Why I’m Rejoicing over a ‘Smelly Cow’

I woke up with a headache again today, just like yesterday morning. But today, despite my headache, I’m in a somewhat celebratory mood, and it’s all to do with a ‘smelly cow’…

The first sign of the forementioned cow appeared late on Wednesday evening. Penguin was lying in bed, doing some drawing on a favourite app of ours, simply called ‘Drawing App’. I noticed that he was very focused and obviously had some kind of plan in his head for what he was doing. He was carefully selecting specific colours using the colour sphere tool, and then making circles of these colours on a black background.

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As a parent of an autistic and non-verbal child, who’s communication is very limited, you become a detective, constantly trying to decipher what is possibly being communicated; Why is my child upset about something? What does he want when he keeps taking my hand and then ‘throwing’ it up towards the kitchen cupboard (and I’ve shown him each item in there but none of them were of interest to him, so he’s clearly after something which has at some point come from that cupboard, or possibly from a similar cupboard in a previous home of ours…)? Why is he writing “kischoo” over and over again with his magnetic letter? What does it mean when he leads me to the kitchen only to leave me there and walk off?

(Well, that last one quite simply means ‘cook me some food, please!’, of course.)

So there I am, looking at him drawing, intensely focused on his task. And I tell him I love his choice of colours, while I’m searching in my mind for any possible information about where he might have got the inspiration from, for this abstract artwork. Could the colours be symbolising something? (Red, yellow, bright green and purple next to each other would – naturally – be the Teletubbies. But this..??) Perhaps it’s a purely aesthetic choice? Or maybe these colours are in a specific relationship to each other on a colour wheel (in a similar way to red, yellow and blue, which is a favourite colour combination of his)?

The composition was being created from right to left, and Penguin was clearly a little bit annoyed that there wasn’t quite enough room for the pale blue circle furthest to the left. But he squeezed it in as best as he could, and then he was finished (I quickly grabbed the ipad and saved the image before he went on to erase it, which he generally does promptly and without hesitation when he decides that he’s done).

That was that, and we fell asleep soon after.

The following morning, one of the first things Penguin did was to sit down with his magnetic letters and write “COW”. I went and got him a cow from his little collection of Schleich animals, as I wanted to show him (yet again) that words can be used for him to communicate his thoughts, needs and wishes.

IMG_4508He kindly accepted the cow, but then put it down and grabbed a letter y, and placed it on the magnetic board, above the w. My detective’s brain gets going again… is he trying to write ‘cowboy’, maybe? I ask him “what’s the next letter”, hoping that he’ll give me another clue. But he abandones the letters and goes back to whatching an episode of the Sooty Show, which you can see has been paused on the iphone in the picture above.

And there, in that Sooty episode, was my clue. If I’d taken more notice, that is. But later in the day Penguin spelled it out to me, literally:

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If you’re not a massive Sooty fan, you’ll be forgiven for not immediately recognising the origine of this colourful insult. It shows up on a welcoming sign which is being made for Soo’s cousin Soola, who’s coming to visit all the way from Australia. I won’t bore you with the full story, but in short, some cheeky little teddies decide to write “SMELLY COW” on the sign, instead of the more traditional “WELCOME SOOLA” that they’d been asked to write.

So, well done Penguin, for copying down a new favourite phrase. Not very communicative, admittedly, but none the less a new phrase to add to his excisting favourites (which btw include other words and names from Sooty, such as Prestwich, Seaton, and ski school – and if you’re extremely observant you may recognise the “kischoo” mentioned earlier, as a central part of the phrase (s)ki schoo(l).

Although this ‘smelly cow’ in magnetic letter is slightly funny in itself, it’s not what made me excited enough to spend this Saturday morning on writing this very post. (And I hope that at least one or two of you will find my ramblings interesting enough to carry you through to the final part of this story. Actually, that’s pretty much where we are now, at the beginning of the final chapter:)

As you already know, yesterday morning I woke up with a headache. I had breakfast and strong coffee, hoping that would chase the pain away. Alas, it didn’t, so I took two paracetamols and tried to get on with the day. Annoyingly, the tablets didn’t seem to have that great an effect this time, an by the afternoon I was also feeling cold and a bit nauseous. So, a migraine maybe, or the start of a flu..? As Penguin had woken up ridiculously early (again, thanks for that kiddo), I thought he MIGHT just be up for chilling on the bed for a bit, with books and screens or frankly anything to just let me lie down next to him and relax for a while. And MAYBE, if I was super lucky he might even decide on a nap!

Haha, nope. Of course not, he was bouncing up and down on the bed, twisting and twirling, and then up and about and eager to go back downstairs. Fine. I brought a duvet down with me and laid down on the sofa, and let Penguin take charge of the dvd player. He also had all his usual things at hand, like his beads, play dough, magnetic letters, pens etc, to keep himself occupied with. And I did manage to relax, and my headache and other symptoms started to fade, thankfully.

