Monday, 23 June 2014

I Must Be Dreaming A LOT

For Spectrumite Mum, it's not been plain sailing recently in a number of ways. First, Tori and I got virtually seasick talking boating analogies for our forthcoming feature on 'Conversation Rivers'. But don't worry dear reader (not that you were), as we've spotted dry land and I'm pleased to say that the idea is now looking like a pretty good one and is nearly ready for Jo's marvellous graphics.

So that means that it's my idea, clearly...wink wink, etc.

Meanwhile, clearly I'm not dreaming Alec, so why the need to pinch me so much? Alec, always physical but never aggressive, has started to show he loves me A LOT by inflicting mild violence upon my person. The combination of not knowing his own strength coupled with an increased influx of testosterone has let to this rather unfortunate turn of events and I for one am not waiting around to see what'll happen when he's six foot four before I nip this one in the bud.

Does he do this with anyone else? Not until recently, no, but today I got the 'uh-oh' note in Alec's communication book. Alec had not been a good boy. Alec had not been a good boy? They didn't say that of course. Alec's school would never say something like that. They just said he'd been pinching a lot. That translates roughly as: "Woah were we happy to get HIM back on the bus this afternoon!"

Spectrumite Mum rolled up her sleeves and decided that Bobby's social skills would have to go on the back burner for a bit whilst I see to it that Alec doesn't get an ASBO before he's 12.

First things first and that's to make clear that I don't like it. This doesn't seem to work, the more I look cross the more he seems to think it's funny. Maybe he likes my reaction, I think, so I push his arms away and don't say anything. He thinks that's a game called 'Scrambled Arms' which involves reaching mum's neck before she can put his arms down. Not for the first time, the famous clip in which Emu attacks Michael Parkinson springs to mind.

So none of that's worked and meanwhile I'm starting to feel less like spending time with my little attacker. Of course I love him, but when every hug turns into a hair pull or a pinch, it's rather wearing. And I'm not one of those mums who believes that I've got a kid with autism therefore I become a human punchbag. No way. One of my basics is keeping Alec safe; a close second is keeping everyone around him safe, too. Starting with me.

I've done the little visual guide that you can see here. There are no red lines through anything to indicate 'not allowed'. What the heck does that mean when you're Alec? I try my best to make sure that nothing can be misinterpreted. Instead of telling him - all those words to understand - that great reaction!
- I'm going to show him this.

Tori suggested that I gave him something squashy to play with instead of, er me. So he's squeezing Play Doh at the moment and seems to be enjoying it a lot.

Will let you know how I get on. In the meantime, I've adopted the emergency procedure, which I head back to whenever the kids are causing extra strain:

1) Ease up on self. Do less.
2) Get Dad to read Alec's bedtime story.
3) Focus on all the things Alec does right
4) Remind self that I can't possibly imagine how different his brain is to mine
5) Tell self that phases don't last
6) Hit the alcohol

ps Text talk with Tim, our guy in the office who has autism:
Me: "Pointless is cancelled for Wimbledon - having an autistic moment."
Tim: "Hi Debby you ok me ok thing best from Wimbledon Wombles tennis boring love Tim xxx"

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Are We Up the Creek Without a Paddle?

It's been a busy day of analogies to do with boats and oars (all will become clear) and the feature that Tori and I have been writing has hit the 'barking mad' stage.

The barking mad stage is the bit in between us thinking we have a helluva great idea and and the finished feature.

We're at the bit inbetween, where it's not yet clear whether or not this'll work. The initial concept is down on paper, it doesn't quite flow, it doesn't quite make sense and it's a toss up between whether this is going to end up as a work of genius or crash and burn, or in this case sink without trace.

Together, we're hardly Lennon and McCartney (allright Tori, you can be Lennon), but there is a kind of creative synergy when we work, if that doesn't sound too overblown and pompous (it does, doesn't it?). The ideas take on a life of their own and our confidence comes from thinking of it as neither her idea nor mine but a separate entity that needs to be worked on by both of us. Often we both have so much input that we can't remember whose idea was whose.

But if this sinks without trace, Tori, I'd just like you to know that I think this idea was yours.

The analogies that we're making are about communication and conversation, and the subject is so huge that we've decided to do a three-parter. That means that our particular analogy has got to 'hold water' (once you start thinking boats, your brain can't think of anything else) for a very long time indeedy.

"Keep rowing Tori, I think I see dry land!"

