Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Jolly Japes with an Autistic Teenager


Image courtesy of Simon Drew, Dartmouth


A trip into Manchester this morning, as I needed to buy a cheap white T shirt for younger daughter and pay two (very rare) cheques into my bank account. OH has also suggested that it might be a good idea to take the half dozen CDs M wants to sell into Vinyl Exchange, so we bag them up. M announces she wants to go the the building society to take some money out to buy paints and canvases for her art work. Not convinced this is the best use of her limited savings, but as a) I don't have the money to buy them for her and b) she's still not getting any work from school, I agreed she could.

"Oh," she said, "and they wanted to see my birth certificate next time I go in, so I can update my signature." Cue unexpected hunt for her birth certificate just before we should be going to catch the train....

We get into town and catch the shuttle bus with no problem, although her insistence on me always walking ahead of her can cause some logistical problems getting on and off the bus. I, being well brought up, always hold back for her to go ahead of me, forgetting she can't cope with going through a door first. Catches me out every time - you'd think I'd be used to it by now. We look a little like Laurel & Hardy negotiating a swing door!

First stop is her building society. Once she's taken her money out she wants to head to the shops, but I tell her that I have to deposit the cheques into my bank account. She refuses to come in, choosing to hover near the doorway. Instead of staff, the bank now has lovely shiny foyer filled with self-serve machines and piped music playing "My Boy Lollipop" (can't help feeling that this lacks gravitas - not that I'm advocating a return to the fusty old, pre-Mr Banks-in-Mary-Poppins-style bank, but still....)

After two failed attempts to deposit my cheques, the machine tells me to seek assistance from a human being. Said human being comes over with a lad she describes as her "colleague", who looks about 12 and is probably only there on workfare; she also makes two attempts to deposit the cheques before taking them into the inner sanctum to process them manually. "We don't get many cheques these days," she says, "and if they aren't a standard size the machine can't read them." Ah, progress.

By this time I have a rather grumpy M waiting outside. We head off to the Arndale Centre first, where she marvels at how many people are there on a work day (I was just thinking how dead it seemed) and why weren't they in work? Explained about retirement, unemployment, annual leave, etc, but she is unimpressed by these lame excuses. Sounds just like a Tory.

We spend £3.99 on some canvases and paints in The Works (a godsend for cheap art materials!) and she then wants to go to Affleck's to look for some Hallowe'en gear with her remaining money. I suggest Vinyl Exchange first, as it might mean she has more money to spend in Affleck's. She doesn't like this idea (even though the entrances are within sight of each other) and says she will murder me if we're not offered any money for them.

Unsurprisingly, nothing in her CD collection is of any interest to them and we leave empty-handed; she is grumpy but thankfully doesn't follow through with her threat to murder me!

In Affleck's, she buys some red stripy tights which use up all but £1 of her money. As we head back to the station, she notices that it is approaching 12 noon and, therefore, her lunchtime (Lunch HAS to be at 12pm, even if we would be home by 12.15pm), so she wants to get something from the Greggs at the station. Much as I loathe Greggs, they do have a cheap baguette for £1.30 so I pick that up and give her £1 towards her £1.80 sub she has her eye on.  By this time, the largely empty shop we walked into has a long queue, at which we are to the side. Not wanting to appear to be queue-jumping I try to get her to turn round and go to the end of the queue, but she cannot/will not* turn round, so we stand there for several seconds, both unable to move anywhere. She then says, "it doesn't make any sense paying separately, why don't you pay for both together?" And this is where it starts getting really difficult.....

"OK," I say, give me your baguette and the money, then."

She hands me the £1 I gave her earlier.

"And the other £1" I say, "or there won't be enough to pay for it."

"But that's my £1. I don't want you stealing it."

"But I'm not stealing it. I'm using it to pay for your sandwich."

"But it's not yours."

"I know, but I am buying your sandwich with my sandwich, so you need to give me the all money for your sandwich."

"But it's mine!"

There really is no way around this very literal sense of money that she has (we had the same thing last year, when she left her £10 holiday spends at home and would not accept a £10 note from anyone else, because then she would lose 'her ' £10 when she had to pay someone back. In the end we had to mail the actual £10 note to her rather than me lending it to her and OH bring the original down when he came to join us!) she understands the concept of money, and of 'change', but just not the transferability of coins/notes. 

So we put the baguettes back and caught the train. She scowled at me for the whole journey and deliberately put her feet on the seats (one of my pet hates).

If anyone tries to tell you that someone with high functioning autism is 'easier' to manage, please pass them in my direction. We get versions of this kind of episode every day, along with the door-slamming (her door frame is fast disintegrating), the outright denial of things we've seen her do, the pilfering of any food which is not actually locked away, etc. Imagine every awful moment you've had with your teenager and then amplify it by about 5 times!

True, she does not need 24 hour care in the sense that the government class it. Continence doesn't always translate into being able to manage one's own hygiene, though, and just because someone doesn't need 24 hour physical support doesn't mean that we're ever off duty.  In some ways she is very competent and self-reliant, but we can never guarantee that she won't suddenly panic, and we have to be on hand if/when she does. Five months stuck at home hasn't helped, either; the social/coping skills she had acquired are atrophying

She is currently sleeping in her day clothes and is refusing to change her clothes until *I* find her a school (followers of my Twitter account will know how much I've been trying to do this). It's been five months now since she left her mainstream school and although the Amended Statement of SEN is due today, we know already that it will name the one autism-specialist school in the city which is currently over capacity and with no idea when a place will become available.

[As I type this, she is currently slamming my bedroom door, having thrown all the towels and a can of fly spray on the floor and and jumping on my bed 'until [I] go with [her] to Sainsbury's to buy Hallowe'en stuff']

I have been wondering lately how I can get back into the workplace, to get  IDS and his anti-scrounger chums off our back, but even once she is in school again, it's going to be difficult getting something that will help us keep family life together as well. How will it benefit us if we end up never seeing one another because of work? These outbursts can crop up at any time of day or night and the effect on the whole family can be immense. Unfortunately, autism isn't a 9 to 5 condition. The lack of recognition of the role of the full-time carer is dispiriting. £58 a week is a derisory amount for the work we do and the money we save the state. I'm really not sitting at home baking bloody cupcakes all day - it's damned hard work with little thanks and - seemingly - derided by  those who govern us**!



Oh, and amid all the kerfuffle about CDs/sandwiches, etc I forgot to buy the T shirt, which was my main reason for going into town!



*these two terms are pretty much interchangeable - sometimes it's defiance, but most often it's simply an inability to comply, even if she feels bad afterwards

** Her Majesty's Opposition have a way to go on this, too. Not exactly challenging the 'scrounger' rhetoric themselves....