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  • justine441

Jigsaw! Jigsaw!

Last night I watched the Paddy McGuinness TV programme about their children having autism. As they quite rightly pointed out there are flip sides to what is the seemingly positive side of having a child with a disability. Certainly I have mild anxiety at taking Toby out which is partly eased by still using a pushchair because at least I know where Toby is; I don’t need to worry about him running off; and I can stop him clearing shelves for example. But there’s still silly worries like toileting - I’ve had to change him many times in the boot of the car; or worry there’s no food he likes when out (and with a child who is Gluten Free this is near impossible) so usually ends up being McDonald’s. I also don’t think you want to see me unblocking and cleaning the toilet last night after Toby had been….so yes you do tend to see the positives, but usually behind Toby’s achievements are the years of delay that it’s taken to get to the triumph. This morning a friend has asked if anyone has Christmas traditions. Mine has always been to do a 1000 piece jigsaw. In recent years we have bought jigsaw advent calendars too. This year I bought some cheap 500 piece Christmas jigsaws and some fun shaped puzzles to get Toby involved. Toby developed his love of jigsaws many years ago. He was never much good at the traditional wooden peg puzzles but as soon as he got a proper jigsaw he was away. We now have over 100 jigsaws, all now over 150 pieces, and we have given many more away. We believe jigsaws partly are a form of regulation or a way to stim which is part of Toby’s sensory traits / needs. In other places we often see Toby filling and emptying a container - maybe grass or sand in a bucket; or toy food into a pan; or pencils into a pot. In the past this has become obsessive and we needed professional help to break the cycles as I could literally map out Toby’s day with his routines. So we do encourage jigsaws (done on trays to easily move or stack) really to limit stimming in other ways, but it must be great for his brain development too. Swinging is another way that Toby regulates. It used to be jumping when he was younger but that’s less so now. However, the other reason for encouraging jigsaws relates back to my comments at the start. Toby often has his own agendas which we may or may not know about. Mid morning yesterday, Toby put in his shoes and socks and signed granddad’s house!! Unfortunately for him that wasn’t possible and in those moments you have to distract! And jigsaws are great for this especially if you do one with him. The other big issue at present is Christmas itself. Now Toby adores Christmas - I can’t stress how excited he got this year about getting the Christmas tree. However in the last two years Christmas seems to cause an element of stress and he’s started to want to control certain things. It’s strange as it’s like a positive stress - he definitely wants the objects there. He has a much adored rattan snowman which lights up and doffs his hat at you. He asks all year for it, however last year and this year, he’s got quite cross with it, and keeps turning it on and off. I can only assume he likes the control of it and that it’s another form of stimmimg. We have it on a special plug which has a button to make this safe. The other things which have driven us crazy are that he wants to control the outside lights. Last year he ended up breaking my favourite rainbow light. So this year the power adaptors and switches are all padlocked in various safe boxes with WiFi control so that he can’t play with them. It cost me a fortune in boxes, power adaptors and padlocks but it was worth it for my sanity. Toby also removes all our Christmas cards on display, piles them up, and puts them back again. The other more difficult issue is the Christmas tree. I love having a Christmas tree and it isn’t an option not to get one. However last year Toby started an obsession with decorating and decorating the Christmas tree. He literally strips it bare and starts again several times a day. Again I can only assume it’s a control thing but it fits his stimming pattern of ‘filling and emptying’ too as he puts everything in a basket. We purposely bought the tree late this year, to have less days of trying to not have this happen, however the last few days have been difficult. And this is where something supposedly so simple as a Christmas tree becomes a nightmare partly because Rosie’s autistic brain can’t handle the disorder and undoing of what she’s carefully done and the two children clash. We have had to erect safety gates across the door when we aren’t in the room. Toby can remove them, but at least we can hear him removing them. If the sitting room is open, then one of us has to stay in the room to protect the tree. Toby has to come with us when we leave. I’ve even just invested in a Ring camera to alarm me when he enters the room, and then I can watch on my phone too. This is where the Christmas jigsaws now fit in. I no longer leisurely do my 1000 piece one, but have had to invest in smaller 500 or less piece jigsaws to try to keep Toby in one place and engaged, so that we know where he is, and to keep him calm and not doing something that we don’t want him to do. The jigsaws are for me too: to stop me from getting bored if Toby wants to his own jigsaws without help. I’ve done more jigsaws since the start of lockdown for this reason alone - to stop me going insane! I said the other day to my sister that Toby runs our lives. We can’t plan anything for Rosie and I to do, because otherwise Rosie’s world falls apart when the ‘plan’ changes or doesn’t happen. But it’s true. Our crafts, work, homework, play, anything else has to fit around Toby. We don’t know his ‘plan’ so anything needs to be able to be dropped at a moments notice. As you can imagine this could be exhausting. We are usually fine the rest of the year, because we know what favourite things Toby will go and do, but Christmas gives him more choices and is really proving a huge challenge this year. Jigsaws buy Rosie and I a few minutes of precious Toby distraction time, so that we can do something else like music practice, work, admin, cooking, washing or even the odd Christmas craft. It’s the Toby magnetic equivalent of a moth to a flame…jigsaw, jigsaw, jigsaw!! Originally Published on 24.12.2021

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