Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Trials, triumphs and turkeys

It's almost over!

The Christmas period brings so many difficult moments, potential catastrophes, things that need to be actively managed in order to keep everyone calm and happy.  But it's nearly done now.  And I feel so relieved :)

This year, so far, has been our best Christmas ever.  Things have mostly gone smoothly, and that is in no small part to some very detailed thinking and planning. 

I would love to be able to be spontaneous about all this, to just decide at the last minute that we will go and visit someone, or have them here, but having been there and tried that, it just doesn't work for us.

Our Christmas started with a visit to my husbands family, a couple of weeks before the big day.  M had asked if we could arrange to see his cousins on that side, and this was the only way it would work, because most of them would be visiting other sets of Grandparents over Christmas.

We went down for lunch, and it was crazy :) To be fair there were a lot of people in a fairly small house - 9 adults, three little kids, and my four bigger kids.

It was loud, crowded, and chaotic.  J wasn't coping very well, and spent a while with his hands clamped over his ears, before moving to a quieter room.  M disappeared after we ate (with his favourite uncle, N), the little kids went to play upstairs, and things calmed down.

There were issues - M and J got bored  which is never good then later some singing toys came out and that made J uncomfortable again, but all in all things went pretty well.  The younger cousins are getting to the age now where M, J and A know how to play with them, and there were times when we had five children giggling and playing nicely :)

The next point of Christmasy cheer was a visit to Birmingham - to the German market.  We had a good day, visiting the new library (which is awesome! will do some pics in another post)  and we picked up some more presents for cousins.  M, A, my husband and I went on a Ferris wheel - L and J both decided it was too high for them, so they waited in the library.  M was a bit obsessive about it, he wanted to go on, but was scared, but wanted to conquer his fear, but but but . . . eventually we got on.  After the first turn M stopped clinging to me and began to relax.  He said "this isn't so bad.  I'm not scared!"  I was though!  The only reason I went on was because A really really wanted to, and I didn't think my hubby would want to take her.  By the time it was clear Hubby *was* going on, it was far too late for me to back out.  Still, I survived . . .

The next big thing was the Christmas tree.  We all went out to choose it - that's a bit of a family thing now - and we got it upstairs into the living room without too much fuss.  M and J decided on a name for it (just don't ask!) and we decided to let it settle overnight and decorate it in the morning.

After the younger three go to bed L, my hubby and I usually watch TV or play a board game together.  That evening we just sat and watched the kittens.  All three of the kittens seemed to think we had bought them a new toy . . . they climbed the tree, wrestled in it, raced to the top, scratched their claws on it, drank the water, chewed the branches, fell out of it, climbed it some more . . . we were rather worried that the tree would be bare by morning so we moved it to the spare room overnight.

One of the things I have learnt over the years is not to surprise the boys.  We decided that the tree might not make it, and we had nowhere kitten proof to put it that was sensible (we could hide it in the spare room, or block the stairs, or put it in the kitchen making cooking harder . . .)

The next morning we sat everyone down, showed them the pictures of kittens up the tree.  Showed them the needles on the floor.  Told them we thought the kittens could destroy the tree, then asked for ideas.

We all talked it over, and decided we wanted the tree in the living room like it always is.  We made sure the kids knew it might not survive, and decided to give it a try.

The decorations were subtle this year - we deliberately only put on robust baubles, and not too many.  By now most of the baubles are on a shelf near the tree, as the kittens love to play with them, but so far only two have been broken.  The tree has lost a lot more needles than I'd usually expect, but it still looks OK, which is a good thing, and really rather surprising :)

We have a second tree - a hold over from our old house.  It is an artificial half tree designed to hang on the wall.  In our old home we had no space for a big tree, and having this on the wall kept it safe from crawling babies too.  In our new home this one hangs downstairs in the dining room.  The downstairs tree has lots of baubles on - kind of balancing out the upstairs tree :)

We only decorate two rooms - the living room and the dining room - and I think that helps the boys not to get overwhelmed.

After the decorating came visiting my parents on Christmas eve.  Sometimes visiting my folks can be stressful too - my Dad is now wheelchair bound and there isn't a lot of space to move about.  Along side that there are the usual extended family / ASD difficulties to navigate.

