Adventures in Home Education & Asperger's Syndrome

The Tempest

The other night we went to see The Tempest.

It was an outdoor production and, for a while earlier in the week, we were afraid we would be experiencing it rather more personally than just on stage.

Fortunately the weather held, despite forecasts of thunder and lightning across the UK and the humidity you often experience in the lead up to a storm.

The evening was warm and sunny, with a pleasant cool breeze blowing across the fields behind us.

We came prepared though, after years of experience of this ever changing climate, with ground sheets and rugs and emergency raincoats. We used all but the coats. Even a warm sunny day can turn chilly by 9pm.

The play was held at Nethercott House, the home of the charity Farms for City Children and the venue for our wedding reception all those years ago.

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Getting set up outside Nethercott House

The Miracle Theatre company is based in Cornwall but tours the whole of the South West with its outdoor productions. They come to Iddesleigh every year and we’ve been going each summer since the boys were quite small.

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Over the years we’ve seen a number of Shakespeare’s plays; Much Ado, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet… as well as Molière’s Tartuffe. A couple of years ago Ma took the boys to see The Importance of Being Earnest, while Tim and I were up in Oxford selling pots at Art in Action. Last year they saw an interesting production of Waiting for Godot, which they described as ‘thought provoking’.

The reviews for this version of The Tempest have been enthusiastic and we’d certainly have to agree. It was a really excellent evening, funny and clever and absolutely up to Miracle’s previous productions.

The boys were absorbed throughout and Robert in particular loved the humour. It was great to see him relaxed and laughing at the antics on stage.

I wasn’t able to take photos during the play, although I did manage to snap a quick pic of Ariel just as they started. The actress playing that part was outstandingly athletic and surefooted as she leapt up and down the simple stage layout.

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Ariel balancing on top of a tall pedestal. Very impressive performance.

It was hard to believe that there were only six actors in total, several playing more than one part, with some very quick changes taking place just behind the stage.

We took a picnic, of course. Sandwiches and pies, crisps and puddings, fruit juice and coffee and brownies. Fantastic.

I would post more photos, showing us all happily eating our picnic and so on, but the internet isn’t going to let me tonight, maybe it’s the humid weather, or perhaps it’s the heavy usage that’s being demanded of it from the boys’ gaming. Hmm, we’ll say it’s the weather eh?

If things improve I’ll add more photos later.

This week Ma and I took the boys on a journey to Middle-Earth.

Robert is an avid reader of all things Tolkien. He has bookshelves filled with tomes written by JRR, and not just the obvious ones. He’s also read many of Tolkien’s lesser known books, the ones I started and abandoned years ago or didn’t even know about at his age.

I remember reading The Hobbit with great delight when I was eleven and absorbing myself totally in Lord of the Rings at fifteen, reading it cover to cover in four days the summer I finished my ‘O’ levels. But, unlike Robert, The Silmarillion defeated me entirely.

I’m thrilled that Robert gets such pleasure from Tolkien’s magical world of Dwarves and Hobbits, Wizards and Trolls, and when Ma spotted that a Tolkien exhibition was being held not far away, at Rosemoor, the lovely RHS garden, we thought it would be an excellent outing and a way to get the boys away from their computers for a few hours.

DSCN6948Our journey into Middle-Earth started here

DSCN6962We were delighted to discover this impressively detailed Hobbit hole

DSCN6964Although disappointed to have missed its inhabitant

DSCN6976Our quest took us into the woods…Mirkwood presumably

DSCN6987Where we came across something rather unsettling 

DSCN6994And its owner, hanging above our heads and climbing down a tall tree, blurgh!

DSCN7008Fortunately there was help at hand. Take a close look up in the tree

DSCN7006Those Ents appear out of nowhere don’t they?

