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

Countdown!

SEVEN SCHOOL DAYS until the Summer Holidays begin 🙂🙃

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. ☀️😎💦

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 🙈

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.

Embracing Change, Naming the Challenge, and Love is All you Need!

Following on from my ‘lack of empathy’ thoughts in a previous blog, there’s this other Aspergers trait I’d once blanket-accepted too, which has become less and less of an issue for us;

That CHANGE is always going to be a MEGA TOUGH mountain for Caleb.

But no. Not really. You see, I now realise change wasn’t the problem, my approach was, and the fear of the challenge  …

Yes! Caleb loves, loves, LOVES his routines. And there’s comfort in the detail and order!

He will: Arrange clean clothes for the day ahead on the same spot of the bedroom floor, ready to dress in the same, given order. He will not put on his socks before his t-shirt! He prefers not to dress before breakfast. The bedroom curtains are only opened once all his morning tasks are complete. AND he’s actually disappointed with himself if he sleeps in past the usual time of rising. To lie-in? Yuk!

ANY house rule we have for the morning, needs to be fully justified or at least Caleb needs to be CERTAIN I think it’s absolutely necessary, before it will become part of his routine. On the spot – ‘BECAUSE I’M THE MUM AND I SAY SO!!’ –  Not Cool, Mum!

And yet, Caleb also LOVES to experiment with different food combinations from the cupboard for breakfast, wear a new top, listen to a new CD, break apart and create a new Lego model, try a new game on his tablet… a brand of toy, remarketed, brings fresh interest; a new model of car to study – such ‘upgrades’ are exciting news!

For Caleb, new experiences and surroundings, however, are approached much more cautiously. I wonder though, is it actually the ‘change’ itself, or is the anxiety more about things being ‘unexpected’ ? 

Caleb may be much more alert than others to a new environment, and safety-conscious, but so long as his senses are not overloaded (eg. A funfair), then the years have lead him to enjoy and invite a range of new activities, and an acceptance and tolerance of new routines and surroundings, despite any initial discomfort.

Caleb surprised us all by giving gliding a go, aged 10! Totally his choice. ‘No way!’ was his first thought. But by the time the day came to go and watch, he ended up asking to do it!

  • He mastered heights at Go-Ape, even the zip wire!
  • Go-karting (bit tough, the vibrations!)
  • Laser quest,  in the dark!
  • A trip enclosed and suspended on the London Eye
  • The crowds of Wembley stadium, to watch England play.

All things we’d have avoided like the plague, once upon a time!

When Caleb was younger he found shopping centres hard. He has  never had a big ‘meltdown’, but he’d TOO-cheerfully ask “Shall we go now Mum? Shall we go home?” every five seconds. No, we didn’t stop going! And today there’s no problem at all. No fear.

I also remember the worry over a Premier Inn bed, the first time we visited one. We made the decision then, to keep using the same hotel so that the adventure might be new – the destination – but Caleb now finds Premiere Inn and the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet a second home. We’ve learnt that having things that are familiar in the mix is key, family relationships constant, and time to process the unexpected… Now Caleb is happy at any hotel, because he makes the connection. This is family time.

I once wanted to protect Caleb from difficult feelings. But now he is learning to name them and to manage them. Change is inevitable. That’s life. New experiences can make life richer, friendships broaden , perspectives widen, and new interests and skills can begin and develop .

Practically we try to:

  1. Let him know details in advance of the event/change
  2. Listen to any outpouring of negatives without shutting the conversation down (patience!)
  3. Allow as many of the smaller routines and relationships to stay constant
  4. Keep calm and be upbeat without ‘bullying’ him along – acknowledge his feelings and when it’s tough… Caleb has picked up on this script and now uses it on me, when I’m stressing …“I understand your feelings Mum, but…” Haha! I’m being coached!

So. He is going to be ok.

Until recently Caleb had decided he would never travel out of the uk when an adult. But then he watched blog Supercars of London, and the annual road trip taken around Europe …. And decided he will drive baby Matilda on similar trips around the world when she’s older!

I don’t need to worry.

This week Caleb began at a new school. His new uniform is itchy and the tie restrictive, the teacher suggested he read for 15 minutes, 3 times a week, instead of 10 pages each time, like at his old school… And he’s not allowed to loop his ‘y’s in handwriting any more!

But do you know what? He’s happy. He feels accepted. Every child in his class is ‘a friend’ …

And he’s positive. Despite the challenges of change. It’s week one and he’s already throwing himself into it. Because he has secure relationships. And a history of new life experiences. And self awareness of what he finds tough, what he can control, and what he can’t. And he accepts it that way and moves forward, through the challenge.

So proud of you CALEB. Of each of our children. YOU are VERY lucky to have such loving siblings. They play a big part in the normality within the new.

Everything is going to be A-okay. YOU’LL SEE