go for now.

It’s trying to enable in a way that builds Caleb up and invests in him, and doesn’t hurt or ridicule him. (I hate sarcasm when it’s directed in conflict. Fact.)


The ironic thing is, despite complaining, Caleb always has an amazing time. In-the-moment, he loves life! But this requires careful handling of the day by supportive adults, and resisting the urge to just do what Caleb wants for an ‘easy’ life, and  neither bullying him along in haste.
…An added frustration, too, is that no matter how much of a brilliant time Caleb does have, if he considers the activity to be outside of his named interests, chances are he will reflect back on it as mediocre! So the extra support invested in him is rarely appreciated on his part either. He just doesn’t see it. He sees only his thoughts.

Once we took a trip to Disneyland, when Caleb was about 6 years old. Caleb never stopped laughing and  simply loved every moment. But looking back, shortly afterwards, he would tell you he didn’t enjoy it all that much. Today he’d have you believe it was practically torturous!


So why bother?
Well we do bother because …

  1. We have 4 children who I want to enjoy life to the fullest and give every opportunity to. Being one of 4, Caleb has to learn to be one part of a shared journey
  2. Caleb is now relaxed and comfortable during activities he once found impossible… only yesterday offering to go pick up some groceries on his own from the local shop, riding a bike, enjoying showers, eating the same food as the rest of the family, throwing himself into swimming lessons …
  3. I have a million photos that capture Caleb’s sheer JOY in the midst of the experiences he has had. I hope one day, he may not register the effort we put in to supporting him, but he will look back on his childhood experiences with happiness.

In the meantime, we also try to give Caleb ‘out’ time too. Alone time. Recharge time. Comfort zone time. His agenda time. Away from siblings time!

And I keep trying to learn from other people’s experiences and wisdom, researching Aspergers… So that I stop taking Caleb’s outlook as a personal criticism of the family life we are championing , and instead grasp not only how he views the world, but how lots of likeminded people do…where discomfort lies, how that can manifest in behaviour …. And keep trying to understand.

To respect. To accept his ways.

But equally to love and encourage him onwards.
To help ENABLE Caleb to ENGAGE with life in all its fullness. And feel content with himself, tolerant of others, and capable of thinking BIG and reaching his dreams.

Aspergers AND Empathetic ?!!

It’s been a winding road to diagnosis! One big thing at the beginning that used to REALLY confuse me, and fuelled a no-way-is-Caleb-autistic belief – was that I had somehow taken on board, at some point in my life, the assumption that autism equated to a lack of emotional connection and empathy. People on this spectrum would struggle to show affection physically, to develop emotional attachments …and with a lack of eye contact too, would even be described by some experts as ‘distant loners’ or ‘head over heart decision makers’.

With this in mind, CALEB simply could NOT be autistic. NO WAY JOSE! This little boy is the MOST affectionate child on earth!

I remember on the first day of his school life, how Caleb hugged a (slightly taken aback) boy from his class at the end of the day, and called out cheerfully “I love you!” to another.


Full to bursting with a hunger to ‘connect’ with people, Caleb remains super tactile and ready to engage with anyone identified to him as a friend. There are no social nerves.

Yes, at the back of my mind grew a nagging inkling that this innocent affection was being outgrown by Caleb’s peers, that his energy was sometimes received as overbearing; Caleb wasn’t picking up on any ‘invasion’ of peoples’ personal space. Gender or age didn’t come into it either. Every friendship was special. Everyone was a potential best friend.

Well, so long as you didn’t do something unfair or unkind! Caleb’s desire to protect people and stand up for justice, was – and still is – VAST. As such, I have found his perspectives and decision making to be enormously emotionally charged too. 

For a long time I felt nothing but pride for Caleb for all of the above – for not being socially conditioned. For being a wonderful role model to us all! How on earth could love, affection, integrity and enthusiasm be red-flag signs of a developmental problem?

When it comes to family, Caleb has always loved his younger brother and sisters VERY deeply too, showing extreme devotion. He welcomed each into the world with blatant adoration, and without a whiff of jealousy. If anything, it was as though he OVERLY empathised with their feelings. If I was to withhold a treat from Caleb’s younger brother because of naughty behaviour, for example, it could be Caleb’s favourite treat in the world but he would stubbornly refuse it too. It would upset him just as much as the tantruming toddler, but tears of solidarity would fall. Trying to get Caleb to understand that this was in fact a loving act on my part, and a consequence of a bad choice of behaviour, was overridden by his pain at seeing them upset. And his feelings would long continue after his toddler brother had forgotten about it and moved on happily with his day! When Caleb thinks you’ve been unfair, it’s a BIG DEAL. 

Today, with a 10 month old baby sister well loved by ALL the family, it is still most often Caleb who is first to visit her when she calls out from the cot in a morning, to rush to her at the first sound of tears. And his URGENCY to safeguard her during the day to day seems as great as a true emergency would feel to me.  


He will play for hours without tiring, at her level, mirroring my common words and interactions, delighting in her giggles. He never shows anger towards her. Ever.

And yet, as his 7 year old sister and 9 year old brother have grown and developed into independent thinkers, with their own game plans, ideas, hobbies and shared opinions… So it has become harder for Caleb to find common ground in every day play. Should you wish to take play in a different direction, Caleb is quick to conclude that you are deliberately trying to sabotage the ‘good time’ you have been having together, otherwise SURELY you’d  be able to see that his idea is far superior! “Mum! They are spoiling it on purpose !!”

Yes! … Playful, emotionally connected, loyal, protective, physically affectionate, cheerful , energetic… ABSOLUTELY.

BUT patient? A team player? A good listener? The ability to understand another’s differing point of view during shared activity, or to follow an agenda that doesn’t interest him?… Not so much!

Caleb takes things very personally. If you disagree, debate usually leads him to suspect you are trying to upset him on purpose! That by extension you are belittling him and forcing your ideas on him. He feels frustration keenly, but struggles to recognise the signs of these same feelings in OTHERS.

I am very proud, as Caleb has matured in recent years, to see him work hard to be a member of a team, to wait his turn and to participate in activities he wouldn’t have chosen, to accept differing opinions. His mantra is “Let’s agree to disagree!”. I only hope this learned behaviour, heavily supported by some fantastic teacher role models in key stage 2 – and of course family input – will allow another side of empathy to develop.

In the meantime – Caleb feels he has failed his 9 and 7 year old siblings, for not convincing them of the merits of his No1 interests!!! πŸ˜†πŸ˜œ …But God has given him a NEW BABY SISTER!! 😍 So! Poppy may have rejected Mercedes cars for BeyoncΓ© and street dance, and Josh may not support Manchester United, or display his Lego in the way his big bro chooses to…

But Caleb has HIGH HOPES that this time, with baby Matilda, he might just be able to make a disciple of her!