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We heeded this warning, but crossed the bridge nonetheless

DSCN7016Fortunately, this particular Troll seemed like quite a gentle fellow, largely because he’s been turned to stone 

DSCN7019James was happy to get a bit closer anyway

DSCN7043We did find this Pixie house, which confused us a bit, there being not one Pixie in any Tolkien book, that we’re aware of. Still nice wee front door

DSCN7061Our quest ended here, with this rather magnificent Smaug, perched on top of a summer house filled with treasure, breathing wickerwork fire at passers by

It was an excellent quest and we were very impressed with the amount of work that had been put into the whole thing. As well as the Dragon’s Trail, they also had an exhibition of beautiful prints and original paintings of various scenes from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, by the Tolkein illustrator Ted Nasmith. Robert took great pleasure in checking out the titles, written in both English and Elvish.

In honour of Bilbo Baggins, we had a lovely picnic while we were there, eating quantities worthy of any hungry Hobbit or company of Dwarves for that matter.

We took a drive across the moors the other day.

Leaving Dartmoor behind for a few hours we ventured North East to Somerset, crossing the wilds of Exmoor.

Winsford is one of the four small Somerset parishes which together made up my father’s final incumbency before my parents retired to Devon, some twenty five or so years ago now.

We drove over to visit Ann, whose family have lived in the village for three generations.

Ann was keen to show us the church’s commemoration of WW1, a display of plaques giving detailed accounts of over forty men of the parish who served in the Great War.

The exhibition was very moving, with stories and photos of young men in uniform heading off to war. Many of course did not return.

The photos included one of Ann’s uncles. He died aged 21 in the trenches of France. The picture showed the pale face of a very young man, with no idea of the horrors that were to come.

The church was decorated with flowers and displays of croqueted poppies hung from the ceiling lights. In the church yard small wooden crosses with poppies were placed in front of the gravestones of all those who had served in the war.

It was a fitting reminder of the sacrifices of those young men. Such a small village and yet what an impact the war must have had on that community.

 DSCN6886Poppy flowering outside the church doors

Ann is a close family friend. She’s also an artist. One of the things we always enjoy when visiting her is being shown around her studio.

She has two large and wonderful old easels at which she still works. They stand the full height of the studio. She also has a large printing press, dating back to the late 1800′s and still used by her to make prints of her etchings.

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It is worked by turning an enormous spoked cog wheel (I’m sure there are actual names for all its parts, but I have no idea what they might be). The spokes must each measure three or four feet in length.

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I particularly love Ann’s work bench which is covered in an array of old tools and jars of screws, nuts and bolts.

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Next to her easels is a small table where she places her tubes of paint and the assortment of brushes with which she works.

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To someone who hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since school, largely due to being rather cruelly advised that my painting was like that of a three year old, all this paraphernalia is fascinating and holds a beauty all of its own.

Any visit to Ann’s isn’t complete without saying hello to the chickens and in particular to Alfred the Great…

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Such a majestic creature.

We enjoyed our visit across the moors, although were a little disappointed not to come across a deer or two during our travels.

Maybe next time.

Sunny Devon

It has been beautifully sunny ever since we made it safely to Devon six days ago.

I gather we left Scotland just as the heatwave hit. Twenty seven degrees shortly after we escaped. Phew!

Since we arrived, having successfully negotiated the various motorways and A roads that led us here via Nottingham (dropping Matthew off there for his meeting along the way) we have been relaxing and chatting and generally enjoying being back in the old country again.

Yesterday we decided to take a trip to my brother Tim’s garden to catch the final day of his summer exhibition, before it all gets dismantled.

It was another perfect day, sunny and warm and peaceful. The garden looks spectacular. It is even better than last year, if that’s possible, which is hard to imagine.

Of course I took pictures. And here they are, or at least some of them. I did take a lot.

DSCN6768 We had tea in the garden and the boys tested out the swing seat, on loan for the exhibition. It’s lovely!

 DSCN6832The pond in the foreground contained some interesting wildlife, and I don’t just mean the tadpoles. 