Tori's great at the 'bursting with ideas' stage. As a speech and language therapist, communication is her speciality and she knows what she wants to get across. Meanwhile I'm trying to sew words together, creating a story that's in tune with our general message, that's consistent and easy to follow. It's hard not to get tied up in knots (I've done it again - knot - geddit?!) as we lurch between metaphor and reality. We have to leave it several times and come back to it to get a fresh perspective.

What's less concerning is that however barking mad our idea happens to be, graphic designer Jo Perry will simply accept it as though we're completely normal. She's had everything thrown at her, has Jo. She's had to make advice into Christmas trees, Zebra crossings, ice-creams, planets, several beaches  and even an Indiana Jones movie (that was an indulgent move to get a Harrisson Ford pic in the magazine). You name it, she's drawn it.

Although Jo appears to be quite sane, she can't be really can she? She never says 'I'm sorry, you want a Tardis - why??' She just goes with it. More than that, she adds her own extras. On our DIY SPECIAL: How to A Build to Communication (which you can find in our Starter's Special), her attention to detail in the face of our barkingness is loitering on the insane. If you look at it, the entire feature looks like a set of flat pack instructions and no detail has been too great - down to the scattered nails and hammer with convincing shadows across the bottom of the page.

I think it's this detail that gives the impression that we really MEAN our ideas, we have really thought them through - and hopefully it takes you with us and you become immersed in our quirky little world.

Still, it has to be said that by the end of today, awash with the boat story, we both began to feel slightly seasick. So we rounded it off by trying out my new hair curling device thingy. The advantages of not working in an office...

Monday, 16 June 2014

And Now It's Time for the Main Feature...

It's been one of those days. I'm not a technophobe but it's taken me half an hour just to break into my own blog to write a new entry. It took a crow bar but I'm here.

I have also just mistakenly invited 2,000 people whom I scarcely know to join me on LinkedIn.

In the interests of reaching a wider audience with AuKids, I do need to get my head around this social networking business and information technology stuff.

I have got a big book on it which our marketing budget just about stretched to; I'm ready to get straight into it once I've figured out how to block the several million LinkedIn emails that are forming a nice back catalogue in AuKids' email account.

I'm on the computer this late because Alec thinks summer sun means night-time fun and until the moon comes up over Stockport he goes raving bonkers. Bobby, sharing his bunk bed, doesn't think much of this but unfortunately cannot play musical beds tonight because the spare bed awaits the  arrival of a friend on Friday. Bobby has taken to falling asleep in the study when Alec is going nuts (happy, wild nuts rather than nasty nuts) and then his dad somehow manages to replace him in the top bunk when everyone is asleep. Lately he's told us to inform him whilst he's being moved, as he's woken up feeling confused. I wake up feeling confused without that excuse.

Tomorrow Tori and I are with any luck going to crack on with our favourite part of AuKids, our very own feature written by us and just us.

WORK AND SMIRK: Debby and Tori, cartoon courtesy Periscope Studios Ltd

We do have a long list of ideas that we want to cover but a lot of them arise from just talking about autism, about the kids that Tori's agency supports, about my twins, about the adults we know. AuKids is the result of a passionate interest in autism, a love of looking beyond the simplistic veil of diagnosis and into the very heart of what it means to be autistic. Not just that, but knowing what it's like to live with autism, we are always looking to write something that parents will find truly meaningful.

Number one starting point is that we never talk about a 'problem' without addressing a 'solution'. I've ready plenty of magazines like that. A good old two-page whinge about how bad a situation is and just as you think you're getting to the good bit - what to do about it - it ends. So our premise is, don't start focusing on an issue if you can't arrive at some practical solutions, or at least be signposted to the next step.

Right from the start, Tori and I have always thought of our ideas in terms of visuals. This was partly because we wanted a magazine that looked exicting and appealling to read. Mostly though, it's because we're both visual thinkers. If we want to get a new idea across, we always think of it in terms of an analogy, something familiar. That way, people reading about something get a 'hook' that helps them to get their head around it. And yeh readers, you could no doubt get your heads around it anyway,  it's just that much quicker and easier to remember with an idea or image to think about.

Once we've come up with a theme, we work with the graphic designer to mould the feature around the graphics.

Of course, once you've dreamt up an image, it doesn't always work. Analogies can't always stretch as far as we'd like them to and occasionally we've been forced to admit to ourselves that we've got to ditch an idea despite the really cool cartoon because it just won't do what we want in terms of explaining something fully and clearly.

