Gardening Fun with ASD Kids

When Jane & I were looking for a house, Jane (who directed the search from Hampshire while I went out and about in Aberdeenshire) laid down one condition – that it had a garden. I grew up in a block of flats, so never had a garden. At the time of house hunting, I wasn’t too bothered about a garden, but since we moved to our current house, I’m glad Jane specified a garden. Over the years we’ve made an attempt at growing our own veg, and have had decent crops of carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, leeks, peas & runner beans. Its a pleasure to be able to get outside in the summer and enjoy the garden.

Since Matthew & Daniel came along, the garden has almost been like a second home to them. When the weather is even semi-decent, they want to be outdoors. Out front garden is a decent size, and although it isn’t fenced in, they often enjoy a healthy run about, getting them vital exercise and fresh air without being any distance from the house. Occasionally they’ll ask if the tent can be put up in the garden – as its a pop-up tent, its not much trouble to put it up and to put it away again. The bar-be-que will also be wheeled out in the summer of course. If it means more time out of doors, then we do it.

But its the back garden when the boys have most fun. We still attempted to grow some of our own veg, and went at got some raised beds for growing more carrots and potatoes. Jane gave me a new greenhouse for my birthday (it arrived early, but she thought it would make sense to put it together now rather than wait for another six weeks) and the last 3 weekends has been spent with the boys putting it together. They’re already planning what we will grow, with everything from tomatoes to pumpkins to peppers being mentioned! They are looking forward to getting the plants in and watching them grow – and most importantly of all, eating the produce.

But what they enjoy most is getting their hands dirty – literally. They love the sensation of feeling the soil with their fingers, and between their toes – they much prefer going barefoot in the garden. There is so many things they can touch, so many textures for them to explore. The simple task of digging a hole can give them so much pleasure. In the next few weeks, we’ll get the compost, seeds and plants we need to get the garden going for the summer, I know the boys will love helping as it will keep them outdoors. Longer evenings as the summer progresses will get us outdoors before bedtime, instead of sitting indoors watching the television.

The garden is a brilliant source of therapy for an autistic child, and Matthew & Daniel make full use of it. Hopefully we’ll get something out of it all at the end of the summer that’ll taste good off the dinner plate!

Show Time!

Today was a special day for Matthew & Daniel. It was the recital at their special needs dancing class. All of the hard work they and their classmates had been putting in over the last couple of months were all building up to this moment. How would it go?

First of all, we need to say thanks to the NAS (http://www.autism.org.uk) for doing everything and more for autistic people and their carers, SCILLS (http://www.scill-deeside.co.uk/home) for organising a special needs dance class,Comic Relief (http://www.comicrelief.com/) for the subsidy and to the Deeside Dance Centre (http://www.deesidedancecentre.co.uk/) for the facilities and brilliant teacher. She in particular was fabulously patient with our boys and the girls attending the classes. Her enthusiasm and theirs were a perfect match.

Overall, the class gave them a brilliant focus, and an outlet to let them express themselves. Being expressive is something that Matthew in particular finds very hard, and the dancing has been something where he can let his hidden side out. Its a great sensory experience for him, and gives him a chance to indulge in spinning on his bum, one of his favourite forms of letting his brain shut down so his body can catch up.

We arrived in good time – i.e. with just a few minutes to spare so there’s not much waiting around time for them. There was a bit of a hold up to let the dance teacher and two of the Dance School’s girls that help her in the SCILLS class could hide easter eggs for the end of class egg hunt, but eventually in went the boys and the 3 girls in the class. Then in filed the parents and siblings! The teacher let the kids know how the recital would go, and off we went!

First up was the teacher, helpers and class in a circle. One person would go into the middle, and the rest would follow their actions, with each person getting their turn. Naturally it was Daniel who went first. Then came a dance based on the weather (what else in Britain!) using scarves – a lot of expressive movement. After that came what looked like a fairly complicated dance routine. Each child had their own moves they would all copy along with stock moves. Matthew in particular was clearly loving it. He was concentrating on getting it right, and was beaming throughout. Its lovely to see that side of him – a side we don’t see that often. Its been the best thing about the dancing – seeing the pure enjoyment they have got out of movement and dance. In fact it was wonderful to see the fun they were all having. It was exciting to see what these kids could do when they were being given the chance.

