Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Where does the time go?

In the last week I have spent a lot of time running around with Son 1 and I am pleased to report that he is now enrolled on a college course starting in January. This morning we collected his college ID, we got photos done for his new Oystercard (it has been costing us a fortune since the end of September when he no longer qualified for student discounts). We also bought him a new winter coat, as he got freezing cold when out having teenage adventures last weekend (don't ask!) and his old coat seems to have been lost when he went into hospital earlier in the year. It is amazing how far he has come since then.

I'm drowning in screenplays for the OU course, as our next assignment is to write an adaptation of our previous story for stage, radio or film. I have decided to do film, so am busy reading around the subject. There is a lot of work in this section of the course, but I am determined to keep up as best I can, even if I have to ask for an extension of the assignment deadline. I also have an assignment due in soon on my counselling course and am well behind on the reading for that. Eek!

Three notable things:

1. My mother had an MRI scan on Sunday. We hope this will provide some answers to her currently unexplained neurological symptoms.

2. Mother-in-law is having a short trial, arranged by social services, of carers going in once a day to keep an eye on her and make sure she eats. I hope she will allow it to continue, but she has Alzheimers and always was strong-willed, so who knows?

3. There is a lot of debate in our borough at present, as to how funding for 'breaks for carers' can be best used. I was invited to a workshop day tomorrow and much as I would have liked to put forward my views I have declined because I just don't have the time. I have talked with someone who is going and has a similar interest in the subject, so I know our needs will be represented.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Crisis of confidence

I've had a week agonising about my writing. My OU assignment came back with a mark significantly below what I wanted and even well below what I had realistically expected. The comments and feedback really didn't make it clear enough how I could have improved my grade. I already knew that I was far from the only person experiencing this, which was a comfort.

An email to my tutor did provide some further clarification and I am, of course, not blind to the failings of my work. Indeed I often find faults that others don't see. But for some reason this time the criticism hit me hard.

I've put my OU books aside and spent the rest of the week on my novel. I have recently restructured and savagely edited what was already there and added about 2,500 new words. At last I am feeling comfortable with my chosen style and structure, with the new tweaks I think it is starting to work.

The realisation has been creeping up on me recently that I just want to write accessible fiction, not the highly literary fodder of advanced level university courses. I am a great believer that books can be both commercial and very well written. The two are not mutually exclusive.

I'm not going to give up the course, because it can only improve my writing. But in my novel I intend to stay true to my own voice, which I feel is more commercial than literary. That is my comfort zone, for sure, but if I can get it to work, why would I need to experiment?

Three notable things:

1. We are very proud of son 1, who is having an interview for a college place on Monday and hopefully starting some work experience the following week. His discharge from the day service is planned for Christmas.

2. I spent yesterday evening talking to a group of parents with children on the autistic spectrum, mostly newly diagnosed. I really enjoy being able to show them that the future is not necessarily as bleak as they will be thinking right now.

3. After an appointment yesterday I ventured quickly into Marks and Spencer's one day sale. I took a look at the queues and walked right out again, as I would otherwise not have made my lunch meeting over a pizza.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another brick in the wall

This year has been relentless, as we have stumbled from one family crisis to another. And still it has not ended.

On Monday evening I got a call from my sister, to say my father had been rushed to hospital with chest pains. On Tuesday morning I called my mum, to find out she didn't know where he was and thought he might be on his way home. It took me a few phone calls to find the right hospital and ward, because admission details had not been updated on the computer overnight, but I did eventually track him down. He was waiting to be seen by the doctors.

Speaking to him after lunch, the prognosis did not seem too good...the doctor thought he would need another angioplasty (he had one earlier this year after a very near-miss heart attack). But by the next day, when he had undergone tests and been seen by the consultant, things were looking better...the pain was eventually put down to a gastric problem and he was sent home on Thursday afternoon.

We are keeping our fingers crossed for no further scares, I don't think my own heart can cope with much more.

Three notable things:

1. Catching up this week with old friends I had not seen for a long time.

2. Feeling very sad over the deaths of yet more children, both in the news and closer to home.

3. Receiving a pristine new textbook from the OU to replace the one torn by son 2.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008


I used to hate statistics. When I was doing my accountancy exams it was always the papers which included statistics which would trip me up and require a resit. I got there in the end but still didn't really understand statistics well.

Nowadays though, I love the tiny stats meters on the bottom of my blog. Sometime last week a milestone of 20,000 hits was passed on the Bravenet counter at the bottom and it tells me how many visitors are new and how many are returning. My sitemeter tells me all sorts of interesting information about visitors, especially the time of a visit, their geographical location and where they have come from on the web.

