T has been with us for about 6 months. He is 10 years old and is diagnosed with ASD though it seems quite mild. Some of his symptoms that are attributed to ASD could also be just down to the fact that T is a 10 year old boy. In general he is a very happy lad but one who has moments of anxiety and has some problems dealing with his emotions. Because of his condition he does get fixated on things so he has a strong passion for cars and certain movies and TV programmes and at the moment he has a sometimes unhealthy obsession with Loom Bands (tiny little elastic bands that the kids make into bracelets).
I am married with three children, one at home, one at University and one living just down the road, and I am the main carer as my wife has a full time job as an Assistant Principal at a Sixth Form College.
Friday 3rd April – Thursday 9th April
So the school holidays are upon us and the time has come to decide what to do. And it is the two week holiday too! T would never accept this but holidays are definitely not his favourite time. Keeping structure while on holiday is hard and so he is not always happy because of his Autism. Maybe at first, but it quickly breaks down, and because new things cause T anxiety he never really wants to do anything that he has not tried before. So here’s the dilemma; do nothing and he will kick off yet do new things and he will get stressed. So that leaves repeating things. Which is OK but we want him to develop and so we need to add in a few changes to keep it fresh. So we will head down to the Dockyard because we have been there several times and he is happy there. And he will be at his Mum’s for some of the days too. But what else?
T has suggested camping as we have done that before too but from my point of view it was not the most successful thing we have done together. We have been three times with all having some kind of problem. It was cold or too light or he couldn’t sleep and he didn’t seem very comfortable. He had a problem that the bed was too low and the last time the tent leaked and we had to come home a day early. But camping is fun especially if you plan it right and get a site with lots to do. So I had a look around on-line and I found a great deal on a caravan down in the New Forest with a whole bunch of on-site activities to choose from. That certainly eliminated some of the problems experienced before and it is only April so it may be a bit chilly for tents any way. Plus when he is in bed I will have somewhere to be and some things to do. So I booked it up, just two nights, but I thought that would be enough because it was just him and me…
When I told T he was over the moon. Camping but in a caravan was great he said. He’d been before and that is where he first ate Spaghetti Carbonara, could we have that again? And when he saw all the activities, archery, water sports like the big bubbles you climb in to and walk on water with, swimming pool, den building he couldn’t wait. We sat down and planned our time, mostly for him so I made sure I had a good book, and prepared ourselves for the 3 days. All was good…
When the day of the holiday came he was beside himself. He was really looking forward to it. He was literally bouncing off the walls. And I was up for it too. I was hoping that all the planning and structuring we had done would make this a smooth operation, with just the right amount of activities to keep us busy but not to many so as to stress us out with times, and so I got the things together in readiness to set off. Now I will say here that it was a good trip but it is at this point where we encountered our first obstacle. Because I had not told T everything, too much information is not good for him, I had neglected to say that we could not get into the caravan until 4pm. I didn’t think it was important. We were going to arrive and do the first activity, Go Quest, which was basically orienteering around the campsite (a good intro to the place), and then check in after that. Clearly in his Autistic mind he had planned everything out and this was not in the plan. For him it was get there, settle into the caravan and then do stuff. I had to explain that we would park the car up and then get a drink and then do the activity first. I think he thought we would have all the bags with us and have to carry them around the activity so once he knew what was what he was OK. This is his black and white Autistic mind thinking. I got it but I hadn’t realised and done the right prep this time. He also thought we would have to move all our stuff from the car and walk it to the caravan. He did not know we could park next to it. His memory is built on the time before he stayed in a caravan and so his visual picture is the same. Sometimes as an adult you take for granted what you know and it is not until you meet someone like T that you realise you haven’t been clear enough. My wife decided to write out a detailed schedule for us both, with pictures, so that T could be prepared and would have a visual reference for the time away. That calmed him down even though he kept saying he did not need it.
