Entertaining Grandchildren Takes More Than a TV

Today we went en masse to my mum’s for lunch. The lunch itself wasn’t too bad – a fab leg of lamb – although it was a bit overcooked. The boys seemed to enjoy it. so it worked to that extent. That wasn’t going to be the problem. The next thing is, what do the boys do. For some reason or another my mum has kept absolutely no toys at her house at all. Basically her idea of keeping the boys entertained is the TV and some DVDs. Generally they are happy watching TV or DVDs, but Daniel in particular can take them or leave them. He’s been watching TV at home and in the middle of a programme will get up and switch the TV off without warning. He needs much more stimulation than that. There’s so much for him to do here of course, and he loves random creation with K’Nex a lot for example. Over the road, he’s got none of that, and sooner rather than later he will become bored. He seems to want to come home earlier and earlier. That’s a sign that should be taken note of, but it isn’t.

Even Matthew – who has a higher boredom threshold when it comes to watching TV – eventually vocalised his boredom. If a lad who had watch Tom & Jerry for hours has had enough and isn’t being stimulated, then there’s a problem. It seems to me that there’s a real lack of understanding that having grandchildren requires a greater commitment than having them visit and put on a TV. The need engaging with and they need greater stimulation. We’re constantly hearing about a friend of my mum’s who is forever looking after her grandchildren, or doing this, that or the other with them. Well, isn’t that an example of what being a grandparent is really all about? I think back to my own granny. When I stayed overnight there – long before wall to wall kids TV, or DVDs etc – I was never bored. There were always games to play, and we were engaged. Not so with Matthew & Daniel. They are loved of course, but its not enough.

The trouble for the boys’ grannies is that as they grow older, the boys will see right through them and won’t want to spend time with them. I think they’re already realising they can do all the things they do there at home. There is nothing exciting about going over there for them anymore. What is there to look forward to? I take them over because they’re still young, and if I didn’t they’d hardly see their granny at all. Eventually there will come a time when they’re asked if they want to go over and they will say no. Who will blame them when that day comes. They’ve already noticed that my mum hardly comes over here anymore. Soon they will return the compliment.

Its a similar scene here. They’ve been used to having Jane’s mum around, but as she has become older, she has become much more bitter – thanks to endless days doing nothing but watch TV and vegetate. Baiting Daniel to the point where he explodes seems the only source of stimulation. Its not fair on him but he needs to be taken away from that situation. He must see he’s being wound up and is punished for him. I’ve said before that they will grow away from her, and it will all be her fault. The day will come where they just tell both their grandparents that they’re just not interested in engaging with them. They’re making there bed in that regard.

2014 is a new year, but I suspect that some things really will never change.

Glued to the Sofa

As many will know, Jane’s mum lives with us, and my mum is staying over for a few days for Christmas, but in all honesty, would it have made any difference if Jane’s mum had gone over to mine for Christmas? Jane in particular has made every effort to include them. They both got a sackload of presents, and we’ve put out plenty of nibbles. Coffee is almost on tap and Jane came up with a fantastic roast turkey lunch on Christmas Day. We’ve got plenty of great movies on DVD, movies on Sky On Demand and lots of games that could be played. Sounds like the recipe for a great Christmas break.

Jane, the boys & I have tried to have a good time, but the two old people have – more or less – completely failed to engage with the boys (unless forced to by Matthew or Daniel – and to be fair my mum did work with Matthew on one of his sticker books) or with any of the festivities. As I write, our resident old person is sitting on the sofa looking miserable, and visiting old person is sitting with arms firmly crossed – talk about a defensive posture. The only time they have moved from the sofa is to go to the toilet. That’s from maybe 830am until 10pm. Yesterday Daniel and I went out to the football leaving Matthew with Jane. A perfect opportunity for the old people to pop out for a short walk as my mum was needing to the butcher. Jane suggested they go out, but was met with horrified looks. We’re due to go over to my mum’s next Wednesday (she is going home tomorrow, as it seems her church “friends” are more important than the boys and us – we know our place!) and I’ll guarantee that’s the only time resident old person will go out over the holidays. Its laughable that she has at least 3 coats hanging up on the coat pegs and obsesses about the weather (we get regular weather updates throughout the day.)

