What Autism Taught Me


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?



When Disaster Strikes Compassion Comforts

And a voice cried from heaven… “It is done.”

It probably isn’t accurate but this quote from the Bible came back to me as I climbed into bed on the night that Mother Nature took on New York. There is nothing like the hand of nature to stop us in our tracks and there is nothing we can do when Mother Nature speaks.

So I did what I could. I spared a thought and sent out a prayer for all those 60 million people who were projected to be directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy as I reflected on how nature always triumphs over technology. And electrical power. And political power.

Isn’t it ironic that Mother Nature had her say at a time when the election season in America was drawing to a close without any serious discussion about climate change? Two presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, and yet the climate spoke to them—and to everyone else around the world that is awake and listening.

Instead of continuing with their campaigns the political powers were forced to listen and react with the naturally occurring healing element of compassion for those caught up in the wrath of the storm. In the city that never sleeps schools were closed, businesses shuttered and mass transit suspended. Residents were told to hunker down and emergency responders where getting prepared to offer evacuees a safe place, a warm meal and emotional support. What else do you need when disaster strikes? What else do you need at any time in our lives when we are in trouble, fearful and anxious? Yet we spend so much time ‘needing’ other things that can be wiped out so quickly by a power much greater than ourselves.
In the past few years we’ve seen a number of natural disasters that leaves us without those things that we are too connected to, too plugged in, too fanatical, too dependent on. Is there an opportunity here to heighten our awareness of what really matters, to bridge and tunnel our way back to a deeper connection with each other and develop an understanding of what power really is?

At the time of writing this piece, the full extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy had not been fully totted up but with that we are presented with an opportunity not only for the healing of others, but perhaps, surprisingly, for ourselves too. When disaster strikes compassion comforts. It is a time to come together and put it into action. The collective effort, the ‘we’re-all-in-this-together spirit,’ triumphs in the face of disaster, but it shouldn’t take a natural disaster to make us tap into our natural humanity.

When trouble knocks on your neighbour’s door, when a friend is in need it offers us an opportunity to reach out and support each other. Not only will our support help those who need it, it will also help keep ours spirit intact as we practice spiritual values that comes from the same power that causes Mother Nature to speak.

The act of compassion can fill us all up with hope at times when life and nature is full of uncertainty. Compassionate action has the power to makes us feel connected to something greater than ourselves and can ultimately gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives which reminds me of another quote, this time from The Dalai Lama, “It’s not enough to be compassionate, you must act.”


Share your love.

Love someone? Don’t wait until St Valentine’s Day. Tell them now. Call them up. Text them. Send them a card perhaps or a snail mail letter. Share your thoughts. Let them feel your love.

Love feels good. It lifts you up, puts a smile in your cheeks, sends a rush through your veins and makes everything okay, Love feels like a little luxury that costs nothing but is priceless to the receiver so send it out. Pass on your loving thoughts and take the time to love. Now is the only time we have so let your loved ones know they are loved. It could be the only gift they receive today. It will also be the only gift that will matter.

I am connected

When it feels like I’m stuck I remind myself I am connected to the divine universe. My breath leads me to a place of stillness and contemplation. Deeper and deeper I settle the storm inside me. I allow myself to accept things as they are. This too shall pass. I am taking stock. I am not thinking. I am reflecting. I am being instead of doing. I shall not panic. I will stand still in this place where my choices have led me and I will not fight against the storm. Out of chaos, clarity comes and no choice is a bad choice. It is as it is and my choices were made at a time when I was trying to do my best.

I am not stuck. I shall go forward and leave the past behind. I am contemplating changing my future. I am looking round me, observing, waiting for the opportunity to show itself. Like a footing in the hill I will place my bet and I will climb up to a new awareness. I shall create my own future by going with the flow. I shall be at one with my breath, my heartbeat, the earth and all who threads there. I am connected to the universe. I am part of the great divine. I am not stuck. I am.

Let slow be your new fast

First published in the Inishowen Independent.

Admittedly, I have a love hate with all things technical. When it works and if it is used effectively it can enrich our lives in so many ways. However, it’s an irony of our modern lives that while technology is continually invented to save us time we use that time to do more and more things, and so our lives are more hectic than ever. Slowing down is a conscious choice, and not always an easy one, but it leads to a greater appreciation for life and a greater level of happiness. If you feel you are caught up in a whirlwind of life try one or two of these to slow you down and take time to smell the simple life.

1. Do less. It’s hard to slow down when you are trying to do a million things. Instead, make the conscious choice to do less. Focus on what is really important, and let go of the rest. Put space between tasks and appointments, so you can move through your days at a more leisurely pace.

2. Be present. When you find yourself thinking about something you need to do, or something that’s already happened, or something that might happen, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Focus on what’s going on right now, on your actions, on your environment, on others around you.

3. Disconnect. Don’t always be connected. If you carry around an iPhone or Blackberry or other mobile device, shut it off. Better yet, learn to leave it behind when possible.

4. Focus on people. Too often we spend time with friends and family, or meet with colleagues, and we’re not really there with them. We talk to them but are distracted by devices. We are there, but our minds are on things we need to do. We listen, but we’re really thinking about ourselves and what we want to say. None of us are immune to this, but with conscious effort you can shut off the outside world and just be present with the person you’re with.

5. Appreciate nature.  Spend time outside in nature. Take a deep breath of fresh air. Enjoy the serenity of water and greenery. Exercise outdoors when you can, or find other outdoor activities to enjoy such as nature walks, hiking, swimming, etc. Try to do this daily — by yourself or with loved ones.