The whole thing finished with a game which was a fun way to finish of a great session for the children involved. Matthew in particular enjoyed interacting with the other kids in the class. The social interaction has been very difficult for Matthew, and continues to be so, but he became comfortable in their company at least. But, even though he can’t always reciprocate friendship, he caught the eye of a lovely Downs girl who made every effort to hold his hand! Its testament to his gentle personality that he finds it easy to attract other to him, even though he doesn’t realise what he’s doing.

It was brilliant to see the outcome of their hard work though. Matthew & Daniel were pleased that we enjoyed it. Our thanks go to his fab teacher for her patience, her helpers for being so good with the ASN kids, and to SCILLs for making it all possible. Roll on 27 April when it starts all over again!

Farewell Mr Brown

Tomorrow marks yet another end of a managerial era at Pittodrie. The game against Hearts will be Craig Brown’s last home game in charge of Aberdeen, but what will his legacy be as power at Pittodrie is transferred into the hands of Derek McInnes after the trip to Tanadice.

Its worthwhile looking at where we were when Brown assume the reigns at Pittodrie. The team left by Mark McGhee was just appalling. It lacked real quality, and had its collective confidence destroyed by poor tactics, suspect team selection, and questionable transfer activity. It might be argued that Scott Vernon has proved to be a good acquisition, as perhaps has Josh Magennis bearing in mind recent performances. But let’s not forget Jerel Ifil! We had a squad wholly unsuited to McGhee’s 4-3-3 vision after we jettisoned all our recognised fullbacks. There seemed to be a failure to communicate his vision to the squad we had, as some of the results were nothing short of a disaster. McGhee’s reign will be forever remembered for the 9-0 thrashing endured at Celtic Park. Milne probably let his reign go on too long, but finally McGhee went. Brown’s appointment seemed a smart move. He had a reputation for building functional, unspectacular teams that are tough to beat. If he had any illusions about the task in hand, they were shattered at Tynecastle as Brown watch on as we crumbled 5-0 to Hearts.

All-in-all, Brown’s first season in charge can be considered a success. He was brought in to stop the rot, and ensure we avoided any flirtation with relegation. We managed enough wins to make sure we avoided the drop, and there was a cup run to be had, although they petered out in disappointment again. Brown’s transfer dealings in his first offseason were all decent ones. A lot of experience was added to the team with Gavin Rae coming in, Stephen Hughes and prodigal son, Russell Anderson returning. Brown pulled off a couple of big moves, landing Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn. I’d rate last summer as B+ if not better on the transfer front. Hughes has generally disappointed, but McGinn has been excellent beyond expectation whereas Rae & Anderson have given us a lot more games than anyone thought we’d see from them.

Unfortunately, Brown failed to utilise a squad with a decent amount of quality. There have been some good signs along the way, but they’ve been far and few between. Scott Vernon has had his confidence wrecked, and Hughes has been used all to much to no effect. Brown’s reluctance to use the young players at Pittodrie may have held us back. Cammy Smith showed real promise when given a few games, but he, Declan McManus, Nicky Low have all seen precious little action. Smith in particular has shown he’s capable of exciting the fans, and that’s something that’s desperately needed.

To be fair on Brown, injuries haven’t helped him. The loss of Ryan Jack & Andy Considine on long term injuries left us lacking in quality and solidity at the back. Losing Ryan Fraser to the English leagues has affected our creativity, and Brown’s use of slow, deliberate midfield players has led to the goals drying up. Thankfully Niall McGinn’s goals this season have been in sufficient quantity to keep our heads above water. Generally we’ve been disappointing and negative though.

Still, I think Brown has improved the team, and the one he’s handing over to Derek McInnes is significantly better than the one he inherited from Mark McGhee. We’ve got some quality young players and good experience in the team with the likes of McGinn, Hayes & Vernon. Players like Peter Pawlett really need to step up though, and McInnes will hopefully let the young lads get a run in the first team to show what they can do. I’m happy that Craig Brown is moving out of the dugout and into the boardroom, but happy enough he improved the team. Its up to McInnes to moves us on. Time will tell if that will be the case.