This morning was quite amusing. Daniel lay down on resident old person’s “spot” on the sofa. Incredibly, visiting OP asked Daniel to move so resident OP could sit down! Never mind there was plenty of room! It was a great example of how they are thinking only of themselves. Today, Daniel wanted to watch Smurfs 2, one of the DVDs they got for Christmas. Daniel held up the box to them, to show them what was going on TV. Cue requests for Wallace & Grommit, something Matthew won’t watch under any circumstances. Then other movies were requested despite Daniel telling them repeatedly that it was going to be Smurfs 2. Either they were ignoring him, not hearing him or just winding him up, options 2 & 3 combined being the most likely. Sadly, it will usually end up with Daniel in meltdown eventually, which results with OP tutting and huffing at how we are dealing with the mess they have created.

Any how, its kind of sad to think that were it just the four of us we’d enjoy Christmas even more. We get no suggestions what to do (like play a particular game for example.) I’m not counting watching TV, as once the boys go up, they watch what they like in any event. There’s no effort to engage in an activity that involves us all. Instead, they will conduct conversations (usually 2, as each aren’t interested what the other has to say and are just waiting for their chance to speak.) Its either about people I couldn’t care less about at the church, or never ending weather updates. Jane often wonders, “why bother” with them, but we’ll keep on making the effort in the hopes that the effort will finally pay off. So far this year, I can’t see it happening but we won’t give up just yet.

Gran’s Cheerless Christmas Wish

Christmas is coming, there’s no avoiding it. Jane has been non-stop – more so than usual – to make sure Christmas is a great experience for the rest of us. I admit that the rest of us need to do more to help. We do some, but we know we should do more. Still, we’re inching towards the big day. I love Christmas – even before having the boys, I loved it as a grown up – and the boys adore it. We’re super-excited already. Sadly that doesn’t extend to our resident old person.

Jane – more than reasonably – suggested we get the living room in to order. Well, the boys Granny didn’t take well to that suggestion. Cue the huffing. But it got better. Matthew was sitting near her on the sofa, and was whimpering. I asked him what was wrong. He said, “Gaga said she hates Christmas.” What an awful thing to say to a little boy who takes everything literally – and very much to heart. He was clearly upset by it. At least my intelligence wasn’t insulted by the usual denial that it was said. The boys don’t lie at all well, and they don’t shy away from telling us what Gaga tells them. If confronted, we’ll get a flat-out denial. The usual one is when she tells them she is leaving  Its an empty threat, but ASD boys can’t discern what’s an empty threat.

We were getting virtually no help in getting the house ready, which is fairly normal. The only thing that’s done is ironing once a week, so there’s now nothing that needs doing other than sitting on the sofa 12+ hours a day. Doing anything for others isn’t on the agenda. There’s no interest of helping for Christmas. Its infuriating to see. Just when the rest of us are trying to get into the season, we have someone determined to be miserable.

All I can say is if she feels that way, keep it to yourself. Don’t wind up the boys that way. Get out of the room and go upstairs and be miserable. Jane isn’t asking much to get the house ready so everyone can enjoy themselves. My mum will be over for a few days, and I’m guessing we’ll have a mix of moaning and showing off, with the boys getting it all. They’ve asked some classmates (well, Daniel has) to come round. I hope they leave them to it. No doubt Jane’s mum will ignore that and will interfere with them, while other Granny just ignores any attempts at interaction.

Its the season of cheer supposedly, but at least one person in our house is set to forget that. Just don’t try and take it out on the boys.

Elderly Decline, and the Impact on ASD Kids…

When Jane decided to move up here, we made the decision for her mum to come up too. She was in her late 70s, and wouldn’t have managed on her on. As it is, she barely eats unless Jane makes her something. Often when we’ve been on holidays, we’ll come back to find hardly anything eaten, so moving her up here was a fairly easy decision to make. In some ways, its been helpful. Before Matthew and Daniel were with us, there wasn’t so much need for help. Jane & I both worked full time, but the ironing and cleaning would be done, so it was great. There was also someone to look after the house when Jane & I were away on holiday. Then Matthew and 19 months later Daniel came along.