We were able to meet up with my big sister and niece, which made things easier - more people to keep the boys occupied, and my sister, A, bought some books with her which the boys enjoyed.

The visit was as good as they get really - a bit boisterous towards the end, but mostly happy and calm.

Unfortunately J got very anxious that evening.  He was worried we had got him the wrong presents.  That things would go badly.  He just couldn't settle.

My husband and I were trying to wrap things (why did we leave it to the last moment?!?) and J kept yo-yoing.  There were tears.  There were long cuddles.  There were deep and meaningful conversations.  Eventually there were shouts and grumps too.  When we finished wrapping things I went up to cuddle him - a last resort so I would get *some* sleep.  He finally settled down at 3 am, and was asleep by half past.

Christmas day was good - everyone got what they wanted and was happy, dinner was on time and cooked properly, relations were phoned and thanks passed around.

Then a boxing day visit to hubby's parents - much smoother as it was just us, them and uncle N - and we were pretty much done :)

The final Christmas visit was my other sisters family visiting us. We've not seen them for a long time, and I was nervous that the crazy boys would be hard work, but again all went well, and everyone was happy :)

This year, more than any previous years, I have put a lot of thought into how we do things. 

Our visits were generally middle of the day ones - no really early starts, and no late evenings.  That helped, because the middle of the day is when we get the most relaxed behaviour out of M and J.

I also planned to keep things short, but with the option of extending things if they were going well.

We did one "thing" per day.  My parents and my in laws live in the same direction from us, it saves a lot of time to go to one, then go on to the other, but that was meaning that the second visit was more stressed for all sorts of reasons.

We made sure the children were not left alone with people they don't know all that well - this one was a hard lesson to learn.  My husband and I (and to a big extent uncle N) can see when the kids are getting stressed, or over excited.  We can help them to step back and calm down (mostly!) As much as they love our children, most of our extended family (on both sides) just don't really understand them or their difficulties, so things can get out of hand very easily and quickly.

Lastly, we took back-up plans :) We made sure we had something for the kids to do if they got bored or wound up, and we used specific activities to help calm things down.

I would love to just turn up at family gatherings and catch up with people I've not seen for ages, but I need to be much more present and conscious that that would allow.  I've learnt (the hard way) that the time to relax is at home where it's just us.  Other places require much more attention and concentration.

By recognising that, and making plans, we survived with just J's Christmas Eve anxieties.  Which is a minor miracle, and a major blessing :)

There is much more to say, but that can wait for another post, or two . . .

Happy New Year :)

Friday, 20 December 2013

Not what I was hoping for

I've been trying to write this post mentally for a while, but I still can't quite get things straight in my head.

Sorry if it's a bit jumbled!

So, on Wednesday J and I went to CAMHs for an appointment with the Neuro developmental team.  We saw Dr Z and V - V was one of the team that did J's group assessments.  We were referred to the team as a result of the group assessment.  Unfortunately my husband couldn't be with us as he had a prior commitment, and rescheduling would have pushed things back by two months at least.

After the group assessments we felt that the team had seen the happy side of J, and a few of his issues, but not "the real J", so this was the opportunity to try and give a better, clearer picture of things.  My husband and I spent some time talking through points I needed to cover, his observations and my own, so that both our perspectives could be heard - I went into the appointment with a long list of difficulties, ready to cover as much as I could.

The appointment didn't go so well.

For the first time at one of these sessions I felt like I wasn't being listened to, I tried to convey how things were, but it just didn't seem to work.  J has a lot of difficult behaviours, a lot of issues, but somehow each time I brought something up it felt like it was glossed over or it turned into me trying to justify why or how this was "worse" than a "normal" 9 year old.

It really didn't help that J was minimising things, saying "I don't do that", or trying to change the subject at various points.  He also got very upset - tearful rather than shouting - and that distracted everyone in the room.  We all tried to get him to go to the playroom, or to look at the fish, but he wanted to stay.  Dr Z was very concerned about J's emotional state - maybe that is why she stopped listening?

We talked through pregnancy / birth / babyhood / toddler years / current issues, then J and I went out to the waiting room and Dr Z and V discussed what they had seen and heard.

