I think my au-some son knows it is Autism Awareness Day. From very early morning, he is making me very aware of the condition he struggles with every day. My son is a champion coping with the odds of autism everyday and winning. He is not giving me a hard time, he is having a hard time. Sometimes, his siblings have a hard time too. Autism is hard but loving our au-some boy is easy.
I’m trying to write. A gloomy Donegal sky is sagging low, closing in around the hills. It’s blowing a gale outside. Hail stones, like small round pills, are drumming against the window above me. Behind me, my ‘autsome’ boy is pacing. Up and down. School’s out. Kids are in. No day for the trampoline. I know he wants an outside space where he can run and jump, and do what my ‘autsome’ boy needs to do, but the shower of sleet has turned everything white and wet. There will be no going out for a while. The pacing continues. I read the same line over and over, trying to make sense of what I have written. I am struggling against the noise. Mowghi is making his signature humming sound as he continues to pace. His incessant need for movement hasn’t let up all these years. His need for noise hasn’t either. His favourite music channel on the television is belting out all the latest hits. It’s all noise to me. The computer is playing Thomas the Tank music. I know every quaver, every beat, every tune that’s comes with being subjected to Thomas the Tank videos for almost fifteen years. That’s how long ago autism sneaked in and took up residence in our home, a noisy, pacing, never a dull moment autism that demanded me to be on red alert at all times, even when I’m writing, There is no retrieve, no downtime, no out when autism is about. It’s the way it is, and another Autism Awareness Month is upon us. As Mowghi paces, and the wind howls, and the hailstones rattle I commit to paper a list of things that autism taught me of which there are many, too many to mention. In no particular order, here is a random thought list of lessons I’ve learnt from my ‘autsome’ boy.
- Time is irrelevant.
- Moments make up life.
- Treasure the moments.
- Not all moments are magical.
- Most moments are little miracles.
- A lesson can be learnt in any given moment.
- The lesson is usually a lesson in self-love.
- Self-love comes from within and reaches out to others.
- Self-love is unconditional love.
- Unconditional love has no strings attached.
- When Mowghi rests his head on my shoulder the world stops.
- Never underestimate the power of love of any kind.
- Autism taught me who matters and what matters.
- Never underestimate the joy of simple things.
- Joy can find its way through pain.
- Given time, the pain of loss and grief eases.
- Patience is truly a virtue.
- Autism has honed that virtue for me very well.
- Humour can be found in the darkest of moments.
- Look for humour always. It’s a life-saving device.
- So is toilet paper, and I have to look for it too!
- Hiding toilet paper prevents blocked toilets.
- Hiding everything prevents mess and is sanity saving.
- Whoever invented the key should be canonized.
- Strangers are mostly real life angels.
- Talking is overrated.
- Silence is the sweetest noise.
- An non-verbal person does not constitute an empty mind.
- A warm bubbly bath can make anything better.
- Be soooo grateful for any night of uninterrupted sleep.
- Material things mean little to the soul.
- The soul celebrates difference.
- Our human understanding is limited by logic.
- There is nothing logical about Autism.
- Autism remains a mystery.
- Autism grows up.
- Autism doesn’t always behave grown up.
- Grown up autism needs help, support and services.
- People who work with the vulnerable in society are unsung heroes.
- Acceptance is the first step on any journey.
- The journey must be experienced.
- It’s called life, with or without autism.
- A good giggle is essential to survival.
- Strive to enjoy the journey.
My boy is trotting steadily towards his seventeenth birthday. Only yesterday I held him, as in the photograph above, at Crummies Bay, Dunree in Inishowen, Donegal, a small laughing mischievous rascal in my arms who knew his own mind and tormented me with his antics. He still does. I still am at a loss to fully understand him, his strange ways, his sixth sense, his breaking down, his frustrations. his wonder, his need for space, inside and outside, his connection with nature, his withdrawal to the sanctuary of his room. As he paces up and down behind me, I clock up a few more sentences, and wonder is he at a loss to understand me too?
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Delighted to be asked to take part in a storytelling event for Free Wee Libraries, by local artist Geraldine Timlin, I ventured down to Swan Park and discovered a lovely surprise . Geraldine was busy decorating a little corner of the park that would entice anyone to sit for a while among the green and the books. Like bees to flowers, the children came and took their place on a tiny toadstool. When they were sitting comfortably, I began to read a story about The Mummy Shop by Abie Longstaff & Lauran Beard published by Scholastic books. A little boy wanted a new Mummy because his own Mummy made him clean his room and go to bed early. She sounded like a really bad Mummy! So the little boy ordered up a new Mummy but no matter what Mummy he got they weren’t quite right. By the end of the book, he realised he wanted his own Mummy back because she was just perfect! All the children agreed that their own Mammies were perfect too, and it was a good job because their real Mammies (and Daddies and Grannys were not too far away) I hope everyone enjoyed the storytelling morning as much as I did.