Our popular ice-cream sundae feature was the result of a chat about how autism isn't the 'spectrum' in the sense that people often believe it to be, with a low score at the bottom and a high score at the top, a line connecting the two with everyone falling between it. We felt that was entirely inadequate and that autism 'scores' could often be misread.

We started to talk about autism being more of a pick 'n' mix, with certain traits more prevalent than others depending on the individual, and traits changing over time in the same individual. From that, the ice-cream sundae feature grew. If you could 'see' the sundae in your head, you could remember the basics about autism. We had no idea when we wrote it that other people would find it so convenient, but it just seemed to make more sense to us.

There's no point in being a magazine that aims to make a very po-faced looking topic approachable without being prepared to explain things in a new way. We have loads of fun doing that, and many laugh out loud moments.

Our latest idea is to take some of our analogies and turn them into three dimensions in front of an audience.

Lots of people can talk about autism more technically than we can. Our challenge is to talk about autism more simply than anyone else. So the ice-cream sundae has become a demonstration and we have one or two more in the pipeline. Gradually we're building a following of people who want to hear us speak (or lark around, as is more often the case) and we want to show them something different. Something entertaining. Why not? Why do conferences have to be so very serious? You can learn whilst you're laughing, at least we think so.

If we didn't think so, we wouldn't have started up AuKids.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Spectrumite Dad Looks Forward to A Break. Well, Sort Of.

Spectrumite Dad is gearing up for a very chillaxing Father's Day.


Let's face it, despite breakfast in bed, which he'll eat whilst indulging in his weekly helping of the Andrew Marr Show, Spectrumite Dad will have to accept that Pinky and Perky (alias Bobby and Alec) are going to be no quieter on Father's Day than they usually are.

He will still be subjected to the familiar strains of a jazzed-up Three Blind Mice from Alec's keyboard roughly a thousand times a day, interspersed with a highly unseasonal Jingle Bells in Hip Hop style.

Alec's whoops and chirps are pretty much a constant feature at our house and Bobby's Pokemon chit-chat stops for noone. Even if there's noone in the room (like now for instance, when Bobby is in the bath), that's not necessarily a reason for Pokemon chat to stop. You don't have to know what's going on in Bobby's mind most of the time as there's a little telephone at the brain end with a wire heading straight to his mouth.

Anyway, Spectrumite Dad is like most dads, all he really wants is a quiet life. But like most dads, his chances of this are about as certain as the chances of England winning the World Cup against Germany after a penalty shoot out.

As I speak, Spectrumite Dad is cajoling Alec into brushing his teeth, a job that feels a bit like trying to tie your shoe laces blindfolded with gloves on. Alec has molars coming through and no way is anyone going anywhere near them. Dad has also given him a little squirt of Old Spice to make him smell nice before bed, a charming feature of the twins' routine although heaven knows why he does it.

Gavin's actual Father's Day will coincide with my actual Mother's Day, when we are  nowhere near the kids on a short visit to Edinburgh at the end of the month.

Here we will switch off the little control rooms in our heads, where decisions are made, forms completed, alerting signs of development or regression considered, jobs juggled.

For one weekend we get to remind ourselves that there was actually life before Bobby and Alec. Shopping trips on a Saturday. Spontaneous pub lunches. Impromptu pub crawls. By the way none of this actually happened, but the rose tinted specs are brilliant at embellishing our carefree past.

Freedom isn't anything fancy but the ability to squander time doing absolutely nothing is one that's certainly valuable when you're used to constantly planning. In my eyes, when bringing up our Spectrumites, it's invaluable. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

There Isn't A Right Time, But There Is A Good Time...

"So anyway mum about that new Pokemon X and Y game..."
This morning, I was forced to conduct a 12-point turn out of our driveway due to a post van parked in not such a sensible place behind me. I was doing this in an unfamiliar hire car which isn't fitted with Debby-proof maneuvering alert sounds and all the while Bobby was asking me something about installing Pokedex Pokebank or something similar.

We had roughly five minutes to get to school in the British summer sun (which does actually exist, it has proved this week) and the air-conditioning in my temporary tin can on wheels (which Gavin actually likes, he's on his own here) was making a horrendous noise and not appearing to actually do anything.

In other words, a classic case of neurotypical overload.

"You're stressed," observes Bobby, pointing out the obvious (but not to him so let's give him credit) and all the while adding to it by:

a) pointing it out and
b) asking me why I didn't get the garage guys to come and move the car for me and
c) going on about Pokedex Pokebank as if that's actually going to have a calming effect.