We were called back about five minutes later, by which time J was smiling and giggling.  He can be very mercurial - from joy to misery in the blink of an eye.

Whilst they can see some issues, they are unsure of any diagnosis - apparently the clusters of issues are not right for ASD in their eyes.  They want to do an ADOS and then look at all the information they have again, and work out how to proceed.

Apparently the fact that J likes to be tickled makes AS unlikely, and there are other dissenting issues too.

When they said that I was stunned. 

I asked them to ask me about things they had expected to see that they felt were absent - because I'm worried I left out details, it is so hard to cover *everything* in an hour - but they were unwilling to do that. 

I told them that all the follow up reading I had done at the paediatricians suggestion led me to the conclusion that it is an ASD. 

I asked them what else they thought it could be - they were unwilling to give *any* real reply to that.

I told them that I felt unable to help J, and that I was unwilling to go through this process and be left with a negative diagnosis and no help, which they commiserated with and gave non-committal "we'll see what happens after the ADOS" answers to.

Dr Z did say that J's emotional imbalance and anxieties are a concern, so perhaps it's good that he got so upset.  But that is small comfort really. 

So, now, we have ANOTHER wait - probably two or three months - for the ADOS.  We will have to hope that the ADOS is accurate, and gives them the missing pieces, but I'm not convinced it will.  J has done one before, and it's an environment he thrives in - last time it was three adults and him in a quiet dimly lit room, no pressure to engage or finish tasks, and just moving from one thing to another very quickly.  I hope the protocol for a nearly 10 year old is different to that for a 6 year old!

Then, after that?  It depends on how things turn out.  I am firmly convinced J is Autistic - I have read extensively about the difficulties and issues, I've networked with other parents and found so many "yeah, J does that too" moments, spoken to other people who know J and are experienced in the field, and every time the response is "yes."  It seems so self evident!

So, if the ADOS brings clarity, then awesome!  If not, then we need to see what CAMHs suggest next, but I will not go quietly.  If they think "it" is something else, then I will learn about this something else and if it doesn't fit I will fight for the right diagnosis.  If they think there is nothing, then I will fight for another set of observations, a different team to assess him, because the issues are there to be seen, they really are!

A while ago I heard the term "warrior mums" - for those who fight relentlessly on behalf of their children.  Sometimes we need to fight for education, for allowances to be made, for services to be provided, for the right diagnosis.

J needs this, and I will not let him down.

I'm ready to fight.  Hard.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Is Santa Autistic?

After an interesting thread on an ASD support site, this sprang to mind . . .

"Is Santa Autistic?"
A little boy cried,
"Of course he isn't"
I quickly replied,
But then I thought a bit more
As I wandered away
Was there anything in it?
Could there be more to say?
"He's making a list,
He's checking it twice"
So the old man is thorough,
That's really quite nice. . .
But the next bit's a worry,
Those things on the list
What about "sometimes" or "Sorry"
All those "in between" bits?
The red suit?  That's an issue,
The same suit every year?
repetitive, compulsive . . .
Something sensory here?
Avoiding other people,
That's a red flag for sure,
Climbing down the chimney?
Can't he just use the door?
And always, yes always
We hear "Ho ho ho"
Maybe Santa's non-verbal?
I really don't know . . .
So perhaps he was right,
That inquisitive young boy
Maybe Santa's autistic,
but he brings us great joy

By me, Jenn Impey, 18/12/2013

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas treats

Each year at Christmas time we, as a family, make something for the adults in our children's lives. 

There are so many reasons for this - firstly and most importantly we want the gifts to mean something to the children - for the gift to be more than a random box of stuff that they feel no connection to.  When we make things for people we spend something irreplaceable - our time.  We take time to work out what to make, all four children are involved, and we talk about who we are giving the gift to, and why.

I hope that the gifts mean something to those who receive them too - for a long time most of the adults in our extended family have had far more disposable income than us.  If they especially wanted something then it's generally not an issue for them to get it.  Which leaves a dilemma, really, when you prefer to give meaningful gifts.  So we found an answer :)

So far we have made, to name a few ; personalised coasters, Christmas tree ornaments, photo frames, fudge, biscuits, Christmas cake, cinder toffee and hot chocolate mix.

