Archive for May, 2010

Finally, last weekend we made it to a Horse Boy Camp. I had been planning to volunteer at a Camp in Gloucestershire in March, but the dreadful rain we had at that time made the ground unsafe and it had to be cancelled so this camp really was long awaited. Horse Boy Camps are held at different sites throughout the UK during the year  -we were booked into one at  South Penquite Farm on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. Incidentally South Penquite is a lovely campsite – worth visiting if you like small, basic but clean campsites that allow campfires. Accommodation varies from camp to camp but  for this camp we were booked into a yurt. Tents were also available (cheaper) and some camps on other sites use cottages. The yurts are relatively escape proof, although our door didn’t lock from the inside. The days of Archie dashing off in the middle of the night are over (touch wood) so we felt relatively secure. The yurt did make everything easy – we only had to bring bedding and food, although setting fire to our dinner  on Saturday night meant we also ended up exploring local take-aways.

Our yurt was situated in a small field separate from the rest of the campsite. There were 3 other yurts, all occupied by Horse Boy families. This was one of the best features of the camp. Archie obviously found his way into other people’s yurts and cars but it didn’t really matter – as we were just as likely to be visited by their children. We have camped previously (twice in campervans, once at a Feather Down Farm holiday and last year at Camp Bestival). On these other occasions we have had to act as a buffer between Archie and the neurotypical world, so we’ve had to constantly try to contain him. At Horse Boy, because we were surrounded by other families with autism, or by volunteers we were able to give him more free rein. We didn’t have to apologise constantly throughout the day and this in itself felt like a break.

We arrived on Friday morning and had our first horse ride after lunch when the kids all had a chance to ride bareback. Archie is happy to wear a hat, but it isn’t a problem if your child won’t. Not insisting on hats to ride is one of the ways in which Horse Boy is autism friendly. With people either side and carefully selected horses the chances of falling are low. At first Archie was a little freaked out by the lack of saddle – he’s not keen on fur/animal hair, but he soon relaxed and happily leaned on the people either side of him as he was led around the yard. Louis laughed his way around very noisily, whilst Joseph who had never been that keen on horse riding slowly blossomed in confidence. By the end of the ride he was leaning forwards to give the horse a big cuddle.

Later there was a wild food walk which Joseph and Louis took part in. I shared care of Archie with Richard so we did half the walk each. Joseph surprised us by enthusiastically trying every single item found – raw stinging nettles and gorse bush flowers no problem for this child who usually shudders when faced with a vegetable at home.

In the evening a camp fire was lit in the barn and the children were able to toast marshmallows. The majority of the families on the camp we attended had children at the severe end of the spectrum so socialising round the campfire in the barn didn’t really happen. Volunteers helped Joseph and Louis to toast marshmallows so they didn’t miss out. We were able to socialise round the campfire of one of our neighbours once the children were asleep – a bit of a first for our camping trips – the fire and the socialising. Red wine was shared and autism stories swapped.

Saturday started with gymkhana  style games in a field – weaving in and out of tyres and various races. Archie wasn’t really aware of the races but loved trotting and his face beamed as he came back down the field. Two of the horses were saddled up in western saddles and one in a regular saddle.  Small children were able to ride in the western saddles in pairs and Louis thought this was great fun.

After lunch on Saturday we took a ride out as a large group to a stream where the children could play. This was less successful as the children needed to take turns on the horses and some of our group (Archie included) couldn’t really manage that. This was taken on board and for the ride outs on Sunday smaller groups were organised. This meant that the children with autism could be the first to ride and they were also able to stay on the horse for longer. As soon as Archie’s ride was finished he wanted to return to the camp. This was fine- Richard took him back while I stayed with Joseph and Louis.

On Sunday nature art sessions were run. Using items lying around the children made displays and then talked about them. Joseph’s was titled ‘The Outer Circle of Life’ and he would have been happy to sell it for a billion pounds. Louis’ was on offer for a cheaper price- a few thousand – and was called ‘The Picture of Life’. The nature art session was a bit beyond Archie but this was recognised and  he was able to join an extra ride out instead.