 DSCN6665This rather lovely creature could be found wallowing around in Tim’s pond, along with his/her friend. They seemed very well behaved fortunately.

 DSCN6666Gorgeous. 

 DSCN6707Ma and Tim admiring the borders.

DSCN6674 Even the best gardens can suffer from pest invasion.

 DSCN6726They grow them big in Devon

 DSCN6695These guys tried hiding behind the shrubbery, but being something around six feet tall, they didn’t do a very good job of it.

 DSCN6694Jemima…we can see you.

 DSCN6813Gorgeous planting. 

DSCN6762Some handsome pots, just so you know it’s not just about the wildlife.

The garden is fantastic. In fact it’s utterly beautiful. Everywhere you look, quite apart from the glorious planting and colour, there are interesting objects, some hidden surprises and many wonderful creations.

Inside the gallery there are some lovely flowery pots by Laurence McGowan.

I have so many photos that I can’t possibly show them all here, but hopefully you can get just a taste of how fantastic it all looks.

Step one:
Do some blogging, and make a cake or two, some biscuits and a pie.

Step two:
Open the wardrobe and stare at the chaos in there for a very long time. Close it again, make a pot of tea and eat some cake and biscuits and a pie.

Step three:
Wait a day or two before returning to the wardrobe, tea in hand and start pulling every piece of clothing you own out onto the bed. Stare at it all for a long time then retreat to kitchen, reheat tea and find the very last bar of chocolate at the back of the fridge.

Step four:
Realise at midnight that the bed is still covered in clothes. Pile them onto the floor and go to bed, reminding yourself not to trip up on them in the middle of the night on the way to the loo.

Step five:
Put plaster on shin to staunch the bleeding from tripping up and cracking it against the bed during a nocturnal visit to the loo.

Step six:
Wait until holiday is imminent and it’s far too late to shop for more clothes, then start trying on last year’s summer gear and find it’s almost all too small. Wonder how skirts and blouses can possibly shrink during storage.

Step seven:
Make a twenty minute supermarket dash around M&S outlet store, while boys at social club, and spend the remainder of a birthday token you’d forgotten you had in your purse. Convince yourself that going up a size since last year is simply because you need things extra loose, due to massive hot flushes and nothing to do with eating pie, cake and chocolate biscuits.

Step eight:
Start changing the sheets on all the beds, because that’s really going to help with the packing. Pull out a very old duvet cover, with pictures of The Hulk on, and discover a bra tucked inside which must have been there for months. Decide NOT to tell boys who would then refuse to use that duvet cover ever again. Throw rediscovered bra into holiday bag.

Step nine:
Finally start actual packing. Shove random selections of badly folded clothes into bags. Knowing they are all going in the back of the car this year instead of on a plane, don’t bother to make difficult either/or decisions. Just take everything.

Step ten:
Start mildly panicking and grab handfuls of pants and socks from everyone’s undies drawers and put them all into one large bag. Then spend twenty minutes digging several back out again to wear today and tomorrow.

Step eleven:
Do a bit more blogging to put off necessary trip to supermarket to stock up with food for the journey. Eventually concede defeat and go shopping anyway.

Step twelve:
Spend evening studying maps of M1, trying to plan route south involving dropping Matthew off for a meeting in Nottingham on the way and then not getting lost somewhere on the M42 between M1 and M5.

Step thirteen:
Hopefully reach wednesday in one piece and manage to wake the whole household up in time to leave at 6am with a car full of clean, dry clothes, journey food, two boys and every computer game they possess, and Matthew, having remembered to leave the gerbils with enough food to last them for two days and a list to remind Matthew to feed/water gerbils on his return on thursday.

Drive for the following twelve hours with the intention of arriving in Devon…eventually.

I love holidays. So relaxing…

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Last night was, I think, one of the warmest nights we’ve had so far this year.

The gerbils, like us, were feeling a little sticky in their cosy sleeping quarters, so three of them decided to camp out under the stars.

For some reason however, Bruce elected to remain under cover.