Each year we have fun, make memories and make a mess :)

This year we are seeing the two sets of family at different times, so we made one set of gifts this week, and gave them to Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles on Saturday.

Most people were given Rocky road - based on this recipe. We tweaked it a bit after the test batch (yum!) We used 400g of dark chocolate, and 180 g of biscuits (instead of 300g / 200g respectively) ,and when the recipe calls for some chocolate mix to be reserved and poured over the rest, we kept back 200 ml (vs 125 ml)  Oh, and the kids wanted to sprinkle some marshmallows on top as well as mixing them in.  But yeah, it was that recipe, sort of . . .

Given how nice it is, Rocky road is *really* easy to make.  Melt butter, dark chocolate and golden syrup until it is properly mixed. Take a small amount of this mix out and *keep it warm*.  Crush some biscuits until you have small chunks and crumbs, then stir those into the mix.  Stir in some marshmallows.  Pour into a chillable tray, pour over the mixture you reserved.  Chill, then chop, then watch as it disappears*really* fast!

As we were going to make two batches, I divided the kids into pairs, just to make it a bit less crazy.  Each pair brought their own frictions - L and J worked well together, eventually, but L was reluctant to let J do anything hot or spillable . . . M and A worked better, but M wanted to race and compare all the time.  A just more or less ignored his suggestions and did her own thing :)

So, pictures!
 A's rocky road, ready to go in the fridge.

M's at the same stage.

J's on a plate, the spare bits :)
L's boxed up almost ready to go.
Being Christmas, we did decorate the boxes, maybe just a tad more than is tasteful . . . so no pics of those!
The children's favourite uncle - Uncle N - doesn't eat chocolate, so we had to make something different for him.  We decided on some nut brittle - recipe here.
This was another really easy recipe to make, but the mixture gets very hot, so you need to take serious care.
Basically, you heat water, sugar and golden syrup (in place of the corn syrup listed) until it is *really* hot.  You can test it is the right heat by dripping a tiny amount into some very cold water, if it solidifies but is squishy it's ready.  Next mix in the butter and nuts. Cook for a bit longer - until the syrup (when dropped in cold water) makes brittle strings and a hard ball.  Then mix in the vanilla and baking soda - be warned it'll foam up!  Then pour it out, onto a greased tray, and chill.
We tweaked the method a tiny bit - we lined the tray, to make it easier to get the brittle out :) 
I mistakenly stored the baking tray in the fridge overnight - not in a sealed container - and the brittle went a bit tacky and not-so-nice to touch.  I panicked a bit then :( but popped it back in the oven at gas mark 1, hoping it would dry out and crisp up a bit.  As it happens that was a really good move :)  Half an hour later the brittle was soft again, but had gone clearer and settled to a more even layer. A little later I remembered to mark where I wanted to break the sheet, and when I came to break it up, it was so easy :) Once it had cooled completely the brittle was smooth, and not at all sticky - much better than the first time even, so a fortuitous accident :)
Again with the pictures - not so many, because most of it was eaten!

We used cashew nuts, but you can use any nuts :)
As ever, lots of mess, lots of fun, and gifts made with love and care - a perfect Christmas really :)

It finaly happened . . .

On Friday my husband and I were invited to CAMHS for the follow up appointment after J's group assessment sessions.  This was a talk through of the report - allowing us to ask for more detail or explanations where necessary - and a discussion of what next.

The appointment was very quick - largely because there was no need for any "do you know why you are here" preamble, or much discussion of the next step because we are - as the two professionals put it - old hands at this now.

I feel a little deflated at what happened next. 

I have always worried about direct observations, what will happen if the child is having a good day?  Or if none of their particular buttons are pushed?  Or if they are in an environment in which they thrive and are happy?  Well, it seems that Mr J *was* happy, and chilled, and enjoyed the sessions.  Whilst a lot of things were spotted - sensory seeking, needing to move all the time, rushing through tasks, poor attention span, unable to sustain social interaction - a lot of things were not.

