Sunday 20 January 2013

The longest-lasting winter

Call me slow, but it has occurred to me that this blog is an exercise in saying the same thing in a lot of different ways. (If there are readers among you who have already rumbled this, I can only apologise.) But then it has to be, because this is my life with Grace now.

This morning it is homework time. Cue the same weekly argument in different words. Like Groundhog Day, with knobs on. My daughter is already yelling at me and rolling her eyes at my stupidity in Not Getting that she shouldn't have to do it. (Imperial Free Pass? Divine Right?) As her aggression and agitation grows, I feel like doing a Captain Oates - walking out into the snow and never coming back. Or at least not until I can find Punxsutawney Phil to release us from this unrelieved cycle of torment and signal a change in the season.

Parents of other autistic children have told me to give up on Grace's homework on the grounds that it's not worth the stress and distress. On Sunday mornings my daughter now wakes growling and fully-charged, prepared for the weekly torment. There are no preliminary skirmishes any more: she flies at me a shrieking, railing Fury.

I wonder whether her increasing, dismaying, mind-blowingly frustrating recalcitrance is because my clever girl is onto me, and the system. She knows that there is an 'out' under the arrangement that now provides a statement of educational needs for her. She knows that there is an acknowledgement of her areas of difficulty. I wonder whether she is seeking to redraw the terms of our deal - in which I bow out, and shut it all down when it gets too much - in her constant quest for control. I am so frightened that as she grows up, butting more and more against an educational system and social environment that accentuate her differences as the years pass, she is seeking to escape rather than engage.

More and more of my requests these days, whether they relate to homework or not, seem intolerable to her. Increasingly, she finds it hard just to say 'Yes.' Increasingly, she rejects expectations and demands. "I find it really hard to say 'yes' to things I don't want to do, Mummy," she tells me. "It makes me feel all fizzy and sick inside."

So today I ask myself again: why am I still doing this? Why don't I just stop? Grace doesn't understand homework because she doesn't understand working at something to get a better understanding. In her world, you either get something or you don't. She sees her step-brothers bend to their schoolwork and believes they have an innate ability to answer questions on maths and science that she lacks. She thinks I can speak French because I was born to be able to do it. She thinks her father is good at maths for the same reason.

I want her to learn. But more importantly, I want her to learn how to learn. I do not think, yet, that this is beyond her. I'm not ready to give up on my daughter yet. She is capable of doing most of the homework she is set. Even the bits she finds hard, even the bits she boggles over, we can usually address to some extent. I don't want to send her the message that she's incapable, or so different that it's not worth trying any more.

Outside, it's still snowing. It makes me think of the permanent winter of Narnia imposed on the inhabitants of that land by the evil White Witch. It makes me think of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale of The Snow Queen - which terrified me when I was little - about the boy with the splinter in his eye who is stolen away into a never-changing land of frost and ice from which he can never return.

In the end, I have to give up on the homework for today. The shouting and the distress made it simply ridiculous to continue. Now Grace is in my arms crying. This noise too is immense. As I hold her and kiss her and shush her I wonder how long Grace and I are to spend in this endless pattern. I look outside at winter. I want to walk out into it until it muffles the shrieking. I want to walk out into it until it blocks my ears and eyes, and all I can hear is silence.

Most of all, though, I don't want it to be winter any more. I just want it to be spring.


  1. We arranged with school to cease all home work and made many other alterations which I had no idea were possible until then. It did not lead to a lack of academic progress. It was like taking a whole load of sharp stones out of a shoe.

    I refused drinks and biscuits at meetings and did not smile.

  2. Thank you. What a striking comment: like taking sharp stones out of a shoe. I am listening. But I am worried that my daughter will seek to do less and less. She already refuses to participate in most maths and science classes because she has decided she can't do them, and puts her head down on the desk. I am really nervous that if we abandon homework entirely she will take it as a cue to seek to further narrow her educational experiences until it's down to just art and drama. Which I am very happy for her to pursue singly when she's 18, but not quite yet ..

  3. You are right right right Sophie to want to make your Grace learn how to learn. It's such a massively important skill for life. And she has to accept that there are things she needs to do in order to conform to expected behaviour. That is how we work in the world when we are adults, and you are trying to give her the skills to be a happy adult. She is capable of doing homework so until an alternative arrangement is made, she has to do it. Self-discipline starts with being given discipline, and having things expected of you. My Grace (a fellow Aspiegirl) also hates homework and we have the same fight as you. But I fight on every week and take my blood pressure pills.

    Self-discipline is so important in the Arts: the self-discipline to sit down every day and write or draw or go to the studio and work on a piece of drama - to learn lines and turn up for rehearsals with the things you need, ready to do a day's work. It's easy when you're inspired, but on the days/weeks/months that you are blocked or unmotivated it is only self-discipline that gets you through.