In the last week alone I have had many visitors from the UK of course, but also lots from the USA, and others from Canada, France, Korea, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Pakistan, Russia, Germany, Greece, Dubai UAE, and Thailand.

It is also interesting to see what brings people here from Google. Obviously the mention of something very topical, especially a name, brings extra hits. But searches which I see coming up time and time again include agoraphobia, essay stress, read it and weep (a Disney Channel movie I believe) and most of all celebrities and autism.

Fascinating stuff.

Three notable things:

1. Son 2 tore pages out of the back of one of my study books yesterday. Eeek.

2. The new Starbucks limited edition Dark Cherry Mocha is delicious. I am tempted to go back into town today just to have another one.

3. I've bought a much-needed new pair of boots, so I am all set up for winter now.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Self harm

Self harm is a very current topic of concern in this household, so I was interested to find a video on Caroline's blog. It is a trailer for an educational DVD made by Harmless, a support organisation I had not heard of, but will certainly be making a note of.

Self harm is much more common than people realise and is undertaken by both sexes. Some self harmers have serious mental health issues or learning disabilities, but many more don't, they are just ordinary people struggling with life. Some kids even get drawn into self harm through peer pressure.

Self harm needs to be brought out into the open, to stop being a taboo. Hopefully Harmless will help, through this DVD aimed primarily at health and social care professionals.

Three notable things:

1. Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park and ER fame has died. What can one say about a man who brought George Clooney to my attention (as Dr Doug Ross in ER)?

2. I went shoppping yesterday and came back with secondhand books for my writing course but not the item I needed.

3. We still have ongoing problems with our parents on both sides of the family, which led to a call from a social worker yesterday. It is so hard not being close enough to do anything practical to help.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The American Dream

We hardly dared believe it could happen.

Barack Obama has a huge job on his hands, to unite America and to restore its reputation in the world. But if the passion, poise and efficiency of his campaign is anything to go by, he can do it.

History has been made. Thank you America.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Write on

I'm back to the novel in earnest, rewriting my first chapters. I think I have found the right starting point at last, now I just need to find a way of fitting what I have deleted back into the narrative structure at a later point. Some recent events have also provided me with new material to stash away in my notebook, so I am feeling very positive.

Your Messages is also back! It is in a different format this year, with no publication involved, but there is a prize of books for the entry Lynne and Sarah consider to be the best. Unlike last year, I will not have time to contribute every day, but I did post a piece yesterday and will definitely dip in and out over the month. If you are not doing NaNoWriMo then do take a look at Your Messages, it is great fun and much less onerous, as this year posted pieces can be 30 or 300 words.

Three notable things:

1. We are waiting with bated breath to see what America decides today. Let's hope change will come.

2. I will be off shortly with son 1 to investigate college possibilities for January. He is still educationally very fragile and anxious, so we will need to be vigilant that his needs are understood and adequate support offered.

3. Son 2 doesn't seem quite himself, tired and quiet. Hope he is not getting ill as soon as school has restarted.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Gentle hands

Well the debate may be long since finished, but the issues it raised are still churning around in my head, keeping me awake at night. Yesterday I actually found myself hyperventilating with anxiety when Hubby took son 2 out for a walk, even though they were just going on their regular stroll to local shops where he is well known.

Hubby and I were discussing how we could try to make sure that we discouraged son 2 from trying to approach strangers ( he doesn't often anyway) without stifling his desire to communicate, which is something everyone has worked so long and hard to encourage. We couldn't really come up with an answer.

We thought back to how he used to be. When he was younger he was in a huge autistic bubble. People, including most of the time us, didn't mean anything to him. He had no desire to communicate with anyone. He only emerged briefly from this bubble when he felt threatened, a sort of fight or flight reaction. His way of communicating at that moment was to bite.

My lower arms would be covered in bruises from his bites. Sometimes he would sink his teeth in and almost hang from my arm. We were lucky that there were very few injuries to other children, because son 2 never really has had any interest in his peers, but staff working with him would also get bitten. Like many kids on the spectrum, he has no impulse control or sense of danger.

It was a relief in some ways when the biting changed to pinching. Still painful, but not as bad. The pinching remains a behaviour to this day when he is very distressed, but it is rare now and usually directed at himself rather than others. Instead we taught him what we called 'gentle hands', in other words when he felt the uncontrollable impulse to pinch someone's arm, he should stroke or pat gently instead. He later spontaneously developed this to show affection as he is nonverbal.

It worked, but clearly now he is bigger it seems to have made him potentially even more socially unacceptable to others. Now to my mind a gentle pat or stroke is a million times better than a bite or a pinch, but of course others don't know his history, don't appreciate how far he has actually come back into our world.