The essence of the Free Wee Libraries is the fun of being out in the open air and the magic of a story. In a way, it took me back to when I was younger. All those summer months spent reading outside, for hours on end, on my back, squinting in the brightness, up on one elbow, propped up against a trunk of a tree, turning pages to the end of a book. Granted, there wasn’t much else to do, no electronic devices to distract me, no television, no town or village near, but the magic appeared in the form of a mobile library that came every fortnight to the bottom of Pomeroy, three miles away from our home. Along with my sisters, we walked there and back, laden with books. We were so excited about getting stuck into the books we never minded the long walk. Besides, it was totally normal. Mum and Dad were shaking hay in the fields so shanks mare was our only mode of transport. When we arrived home we would have ‘tay’ in the field, and before we were asked to lift the dockins we would sneak behind a haystack and devour the latest Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew book. Sometimes Mum joined us. Wrapped up in arms and legs, while gazing at the view down to Lough Neigh and beyond, I got lost in my mother’s voice that took us off to a land of wonder and adventure. When Dad took a break he would stretch out in the heat of the day and tell his own stories, mad, crazy, off the wall yarns, and of course we believed every word that dropped from his mouth because they were always about the man that lived over the mountain, or the woman that had no shoes, totally believable characters that was a figment of my father’s imagination. The ghost stories were told by the fireside in winter but the long funny yarns were told in the hay field. My father had no formal education but it didn’t prevent him from telling the most amazing stories that had us hanging on to his every word. With the Easter holidays stretching out before us, now is a good time to renew your love for books and nature. Make sure you pay a visit to a Free Wee Library and who knows, sometime soon, you might come upon another magical story time in the park. If you do, be sure to stop by.
Time is one of our most precious resources, a resource than mothers give in abundance by spending much of their days taking care of their families.
Being a mother is a tough job, and it is often said no love can compare to a mother’s love.For those who have lost loved ones, Mother’s Day can be adifficult day, a day of reflection, perhaps, of the precioustimes spent together. For others, Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate. I consider myself very blessed to still have both my elderly parents, and time is something I know they appreciate.
I took my Mum for her first shopping trip of 2015 lastweekend. It’s been a while since we had a day out. Usually, the day trips end when the light fades and the winter frost appears on our roads. This winter I noticed a slowing down. My father falling and hurting his ankle didn’t help. The slippy leaves where to blame, but it knocked the confidence a bit for both of them. Dad’s ankle had to heal and the winter chill is still hanging on, but I was delighted when Mum took me up on my offer of ‘a drive somewhere.’ Mum said ‘Perhaps we could go to a shopping centre.’
It was in the shopping centre I was reminded of Mother’s Day by all the pretty displays at the shop fronts. “Oh, I haveforgotten about Mother’s Day Mum, is that this Sunday?”Mum wasn’t sure either, so we wandered in to one of the shops and stopped by a Mother’s Day display to check out the date. Sunday, the 15th March. “So I didn’t miss it, I said. “I still have time.” “Time for what?” Mum asked. She had already forgotten why we entered the shop and had turned her attention to St. Patricks Day Cards. “Time to get you a card and a pressie,” I said. “You don’t need to do that,” she said. “This is my present.” She put out her arms to convey the moment we were in. “I don’t need anything more. Time is enough.”
On the way home I thought about what she said, and as a mother I considered what it is I would like for Mother’s Dayonly to realise that time must be the most precious gift you can give to any mother, or father, or anyone really. When everything falls away, when we look back on our lives, whenwe contemplate all that matters, time is the only thing we want. The treats and presents are nice, and we all like to give a little something, but the material things don’t figure in our memories in the same way we remember time, the precious time we share and shared together with our loved ones.
Mother’s day is a time to reflect on our loved ones and find a way to celebrate them whether they are with us or not. Families and family circumstances are unique, and how wecelebrate Mother’s Day is unique too, but taking time to honour our loved ones is more precious than any material gift.
Despite that, and Mums protests, I will present my mother with a little card and small gift on Mother’s Day but the time will be the real gift. It is what she and I will appreciate the most. As a mother, I will also appreciate the time I spend with my own children, especially that wobbly cup of tea that will appear rattling first thing in the early morning, along with the handmade cards. Nothing beats homemade, handmade and heartmade on Mothering Sunday.
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and grandmothers everywhere.
First Published in The Inishowen Independent March 2013
The weather is not exactly encouraging me to keep up my morning walk lately but once I’ve talked myself into my coat and walking boots, and pull the front door after me the weather becomes irrelevant. Besides, I have something else to entice me since the Free Wee Libraries popped up in Swan Park and surrounding areas, my love for reading with a dollop of curiosity on the side.