Even though I’m relaxing, I’m constantly paying attention to what Penguin is up to. Although he’s just turned 11 (time flies!), he definitely still needs an adults supervision. He will chew on pretty much whatever takes his fancy, and generally doesn’t consider possible dangers (such as choking, getting burnt, or eating something harmful, etc). So I keep an eye on him, and as I’m laying there on the sofa I watch him walking over to the other end of the room, and sitting down on the floor,  next to his pen holder. He grabs a pen, takes the lid off it and starts to draw… on the floor. I feel my neck tensening and the headache signalling that it’s ready for a comeback.

I’m thinking that I might be ready to write one of those blog posts, which I’ve read so many of by other parents, where I’d outline all the difficulties that come with developmental delays… As I spend so much time with Penguin, the things he does differently to most kids his age have become ‘normal’ to me. But then there are the occassional moments when I feel it, with painful clarity, that there are so many things he ‘should be doing’ but isn’t, and so many things he does which he should have learnt not to by now. He should be able to go to the toilet without any help, he should realise the hasard of stepping out into traffic, and should be able to give his name, age and address as well as list his favourite things to anyone who might ask. And he shouldn’t be drawing on the floor.

Yet, at the same time I can’t help but feel a little bit intrigued and curious about what he might be drawing. He doesn’t often use pens independently and on his own initiative. He will usually put a pen in my hand, and then steer my hand rather than the pen. Unless we’re sitting down and working on something together, and I explicitly ask him to draw or write something specific, as we often do as part of his education.

So I’m curious to see what he’s drawing there, on the floor (and I know that those pen marks will be easy to wipe off the varnished surface – I wouldn’t recommend letting your kid loose on a carpet, or with more permanent markers, unless that fits in with your more bohemic interior design scheme). Perhaps it’s that drawing of a tree with a kite, and steps leading up to it, just like the one that Shaun the Sheep draws in ‘The Kite” episode? Penguin has made that drawing more than once. Actually, he’s probably drawn it hundreds of times over the last five years or so, either on paper, or on the ipad, or on a blackboard. Never on the floor though, yet.

I decide to get closer to have a sneaky look, but I don’t want to seem too keen as that will often make him stop what he’s doing (a kind of performance anxiety, if you want a proper term for it). I can tell by the movements of his hands that it’s not “The Kite”, and it looks more like… writing?? As mentioned above, this kid will rarely use a pen for drawing on his own initiative, and I honestly can’t remember the last time he WROTE something by hand which wasn’t initiated by me or another adult. Well, at least not in the last four or five years, he DID have a period of writing a few select words, such as his name, or “DVD” (yep, he loves his screens, there’s no denying it). But as other parents of differently developing children will be familiar with, skills can come and go, to the extent that you almost can’t believe they ever did those things.

So I was excited to see that there was some kind of writing going on, and I took the gamble of bringing Penguin a few sheets of paper. To my great joy, this didn’t put him off, and he went on to writing something on there… a large brown ‘W’ in the lower right part of the paper was followed by a yellow ‘O’ to the left of it, then a bright green ‘C’… and eventually there it was: smelly cow

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I realise that this probably wouldn’t earn Penguin a ‘penmanship certificate’ or whatever award they might make up for these things in school, as ‘motivation’. But to me, this is beautiful. Perfection. As well as amazing and brilliant, and certainly worth celebrating!

Apart from lifting my headache and leaving me feeling nothing but elated, proud and full of childish excitement, this also provided me with the final clue to that colourful creation on the ipad the other night:

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The mystery is solved, and we’ve finally reached the end of this somewhat long-winded story. Thank you so much for reading! If you’re a parent (or relative, friend, or teacher) of a child with similar differences to Penguin’s, I’m hoping that you’ve recognised some of the aspects of this story, as something you can feel familiar with. And whether you’re a parent of a differently OR typically developing child, I hope that this can serve as a reminder to appreciate and celebrate all the different achievements you see, whether they’re typical for a their age or completely off the ‘normality’ chart, in either direction. Don’t take your child’s development for granted. Every little thing is worth rejoicing over, even a ‘smelly cow’!

Why I'm Rejoicing over a 'Smelly Cow' - Sensational Learning with Penguin

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60 thoughts on “Why I’m Rejoicing over a ‘Smelly Cow’

  1. Loved reading this! It gives an insight on how children with special abilities express their thoughts. Like the colours one would think were just colours but they are actually a representation of something more. Thank you for sharing! #thesatsesh

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  2. Great stuff – what an insightful post! With our three non-autistic kids I find I’m constantly fascinated by what they draw, both in terms of their individual styles for trying to communicate through artwork and in terms of the different nuances of detail they observe and then try to translate in their drawing. What you’re doing with Penguin is a good lesson for all parents in terms of exploring non-verbal communication. #KCACOLS

