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



I 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.


I 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 this.


Me: Oh, hi. Didn't expect to see you here. What are you doing?


Son: Watching.


Well, 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 smallholding.


M: So, is Ella Rose your girlfriend now? Can she come live in your house?


S: ( giving me the kind of nervous smile reserved for drunks and mental defectives) Yes


I 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.


It's 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. '


M: Sure you want to? It's quite heavy. (I'm finessing- nothing is more calculated to motivate him to muck in)


S: I'll push the wheelbarrow !


We 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.


Now, 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!'


My 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!'


My 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?'

That is why she is a successful child therapist and I clean up after the chickens. What actually follows goes something like this:


M: If you let the sheep in they will step in the concrete and mess it up!


S: I like them to step in the concrete!


M: The concrete will hurt their feet !


S: I LIKE them to hurt their feet!!


M: Well if you don't care about the sheep maybe you should go back inside!!


S: 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


Belatedly 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.


I 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.


After an hour or so when I'm finsishing off the last pier, I turn around and my son is back.

I 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.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.