I can't blame the staff at the assessment sessions, something like 80% of the time J is happy, and whilst he still has issues then it's the times he looses it that are the key to understanding him.  If he didn't loose it during any of the sessions then it cannot be observed.

I just wish he had shown them a little more of his stressed side.

So, next is the referral to the Neuro developmental psychology team.  But we already knew that!  In a bit of stunning efficiency we got the appointment *before* we were told about the referral.  So on Wednesday J and I get to try and cover the other 20% of him - all the stress and unhappiness that the group assessment team didn't see.  That'll be fun . . .

I'm glad that there is plenty of opportunity for us, as parents, to give our observations, our experiences, and to have that recorded on the file.  With the appointment so close to the last one it sort of feels like a rebuttal, but it isn't really, more of an addendum.

Just hope I managed to cover enough, give them enough insight, and help make the picture clearer and more complete.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Autonomy, Unschooling, trust, critical thinking and ranting teenagers

Take this as fair warning - this post may well turn into a wee bit of a rant. 

If you are on many home ed Facebook groups then I doubt that you can have missed the Daily Mail article about unschooling that has just been published.

It's not a bad article, in the main, but the concept of unschooling is never going to be an easy one to convey to a hostile journalist.  I felt that, really, if you already know about unschooling then the article reaffirms it as a good choice, if you don't like the idea or have never heard of unschooling it looks like lazy or neglectful parenting and no brief piece of writing can really fix that.

The unschooling approach is, after all, basically, counter to all we are told by the mainstream of society. 

For most people children are viewed as a canvas for their parents and school to paint on.  From the time babies are born we are told they need to be "trained" - how many of us have been told that unless we start sleep training, feeding on a schedule, imposing OUR will then the little ones will be running the show?  We have shelves full of baby training and toddler taming manuals, and the whole of a child's life - if the "normal" route is followed - is run by others, for the convenience of others, and those others are *always* the adults.

Unschooling, on the other hand, is about trust.  Trusting a child to find their way, and supporting them as they grow.  In the UK I think the terms "Autonomous learning" and "Unschooling" are almost interchangeable.  The idea is that learning is best done when a child is intrinsically motivated, not manipulated or cajoled, and from my experience that seems to be true.

Where autonomy and unschooling diverge is that a child may autonomously choose to do "schooly" things - like workbooks - but I don't think that would happen in an Unschooling household.

Now, in our house we have learnt in many different ways - we have times when we are very bookish, and A in particular loves workbooks, and other times where we are very autonomous.  I am unconvinced that unschooling could work for several of our children - M is very keen to avoid challenging himself, possibly due to his high anxiety levels, and L found reading so hard work due to his dyslexia I don't know if he would have persevered without encouragement - but J has shown me that it works well for him - he has so much mathematical knowledge that hasn't come from the work we have done together, and he often asks about things at random times and shows me he is thinking about a lot more than I realise.  So I think this is a case of different strokes for different folks, and on the whole I trust parents to do their best for their children.

But to get back to the article, in many ways it annoyed me - but more than anything else the quotes from "experts" rankled.

To start with, the two experts quoted - Dr Kevin Stannard, of the Girls’ Day School Trust and Julia Harrington, headmistress of Queen Anne's School in Caversham - are clearly what would be termed "hostile witnesses". They are both representatives of school based education, and as such the system they are "experts" on is based on a huge lack of trust - both of parents and of their children. Within the school system the voice of parents is ignored, and the idea of allowing a child to choose what they learn is anathema.  If these two "experts" had given positive reactions, they would have been acknowledging that the school system is not the only way, and ultimately their livelihoods depend on parents not thinking too hard about whether school works or not.  It is rather like asking a butcher or a pig farmer if (s)he thinks vegetarianism is a good idea . . .

Dr Stannard said (amongst other things)
"Part of a rounded education, for example, is the ability to develop ‘critical thinking’ and to question assumptions you have grown up with, which can only truly happen outside of the home environment."

