This week I introduced Elizabeth to the idea of Self-directed time.
Elizabeth has been finding things very difficult over the Summer months. I usually make huge efforts to keep up our loose schedule through the holidays (even keeping our normal routine up until Christmas Eve sometimes in order to try and maintain ‘normality’) however this Summer the weather has been absolutely beautiful and the children are older, and they understand that all the other children have finished School for Summer and they want to finish their learning and be free like the other kids.
I’ve tried explaining to them that with only doing about 5 hours ‘School’ each a week anyway, they are already pretty Free! However it just didn’t cut it and I got lots of hands on hips, hair flicking and raised voices but they did manage reasoned responses eventually so against my better judgement I agreed. And BOY! was that a mistake!
Over the Summer I used the tutoring money to do some jobs in the house (mostly for the kids’ benefit like getting shelves put up in their play room and garage for storage) and I used the time to sort out the toys, the craft and the resources and learning area. Whilst I was doing this the kids were playing out and having friends over and generally being ‘Free’ with a capital ‘F’ as they requested. They got tans, they got dirty, they fell out, they made up again, they fell over and they go-karted, biked, splashed, bounced and generally had a whale of a time but Elizabeth’s behaviour has been getting progressively worse. She copes less well socially each time she plays on the cul-de-sac. She takes longer to recover from spats. Tonight she is crying in her room because the neighbour’s kid bent her arm backwards and she is afraid to go out and play now. Where a neuro-typical kid shouts “I’m telling on you!” Elizabeth weeps and shakes and sobs. It is hard to see and harder to deal with. Being sociable to Elizabeth is like a high-powered, high-pressured job would be to us. Complete with 3 hour commute. She just can’t do it without burning out. I try and limit the time she spends outside by encouraging her into the back garden or into the house but the other children call that being ‘grounded’ and she knows you have to be naughty to be grounded so my “Come and play in the garden” or “Come and help me make tea” is met with screams and tears and “WHY am I grounded?! I’ve done nothing wrong?!!!” And of course she is right, she has done nothing wrong. She is awake in the night, unable to sleep because she is worrying about social issues (who said what to whom and what did they mean and what should she have done and why did she get told off?) and she is always on the verge of a melt-down so the slightest thing sends her cascading down a helter-skelter of panic and screaming, anxiety and hysteria.
When the rain started mid July I was so happy! They played out in the thunderstorms and got sopping wet through dancing in the middle of the street in the rain and I smiled because they are beautiful in the rain, but also because the end of Summer is here and I can direct Elizabeth’s time a little better and her anxiety levels will quickly decrease.
The other morning she was telling me she can’t sleep at night and was describing symptoms of anxiety and I told her that she needed to direct her time more wisely. I explained that if she was a small child I would have her on a very tight schedule and she would know what she was doing and when…but that she was too old for that now and she must choose what she will do with her time. I came up with the idea of making a ‘timetable’ and laminating it. I gave her post-it notes and told her she could fix them where she wanted. Here is what she did:
You will notice the time slots clearly say “ish”! 🙂 that’s because we had quite a long chat about this not being set in stone. It is her plans for the week, but things can be moved around. I might be late making lunch or tea, Oona might wake from her nap early or late meaning things have to move around…and that is OKAY. It is OKAY! So I reflected this by putting 9-10 ish, 10-12 ish… this is also underlined by the fact that she has post-it notes. The little green squares with a heart and M on are times she has decided I have to sit down and hug her tightly. She has time for hugs in the day, if I am sat down and she wants to come sit next to me she can always do that by herself but she wanted them on the chart…so obviously she really values that. Today I was cleaning up after lunch and she had to set off for Grandma’s in five minutes but her chart said it was time for a hug! I had to give her a very quick squeeze and tell her to go move the post-it!
I don’t know if this will work, but I know we have to try these things.
High Functioning Autism is not easy. She is really bright. She understands so much, but what she doesn’t understand is the cause of so much heartache! And she can’t explain in words.