The little libraries are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and hard to pass by. It’s always interesting to see the different books left in the wee library I’m challenging myself to read different types of books at the moment so what better way than to find a random book on my morning walk and share one of my own. So I was vexed to learn that the harsh weather had no mercy on a couple of the wee libraries that now need a little make over.
The Free Wee Library in Inishowen is the brain child of Geraldine Timlin, award winning artist and lifelong book lover.Geraldine learned about the simple concept that has gained momentum in different parts of America and Europe and wanted to share it with the community. Her love for books and culture compelled her to establish free book nooks in our corner of the world to cultivate community and boost literacy in the great outdoors. These itty-bitty libraries bring readers to books and books to readers making reading accessible and fun!
Five of these tiny wooden libraries, built by volunteers and placed along County Donegal’s coast, are the start of something new to promote literacy for adults and children. The brilliant book-sharing scheme runs on an honesty policy … Take a book. Return a book. A tiny but mighty community builder. How charming is that?
Obviously, Geraldine cannot do enough to share her love of books and the urgent need for a growth in literacy. It’s no secret; we live in a digital age. Our reliance on computers and smart phones has changed the way we interact with the world. Yet a little wooden box full of books has captured the imagination of young and old alike and is creating a sense of community and also a desire to be part of something positive.
The tiny libraries are monitored by volunteers and each library will change its collection several times a month. Geraldine’s wish is that it continues to grow and develop with people who value literacy and community. It’s certainly a great way to declutter your shelves and recycle books!
In late March FWL is organising a poetry competition for children and adults, in Irish and English. The winner will have their poem distributed throughout the Free Wee Libraries. The FWL project has been highly successful to date and plans are under way to expand the project throughout Inishowen. Geraldine is happy to hear from anyone who can donate books, particularly children’s books or help in volunteering in any way to keep the Free Wee Library project inspiring people to read and to share a love for walking and reading in the great outdoors! I hope the Free Wee Libraries that got battered by the storm are up and running again soon and open 365 days a year. It’s hard to beat a walk and a read in the many beautiful spots in Inishowen.
For further details contact firstname.lastname@example.org Follow at Free Wee Library Project on Facebook.
Details on the Free Wee Libraries Poetry Competition to follow…
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE INISHOWEN INDEPENDENT
Hello World! I’m autistic. Perhaps you know someone like me. In April you will notice buildings lighting up blue on Autism Awareness Day. Awareness is good but acceptance is better. Allow me to explain why and how you can help.
When I am out and about with my family or carer, life can turn stressful. Autism affects all my senses, attention and perception. This means my behaviour is unpredictable. It helps if you are aware of my condition but it helps more if you:
Try not to stare when I’m having a tough time.
Please give me time, give me space, stay calm and carry on. My carer is often my Mum/Dad/brother/sister. She/he needs a break too!
Give up your place in the line.
I have problems standing quietly in a queue. Waiting is an enormous challenge for me. I become agitated and overwhelmed. I can’t help or stop the sensations I feel in my body. Please, if you notice me in a queue, allow me to go in front of you. My family will really appreciate it.
Watch my body language. It’s how I communicate.
When I’m excited I behave like most folk in Inishowen when Donegal wins a match. I run up and down, scream, shake my hands in the air and clap but I can also behave this way if I am hungry, frustrated, frightened, agitated, confused etc. I may have difficulty with words but if you observe me really closely you might work out how I’m feeling or what I need.
Keep me safe.
If you see me wandering around on my own, if you see me in my pyjamas or with no shoes, if I look lost, anxious and crossing streets aimlessly on my own, chances are I have wandered/ran off and my carer is looking for me. Please watch out for me until you find my carer or my carer finds me. Thank you.
Now, a word of thanks from Mum…
Thanks for giving my autistic child the thumbs up…the way you smile knowingly…the way you offer to watch him for a minute until I do what I need to do…the way you say hello to him even though he never says hello back…the way you ignore him when he helps himself to his favourite sweets in your shop…the way you wave my money away…the way you give him a drink and some goodies in the cinema when he gets fed up sitting….the way you open up your shop even though you had just closed it to let him check it out…the way you allow him to sneak behind the bar and serve himself a coke, the way you watch over him when he runs into your premises…the way you didn’t object when he went for a good snoop around, the way you offer to fetch our car when he has a melt-down in the middle of the multi-story car park…the way you didn’t react when he poked through your bag…the way you stopped and asked me if there was anything you could do for me…the way you made our visits to the clinic easier…the way you offer him a treat…the way you make us feel welcome in your restaurant. You will see us again and again and again because we are loyal to those that make every day life possible for us.
When you do that, you light us up, not only in April but every day of the year. Thank you for accepting, for understanding and making allowances for all families with Autism.