Fifi’s Learning School

Fifi was first enrolled in Learning School when Geordie was in Year 2. The enrolment procedures were simple, and involved significantly less paperwork than Geordie’s enrolment in Kindergarten did two years before.

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Fifi in the drawer which served as a ‘portal’ to Learning School.

 

Prerequisites for Learning School consisted only of the ability to be folded and stuffed into a small drawer in the wardrobe, and a certain tolerance for dark, crowded places over long periods of time.

 

ID-100238497 Fear and anxiety
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The experience of Learning School was one to be endured rather than enjoyed. It involved long hours of facing the unknown and dealing with the associated fear and anxiety.

The 3 R’s were at the core of Learning School, but not the reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic of school as we know it.

Over time, we were privy to snippets of information about Fifi’s days at Learning School. To summarise the experience, in Fifi’s words:

Everyone seems to know what to do. This is what I have to learn. When my class are doing an activity, I have to do the activity too. Even if I don’t like it. I might be allowed to stand and watch, but eventually, I am going to have to join in. There are certain things I do sometimes that none of my classmates do; they think it’s weird when I do them. I have to learn to stop. The days are long. There are so many things to learn and sometimes it’s a bit scary. But this is the way the world of learning school is.

In a nutshell, the 3 R’s at Learning School were:

run with the pack,

reconcile and

(behaviour) regulation

Fifi spent a good six months at Learning School; he was there every day, even on weekends. According to Geordie, Fifi could not leave Learning School until he learnt ‘how to be good’.

Looking back I can see that Geordie was expressing, through Fifi, how he felt about school. Year 2 was the first ‘stable’ year that Geordie had at school, but it was still peppered with issues – as every year of his schooling has been. So, the fact that Learning School emerged while Geordie was in Year 2 is not a reflection of the year he was having, but more of his growing maturity and ability to express his ideas in this way.

Hindsight would be an amazing thing to possess.

But, then again, I have to ask myself: in this case, what would I have done with it?

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Appreciate the little things

Geordie trying to catch a snowball
Geordie trying to catch a snowball.

We have just had a three day stay at Thredbo. We arrived right at the official end of the ski season, so there were no crowds but still enough snow to make snowballs. A win in both camps for Geordie.

It was only the second time we have been ‘to the snow’; the first being two years ago. As I stood watching Geordie throw snowballs and slide around in his hired snow boots, the differences between our last visit and this one slowly began to dawn on me.

We had done all of this before!

Geordie knew he would have to hire snow boots. He knew they were heavy and uncomfortable and might give him blisters. But this time it did not take 15 minutes to convince him to leave them on. This didn’t mean he enjoyed wearing them, but he tolerated them.

Geordie knew how high the chair lift went. He still had a ‘white knuckle’ grip on the way up, but he wasn’t shaking and anxious waiting for our chair to arrive.

Ashlea and Geordie mid pose
Ashlea and Geordie mid pose.

Geordie knew that the snow would make him wet and uncomfortable. He knew that if he didn’t wear gloves he wouldn’t be able to make snowballs for very long. He didn’t enjoy the tactile sensations of the snow, or of wearing the gloves, but he put up with them because they were known sensations.

Little successes!

All in all, our trip up the mountain was relatively stress-free compared to our first time; I knew it felt different, but it took a while to work out why.

Familiarity!

The anxiety caused by the unknown was gone.

Standing on the mountain, being buffeted by the wind and shifting around on my freezing feet (I should have hired snow boots too), I thought about how important it is to appreciate the little things.

Wearing new or different clothing.

Experiencing unfamiliar smells, sounds, sights and textures.

Sleeping in a different bed, showering in a bathroom with different taps, eating off plates that aren’t yours.

These are all ‘little things’ for many of us, but they are HUGE for Geordie.

However the ‘little things’ can, and do, become familiar.  And when they do, instead of not noticing them, we should celebrate them.

 Yes!!
YES!!

Dealing with death

I have just finished editing the eulogy for my grandfather’s funeral. I also wrote a poem – which, in a small way, has helped me to deal with the part of me that has died along with him. I have decided to share this poem, and the one I wrote for my father, on this blog under the other writing tab.

Anyway, as I was writing, tears were streaming down my face, to the point where I could not see the computer screen. I got up and went into the kitchen to compose myself. Geordie came and stood right next to me. Just stood there – close. He knew. In fact, he is the only person who really knows how to comfort me.

I had planned to write about how Geordie deals with death in a much later posting, but this recent event has made it so much more relevant to do it now.

Geordie’s first experience of a death was when his dog, Pearl, passed away. Geordie was only 5; we were relatively new to the Asperger’s diagnosis and had no idea what to say or how to help him cope.

We needn’t have worried.

He gave her a pat, commented that she was cold and asked where she would be buried. To some, this may seem callous, but he was sad and still talks about Pearl. It was just his way of dealing with it.