This I *really* take issue with.  I think it goes straight back to this whole idea that society seems to have, that as a parent my job is to mould my children like lumps of clay - turn them into just what society wants and nothing else.  In our house this couldn't be further from the truth!  From the outset I have encouraged my children to think about things - I don't want blind obedience from them, because I know I am fallible and may not have thought about something that occurs to them.  When my children are asked to do something, if they refuse and explain why we talk it through (unless it's an urgent thing and there just isn't time.) I don't always agree with their point of view, but I do try to listen to it and think about it.  We do a lot of learning by talking - probably because that is the way L learns best - so we often talk about an idea and discuss each others opinions of things.

In none of the children is this more evident than L - my very own ranting teen :) - For example whereas I go to Church, he is a staunch atheist.  We have talked through both my beliefs and those of other religions - with no intention of convincing or converting him - and both of us understand the others point of view, and respect our differences.  L has a lot of strong views on things - from the conflicts in Syria, Egypt and Palestine / Israel - to space exploration, medical science, poverty and politics.  Not all of his views are logical, most of them are very different to my views, or those of his father, some are very emotional responses to news reports, others rather ill-informed knee jerk reactions to headlines, but we talk them through, I point him towards more information if he needs it, and quite often he does the same for me.

He may be only 14 (and a big bit) but he is very capable of critical thought and discussion, without ever having been to school . . .

Dr Stannard also said
'It is also much easier to learn skills like ‘collaboration’ when you are actually working alongside a group of classmates each day.'

Which gives lie to his impression of home education, or unschooling, as a solitary pursuit.  So many of the people invited to comment on the lives of home educators have no idea that there is a community out there waiting.  Fully formed, welcoming, and actively socialising.  Collaboration comes when you have a group of people working towards a common goal - and that is easy to do when you move outside the prescriptive, restrictive cage of school and into the wide expanse of freedom in the real world.  If Dr Stannard has no idea how home educated children socialise then how can his views on any other aspect of home education be trusted?

The other "expert" Julia Harrington, a Headmistress, said
'Research shows that a teenager’s brain demands interaction with other teenagers and will seek it out if it is not there.  In the age of information overload, young people need to know how to filter and show discernment in their processing of information, and it is very difficult to develop this sort of mind-set in a vacuum.'

Again showing the same misunderstanding.  Home education of any sort does not mean social isolation, or growing up in a vacuum!

I wish that the journalist had sought out some experts on education as a whole, not just teachers - someone from the Institute of Education, or one of the various researchers that have published work comparing family based education and school based education, or even some of the hundreds of former teachers who now home educate their own children . . .

Monday, 9 December 2013

Rat-a-tat-cat, review and other stuff. . .

Whilst we were in Leisure games last week A bought herself two new games. 

It was only after a long convoluted discussion that she didn't buy more dice - true gamer-chick there ;)

This afternoon the kittens were chasing a large D20 around the living room, so J decided even the pets here are gamers . . .

The first game A bought was Rat-a-tat-cat - made by Gamewrights, a publisher we know and trust :)

The game is a turn based card game, but it has some interesting twists to the usual rules.

Cards are numbered zero to nine, with cats for the numbers up to five, and rats from then on.  The pictures are well drawn, and have a nice sense of humour to them.  The aim of the game is to get the lowest score.

You start with four cards face down in front of each player, the rest of the deck is the draw pile, but the top card is flipped to begin the discard pile.

At the start of the game you may look at the two outer cards (number one and four in front of you) but NOT the other two.  Unless you get a special card later on you may not look at these cards again.  For younger players the game can be played with these outlying cards face up.

On your turn you may either take the top discard card, and switch it with one of your cards (face downs stay face down on the table) OR draw the top card from the draw pile, show it to your opponent(s) and decide whether to play it or not.  It may be a numbered card (switch with one of your face down cards) or one of three "Specials" - these are Swap (swap one of your cards with an opponents, you may not look at the cards you exchange)Draw two (draw another card, decide if you want to play it, if not discard it and draw another) or Peek (look at one of your own face down cards.) You always have the choice of playing or discarding it, but specials on the discard pile do not have their special powers intact.

The round continues until one player knocks on the table and declares "Rat-a-tat-cat" (when they are satisfied with their score), at which point the opponents get one last turn and then the scores are worked out.

Scoring is easy - add up the cards in front of you.  If you have a special it is discarded and a random card drawn to replace it.

