Parents around the world are starting to celebrate. The summer holidays are drawing to a close. We’ve all made it through 5 whole weeks, and in 10 days time the kids will be back at school! Yet I, for one, can’t help but feel a little sad.
Before the holidays began I was feeling quite the opposite.
Most parents scratch their heads, wondering how they’re going to keep their little ones entertained for the summer break. For some it becomes one long procession of kids clubs, days out to the beach, a holiday abroad, day trips, tennis club, football club, sailing, cinema, and whatever other activities you can cram into their time off from school that they’re interested in.
For us, the holidays are quite different. There are no sports clubs, few places we can go for a day trip, and certainly no holiday abroad (the joys of an airport isn’t an experience we’re brave enough to put Jude or Tommy through just yet).
Trying to meet both Tommy and Jude’s needs across a weekend, spending 2 whole days at home together, has been increasingly difficult this year. If that was hard what were we going to do for 7 weeks?
We were about to have 2 autistic boys at home, 24-7, who really struggle to be around each other.
It seemed like mission impossible. Somehow we were going to have to find a way to keep them apart every day in order to survive.
I needn’t have worried.
This summer has been pretty great.
So great in fact that I don’t want it to end.
1. They’ve loved being able to play in the garden
Keeping Jude and Tommy entertained all day long can be pretty difficult. Jude’s difficulties mean that the usual summer day trips families get to enjoy aren’t an option as they’d be far too stressful for him.
So when the weather is good, spending time in the garden is the perfect solution for them. They get to run around freely with no restrictions about where they can or can’t go. It’s safe, quiet and doesn’t have the sensory overload from other children you might find going to the park.
There are lots of different textures for them to explore; grass, soil, stones, water. Both boys love sensory play.
For Jude, there’s enough space for him to play in without feeling overcrowded by Tommy, and whatever it is he is getting up to.
2. They’ve loved playing in water – together!
One thing Jude and Tommy do have in common is their love of water. So whenever the sun does come out we fill up the paddling pool and they’re happy for the rest of the day.
Tommy will spend hours in there, splashing the water out of the pool, soaking anyone who comes within his range. In his mind, any pool of water is there to be emptied by his constant thrashing. This behaviour works just fine in the paddling pool and the garden, the fact he also does it in the bath is a different story!
Jude is constantly in and out, dependant on how long he can put up with being that close to Tommy. He’ll run off, watch for a while, then once he’s built up enough confidence he’ll come and get back in. Seeing him negotiate the exact moment to get in, balancing his desire to play in the water, against the fear/excitement of the close interaction with Tommy, is fascinating to watch.
The best thing about their time in the paddling pool is that it’s helping to build up their level of interaction with each other.
In every other environment Jude spends his time trying to avoid Tommy. in the water it’s as if his level of tolerance is multiplied by 10. There’s glimpses of them watching what the other is doing and laughing. Actually splashing each other on purpose and laughing.
When Jude gets in he’ll gently try to push Tommy around to create more space, but always with a smile on his face. On a few occasions when it’s got too much for Jude and he’s made a dash for it Tommy has gotten upset and tried to drag him back in.
To actually see them interacting and playing together, even though it may only be for a minute or two, is amazing. Something we’ve been waiting 4 years for.
3. Going out for a walk is now something we can do – and they love it!
Going for a walk with Tommy and Jude has never been easy. For the last 2 years, it’s not been possible with Jude other than in a pram, but this summer we’ve managed to change that. Thanks to our success with the introduction of Jude wearing a rucksack whenever we go for a walk, we’ve been able to get out most days and walk along the river as much as possible.
It’s a simple, fun activity that all of the family can enjoy together. It’s great exercise, and watching the boats sail along the river is so peaceful.
The river does present a few challenges. There’s a stretch where there’s no wall between us and the water where we have to be on red alert. For Jude and Tommy the river appears to be one huge paddling pool, so they don’t understand why they can’t just jump in.
No matter how many times you try and explain, each time we go past they’ll make a run for it.
Unable to get into the water himself, Tommy has now resorted to throwing any object he can get his hands on into the water instead. Last week it was his drink cup and some food, all the while in hysterics of laughter.
Regardless, the fact we’re now out walking, most of the time without any upset, has made the last 6 weeks even more enjoyable. It’s an escape from the house, a change of scenes, and a chance for them to explore.
4. No school = no rush
Mornings are not a good time for Jude. He rarely ever makes it to school before 10am, a consequence of his late nights and irregular sleeping patterns. Most mornings we have to drag him out of bed, get him dressed and try and make him eat within 10-15 minutes. It’s not an ideal start to his day
With no school, there’s no rush to get out of bed once he wakes up. Some mornings he’s like a teenager, waking up around 9:30, and not coming downstairs before 11. This may not be a particularly good habit to get into, but the difference in his mood is so apparent. Rarely this summer has he woken up upset, a regular occurrence during school time.
Taking his time upstairs means Jude gets to spend the first hour of his day in a more relaxed state. When he’s rushed out of bed for school, he’s brought downstairs where Tommy, who’s been up for 2 hours already, is running around at 100mph. We can all be a bit touchy and unsociable in the mornings, especially if we’ve not had a good sleep, so I totally understand how he feels. It’s trying to get the balance right between rushing him around in the morning, and allowing him to get enough sleep.
5. There’s been less self-harming!
The result of the all of the above has been a significant reduction in the amount of self-harming Jude has been doing.
This end result has been the main factor in making this summer a great one.
Instead of feeling constantly on edge and living in fear that this happy mood could end any minute, we’ve managed to relax more and actually enjoy each day. There’s been the odd bad day, where the meltdowns have taken over, and it probably still happens on average 2-3 times a day, but the difference to 6 weeks ago has been incredible.
When it has happened, the length of time it lasts before Jude has been able to snap out of it is much less. It’s probably only taking up 20 -30 minutes of his day at the moment, when on the worst days it has previously been around 5-6 hours.
Being able to see Jude so much less anxious, less prone to explode at any given minute, has enabled our family to really enjoy the summer.
It’s meant that Tommy has been less restricted. We’ve not had to constantly drag him away from whatever he’s doing in order to help Jude calm down. It’s enabled them to develop more of a relationship together as Jude has relaxed more around Tommy. The less Jude self-harms in front of Tommy, the more Tommy is enjoying being around his brother too.
So right now, my biggest fear is the summer ending. All this progress has helped create a happy, positive atmosphere at home. Seeing both Tommy and Jude so much happier has lit up my world, but it’s tempered by the fear that it might all change again once it’s time to go back to school.
Questions are swirling around in my head.
Once Jude has to deal with the school routine again, changing his classroom, the noise and unpredictability of the school environment, how will he react?
Once the cold, wet days return and there’s less opportunity for them both to play outside and do what they love, how will that affect them?
What can we do to make things better?
Should Jude even go back to school?
Would living in a warmer country make all of our lives easier?
Right now I don’t have the answers.
So I’m going to enjoy the last few days of summer, and do everything I can to ensure this improved mood carries over into September and beyond.