As I roll up to an unforgiving line of rush hour traffic, I decide to chat to Bobby about his all important timing.

"Bobby, you know when you're feeling a bit stressed about something and then I ask you to do something and I might ask you to hurry up. You know how your brain goes on overload and you feel even worse and you may explode? Well it's the same for me when you talk about Pokemon when I'm trying to get you to school in the morning. I just can't focus on what you're asking me to do. You see there's a right time and a right place for saying things, and this really isn't the right time. Can you think of when a good time would be?"

"When you're more relaxed?"

"Exactly! Yes, when I'm more relaxed."

Bobby waits until the car comes to a standstill by the traffic lights...

"So, I'd really like to download this Pokebank for my Pokemon and it works with the DS because..."

"Bobby, I'm still stressed!"

Choosing a Good Time Social Story

I guess he thought that because the car had stopped, my entire focus could be extended to him. Or else he thought that I'd probably agree to anything at this point, which is why he picks on me and not his dad when there are new things to be downloaded.

I pointed out that I think he needs a Social StoryTM about the right time to say things, so here it is - see right. I've been careful to refer to a 'good time' to ask me for things rather than a 'right time'. For a start, there is never a right time to ask me impossible questions about Pokemon software but I may just have to live with that.

Secondly, choosing a good time isn't really a black and white skill but requires an element of sensitive decision-making. There is no such thing as right and wrong here, but if Bobby can improve his chances of getting my attention then he should give it a shot without feeling anxious that he could be 'right' or 'wrong'. After all, I'm as guilty as he is of occasionally being way too excited about a new idea to notice that someone else is in the middle of something.

Will let you know if this does any the mean time, Bobby kindly brought in Mr Huff Puff to help me cool down on the journey into school.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Ever Had That Sinking Feeling?

It's 10.30pm and the fact that I haven't opened a bottle of wine is totally to my credit, having spent a full day in the company of Year 5 Outwood School on their school trip to Liverpool's Maritime Museum.

Excuse me one moment whilst I shut my husband up, who can be heard downstairs shouting at the TV (and England haven't even had a match yet)...

Reasons why I decided to accompany Bobby on his school trip:

1) They were off to see the Titanic exhibition and I was very interested in it
2) It's been a while since I did anything to re-establish my good name as a pillar of the community
3) His teachers are a lovely bunch and I was feeling altruistic

Things I didn't consider:

1) Twenty-eight neurotypical ten year olds (give or take a few).
2) Twenty-eight neurotypical ten year-olds on a coach
3) Twenty-eight neurotypical ten year-olds in a gift shop with limited spending money and no calculators to hand.

Myself and a little (no bother) group who'd been assigned to me started the morning at the back of the coach composing the next chart-topping hit based on our school trip.

Then Jahmahl, Bobby's mate, started adding rap terms such as 'chow', the girls started singing Katy Perry's Roar and the whole thing started to resemble a 21st century version of Kids From Fame.

"Did you show me pictures of the place beforehand?" asked Bobby, pointing out with the subtlety of a brick through the living room window that I'd failed to prepare him for this trip in the usual way. I used to make him picture stories but he's pretty laid back about it all these days. He just enjoys pointing out that if I ever wanted to promote myself as the Perfect Spectrumite Mum, the trade description people may have something to say about it.

Eventually we disembark and after roughly a year of trickling along Albert Dock and into the building, we are met by a fierce looking woman in Victorian costume who leads us to a quiet part of the museum in order to tell us of her first hand experience of being on the Titanic and surviving.

Uh-oh, I can see it happening. She's in full swing playing the part and although my eyes are focused on the back of my son's head I can clearly see that confusion is written all over his face. Bobby won't have fully registered what the heck is going on here. Anyone who acts without firstly announcing it in capital letters is likely to be taken at their word.

It's still fresh in my mind what happened in Year 2, when Bobby shouted "FIRE FIRE EVERYONE OUT!" after hearing about the Great Fire of London.

One of Bobby's mates knows him only too well. "She's ACTING Bobby, she's ACTING."

This Bobby accepts quite readily but then joins in the spirit of things a little too loudly and gets sharply reprimanded by her. Of course, every time she says something he has a little chirpy come-back, and he's not intending to be naughty, he just can't keep entirely quiet - and he's heading for big trouble when his teaching assistant takes the museum guide to one side and explains that Bobby's autistic. She stops reprimanding him then, thank goodness. I was fully expecting Bobby's starfish act (adopt said pose in the middle of the floor) and a massive meltdown to accompany it, but he was just a little embarrassed by her ice-like attitude. Such a difference between ages five and ten, it's unbelievable.