Perhaps he was afraid of bears.

Or, maybe he had eaten too many sunflower seeds yesterday and his brothers were forced to sleep outside on the roof, to prevent nocturnal asphyxiation from the all-pervading gerbil aroma.

Who knows?

If they were trying to cool down though, I’m not sure this was the most effective way of doing it.

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I was a wee bit concerned about little Steve, the runt of the litter, being stuck there on the bottom. That’s one heavy pile of gerbils. Fortunately he survived his squashing, crumpled but otherwise intact.

Since starting along the interesting, sometimes challenging and always unexpected road of autism, we’ve been constantly surprised by the directions we’ve found ourselves taking.

Of course one of the biggest surprises for us all was the home education journey. That one really appeared out of nowhere.

Since then more twists and turns have occurred, some carefully planned and thought out, and others much much less so.

Discovering the joys of Philosophy, for example, started simply from a book that James picked up in the Oxfam bookshop and an article I’d read a year or two before about Philosophy and Superheroes. We put the two together and that lead to some tremendously interesting lessons and a whole shelf full of Philosophy and Popular Culture books, some of which we have yet to crack open.

When a new direction is indicated I usually do some research, a lot of thinking, a bit of worrying and then, eventually, a solution seems to evolve. It’s almost never exactly the one I’d imagined, but often a good fit nevertheless.

After three amazingly active and creative years of home ed mayhem, it became clear that James in particular was beginning to need some greater challenges in his education.

We pondered the problem, discussed the issues and came up with precisely… nothing.

And then I happened to be randomly searching the internet, looking for nothing in particular, when I spotted an article about Coursera and MOOCs**

What a perfect fit these have proved to be for him. Just at exactly the right moment they popped up out of the blue and presented James with opportunities to learn University level Psychology and Philosophy, Maths and Astrobiology, Roman Mythology and Graphic Novels. And now, of course, US Law and Forensic Science!

What a world of knowledge has opened up in front of him, and how well James has embraced it. An answer to prayers, you could say.

So what about Robert?

Well, we’ve always known that Robert would gain most if allowed to play to his strengths. And IT is the obvious direction for him to head in. That’s his passion and it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else.

The college course he tackled last year was indeed a big first step out into the world and it had some very valuable components to it, but I think we all realised very early on that it was a fairly big compromise for him. Very much a curate’s egg in fact.

After nine months of struggling to get what he could from it, in the end it was too much for him and we moved on. But what could take its place?

This is the question we’ve been pondering ever since. Online programming courses have filled the gaps to a degree but only as a temporary holding situation.

Then a few weeks ago I contacted an organisation called Aspire that specialises in helping young people on the Autistic spectrum to make the move from school to further education or whatever. Transition, as it’s called nowadays apparently.

Rather half-heartedly (if I’m honest) I arranged for a worker from there to come and discuss Robert’s possible next steps with us.

I was only half-hearted because we’ve had SO MANY conversations with professionals such as this before. After years of repeating the same explanations and receiving much the same advice, it becomes a little harder to keep the faith.

Anyway the other day we welcomed this young man to the house for a chat. Initially he too had a fairly standard idea of what we might find useful. Much the same as has been suggested before. But he seemed like an eager and friendly chap, so instead of simply agreeing to the standard list of what was on offer, I decided to tell him EXACTLY what we were really searching for. And to his eternal credit, he listened.

“What we need for Robert”, I explained, “is one person, just one person who gets him and who is patient with him and understands what he needs. That one person needs to be heavily into IT, working somewhere where Robert can learn about computers in a totally hands-on way. Maybe he could help build or repair computers? Perhaps there’s a place where computers are recycled and resold for charity for example. It needs to be a real one-off kind of place in fact. Not mainstream at all. So…”, I asked hopefully, “…is there anyone that you know of who does this and who understands autism?”