My Dad and Geordie on the Bungendore train in 2007
My Dad and Geordie on the Bungendore train in 2007

Then, three years ago, my father passed away. Geordie and Dad were really close.  Dad called him his ‘little mate’. He ‘got’ Geordie, and Geordie knew this. Dad’s passing was expected, he had mesothelioma, but unexpected. He died the day before Geordie’s birthday.

Again, Geordie was sad. He wondered aloud why ‘Pop died just before my birthday’, then commented ‘It would have been worse if he’d died on my birthday.’ Geordie’s Asperger’s makes him always practical, always logical. But, perhaps unusually for a child on the spectrum, he is also extremely aware of my emotions. After Dad died, Geordie would spend time just sitting close to me and would look deep into my eyes, something he doesn’t normally do. If my eyes weren’t sad, he would smile and go on his way. If they were sad, he would cuddle closer. Once, he put Fifi on my lap. This was the only time Fifi has ever been involved in dealing with a death – and he was there for me.

Now, just last week, on September 19, we got a call to inform us that my grandfather had passed away in his sleep. He had begun developing Alzheimer’s about five years ago and as his behaviours become less predictable Geordie started pulling away, not sure how to react. In fact, I often watched Geordie staring at Pop, searching for the man that he used to know and be so close to.

So, when I told him, I could see in his eyes that he was sad, but he said nothing, just nodded. He still hasn’t said anything.

At Dad’s funeral, Geordie stayed close to me and watched me like a hawk. I know he will do the same at Pop’s funeral.

What have I learnt from this?

Everyone deals with grief and death in their own way. Geordie’s way is to acknowledge it, name it and get on with it. Maybe this is the Asperger’s speaking and maybe it’s not. However, whatever it is, I am glad that I chose not to hide difficult emotions from Geordie. This was not an easy choice, and may have backfired, but for Geordie, with his Asperger’s, it has worked.

The importance of being open

After I published my first post, my son started questioning me about why I needed to take photos of Fifi. Questioning, wanting to know why, seems to be part of his Asperger’s character.

So, I told him.

Then he asked if he could look at the blog.

So, I gave him the URL.

He spent a long time reading through the posting. I spent the time wondering if he was going to be upset by the fact I was writing about him. He wasn’t – in fact, he asked me to correct a couple of points, which I did.

At that point I decided to ask him if he thought I should use his name; would that be ok?

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t mind.”

My son’s name is Geordie – and I will be using his name now in future postings until the time he changes his mind and asks me not to.

In retrospect, I should have talked to Geordie before I started this blog. Being open and honest with him has always been the best strategy. He is cluey – and despite all the talk that suggests children on the spectrum are not naturally aware of social cues – Geordie is very aware of when I am holding something back from him.

This little scenario has served to remind me that knowing your child and what pushes their buttons is so important.

What has a stuffed dog got to do with Asperger’s?

Introducing Fifi

IMG_0500This is Fifi – my son’s well-loved, but ever suffering, stuffed dog. Fifi was given to my son on his second birthday – two years before he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Over the last eight years, Fifi has become more than the favourite toy; more than the only ‘family member’ who can bring my son out of a meltdown. Fifi has his own ‘world’, and it has become both a sanctuary for a little boy and a place of learning for me.

More about Fifi’s World

I have heard people describe children on the autism spectrum as ‘being in their own world’; I have also heard people say that it is wrong to use that terminology. In my son’s case, I would have to agree with the latter – he is firmly ensconced in our world, but he sees many things differently.

Through Fifi’s very own world, aptly named Fifi’s World, this floppy, grimy dog has become my son’s voice. It has taken me a while, but I have eventually come to realise that what is happening in Fifi’s World is my son’s interpretation of the things that are going on around him.

Essentially, Fifi’s World is how my son deals with the daily happenings in the confusing and confronting world in which he lives.

What is the ‘amaranthine’ journey I refer to in my tagline?

I will admit to doing a Google search to find this word. I wanted a word that suggested ‘continuous’ or ‘never-ending’ but with a less negative connotation and amaranthine popped up.

The stem of the word is ‘amaranth’ which comes from old Greek and refers to a mythical unfading flower. The adjective, amaranthine, describes something which is ongoing, yet not unpleasant. It can also allude to a purplish-red colour which, interestingly, is a colour my son was drawn to as a toddler.  So – I had to use it.

Why am I writing this blog?

To be honest, this blog would not be in existence if it wasn’t a requirement in my Professional Writing and Editing course. However, writing about my family’s Asperger’s journey is something I’ve been doing for a while and I am excited that I have been given (or should I say, forced into) this opportunity to relay our journey to other like-minded people.

Fifi’s World has given me a deeper understanding of my son – and this enlightenment is what I hope to share with you.