This Is My Child

We've found some surf!

Mumsnet is launching a new campaign today called This Is My Child. There have already been a couple of national media articles about it in the Guardian and on the BBC website. I was asked to write a guest blog post about going out with Archie which can be read here.

The aim of the campaign is to challenge negative attitudes towards those with disabilities and bust a few myths (such as autism is just an excuse for poor behaviour). Being run by Mumsnet it has a chance of reaching a wide audience and I hope educates a few, or even many. In the early days and even sometimes now, being surrounded by a sympathetic general public may have saved my blood pressure or tears on more than one occasion.

This is one aspect of an awareness campaign. Over the years my own drive to raise awareness has changed a little. Initially I just wanted people to know and to understand what life was like with autism, and to cut us all some slack. Now it’s a little different. I want people to understand that Archie is someone worth knowing. He has a great sense of humour (yep, despite that severe autism). He’s a thrill seeker (roller coasters, and he surfs much bigger waves than me) and he’s intelligent. Faced with the behaviour of someone with severe autism this last point can be hard to understand – to be fair it took me a long time to realise just how clever Archie is. His behaviour does hide what is going on inside, although with the talker and the computer it’s getting easier for him to demonstrate that there is quite a lot going on in there. The publication of books such as The Reason I Jump help spread this message of unrecognised intelligence. As previously mentioned a writer/director friend and I have developed a film project that  tells the story of a young person, not Archie but not unlike him and his blossoming into living a full life where his abilities are recognised and valued.  The script has been read (and loved) by some well known and talented actors who are keen to come on board. Like many film projects funding is an issue, so, if you fancy funding a film please get in touch.

A general recognition of Archie and others like him, having lives worth living is perhaps my biggest wish for now. If people approached those with disabilities with this understanding things might change. The Mumsent This Is My Child campaign is a step in the right direction.

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Holidays

A short blogging break has turned into a long one; but we have driven the length of the country (twice) and been to Northern Ireland and back in the process.

I’ve written before about our trips to Northern Ireland, and the screaming and difficulties that can accompany them. This trip was different. Archie was chilled, and despite us being in stop-start traffic from south of Bristol to north of Liverpool he remained pretty chilled. Weirdly there was another little shout at Birmingham. He has issues with Birmingham. The journey from one end of the country took two days with a different boat than usual – this one complete with a cabin. This ended up being a godsend, Archie just sat and looked out the window at the approaching landmass of Ireland the whole crossing.

Ferry

Usually we head straight up to the north coast to the beaches, but this time we detoured via Belfast for a week. Middle-son was doing a second stint in Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Grand Opera House (a fabulous show by the way, if you get a chance to see it during its current UK tour grab the opportunity; you won’t be disappointed) and so we stayed in Belfast for a week. The city has changed a lot since I first visited a frightening number of years ago and it was a week of football in the park, the Titanic exhibition and a lot of drives in grandad’s car for Archie.

The second week we headed up to our usual spot on the north coast where we made our usual regular visits to the largely empty beaches but with some new experiences. Archie is keen to get involved in everything these days, including trying out a roller coaster at the institution that is Barry’s (it had loop the loops and everything, I screamed the entire way round).

big dippper

If you had told me two years ago, by the way, that I would ever go on a roller coaster with Archie I would never have believed you. He also took part in pony trekking and roller water balls. I’ll add some photos below.

Perhaps the most exciting part of our time on the north coast was finding a place for Archie to go surfing in Portrush. Before leaving England I contacted Ricky who runs Alive Surf School out of Portrush to see whether they would be able to take Archie out for a tandem surf. Ricky emailed back and said that they had recently started an autism program, but this had been with those with more language, they hadn’t yet tried any tandem surfing, but were keen to move into working with those like Archie. So we arranged that Ricky would borrow a paddle board and Archie would have a surf. I booked the younger boys in for a lesson at the same time.

The day of the lesson I messed up a bit. I had forgotten to explain to Archie that we were going to a new beach, and he thought we were heading for a beach that he has been obsessively studying on google maps for the last six months. He therefore wasn’t very happy when we took the ‘wrong’ turning. Had I been more awake I could have prevented the misunderstanding, or given him a quick drive to the first beach, but by the time I realised what was going on it was a bit late.

Anyhow Archie was teamed up with Hanno from Alive and off they went. Surfing soon worked it’s magic and Archie relaxed and forgot about the ‘wrong’ beach. The waves were a perfect size for me (so clean and the water was so clear), but a little small for Archie. He had a few sprints around the beach inbetween catching waves. Not being used to this behaviour Hanno was a bit concerned that he might be scared, but I explained this was fairly typical behaviour for Archie and standing pointing at the board usually worked to bring him back. As the waves were smallish they decided to go for a paddle. ‘I like to train’ said Hanno. Good job; Archie was delighted to find that Hanno went wherever he pointed and they ended up a small speck in the distance checking out rocks and a nearby island.

While they disappeared off into the distance I talked to Pauline who has been responsible for finding funding to run the autism events. Well we talked and surfed, both latecomers to surfing the conditions were ideal. Pauline explained that she had become inspired to start seeking funding after seeing videos on YouTube including some of Archie. Because I’m always referring to them I’ve just created a page of surfing videos by the way. This was really rewarding to hear, after all the main reason I talk incessantly on here about surfing is to encourage others to try it out. To hear that people are being encouraged to give it a go makes it all worthwhile. Although it means I won’t be shutting up about surfing any time soon I do hope it brings others the peace it has brought Archie.

Anyway after Hanno delivered a relaxed Archie back to the beach, we managed to get a shot of them both.

surfing portrush

We met up with Ricky the next day and talked about getting going with tandem surfing (my main bit of advice really being that it has to be an individual approach and may well be different for each child). Surfers, as a whole seem very good at this. They are very good at accepting people for who they are and they usually have a deep love of the waves and the sea that they’re happy to share. Certainly we found the guys at Alive just as welcoming as our friends at Discovery. Richard often describes surfers (along with the teachers at Archie’s school) as ‘a different breed’ and I think they are. Anyhow we are delighted to have found a surf school for Archie up in Portrush and will be back next year. And of course we highly recommend them. I should also add that the north coast is a wonderful place to surf. The beaches are so empty – even in August – and it gets good waves, with a wide choice of surfing beaches. A very undiscovered part of the UK.

Back in Devon we had a surf yesterday. The first one in ages (we’ve either been busy or it’s been flat). The surf was fantastic; big waves and Archie sat out the back with the big boys – local coaches and lifeguards he knows – while I caught some closer to shore. Surfers are very good at ‘doing inclusion’.

To finish; a gallery of Ireland photos, it really was a great holiday. The best we’ve had for a long time. Having an on-the-whole-chilled-and-laid-back-Archie made the whole thing much easier than in previous years. Regular holidays may be becoming a possibility.