The game is played over an agreed number of rounds, we do five, which allows everyone to get the hang of what they are meant to be doing.

We like the game, it encourages a bit of maths, some strategy, some watching of opponents, and plays quickly.  A - at 7 - is fully able to understand the rules, J - 9 - enjoys the game too.  I suspect that M would enjoy it as a way to connect with younger children, but at 11 he is a little old for it really.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Ticket to ride - review and ramblings :)

A week ago we ended up in one of our favourite places in the world.  The inimitable Leisure Games, an Aladdin's cave of wonderfully obscure board games, innovative  European games, Role playing games, and so much more.  My kids love it there, all of them couldn't wait to spend their pocket money - which is often hoarded for such trips.  The staff are awesome, and good for advice, even the other customers are pretty cool - with one random dude offering A advice when she couldn't decide between two games.  And the dude was right - the one she picked is *very* much A's cup of tea :)

Amongst other games we finally picked up a copy of Ticket to ride - hubby has had the app on his tablet for ages, and lots of friends have raved about it, so I kinda feel we're a bit late to this particular party.

The game is pretty simple in it's mechanics, by collecting different coloured cards you are able to claim various rail routes between American cities, earning points as you go.

Because each turn you only get to do one of the various actions turns move quickly and it keeps everyone engaged really well. 

To start the game each player is dealt three "Quest" cards, which are scored by linking two cities in a continuous route, the more connections you need to make the higher the score.  These cards are hidden, and not revealed to other players until the end of the game.  Any quest you haven't completed deducts from your score . . . Each player has to keep at least two of the initial cards dealt to them, so there is some wiggle room in deciding what you will do.

You are also dealt four carriage cards, these are what you have to collect to claim routes.

Five further carriage cards are then placed face up beside the draw pile, and the remaining quest cards.

During your turn you can either :
    1. Take two face up carriage cards (except jokers)
    2. Take one face up Joker
    3. Take two carriage cards from the draw pile
    4. Take one face up carriage card and one from the draw pile
    5. Claim a route
    6. Take a new quest (draw three, keep at least one)
There is a mixture of routes on the board - some need specific colour cards, others are grey and can be claimed with any colour, they are between one and six carriages long (requiring one - six matching cards to claim, and having the claiming players train carriages placed along the route.) Play continues until one player is down to two carriages to place on the board, and then everyone gets one last turn.

We have played in various combinations of people now, and all of the family enjoy the game - J plays fairly randomly with not much strategy, M seems to be thinking several turns ahead.

It works well on an adult basis - My husband, L and I have played and all enjoyed it - we were a bit more strategic, and a bit more competitive than when we played with the younger ones ;)

A is still a little young to play alone, but I think that once she is familiar with the game she will be able to play independently too.

There is subtle learning going on - as with games like Risk there is a degree of learning where the places named are, but there is also a lot of quick thinking required.  The turns move fast, and often the other players claim routes you need, so it is helping M and J learn to look for alternatives before giving up on a quest.  There is also a need to learn when to sit back and gather resources, and when to claim routes and make the best of what you can do. 

All told this was a good addition to our games shelves, and I can see it getting a lot of use.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Sometimes I wonder how other families eat meals.  You know, neuro typical families . . .

For us, the only way to keep things sane is constant reminders of "The Rules." 

I guess most families have rules, perhaps largely unspoken, about how to behave around the dinner table.

Our first rule is pretty ordinary - No Rocking of Chairs.  Since we bought M a wobble cushion he is much better, but there is still a large amount of rocking that goes on.  Every now and then there is a crash as someone falls over too . . .

The next rule relates to rocking - No Knees!  If left to their own devices M, J and frustratingly L will all brace their knees against the table.  That means they rock with barely any effort :(

The third, and last of the obvious rules, is Use Cutlery.  Ought to go without saying really, but it is said - a lot.

Now, I'm afraid, we move on to the more esoteric ones . . . Set purely for the retention of sanity.

No Singing.

No Dancing.

No Humming.

No Miming.

No Drumming.

No Banging.

No Minecraft discussions.

No Staring contests.

Seriously.  Most of those need to be repeated most days. 

Where else but an ASD household!