And the answer was, no. He had no idea if such a person existed. BUT he would do some investigating as there was a place his colleague had mentioned hearing about several years ago. No idea what it was or if it was even still running though. He promised to look into it for us.

Anyway, a couple of days later I got a phone call from him. Had I ever heard of the charity “Pass IT On?” Nope. Never. He gave me their website and this is what I found…

Pass IT On is a very small group of IT people who take in old computers and repair them and adapt them for very disabled people to use. Not only this, but they do sometimes have work placements available for young people with additional support needs. Sound familiar?

So yesterday, Robert and I (and James) took the bus across town to visit them.

It felt as if a genie had heard our wish and produced EXACTLY what we’d asked for.

Pass IT On works from a large garden shed! They are, in their own words, different and off-beat and not at all mainstream. “GREAT!” I said, “That’s exactly what we are and what we’re looking for.”

They already have a young lad working there who has Asperger’s as well as another young man recovering from a stroke.

When Robert was taken into the workshop to meet people and see what they do there, it was as if he’d walked into his best dream ever. The shed was stuffed from floor to ceiling with computer parts, monitors, keyboards and every internal component they could extract from each donated machine. There was a lot of gentle banter too. Within moments Robert was grinning. Mind you that could have been because he was eyeing up the mountain of hard drives stacked on shelves around the room.

Robert looked as if he’d happily move in there, permanently.

So we chatted with Sandy, one of the two founders of the charity. We talked about computers, about fundraising, about admin and about Star Wars. He showed the boys stuff they’d made out of old computer parts…a letter rack made from a circuit board, a collecting box which had originally been an Apple II and the shell of an old blue iMac, now used as the cat’s bed! It was all quirky and fun and different but at the same time it was professional. It was clear that they take the work they do very seriously indeed.

After an hour’s easy chat, we agreed that after our long summer break we’d get back in touch and arrange for Robert to spend a couple of hours a week there, to begin with at least.

This might seem like a tiny step to most people, but to have found something that fits so accurately our image of what Robert was hoping to find, seems to us nothing short of miraculous.

So now we have a nice long break to mull it all over and Robert can think about it all and decide what he feels. Although he’d pretty much decided by the time we’d got home on the bus. He wants to go there!

Hopefully this will turn out to be Robert’s equivalent of James’ Coursera courses. Maybe not a long-term solution, but certainly it could turn out to be a perfect next step, and after that, well who knows?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that planning beyond the next step is almost impossible to do. There are simply too many variables.

But, if this works out, then for now that is more than good enough for us.

So watch this space. We’ll keep you posted, come August.

Exciting eh?

 

 

** MOOC = Massive Online Open Course

The weather today has been glorious. Sunshine has been pouring through the open windows of the dining room and bathing the whole place in light and warmth. A gentle breeze has been blowing the trees backwards and forwards in the garden, their leaves making a lovely soft rustling sound.

After a rather minimal Sunday lunch, consisting of sausages and baguette, after I forgot to defrost the chicken last night (this was by no means my worst bit of parenting today by the way), I announced to the boys that we were going to…

GO OUTSIDE!

This was the weekend of The Meadows Festival and I was keen to go.

For anyone who doesn’t live here, this event is basically a massive car boot sale, with add-on foodie stalls and a funfair for those who want to spend several fortunes giving themselves motion sickness.

Moreover, this is the event where, several years ago, I bought my banjo. So you can see why it holds such a warm place in my heart.

Matthew and I used to live directly opposite the Meadows, when we first moved to Edinburgh, so the festival was one of the first things we experienced here. Fond memories of meandering around the stalls together, buying unnecessary plastic objects.

We still have a rather wonderful, yet completely useless, bakelite telephone, which we humped back across the road from there, so many years ago.

DSCF4884They don’t make them like this anymore.

Anyway, I really wanted to go and mooch and also thought it would be much healthier for the boys to come too, instead of being glued to computer screens for even more hours. Fresh air! That’s what they need!

