For other stories about my son, see Growing up with Autism, Growing up with Autism 2, An American Story, and A trip to the dentist
wouldn't want anyone to think that I am some kind of Superdad when it
comes to dealing with my autistic son. I try to cope, he tries to
cope,and sometimes it comes out OK- and sometimes we both...lose it.
am busy one Sunday putting in the concrete piers for the new field
shelter, so that the two horses we board can be moved off the
wasteland they have created over the winter down to fresh pastures.
Consequently I had apologised to my son for missing the morning walk
we take most Sundays (see Growing up with Autism 2) and he seemed
to be resigned to the change in schedule so when I trundle the
wheelbarrow past the green shed we call his 'Cafe'' I am a little
surprised to see him sitting in his chair in full regalia- cap, coat,
wellies and bright yellow ear protectors.
Let me interject a little honesty here- I was surprised and not a little
dismayed because I am an old curmudgeon and I like to work alone on
construction jobs. The exchange that follows goes something like
Oh, hi. Didn't expect to see you here. What are you doing?
this is self evident. In addition our three sheep are milling about
excitedly, certain that the presence of people means treats are in
the offing. Boomer , the black faced ram, is doing the little dance
that he does, jumping straight up on all four legs; Bea, the spinster
sister, is hanging in the background, whilst Ella Rose, the resident
vamp ( picture Miss Piggy from Sesame Street in a fleece jump suit)
is nosing my son hopefully which makes him laugh. Lately he has
completely lost his phobia of animals which is helpful on a
So, is Ella Rose your girlfriend now? Can she come live in your
S: ( giving me the kind of nervous smile reserved for drunks and
mental defectives) Yes
abandon the repartee and count twelve spades of aggregate into the barrow, reverse and park by the cement
bag, three good half spades worth then mix. You should always mix the
aggregate and the cement dry first, it makes it easier when you add
water. I add very little water because I am mixing this batch stiff
so that it will stand up proud of the soil if I have to even out the
level as I know I will.
a hundred meters or so to the future barn site, fortunately downhill,
but when I pick up the barrow handles my son gets up and announces:
'I'll help you. '
Sure you want to? It's quite heavy. (I'm finessing- nothing is more
calculated to motivate him to muck in)
I'll push the wheelbarrow !
do a trip without incident and my son watches solemnly as I spade the
mixture into the first hole and pat it smooth with the spade. The
ground here is slightly higher so it goes flush with the soil. Back
we go and I do another mix, and again my son insists on taking the
barrow handles. We start down the hill but by now the sheep have
decided that they like this odd game and join the parade. I try to
hurry and catch up but each one of my son's strides is half again as
long as mine, and the sheep are galloping joyfully in his wake. They
reach the paddpock gate ahead of me, and follow the barrow inside.
I did not wish this to happen. Sheep are incurably curious, and want
to be involved in everything, including wet concrete. 'Hey!' I shout.
'You let the sheep in! I don't want them in here!'
son informs me that I have my priorities mixed up. He does this by
standing stock still and shouting, ' I like the sheep in here!'
wife, bless her, would have said in an interested tone of voice, 'I
hear that what I said made you angry. I think that you like the sheep
and want them to be in here, isn't that right?'
is why she is a successful child therapist and I clean up after the
chickens. What actually follows goes something like this:
If you let the sheep in they will step in the concrete and mess it
I like them to step in the concrete!
The concrete will hurt their feet !
I LIKE them to hurt their feet!!
Well if you don't care about the sheep maybe you should go back
I'M NOT GOING BACK INSIDE!!! ( At this point my son has his head
lowered and his teeth bared and looks a good deal like King Kong
facing down an intrusive pterodactyl
I realize that the situation is completely out of hand, and yes, I do
have my priorities reversed, I move off and pretend to do some more
smoothing of the original pier. Out of the corner of my eye I see my
son standing rigidly, gripping the handles of the barrow so tightly
he is shaking. I worry that if he stands there much longer the mix
will start to go off, but after a minute or two he turns and stomps
back to the house.
finish the next pier and go back for another load, and yes, of course
the sheep have no interest in the concrete and follow me back up to
the green barn. I decide it is treat time.
an hour or so when I'm finsishing off the last pier, I turn
around and my son is back.
show him how I have to smooth the sides of the last pier which has to
stand about six inches proud of the soil to be level with the other
two on that side. You have be careful, I tell him, not to smooth too
much, because it brings the cement to the surface and weakens the
mixture. He looks solemnly at me as if he understands this. I
say, 'Let me just wash out the barrow and we'll have a bonfire. ' My
son accepts this peace offering in the spirit in which it is given,
and all is well once more. I holler after him, 'Don't forget the
marshmallows!' He puts his hand in his pocket and exhibits the
imaginary marshmallows and we both laugh. It is an old joke.