Initially Jane got a fair amount of help. Grandparents can be a huge help to any parent, when it comes to babysitting and general help around the house. We even got to go out a few times! But, the trouble with Jane’s mum is that over time she has become lazy, and has allowed herself to decline mentally (I’ll not go into detail about my mum, who, despite living just 10 miles away will find all sorts of excuses – usually helping (non-stop) at her church – not to come over and help.) When the boys were babies and toddlers, she was reasonably active, but as they’ve matured, the have become much less dependent on others. In those years, Granny did nothing to find herself any interests. In 10 years, she has made absolutely no effort to develop any friendships. In fact, she is constantly sending text messages to her old next door neighbour. Now, the occasional message fine, particularly in the months after a move, is fine. But constant messages daily 10 years on? I’m afraid to say that time has passed, and life moves on. Here is the environment we are all in. Here is where we need to make attachments to get us through. Over time, Jane has formed friendships in the local area, but not her mum. Even when we saw a plug for a local club for the elderly (a full day, once a week), she claimed to have rung, but it went to an answer machine. That’s code for, “I didn’t bother.” Its because all that is done all day (other than the occasional day when she does the ironing, which is a huge help) is sitting on the sofa from as early as 715am until 10pm. Daytime TV in the afternoon and a mix of soaps and years old repeats of quiz shows in the evening is the daily dose of mental stimulation. All that has lead to a steady mental decline. Its not that we’ve done nothing. We try and encourage her to engage with others in the local community, to no avail. My mum will invite her out to lunch now and again, but usually she won’t even answer the phone when we’re not here, so that will fall on deaf ears.

What has resulted is someone who makes no effort during the day, and has not prepared at all for the boys growing up. In was inevitable that they would grow away from her as they matured, found other interests (Daniel loves playing Lego Star Wars on the Wii now, not playing made up games with Granny) – and that they are out of the house from 845am until 345pm. She has become much more intolerant of them, purely because she is so jealous that they don’t want to play with her anymore. And its all because no effort has been made to meet the boys half way. She makes no secret of her dislike – I’d almost go as far as to say hatred – of Star Wars. She doesn’t hold back from telling Daniel so either. Is it any surprise then that he has withdrawn from her almost completely? Cue constant baiting of him to give her the opportunity to tell him off. On occasion, it gets so bad that we have no option but to remove Daniel from the room because of his behaviour. Its not fair on Daniel to do so, but we have no option.

One of the things that is said to him when he plays Lego Star Wars is that she will leave home. Its a completely empty threat, as she lives so comfortably with us. And where would she go? But Daniel is aspergers, and he will take that literally. Initially, he was worried about it, but he hears it so often that he pretty much ignores it. He tells us of course, and it is denied. I think she forgets they are growing up, and they will tell us when these things happen. We’re constantly telling them that if they experience bullying in or out of the school, tell us. So they do. And bullying it is.

Well today it was Matthew’s turn – for the first time – to be on the receiving end. He put on Skylanders on the Wii in the living room, a game he loves. As soon as it went on, the huffing and moaning started. I don’t know if she was aware I was in the room (Jane and I were in and out tidying the cupboard under the stairs) but suddenly Matthew became highly agitated. Jane asked what was wrong, and he said over and over that Granny said she would be leaving the house – all because he played Skylanders. Matthew is ASD, and takes EVERYTHING literally. He was clearly upset. But when Jane asked him what was said, Granny just sat there, all innocent. Now, Matthew is a terrible liar, and is incapable of making something up on the spot, so we know what he said was true. But if you ask Granny, there is complete denial. Its Matthew (or usually Daniel) who is lying. Its not just that though. What’s annoying is the constant chipping at then, and the huffing coming from the sofa. Well, if you don’t like what someone is playing/watching, either try to develop an interest for their sake, or find something to do. But years of inactivity has led to this, and it looks impossible to break out of it. In the meantime, Matthew and Daniel are suffering, and we (Jane mostly as I’m out at work Monday to Friday) get no support. I’m so envious of other parents we know locally who have such active and helpful parents. Two we know can leave their kids with granny to go off on holidays. So jealous!

We’ll keep going though, but if you’re bored, do something about it. Don’t take it out on children who are psychologically unable to defend themselves.

Jealousy & the Psyche of an Aspie

Daniel has been acting a bit strangely lately. He’s always been a sensitive wee soul, and it has never taken much to affect his spiritual well being. This week has seen something relatively new. Last weekend, he angrily announced “I am rubbish. I am rubbish at everything.” No amount of soothing and comforting would dissuade him from that view. Naturally, he’s anything but “rubbish” He’s a clever lad who is easily mastering literacy  and numeracy. His reading skills are excellent. Yes, he’s reluctant to show his teachers what he’s really capable of, but he makes up for that at home, and will happily read another couple of books after doing his school reading book. He seems wise beyond his years, and can use complex words in context. He has deep thoughts – definitely too deep for  a six year old. He’s a smart cookie. Where did his assertion that he was no good at anything come from?