So off we three hiked, Matthew having already gone off for an even healthier run and swim.

As we hiked, I chattered on about the lovely sunny day and about the festival and how much fun it was, and what a nice day it was….

The boys however plodded silently along beside me, presumably dreaming of zombie battles and Star Wars. The beauty of the summer’s day was pretty much wasted on them.

Once we arrived at the festival, the two of them dutifully followed me around from stall to stall as I enthused about fudge and rails of old clothes and tables groaning under the weight of weird collections of…well…junk mostly.

DSCN0805Vintage clothes…Excellent! DSCN0808 Painted cats…Cool!DSCN0837Dinky cars…Dinky!

As we weaved through the crowds I happily scanned the stalls on either side for bargains, or banjos. Behind me two boys trailed along, staring straight ahead and waiting for their ordeal to be over.

The noise of the funfair became considerably louder as we turned the corner at the top of the Meadows and underfoot the ground was rapidly turning to mud from the overnight rain and the massive footfall.

And then it started to drizzle.

It was, I thought, rather refreshing, warm and gentle. I didn’t mind it at all. Apparently I was however alone in this view.

Robert struggles with sensory overload when faced with sunshine and crowds and noise and mud, and James apparently finds the sensation of light rain on his face almost unbearable. So two hours of enforced sensory challenges is a lot to ask of them I suppose. So I was told numerous times anyway.

As we headed back up the hill, James sheltering from the odd spit of rain under my tiny folding umbrella and Robert wrapped up tightly in his fleece-lined winter hoodie, I brightly asked the boys if they’d enjoyed their lovely summery outing treat.

Robert replied darkly that he would like to challenge the words lovely and treat.

James thought for a millisecond and then said…”Well I didn’t die anyway.”

I am a BAD mother. BAD BAD mother.

On the way home we bought puddings…lots and lots of puddings.

So I did something right anyway.

Somehow we appear to have reached June already. The last couple of months seem to have disappeared so fast it’s almost as if they didn’t happen at all, apart from all the birthdays that is.

We here in the Newnham school are beginning to wind down towards the holidays later this month. As always, once the finishing line is in sight, it’s harder to keep the whole daily school momentum going.

Robert is toiling a bit with his programming course just now, as the distractions of pre-holiday preparations are hard to fight. Those gaming downloads won’t organise themselves you know.

James is manfully soldiering on with his courses, currently US Law and Forensic Science. The other day he was learning about blood and mummification. I don’t know what to think about that really. It’s hard to know what sort of career this might relate to, although someone recently recommended a book about a young man with Asperger’s who decides to train as a coroner and then solves crimes that no one else even realised had happened (in case you’re interested, it’s called Rubbernecker, by Belinda Bauer.)

Meanwhile I’ve essentially completed my writing course now, albeit a couple of weeks earlier than the official end date. My final writing assignment has been delivered and reviewed and so all that’s left is to enjoy the chit chat there before signing off completely shortly.

I’m so glad I did the course. The OU instruction was excellent and being pushed into offering writings for general review was a very valuable experience, albeit a little nerve-wracking.

But the very best aspect of the course, without doubt, has been the discovery of a little group of like-minded people who all enjoy writing creatively and who enjoy laughing even more.

I can’t quite believe how quickly our little band of eccentrics have bonded together, despite living so far apart and only meeting virtually.

We now most certainly consider ourselves friends and plan to continue our mad flights of ideas in our own etherial online world.

I find myself laughing daily at the various writings offered in our spontaneous writing group. Some offerings are funny, some are wonderfully evocative, all are a joy to read and have helped me think about my own writing style and how to improve it.

I raced through the last part of the course because I wanted to finish it well before we head south for our annual summer break in Devon. Things usually get a bit hectic as we sort ourselves out.

This year we’re driving down instead of flying. A ten-twelve hour road trip sounded so much better than travelling an hour by air.