The high point of the entire day was when our guide showed us how those in the post room tapped out the Morse code signal for help.

"Who knows what the Morse code signal for help is? Which three letters?"

One boy's hand shot up: "It's L.O.L." he says, without irony.

Hey, we're sinking - it's bloody hilarious!!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

When In Doubt, Call on the Little People

ARRGGGH, a bomb's about to explode! What to do, what to do? I know, I'll call in the bomb diffusal expert, Mr Diffuser. He takes my temper and works calmly to diffuse it. Then he covers it in ice with his special gadget, the Ice Shooter.

After that, Mr Huff Puff will come in and blow lots of cool air through his vapour cloud so that I can calm down.

Meanwhile, Mrs Translator's Silver Spoon gadget will take the nasty words that I want to say and convert them into a less angry tone that explains my feelings.

Have I gone mad? Quite possibly. But this idea isn't my own. It comes from a rather impressive book I've just read called The Homunculi Approach to Social and Emotional Wellbeing, by Anne Greig and Tommy Mackay.

The Homunculi are little characters that you invent yourself. Their strengths are your weaknesses, their purpose to fly in when you're losing control, take control using their gadgets and soothe the situation.

It's a clever technique using meta-cognition, the ability to analyse our own thoughts,  see them from afar and change our own ways of thinking.

Tommy MacKay is the Director of Psychology Counsultancy Services and Visiting Professor of Autism Studies at the University of Strathclyde. Rather refreshingly, he admits in Chapter One that when faced with a difficult task he used to call on a number of imaginary people to help motivate or organise him. From this arose the idea of Homunculi, the Latin term for little people.

The book shows how an entire programme for children with autism can be based around the Homuncili, but the minute I came across it, it occurred to me that I could immediately begin using it at its most basic level to Bobby's benefit.

At AuKids we're great believers in any technique that helps self-regulation in autistic people, and this approach made perfect sense to me. It's a way of getting an abstract way of thinking - the sort of approach we may use without realising it - and making it very concrete so that autistic kids can develop their own coping strategies.

I got straight onto Jessica Kingsley Publishers and asked the authors to write something on this approach for AuKids, which happily they agreed to do. It'll be published later this year.

The next step was to show Bobby the Homunculi approach. Bobby loves Pokemon and I reckoned all I had to do was compare the two and we'd be laughing. I showed him the free poster that I received with the book (a really clever drawing of the inside of a skull, showing it as a kind of control room where the Homunucli team work and rest) and then I beamed. Great idea, huh? What d'ya think, son?

Amazingly, he wasn't impressed. "I've already got my own ways of doing things," he declared.

"Yes and they're very good Bobby, but they're ways of coping AFTER an explosion. These little people can help you cope before you get to that point."

Still not impressed. And the thing is, the keener I get on an idea the more suspicious Bobby tends to become. I have to be a bit more clever than that.

I was so convinced that this approach was tailor made for the likes of Bobby, that I adopted my usual back door approach. I made some of my own Homunculi - hence the characters who started this blog entry - and I told him he could call on any of them if he liked, at any time. He doesn't want to call on them, he says, 'they're yours'.

Tori suggested that my Homunculi could arrive at the scene of a bomb scare chez Bobby's brain without being invited, which I think is a top idea although not exactly what the authors had in mind.

Bobby was interested enough to help me with my own problems though and made me an extra character - Mr Replacer, who works with Mrs Translator. He carries cards which have polite words to use instead of nasty ones. Sometimes I wonder just who is parenting who.

I raised my voice last week (I'm sure more than once) and promptly got told that I needed Mr Huff Puff.

Then today I had the unwelcome result of my car's MOT. When I expected a glowing report, my car came bottom of its year - and the result was not at all cheap.

I was positively fuming, especially at the somewhat smug way in which the news was delivered by the garage receptionist. I was stomping about the house and the smoke had started to come out of my ears when I suddenly realised that I needed to call on my little friends. Suddenly there was ice around my temper bomb and it had been diffused by a Cyberman-style character who was highly efficient.

And yes - they helped! I will make more of them! They can be my inner management team, my little life coaches.