So anyway we arrived and all was OK. We got a drink and then went along to the first activity. There were only a couple of other kids there so we were a tight group but it was not a 30 minute task as advertised but 30 minutes of workshop and then 1 hour of the task. I wish I had known that before because it was too long and he got very fractious. He got back into wanting to get in the caravan even though we couldn’t until later and so this nice warm up exercise turned in to a bit of a slog. He wanted to give up but I did not think that was a good idea; start the holiday as you mean to finish, and so I insisted we complete the task which did not go down too well. We finished it by 4.10pm and so we were only just able to get in to the caravan anyway. Ah well at least it was done and we were in. And he loved it. He was amazed that it had a fire, a cooker and two toilets (we had to get a two bedroom one even though there were only two of us because of safeguarding and so we had lots of room).
To end the day we had an archery workshop which I was doing too so that was good. He moaned a bit because he was now hungry but generally he enjoyed it (it is at points like this that I want a Fostering Card so that I can flash it and explain to others all about him so that the other parents don’t make a judgement on my parenting skills) and when it was done we headed for the clubhouse and entertainment area to get some dinner and check out what was going on. Eating is nearly always a happy experience and T was very happy because they had a dish he had had many times and so felt secure with. I looked at the entertainment on in the Show Bar but realised that it was all too late and one thing I do know about T is if he does not get a good sleep then the next day can be difficult. Luckily he wasn’t interested in the Show Bar and so we went back to the caravan and he was in bed, happy as Larry, by 8.30pm with no fuss.
On the Saturday we woke at a reasonable time, watched a bit of TV and then had breakfast (just like any Saturday at home really as it is best to keep some regular features in our day). The first activity, mini jet skis, was not until late morning so there was no rush so all was very relaxed. T filled his time reading until it was time to go and I also went through the schedule my wife had put together. All the activities were for the pool until mid-afternoon and so I took T down and sat on the side with a book with all the other dutiful parents while he did the jet skis and then kayaking and water scooters. We finished just 20 minutes before the next activity, den building, which was not enough time so we skipped it which was a shame because I wanted to do that. Timings for the activities were not always clear, for example, the jet skis was a 20 minute section in the hour slot whereas the kayaking and water scooters was for the full hour so it was not easy to plan exactly what time we would have spare. So missing the den building was needed to fit in lunch. Oddly it was after lunch, with 30 minutes to go till the next activity, that T kicked off again. He was bored and wanted to do something but when I pointed out we only had half an hour he didn’t seem to get it. I wonder now if the break in the plan, missing the den building, was the problem or whether it was inevitable that he would have some kind of issue because he was doing so much. I have spoken about fostering as being a bit like detective work, always looking for clues to behaviour, but it is also a considerable juggling act to, especially with T, in trying to get a balance between not over-stressing him and not letting him get bored. One day I might get it right.
Later on that day, after the last activity, T and I went back to the caravan and I cooked him Spaghetti Carbonara which went down well and then I sent him down to the clubhouse 10 minutes before me so he could experience some freedom. That’s one good thing about a contained campsite like this one; it offers the opportunity for the young ones to have some safe independence. When I got to him he had found the arcade which I think was too much for him because he was stressed again and we had a bit of a moment which ended with him dramatically storming off to the caravan to pack his bags but all in all it was not a bad day and he was out in a shot when he got into bed.
On Sunday we woke and had a nice breakfast before going down to the pool again. He made some new friends, always the way with one hour to go till we leave, and then we packed up and headed home. It had been a nice trip, a ‘man’s weekend’ as he called it and generally a success. He was sad to leave which is a good thing because it means he was happy. When we got home he went out to play and I lay down on the sofa and slept for 30 minutes. It hadn’t been tiring, no late nights or excessive walking, it was just that the constant thinking about what we were doing, what was coming next, whether our timings were OK and what could possibly go wrong during and in between had taken its toll on me. It’s like juggling like I said, and juggling time is the hardest. Next week he is off on a residential so that will be my holiday and free time so I’m looking forward to that.