He seemed to snap out of it the following day, but this evening, he got very upset at bedtime. He had had  a meltdown in the afternoon too. Jane had attributed the meltdown to him being tense about parents consultations at school today. I went up to the  school at 4pm to meet with his teacher, then Matthew’s teacher and the SEN teachers.  Daniel had nothing to worry about, and was given a glowing report. His teacher had noticed him tensing up – like a coiled spring – when it got noisy. That in itself is interesting, given the lengths he goes to, to hold it together during the school day. But it was in the bedtime meltdown that had us worried  again. He told Jane how he was a bad person, and had a bad heart. This is completely out of character for Daniel. Despite his meltdowns, he is such a kind-hearted, loving boy. He will share everything he has. He  has  said  in the past how he is a good person, because he likes to help people. While we  were on holiday, he would take winnings from the 2p slot machines and give it to random strangers walking past. He’s such a kind little lad. So what has happened?

Well, as some will know, one of the boys’ grannies lives with us. She has helped  out with the boys over the years, particularly when they were babies up to toddler age. Trouble is,  she has become lazy in many ways. She doesn’t move from the sofa during the day, hardly goes out. Often she will just sit staring into space for hours. She was always playing with Daniel before he went to school, but did little else. Back then we saw how she would  be bored beyond belief when D went to school full time. So it has proven. Daniel now has other interests, and has a small circle of friends now. He just  doesn’t want to play the games he used to  play with Gaga. The result? She is bitterly jealous of Daniel’s other interests, so resorts to her favourite game – bating Daniel. She will be nice as you like (more-or-less) while Jane and/or I are in the room. But as soon as we leave the room, she will bully him. Mercilessly.

For example, Daniel now shares my love of Star Wars. He will often either play Lego Star Wars on the Wii, or will watch Star Wars on blu ray. His Gran doesn’t even try to  hide her contempt for it. She has told Daniel several times that if he watches it, she will leave. She thinks he doesn’t talk to us I assume, but he does. Then when we ask why it was said, it will be denied. Daniel is a liar it seems. But what a cruel thing to  say to  any child. But an ASD child who takes everything literally? He was terrified by the thought. Now, he sees right through it, but that doesn’t stop it. Then there’s the constant goading him into doing something bad – simply for the opportunity to rip into him for bad behaviour. Things like knitting will almost be deliberately be left out, knowing he won’t be able to resist. When he picks up a ball of wool, or knitting needle, all hell breaks loose.

Occasionally we’ve left the living room, but have waited in the hall to hear what is said. The bullying can start instantly, and we’ve just got to go back in to  put a stop to it. But what damage is being done from it all? Its being done to a boy who has fragile self confidence. He’s a boy who thinks he’s a bad person. I can almost hear it being said. We’re convinced its not coming from school. He and his closest bud are inseparable, and he would have said something. No, its coming from home. Yes, Matthew (his brother) can be nasty to him, but he and Daniel are actually closer together than ever. Matthew even threatened to attack a tree Daniel had hurt himself on because “I won’t let it hurt my brother.” Daniel gives as good as he gets with Matthew. But its the bullying from a person who should be supporting him that’s doing the damage. All from a refusal to try and make any life here. Refusing to do so has ended where we knew it would. Now we know we can’t even consider leaving Daniel alone with his gran for even a few minutes.

I have to say that my mum isn’t much more helpful. She is heavily involved with her church, to the point where pointless meetings there take priority over her grandchildren. Countless times when she has come over (and that’s been single figures this year) when the boys have asked her to stay for tea, she has made excuses – “I’ve got a meeting” “Someone is visiting tomorrow, and I have to clean” etc, etc. Visits over there are an afternoon of watching a DVD the boys take with them. Not even paper and crayons are there for them to play with. Its not how grandparents should be. That must also affect Daniel.  He’s a boy who craves affection. He gets precious little from his grandparents (sadly for him, both grandads died before the boys were born.)

Daniel is in a difficult place at the  moment, and he needs love and affection to see him through it. The senseless and thoughtless bullying, and inattention he’s getting from his grannies is damaging, to the point where leaving Daniel with them is inconceivable. He’s too young to hate himself, and Jane, Matthew and I will rally round him to remind him what a lovely, kind, wonderful little boy he is.