6. Eat slower. Instead of cramming food down our throats as quickly as possible learn to eat slowly. Be mindful of each bite. Appreciate the flavors and textures. Eating slowly has the double benefit of making you fuller on less food and making the food taste better. Try to eat more real food as well, with some great spices (instead of fat and salt and sugar and frying for flavor).

7. Drive slower. Speed is a pretty prevalent problem and is responsible for a lot of traffic accidents, stress, and wasted fuel. Get into the habit of leaving more time for your journey and drive slower.

8. Find pleasure in everything from washing the dishes to visiting a crabbit relative. Life can be so much more enjoyable if you make up your mind that every experience will be a positive one.

9. Single-task. The opposite of multi-tasking. Focus on one thing at a time. When you feel the urge to switch to other tasks, pause, breathe, and pull yourself back.

10. Breathe. When you find yourself speeding up and stressing out, pause, and take a deep breath. By fully focusing on each breath, you bring yourself back to the present, and slow yourself down. It’s also nice to take a deep breath or two — do it now and see what I mean. 🙂

Further columns for The Bright Side  in the Inishowen Independent can be found here.

Barriers Begone


Ignore the barriers. Jump over them. Crawl under them. Go between them. Embrace them. Move them. Decorate them. Show them what you’re made of and grow your own true colours. If not for you, for others. We all need a little inspiration when the barrier is too high, too low, too solid, too stubborn, too in your face. Defy, discover and deliver true blue you.

Everything in its own time…including me!

The gnomon is the triangular blade in this sundial
Image via Wikipedia

I’m cheating a little here. The following post was first published in the Inishowen Independent on Thursday 20th January 2012. When you read it you will know why I am cheating but the short answer is my Haitus is over.  Instead of writing a new post I have been doing a spot of decorating round here.  I also have a lot of blogs to catch up on when the time is right. Speaking of time…

Everything in its own time…including me!

It’s hard to believe we are into the second half of January already and I’m still on a ‘go slow’ from Christmas. It’s not that I haven’t been catching up on things, I have but not by choice. I’m not entirely sure how it happened but everything seemed to need renewed all at once, the passports, the driving license, car documentation, my body…well, it needed a bit of a check up, as did my teeth, and a whole load of other essential and personal stuff that has left me running from pillar to post looking signatures, photographs, Garda approval and loads of angel’s blessings. Forget about New Year’s resolutions and the ‘going to get fitter, thinner, read more books’ mantra, I have been on a rampage trying to convince everyone that I am alive, legal and licensed!

But in every other part of my existence I have been on a go slow. It’s the stillness of January that calms me as the winter yawns and sighs in the quietness of nature for everything to rebirth and burst into life again. I love the silence, the skinny arms of the trees outstretched and naked, offering it all up for a spring birth. It’s not time yet, though nature can get a little disoriented too, especially when the weather is mild as it has been in recent times, either blooming too early or blooming too late. I suppose you could say I’m blooming late in January. I haven’t got anything done that I would consider constructive or leading me closer to my dreams for the coming year. All I have done is gathered proof to all in sundry that I am alive and able.

In between times I have had some quiet contemplation in the stillness of nature that beckons me with open arms to wait patiently for warmer days. Something inside is pushing me on, wanting me to get on with it. This mild frustration with the mundane things that we all have to do from time to time can create a little impatience but I do believe that everything has a time, a season, as outlined in the book of Ecclesiastes which was the inspiration for the international hit Turn Turn Turn by the Byrds in 1965,

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sow; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
In other wards there is an appropriate time for everything. So if it is not happening for you, don’t worry, when the time is right it will. Like the winter’s thaw, we all must learn to be patient and wait.

I’ll be back posting soon. In the meantime check in at The Bright Side Column to view an archive of other columns.


I am taking a little hiatus at the moment in Sicily. I hope to resume blogging sometime in January, although posting may be more sporadic than before this year; I really want to concentrate on a couple of other writing projects, particularly my next book. However, I hope to aim for a weekly post.

While wandering round the heart of Taormina yesterday, I lit some candles in a seventh century church to send some positive intentions and light your way. May your 2012 be full of light and blessings and, as ever, thanks for reading.

Be your own best friend

The most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself. You may spend time with friends, family, workmates, colleagues and strangers today but you will spend all your time with yourself. Breath deep and become aware of all your senses. Sit back and enjoy being comfortable in your own skin. Be happy. Create your own happiness. Do not look towards someone else to make you happy. Happiness comes from within.

Look after yourself today. Treat yourself in the same way you would treat your nearest and dearest. The more you take care of you, the more you will be able to take care of others. Pay attention to your body. Meet its needs. If it is hungry, feed it. If it is tired, rest it. If you need to go to the bathroom, excuse yourself and go. Let nothing  become before your bodies needs.

If you feel overwhelmed, sad or disappointed go easy on you. Ride the wave.  Love yourself more than ever. Embrace your dark side. Look after yourself the way you would look after a sick child. Cheer yourself up. If you feel hurried or stressed, slow down. Gave yourself plenty of time to move between one activity and another. Take time to stop and rest your eyes on our beautiful planet. Smile at yourself. Let it sneak inside and make you giddy. Compliment yourself on every little thing you do. Allow yourself to feel good about your achievements. Listen carefully to the whisperings of your soul. Feel it stir in your bones. Take action. Speak your truth.

Everything is a thought before it becomes reality. Create positive uplifting thoughts. Trust yourself and your own ability. Be grateful for all that you have. Respect yourself and make good choices. Life supports you on your path.  Other relationships will come and go but where ever you go, there you will be. There is only one you. There is only one me. Today, I shall put myself on top of my priority list. I will be my own No. 1. I will love my self unconditionally. I will be my own best friend. Be your own best friend too. Aox