    Equally - and I'm sure this won't be something Grace wants to hear - every artist needs to have a fall-back skill. The actors and writers I know all have something that they do when they can't get work doing what they love. In order to get that work they need to show they can stick at something (whether it's waitressing, working on the till in a supermarket, teaching or care assisting) and that they have a few basic qualifications. Good lord, how will she do her accounts when she is a jobbing actress if she can't do maths? How can she play Marie Curie or the first female Doctor Who if she can't raise some interest in science? (Would that approach help at all? - Can she 'act' interested in a science topic?)

    Funny isn't it? We hear so much about boys with Aspergers and their adherence to rules and order, that our girls seem like another kind of creature altogether.

    As for the belief that you are born with whatever skills you have in life and that is that, my Grace seems to have the same belief. She rails at me for making her practice her handwriting and says she's rubbish and she can't do it. Now this is dangerous thinking of the kind that grinds away self-esteem. So I remind her that she couldn't walk when she was a baby, but now she walks perfectly because she's learned and practiced it and now she can even run around. And I show her the sheets of letters she wrote when she first started writing, so she can see for herself how far she's come.

    So Sophie, after all my digressions, I want to repeat: I think you are right right right to want your Grace to learn how to learn. Don't let her close her world around herself and hide behind her statement of educational needs. (And I've got some spare blood pressure pills if you want them. ;-) x)

  4. Birdie, Birdie.. your comments are so heartening. Thank you. I'm going to read them to Grace. You encapsulate so much more articulately what I have been trying to tell her! Thank you xx ps I'll have some of those pills too please..

  5. We also have problems with homework with our ASD son aged 10. He doesn't want to do things he is bad at, but he loves to do things where he is praised. We can get him to do anything as long as we don't criticize or interfere. He likes us helping; he is interested in ideas. He is good at Maths too which helps (but rubbish at art or drawing). We never have homework battles because we haven't really pushed him. The result is his writing is atrocious but he almost always loves school. I don't know whether we have made the right choice. Certainly now we having to step up the level of supervision, and do extra handwriting practice to get him to level 4. I think some people would be appalled that we hadn't pushed him more, but I feel we chose peace rather than battling. Jury's out on that one. Time will tell. I fear there will be loads of battles at secondary yet to come. He loves learning things though. He much prefers to do homework with his Dad than me. He is very homework-avoidant, but he can be compliant if he sees the issue as a gratification of something...attention, self esteem, special time with Dad, interesting idea, please teacher stuff. As long as you don't say, "this is for your benefit". That he doesn't get and will run to top of house rather than do something for a long term goal.

  6. Hi Sophie - me again. I'm glad you found my thoughts in synch with yours. And I hope your Grace understood that I say it with love that she should do her homework because it will help her to be an even more wonderful actress and artist.

    I saw some great thoughts, suggestions and ideas about homework on the National Autistic Society website:

  7. Thank you! Where's the 'like' button? Oops, wrong website :)

  8. Hi Sophie. I've just finished your book. Literally in the last 10 minutes! It made me cry & it made me laugh. My daughter has just turned 9. A year ago today (1 Feb), she was diagnosed with ADHD. Six months later with aspergers. Fun times I'm sure you can imagine!!! Bits of your book really struck home with me... Bron shouted at me for an hour this afternoon over her 10 spellings. And sobbed. And shouted some more. I left the room in the end. There's only so many times in one day you can hear "I hate you. I wish you were dead. I hate you more than I hate Emma" (her sister) "and I hate Emma a lot!!"

    What really gets me though, is other peoples arrogance. At how, suddenly, they are consultant paedatricians. How suddenly, all the forms you fill in, all the discussions, all the appointments to get to where you are now are swept aside with "really? Are you sure? Isn't she just full of energy? Surely she must stop at some point... And don't only boys have ADHD? She's not that different to my son... And he doesn't have anything like that" ...

    I enjoyed your book. It makes me want to hit my doubters round the head with it and say "this is my life too"

    Thank you for sharing your journey...

  9. hello Clarey - how nice to meet you and share lives a little bit. the shouting in our house today was about piano practice. groan. thank you for your lovely comments. good luck to you and Bron. send her my love and tell her there's a girl not much older than her over here who is doing her best too. xx

  10. Hi Sophie, I find that with my boy (who is now 14)incentives work. There is always something he wants or needs or he would like to do. We forget sometimes how much bargaining power we have with our kids. I really have to think like a businesswoman sometimes! but it helps..
    So try incentives for homework and give her something even for some achievement. Discuss this problem area with her in advance on a calm moment (this is so important), let her give you her ideas on how to do it and then try and do it as much as pos, remembering that she may not be able to do everything perfecty in the first week.
    So comunication, incentive, patience and tolerance is what helped me with my son's homework. But also the fact that we never gave up, and as he grew older he accepted it a little bit more.
    I also find the help of professionals from the CAMHS service very valuable, if you can get your hands on a specific Aspergers parents course from them, it can be very helpful.
    Good luck and lots of patience...

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