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.
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.
He 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:
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
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:
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’!