Time for a new strategy I think, but I'm damned if we could think of one yesterday...

Three notable things:

1. We watched the F1 Grand Prix on TV yesterday. Well done, Lewis Hamilton, but you did put us all through it on the way.

2. School is back today but the council 'forgot' to arrange the transport until the escort rang them to remind them this morning. As a result the bus was very late and there was stress all round here at home.

3. Time for a much-needed coffee now, before I start work!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Another course

Some of you may remember that a year ago I gave up my voluntary role as treasurer for our local ASD support group. It was a great relief after 9 years, but I did promise that I would stay involved in a non-official capacity.

I attend the support coffee mornings once or twice a week, supposedly for my own support needs, but have actually found myself still being needed to talk to often distressed parents, as if my role in the organisation had not changed. We had been increasingly recognising that to do the job properly at least some of the volunteer committee members needed to have had some formal training in basic counselling and listening skills, so two people took an introductory course at our local college last year. When I first started working with the group I did have some rudimentary training in listening skills provided by another charity, but that was a long time ago. However I did not want to commit to a college course, since due to everything else going on here my study needs to be flexible and home-based.

I needed to find 10 more points to complete my OU degree, so I was delighted to discover a new course D171 Introduction to Counselling, which I have just started alongside the writing course. It is level one, so not too onerous academically, but will provide an introduction to skills that I will be able to use in many aspects of my life. The charity benefits too, as I am funding it myself courtesy of my Tesco vouchers.

And I've just had my arm twisted to return to the charity management committee, though I have made it clear I am not going to be treasurer again. A friend of mine took over that role from me, she is doing a great job and I am willing to advise when needed. I do have a wealth of experience to add to the committee, yet I have made it understood that from now on my input is on my own terms, I no longer want to feel obliged to work unpaid three day weeks!

Yes, I know I'm mad...

Three notable things:

1. Good tutorial yesterday...nice approachable tutor, five chatty students, it flew by.

2. The travel was fine, I was incredibly lucky with bus and train connections. In fact I got down into London remarkably early, having allowed extra time.

3. It was a bit of a shock to come out of the tutorial into pouring rain and a howling gale. I couldn't even go straight home, as I had to stop off in our local shopping centre to get some shopping for the boys.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A sense of commmunity

I'm a private person, always have been.

I grew up in a small town where everyone knew you. I couldn't wait to leave, to live somewhere where I would have a little anonymity, where I wouldn't feel everyone knew everything about my life. I can still feel the panic attacks that I felt after my first really serious boyfriend had chucked me very unexpectedly, knowing that everyone I met on the street would ask after him and had been expecting us to get married.

I moved to London where the community bonds are less strong. That doesn't mean you don't get on with your neighbours, we do. I can honestly say that after 20 years in this house and several changes of neighbours, we have never had a fall-out. But like most Londoners, our relationship with them is very arm's length.

The benefit of this, of course, is that you can choose the friends you share the real details of your life with. I have two main special groups of friends...some that I met at mother and baby groups with son 1 and some I have met through the local special needs support groups, which I attend and have helped run for many years. Both these groups of friends are highly trusted and play a very important role in my life.

Internet groups add an extra dimension. I visit a number of open and closed forums and groups for writing, special needs and at the OU. But to me there is a downside. Some of the groups are huge...some of the OU ones are potentially open to every single OU student, one of the special needs groups is nearly 3,500 people hidden behind usernames. You don't know who is reading, any more than I know who is reading here. So I am very cautious about what I post in such places, just as I am here. What you might read is just a tiny snapshot of my life. I rarely write about anything which is currently raw. I think hard about who else might be affected by my words. I know some people think as a result that I am aloof, that they don't know me. But for me it is just basic internet safety, a protection for those rare occasions when things go wrong in a community. Lets face it, that happens on all forums from time to time, nowhere is entirely safe.

But what has also struck me recently is how quickly an internet group can change. Writing groups dry up after the loss of a few active key members. OU forums can completely change in nature as one cohort of students starts to move on and another moves in. The social groups that are formed online are flimsy, to say the least.

Regular readers will know that I have met in real life people from a number of my internet groups, many of them writers, and they have been, without exception, lovely people. Today I'm going to meet some of my online tutor group for the writing course. I don't know what to expect, but I'm sure they will all be nice too (and if they aren't we only have to meet one more time!) I'm equally sure though, that I probably won't still be in touch with many or any in a year from now.

For real life support on some of the things that really matter most in life, such as my family, I will stick with my flesh and blood friends here. I know who I can trust with confidences, who is likely to be able to advise in a particular situation, who could help out in an emergency, even to care for son 2.

I know how lucky I am to have them.