I'm hoping that before long, Homunculi will become a part of family life, so much so that Bobby may even start to borrow or invent one once in a while.

Until then, it's not a bad idea to have some help with self-regulation when you've got two young kids on the spectrum.

So I'm pretty pleased that my little friends are here. As far as I'm concerned, they can gatecrash the party any time there's trouble in the attic!

The Autism Gardener

HOLE IN ONE! Hit a ball into the future, you'll be glad when you get there
My kids are the subjects of a series of little ideas and trials, snippets of inspiration to help make life a little easier.

My philosophy is very similar to any gardener's. Always nip any behaviour that you think might become troublesome in the bud. If you see it before the bud stage, so much the better. Whatever you do, don't wait until it's in full ruddy bloom with a never-ending maze of roots.

That doesn't mean to say that you should focus on every tiny thing that isn't quite to your liking either. The trick I've found is to know the plant, or in our case, the problem. This little shoot you've got here...Should it grow into a bigger plant with stronger roots, what will it look like? A bloody nightmare? Then deal with it now.

Bobby is now ten and so I'm a pretty keen gardener right now. That's because I'm mindful of the fact that in a year's time, his little problem plants will be re-potted into secondary school. Without his terrific teaching assistant all over them with her secateurs, we may get into trouble. Plus, teenagers are typically resistant to intervention. Better get in there with a hoe right now!

Quite a lot of what I'm tackling with Bobby is impulse related. Like many people on the spectrum whose executive functioning is a little off-track, he finds it really hard to sort out the necessary and important tasks and do them before the stuff he likes. He's not alone here, by the way. His neurotypical friends are very similar. The difference is, they will naturally learn impulse control as they mature. Bobby may need some help in developing it, so getting in there early is a good start.

One idea that Tori came up with has been a massive success and I'd highly recommend it. Simple as heck as well. He has a laminated list of the six things he needs to do in the morning in order to get ready for school. After he's ticked all the boxes, he can do what he likes until it's time to leave. The advantage for him is that whereas before I wouldn't let him play on the computer before school (too absorbing), he now gets computer time providing he's done first what he needs to do. To help make it more attractive, the jobs each have a Mario figure by them.

Bobby loves ticking off his little list and the morning nag has stopped altogether. I can actually trust him to get ready without constant verbal (highly verbal!) reminders.

The interesting thing about this is that what started off as quite a mechanical operation - tick the boxes, get what I want - has actually engrained itself into Bobby's thinking to the extent that he now sees the point of getting the unwelcome jobs out of the way first. Any extension of that idea in the future will probably be welcomed. So, to coin a gardening phrase, it is as well to sew the seeds early.

The second little snippet of inspiration came after finding that Bobby continually failed to understand what was expected of him at school and why.

On some days he does next to nothing and doesn't worry at all that he's falling behind with the week's work. Increasingly, he's using the 'autistic' card as a Get Out of Jail Free card! He is special, he's very special and he's lovely, but he's not beyond using autism as a tactic in his growing quest to do as little as possible.

Bobby, like most autistic kids, doesn't respond to any kind of pressure, so it's not a good idea to suddenly tell him that he has loads of work to do, or to make him feel as if he's failing. Instead I've come up with a little chart (see below). It's designed for him to fill in with his teaching assistant and it lets him know exactly where he needs to be in order to complete his work and get the rewards he wants. Instead of Bobby seeing his schoolwork in terms of either outright success or failure, we have defined the grey areas in between. Exactly what is enough and what is not enough? To complete this key task, what is it that we expect you to do? And also - an extra added by Tori - what is the learning objective behind this? Why is it important that we're doing this?

In autism, if it causes confusion, nail it down. Make it visual, give an explanation.  So much of the time I see Bobby floating in uncertainty. Verbal explanations just aren't enough  - he'll ask the same thing a few days later. "Why do I need help?" Well, now we can point to the tasks on his chart, where he's up to and show him where the difficulties were.

IMPULSE CONTROL: Bobby's daily task list for school
Day one and the news is that the chart is going well... Once Bobby grasps the concept of priorities, it'll enable him to define his own in later life. I'm not going to assume that it'll suddenly come to him when he's 21, so every tiny bit of gardening that we do now will reap rewards in the future.

How can I be so sure? Because for every bit of gardening we did when he was five, I've witnessed those encouraging results now he's ten.

ps Today, a couple of happy faces, one neutral face and one sad face. 'I can't remember what the sad face was for,' said Bobby. Yeah, right.