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  3. This was such a sweet read. It really made me think about my own approach too: I feel like sometimes I’m so focused on working towards big goals with my daughter – toilet milestones or doing things independently – that all the little achievements that actually mean more in terms of who she is and our relationship tend to get ignored. I don’t know, it’s just made me want to celebrate more. x #KCACOLS

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    1. Thank you Jessica, that’s lovely! I think it’s very easily done to get a bit hung up on ‘milestones’, and it doesn’t help when magazines etc say “at x months/years, your child should be doing these things…” And it’s not usually things like ‘picking flowers’ or ‘trying to help another child get onto a swing’ 🙂 xx

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  4. This is brilliant! 🙂 So enjoyed reading this and celebrating (virtually) alongside you. It’s things like this that encourage us all to keep going. And they seem to come along just when you need them. #KCACOLS

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  5. What a fabulous story with so many important messages in it – you are so right about celebrating the different achievements and this really brings it home to us. Well done to Penguin for persevering and using his initiative to write ‘smelly cow’. And I’m so pleased your headache lifted – I hope you’ve remained better since the ‘smelly cow’ incident. What a boost for you. XX #thesatsesh

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  6. Wow, what an amazing blog post, thanks for spending your Saturday morning writing it for us! I love how you tied all the clues together – I find it fascinating how he visualised the colours of the letters. I looked after a 2 yr old boy with severe autism for 18 months, along with his two older brothers and my four (after school) all who do not have autism so I have full admiration for all parents of children with the diagnosis. There are so many challenges parents of non-autistic children are not aware of. It sounds like you are an awesome mum! #TheMMLinky

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    1. Oh, thank you so much! What a wonderful comment, I feel really moved by your words! I wouldn’t say I’m any more awesome than most mums, but I’ve become pretty good at picking up on Penguin’s signals, and understanding his ways of expressing himself. And you’re absolutely right that autism presents us with some interesting challenges. I’m in awe of you for managing to look after all those children! In our case we still need one adult ‘assigned’ to Penguin at pretty much all times, to keep him from dangers such as wandering off, stepping into traffic, eating something hazardous etc. It’s not really that he can’t UNDERSTAND danger, but his sensory system struggles to process all the information around us, and this means he’ll often end up focusing on the ‘wrong’ thing (sees the dog but not the car etc).
      Again, thank you so much for your comment, it has made me feel all warm inside xx

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      1. I’m so glad my few words so warmed you! I have to confess it was the hardest job I ever did in my life. He needed an adult watching him all the time as he was a flight risk, always trying to escape -I was terrified! He’s a bit better now that he’s 9 but I don’t see him as much anymore. It’s wonderful how many resources are available online now for parents. Xx

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    1. Oh wow, thank you Kate! ❤️ So lovely of you to say, and I’m really happy you enjoyed reading the post! I’m not sure what the Sooty Show people would think, but yes, why not?! It’s only fair that they get to see what an inspiration their work is to some children 😍 Thank you again, your words mean a lot to me xx

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  7. Lovely story and thank you for sharing. It’s so important to celebrate every achievement. My non autistic ID twins are developing totally differently which is great as personalities start to shine through. I hope your headaches are feeling better #triumphnttales

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  8. I am amazed at the complexity of children. There is so much more going on. On the spectrum or not. Kids are fantastic! #triumphanttales

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    1. Thank you Donna! 💕 Yes, that’s true, and he’s already written it again since then, plus gone back and added a grey frame around his first version 😊 His other ‘phrase of the moment’ seems to be “Off the Baa!”, which is an episode of Shaun the Sheep. But we’ve ‘only’ had that one in magnetic letters and typing on the iPhone, not in handwriting. Yet! xx

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  9. Oh my gosh. What a clever little boy!!! And just look at the progression of his work, from colours to magnetic words to writing! That is incredible! Definitely, a reason to celebrate! Thanks for sharing on #globalblogging

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    1. Thank you so much, Jacqui! 💕 I also enjoyed reading your post about 5 books to read to children. They all looked really interesting, and we haven’t actually read any of them, not even The Gruffalo! It seems like commenting was turned off on your post though? 🙂x

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  10. Omg this is the best post ever! I was exclaiming oh my god aloud at the end with the colour matching and was so excited to see his writing in the picture at the end. Wowwwww. The matching colours with the letter it’s amazing. I love it. What a clever little Penguin! This post really gave me an insight into how your Penguin thinks in a different way to how I typically would and I loved reading about it. So cool. Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for joining in with #KCACOLS hope to see you again next time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you, that is so lovely of you!! 💕 It’s quite fascinating to witness the various ways in which the mind can work, isn’t it? I’m glad it seems to come through in my post, the way I hoped it would. Thank you again for your wonderful comment! xx

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  11. I think this is wonderful, so lovely to be able to see the link between everything. I love that he has been pulling all this information together himself to be able to create these all. I love the picture of all 3 things together, I think it’s pretty impressive he’s got all the colours correct in the right order from his memory too. Amazing! Thanks for linking up with #GetMooreFromLife

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