The currency of the pine cone

We had wonderful adventures over the weekend (Amos’ weekend starts on a Thursday).  On the sunniest day of the year so far we went to a park we love – the park was created in the Edwardian era and has a butterfly house at it’s centre. We don’t often pay for the butterfly house, but this time we went as a treat for Amos. Friday evening saw our whole family reunited up at the woods; we didn’t leave till it was going dark. And on Sunday, we could be found exploring a local outdoor tourist attraction with no agenda other than to play and have fun together. But now it’s Monday and everyone has gone. For me it’s back to the mess of the house, the squeeze on space, the hopelessness of a future trapped inside a system, that on the whole, doesn’t work for us. No one wanted to go anywhere this morning and the burden is on me to jolly everyone along. Sometimes – a lot of the time – I wonder if I am forcing us into a mould that doesn’t fit us.

Amos was the last into school today. As I helped him with his coat, he turned round to me and flashed me his cheeky grin. He dropped a muddy pine cone into my palm. “For you,” he whispered. The pine cone is in my pocket now. It gave me the strength to get myself up to the woods today. I know when I am here I feel better, but sometimes I just can’t find the energy to make that journey. As I sit, I can hear the bird song and the breath of the trees as the wind moves in their branches.

Thanks to my pine cone.

And the pine cone pressing into my hip reminds me of a time, not so very long ago, when pine cones had an extra special significance to Joe and I. Joe is still very reluctant to take praise -it makes him uncomfortable; anything that puts the spotlight on him increases stress and anxiety- but when he was younger, Joe would panic because he just didn’t know how to handle the unexpected burst of confusing emotion within him. Any praise could cause him to destroy the thing you were praising him for – the model he had made, the book he had read well, the game we were playing. If he was praised in a situation he would run away and not come back to join in. I began to bite back the praise. It was horrible for me. Joe would react negatively to physical contact, so I could not hold him and shower him with the love and praise I desperately wanted to give him. But aside from how I felt, how could I expect Joe to learn and feel proud of himself if I was unable to communicate to him when he was getting it right – it’s hard enough for a typically wired child, never mind one who is confused by or oblivious to social cues. In the end it was Joe who showed me the way. He told me he was as pleased as if he had three pine cones. And that became our currency. No one else knew what I was taking about when I whispered to Joe “two bowlfuls of pine cones”, so the pressure was off him. We even had a silent system with a Velcro board – I would slide it across to him with a picture of a pine cone attached and the relevant number stuck beside it. He would barely glimpse at it, but I could see it registering; sometimes I thought I could see his face lift.  At last I had a way to communicate to Joe how well he was doing and hopefully allow him to feel pride in himself.  I remember the relief, the freedom it gave us.  One of the bonds of autism had slipped slightly. It felt like a massive step forward for us.

Hurrah for the pinecone.

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