5th February 2019 • Emma Cooper
January is a hard month for everyone, right? It’s freezing, it feels like there are about 700 Mondays and payday is a distant memory.
It’s been a tough one for our columnist Carly too, but she’s come out the other side feeling grateful for her autism, proud of her work commitments and confident that she’s doing home education right. Stay tuned for a Storage Wars reference too…
I was rather hoping that January would kick start the New Year with a month of exciting and glamourous things to share, alas it wasn’t. January has been both a surprise and a lot of hard work. Hard work being where we mentally push ourselves to a place where we really learn the most about ourselves as people, as parents and as professionals.
I’ll admit, it feels slightly hypocritical to describe myself as a professional when 90% of my work load is completed in my PJs drinking diet coke before sunrise just to stay in the right zone… but that’s when my brain works best. By 9am my best ideas are gone; my greatest autism asset is the ability to connect the dots and these connections seem to be stronger than ever when I wake up. A bit like a laptop that goes on standby but has never really turned off properly so when you turn it back on, all the web pages restore at once. All the information I’ll ever need is just there begging to be typed.
Sleeping less and working more
I am writing this at 5am, but most days I wake at 4am and go to bed at midnight. I know this means I sleep very little but apparently, I am not alone in that. A Business Insider article from 2015 stated that roughly 1% of the population is what is known as a ‘short sleeper,’ a person who only needs a short amount of sleep every night instead of the average 7-8 hours.
How interesting that its thought that 1% of the world population are autistic too? I wonder if there’s a link to that statistic? My youngest daughter woke every 45 minutes until she was 4 and as a single mum I did find that very hard, but not impossible, to navigate. My middle daughter also struggled with sleep for several years. I hear daily about parents of autistic children who aren’t autistic themselves feeling defeated by the lack of sleep which must be very hard. I am grateful that I am autistic like my daughters. I actually think I wouldn’t have coped as a single parent, sole breadwinner and home ed mum if I hadn’t been autistic too. My need for less sleep means I have the extra patience at ungodly hours and logistically more hours in the day to be able to juggle the roles I have to on a daily basis.
I’ve been working hard most nights and early mornings because at the start of the New Year, I was given the task of writing national safeguarding guidelines for professionals working with autistic youths on the subjects of Abuse, Online safety, Prevent and Child Sexual Exploitation. Pretty heavy subject matters.
I’m not going to lie, emotionally I have found this difficult and, to a certain degree, triggering. I have been far more ‘jokey,’ unfiltered and chatty on social media than normal and I suppose this has given me the regular shots of comic relief needed before getting back to the job in hand. I delete most of my jokey tweets after, it’s just nice to be able to find someone out there who speaks my language now and then. I miss that feeling often.
I again have my autism to thank here, as we are also generally quite good at being able to think pragmatically, to compartmentalise and ‘box up’ emotionally. I have had to consciously do that because one hour I can be writing watertight child safeguarding guidelines and the next hour I’m being emailed to give some moral support an autistic mother who is being taken to court with accusations of child neglect. If you don’t compartmentalise your own feelings and thoughts and take each job with a fresh pair of eyes and ears, you can’t do your job well.
My head now, however, is resembling some storage unit on that TV show Storage Wars whereby people auction off forgotten storage units to the highest bidder, for the bidder to then open up the unit, gasp and either freak out or be delighted by what they find inside. Hopefully the client will be elated with the final product and the knowledge that had been waiting to reach a wider audience, all boxed up.
The above of course being the very reason I hopped, skipped and jumped to take this large project on. I knew I was the right person to do it justice. That sounds boastful I expect but I am extremely self-critical and will often pass great work and personal offers on if I feel I am not the right person for the job.
Being autistic, my dislike of injustice is very strong. If I can’t do a job justice I’d rather lose out than the project not have been given the justice it deserves. I knew I was the right person for this role and luckily my boss agreed and reassured me that’s why I was asked to do it.
Learning to home educate again
The January daytimes have consisted of learning to be a home ed mum again. I have home educated my middle daughter in the past but she’s off at college now and I’m having to understand what type of parent teacher I need to be for my youngest to get the very best out of home education. We have been using an online educational platform called Ed Place, it’s the only platform I could find that follows the UK national curriculum and has flexibility, both being incredibly important to me as a parent and us with our lifestyle and travel.
We also have a in person tutor namely, the lovely Lucy from Education Boutique, she is super relaxed and highly trained. Her knowledge on education, National Curriculum and neurodiversity is simply brilliant. Lucy also comes along to our house with Pablo her dog. Dogs are a big interest to my youngest daughter, and it seems home education is helping that interest grow. At her art class, the teacher has a dog too and one of the families I support runs a dog day care, so whilst I do a home visit the lady owner teaches my daughter all there is to know about animal care. We have met up with other home ed families for museum trips and kept in touch with old school friends. I asked her how she was feeling the other day and if she is enjoying home education and she said, ‘yes mum, life feels like happiness now’ and I thought to myself, how lucky are we.