Autistic childhood stories

Over the years, I have discovered that nothing keeps a conversation going like a nice long recollection of childhood stories. Unfortunately this is rarely due to choice on my part, as it is apparently the most effective method for parents to get revenge for all the times you embarrass them as a small child. These days, it’s pretty much common knowledge that I had an odd fascination with theft as a small child, and would loudly ask Mum “Is it wrong to shoplift, Mummy?” in the middle of a busy supermarket. Not a Christmas will go by without the rest of my family having a good old chortle at the nativity book I wrote and illustrated in year two. I don’t know why I forgot to give the shepherds any clothes, or why I thought that everyone celebrated King Herod’s death by having a “party with cookies”. But hey ho, that’s childhood stories for you.

Autistic childhood stories can be a different kettle of fish. After much digging around in the loft yesterday, my mum found two whole boxfiles of stuff that had been written by my parents to teachers, and vice versa, trying to make sense of my eccentricities.

Even before I read it all, I realise that I may have come across as slightly strange the day my kindergarten teacher taught the rest of my class how to make clay pots. Not such an oddity in itself, except being the creative soul I was, I decided to make penguin feet instead. I don’t think my family will let me forget about the “Ascension” picture I did at Sunday school, where the disciples were pointing excitedly at a big fish I’d drawn in Lake Galilee, and not looking at the figure of Jesus stuck in a far corner of the page. Nor will I ever be allowed to forget the time I decided that a snowman would be the perfect illustration for an African bag I’d decorated during “Africa week” in year one.

Having a read through my old school reports, special needs reports, letters to and from school, etc put an end to any doubts about what a weird child I was. Some of it came flooding back to me, some of it I knew nothing about, some of it was too embarrassing for me to dwell on. It wasn’t until I started school that I let people call me “Grace” and not “Robert” (spelt “Robt”). Having intense autistic interests meant that telling people “I know all about cat breeds” was a perfectly logical way of introducing myself. In my mind, there was nothing strange about announcing “I had no idea corn snakes were polymorphic!” at a reptile exhibition, and the fact that I was only five was neither here nor there.

I was also a slightly obsessive loner, as shown by how I answered questions such as “what makes you happy?” with “I love anything to do with being alone”. One report recounts how my hearing was so sensitive I would cover my ears when too many people were talking, but not so sensitive that a fire alarm would evoke any reaction from me when I was engrossed in my work. In retrospect, I can almost understand why my earlier primary school teachers described me during teacher-parent meetings as “odd” and “strange”.

I guess one of the good things about being on the autistic spectrum is that, if your parents do tell such childhood stories to anyone who will listen, you can be fairly sure that at least yours won’t be anything like the sort you would hear about any normal child. I will have to try and remember this next time I get reminded that all my soft toys still had names, personalities and detailed family histories when I was nine. At the end of the day, it is what comes of being “special”…

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Tribute to the Lionel King

481934_10151679612863814_1426786376_n It has been over a week now since we lost our much loved elderly feline friend, Lionel. In the year and a half that we had him, he wasted no time in making himself known and loved by many. Whether that was down to sheer charm and personality, the fact that he had his own facebook account or his tendency to casually wander into other people’s homes at least four streets away is open to interpretation. I’ll never forget the time I went out searching for him only to find him in a garden sunbathing with his very own towel and umbrella. His unusual anecdotes caused endless amusement to his numerous facebook friends, and if one thing is certain, it’s that he will never be forgotten.

Lionel was not really a cat for the inexperienced, let me just get this straight. He had been found by Redgate Farm Animal Sanctuary as a skinny, scruffy scrap of a creature with hardly any teeth and the inclination to eat anything he could get his paws on. This, combined with his diabetes, was enough to discourage potential owners to the point where the Redgate staff began to see him as a permanent resident. Once we took him in, we knew he was well on the way to making a name for himself when he lashed out at Thomas, one of our other cats, at first sight, pushed his way to the front of the queue at mealtimes and was generally quick to establish himself as Alpha Male. It even got to the point where the other cats refused to sleep in the cat beds, purely because he had been in all of them.

He was the only cat to not look even slightly guilty when caught stealing food from the table or work surfaces. Nothing intimidated him, not irritable humans, nor other cats, nor even a bunch of builders and painters temporarily turning our house upside down in the process of revamping. What he really hated was being handled; his screams emanated from the consulting room with every vet check up and must have spooked pets and owners alike in the waiting room.

In many ways, Lionel had standards that any tramp would be ashamed of. He would somehow send his food flying out of his bowl and all over the kitchen floor. And it didn’t stop there. I lost count of the number of times one of us would come into the kitchen to find him licking out the plughole in the sink. At one point he climbed into the dirty dishwasher. Another time we found him lying across a chopping board on the worktop so that the big silver knife that was on the same board was sticking out from underneath him rather ominously.

He stole rice, vegetables, flapjack, icing and many other things from the kitchen. During a family party last year, he was caught stuffing his face with my little cousin’s slice of chocolate cake, only to start shovelling it in with his paws when he was hastily pulled away. He would often be found munching on discarded takeaways on the pavement. One night, he repeatedly came in dragging slabs of raw pork, which resulted in several rounds of tug-of-war as I attempted to prize them out of his unwilling jaws.

Sadly, such escapades were not to last. On 20th April he developed a blood clot which paralyzed his back end and made him gasp for breath. Mum rushed him to the vets and as they did the deed, he suddenly looked happy and well again, before he rested head in her arms and drifted off to sleep for the last time. I had gone off to Fife having seen him looking as healthy as always, and it was when I came back to find not a trace of him that it really got to me. He had such a unique character, we can still feel the gap he has left. However, we feel priveliged to have given him a better life, and in return, watch him make a difference in ours.

God bless you Lionel. Wherever you are.