It does at least mean that we can stuff the car full of all our rubbish rather than squeezing all our worldly goods into two tiny cases. We do have to bear in mind that we will be three going down but four coming home and leave room for Matthew to join us on the return journey, following the BIG BIRTHDAY BASH in August.

The BBB will be a whole post or two of its own, so I won’t start on it now. Suffice it to say Granny’s big belated 80th birthday celebration is gradually taking shape and should be a fun weekend of madness with fifty plus of us sharing a youth hostel for two nights.

I can’t wait.

The boys and I went to The Cameo today to see the National Theatre production of ‘Curious Incident’.

It was one of the NT Live performances filmed for cinema audiences. A really excellent idea, giving people the chance to see stage productions at a fraction of the cost of a theatre ticket. Maybe not quite the same as being there, but certainly coming a very close second.

Mark Haddon’s book has sold over two million copies now, so I’m sure you’ve come across it, even if you’ve not had the chance or inclination to read it. I discovered it shortly after it first came out and then we read it together as a school project. In fact I wrote a post about it way back in May 2012 (Three Dimensional Autism) if you can remember back that far.

Anyway, I was interested to see how the play would compare with the book and exactly how they were going to show events as if through the eyes of a child on the Autistic spectrum. One of the most powerful aspects of the book is that it’s written in the first person, directly through Christopher’s atypical eyes.

The play was in fact extremely true to the book and did a fantastic job of allowing us to join Christopher in his experiences, seeing events as he was seeing them. The stage was almost totally bare throughout but, using lights and sounds and the carefully choreographed movements of the cast, they were able to evoke the powerful images of the chaos of a train station, or the dangers of the underground, or a busy street, or the layout of a house.

I can’t for a moment imagine how the lead actor playing Christopher (Luke Treadaway) was able to remember all the dialogue he had to produce. He was in every scene and barely left the stage for the whole two and a half hours. A brilliant performance and well deserving of the Laurence Olivier award he won for the role.

I was keen to find out what the boys made of the play. They certainly seemed to be very focussed on it throughout.

There were times when it was very funny and we all laughed, and there were times when it was very challenging, and we seemed to cope with it pretty well.

I think Robert turned away a couple of times, when there was a lot of shouting and fairly violent displays of anger, but to their credit both the boys saw it through right to the end.

We chatted about our impressions as we hiked home afterwards, feeling rather hungry and looking forward to some very late lunch.

James said he was impressed and felt that, although not able to relate directly to the meltdowns and hypersensitivities of Christopher, he could certainly understand the sensibilities. Some of it definitely had a familiar ring to it.

Robert was more circumspect in his responses, taking time to think about it all. It was certainly a pretty heavy assault on the senses, intentionally so I imagine, as part of the attempt to pull the audience into Christopher’s world. Robert needed time to mull it over.

Later on, once we’d got home and fuelled ourselves up again, Robert and I chatted, about autism, about difference and about the play. He talked about his personal experiences with hypersensitivity to sound and light and his memories of a school theatre trip spent wandering around a model train shop because he found the production so traumatising he couldn’t stay in the theatre.

He was honest and insightful about how it felt to him and acknowledged that there were certainly similarities between what he’d experienced and what Christopher went through on stage.

Neither of our boys have ever reacted to stress by having meltdowns. We are pretty unusual and extremely fortunate in that respect. Talking to Robert however made it clear that, just because he didn’t react in that way outwardly didn’t mean he wasn’t struggling inwardly.

This evening I’ve been reflecting on our day and on the opinions expressed and conversations had with both Robert and James, and my own reactions to what we watched played out on stage.

It was pretty emotional for me to see so vividly the trauma experienced by someone struggling to understand the chaos of the world around them. I witnessed that so often in the special school I worked in last year.

But I could also see just how far our two boys have come in the last few years. How mature they’re becoming and how hard they’re working on learning to cope with the chaos of the world around them.

The chaos remains the same, but the way they’re handling it is improving all the time.

And that is a very reassuring thing to appreciate.

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