On Monday morning a further bareback riding session was held before the camp finished around lunchtime. Unfortunately I’d made a bit of a beginner’s mistake before leaving home. Archie has recently become really very obsessed with the CBeebies website. He likes watching the live video streaming, but he really really likes the sun which changes to the moon at 6pm. Before leaving for Horse Boy I had said to him ‘ah yes you’ll seen the CBeebies moon on Monday’. So from 5am Monday all he could think of was the CBeebies moon. Sometimes there are problems with progress- learning the days of the week brings extra rigidity in my experience. By 10.30am, the time the rides were scheduled to start Archie was pretty much beside himself, so we decided to finish on the high of the day before and come home. Next time I’ll remember to say ‘ah you’ll see CBeebies again on Tuesday’, and so give ourselves an extra day without panic.

It really was a great break for all the family. Rupert Isaacson in his book, The Horse Boy, which started all this writes about the difference between cure and healing. For us as a family the weekend really was rather healing. Joseph said it was ‘the best holiday ever’ and cried when we had to leave. Louis has asked to go again next year and it really did make a difference to Archie. He’s always enjoyed horse riding – he likes being up high, and he likes the movement – but he’s never paid the remotest bit of attention to the horse or donkey he’s riding before. This weekend he really bonded with a horse called Lucy. He stroked her (unheard of), prodded her (she was very good and didn’t react) and even said ‘neigh’ to her. And Richard and I had what felt like our first successful holiday. We crawled home after trying Camp Bestival last year, but this year we returned home tired but with a spring in our step.

We’re planning to go again next year, which I guess says everything.


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I can’t tell you much about this film/documentary except that from the trailer it looks brilliant. It’s narrated by Kate Winslett and shows children with severe autism typing. Judging from chosen clips it shows all sorts of other more typical behaviours that go with severe autism as well. It’s changed its name since I first came across the trailer on YouTube; from ‘The Sunshine Boy” to “A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism”.  I think I preferred the original. Hey ho.

It looks as if it will go straight to DVD (following in the footsteps of The Black Balloon which deserved a general cinema release in my opinion, but didn’t get one). You can register to pre-order a DVD here, although it’s not clear whether that will be for a US or UK version.

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My friend has started up a Facebook group; You know you’ve got a child with autism when…. . It’s proving very popular. I was the second person to join; when I next visited a few days later it had over five thousand members. It a good way to spend five minutes with a cup of coffee and I am always amused at how familiar so many of the stories are.

We had a ‘you know you’ve got a child with autism’ moment today. Ever the optimist I popped out shopping this morning to get waterproof trousers for everyone for our upcoming Horse Boy Camp – I am hoping that spending money on waterproofs means we’ll have a mini heatwave at our camp. On arriving home I found Archie climbing the walls. It quickly became apparent that he wanted to go shopping. I was given plastic bags and various goods carrying various supermarket brands. Well, I say given; more like had them shoved at me. With some suggestion from my end this did narrow down from any supermarket to Sainsbury’s. I also noticed that in some cases he was showing me the word Sainsbury rather than the logo. Clever boy Archie.

Anyway we had to eat lunch first which led to much shouting. We’re still not that good at waiting. Then I was given string of instructions (via pointing and shouting ‘ah ah ha naiya ah’) about the route I had to take. I obliged and we arrived to find a couple of disabled parking spaces free (useful when I am on my own with Archie and trying to move a trolley and keep hold of him and move him if he decides to have a pavement sit in). I parked, jumped out, then…. nothing. Couldn’t get Archie out of the car. Lots of shouting but a genuine refusal to move. By now we were providing the entertainment for a few passers by. One couple even stayed in their car to have a good old gawp. I tried some bribery ‘Sainsbury’s then swimming tomorrow’. Nope. Didn’t work. ‘Do you want Sainsbury’s or home’ (assuming that as he’d just spend the last hour trying to get out of home the decision would be easy’. His hand hit ‘home’. Oh right. Sudden inspiration. ‘Sainsbury’s or Tesco?’. TESCO! TESCO TESCO TESCO. A very clear choice. To be fair the first plastic bag I had had shoved at me had been a Tesco bag, I’d suggested Sainsbury’s.

Tesco won that particular battle and we managed to pick up a little trolley with just a small amount of shouting and some gentle attempts to knock me over.

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Mencap runs the Snap! photography competition each year. It’s for photos by or about someone with a learning disability The theme this year is ‘being active’.  I was going to enter the above photo – someone said it captures ‘Freedom and Isolation’, which sort of sums Archie up really, but I’ve overcropped it and it’s not a high enough resolution.  Pity as charging off into empty spaces is one of his favourite activities. So we’re back to the drawing board.

Plenty of time, the closing date is 21 June.

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