Autism, Christmas And Putting Things Into Perspective

Normally I hate this time of year. The Christmas mail generally brings with it cards from old friends and acquaintances. Whilst I love to hear from them I often feel envious and cheated for they make me think if what might have been if only my son hadn't developed autism.

I know it's wrong but I'm only human.

However, this year I seem to have got things into perspective. Instead of yearning for what I may have missed, I appreciate what I have.

The Season of Good Will didn't start too well. I took my son on a train journey. He loved it. The train was full of Christmas shoppers and commuters so we were unable to sit together. However, I managed to get a seat directly behind him and watched as he sat staring out of the window, a finger in one ear, reciting story lines memorised from his vast array of videos.

The lady next to him, engrossed in her paperback novel appeared not to notice, but a young child, three years old apparently, did. With the innocence of youth she asked her mother and grandmother:

"Why was he was talking to himself?"
"Why did he have his finger in his ear?"
"Why did he look out of the window all the time?"

In the quietness of the crowded carriage her persistent little voice carried and her carers were visibly embarrassed. They tried, as best they could to divert her questions but were fighting a losing battle. I noticed soon many people were glancing at my son and contemplating his somewhat unusual behaviour.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked at the little girl for it brought back memories of happier times. I remembered how my son used to be such a chatterbox; friendly, sociable and inquisitive. Then came autism and his world and that of all around him changed forever.

Life's unfair.

A few days after that train journey my son's school were performing their Christingle Service in the local cathedral. It is a beautiful, serene building over 1000 years old. The architecture and decorations are quite magnificent.

Set in a flat landscape the huge cathedral can be viewed from miles and is known as The Ship Of The Fens. It gives people hope. Just thinking about its construction makes you realise no task is too great and when you go inside there is an amazing atmosphere.

My son attends a school for children with special needs. Each child is different and provides a varying degree of worry and anxiety for his or her parents. Some children have both physical and medical disabilities, others mental or behavioural problems. Some are confined to a wheel chair, whilst others just wander, unable to stay still. However, every single child is cherished and valued for who they are, and their achievements, no matter how small, are acknowledged.

As I sat in the tranquil Lady Chapel listening to the carols and recitations by the children, I watched my son perform Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Dressed in his antlers, scarf and red mittens, he was so confident and happy, it made me realise how lucky I really am.

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Why Health Is More Important Than Being Thin

The last few days have made me realise how important it is to live for the day and value your health.

One of my friends was celebrating her 70th birthday. I went to visit her and was shocked to see how much weight she had lost since our last meeting. She is fine though and eats sensibly but is just exhausted.

She is a full time carer for her husband who has prostate cancer and has also suffered a stroke, which has left him physically helpless. He spent several weeks in hospital and my friend had a fifty mile round trip each day just to visit him. Eventually, she put a lot of her possessions into storage, made the necessary adaptations to their bungalow and got a support system in place so she could look after her husband at home.

It was a relief not to commute to the hospital everyday but at least then she had a break. Now she is on call twenty-four hours a day and as much as she loves her husband it is a strain. He cannot move without help and whilst his mind is alert and active, his speech is not brilliant.

He is constantly tired, and his skin itches and is sore from his medication and sitting in the same position. My friend has to do everything for him and never gets the chance to sit down. Where once she was able to socialise, relax with a good book, or get on her computer, she is now also responsible for the gardening, DIY, car cleaning, etc. My friend is really tired.

The next day we visited my in-laws and here the situation is reversed.

My mother-in-law has Alzheimer's. She is still mobile but very forgetful and where once she ate heartily now has little appetite. She's just skin and bone. Her clothes hang on her.

She has lost interest in everything and all she wants to do is go out in the car. The problem is she's so frail even going over the slightest bump hurts her. My father-in-law has run out of places to take her. They've lived in the same area all their lives so have been everywhere there is to go locally, more than once, and of course, petrol is not cheap.

My father-in-law who was once very active and played golf three times each week is a sociable person who enjoys the company of other people. Now, however, he is virtually house bound, as his wife gets distressed if he is out of her sight. He has to do everything for her and has taken over the shopping, cooking, housework, etc. He never leaves her and the strain is beginning to show.

They've been married fifty-six years and have run out of conversation. They've said all there is to say and also my mother-in-law can't focus her thoughts anyway. She's become suddenly very old and helpless. My father-in-law is really tired.

Both my friend and father-in-law have had their world turned upside down through the health of the partners they love. One has lost loads of weight and the ability to relax. The other has gained loads of weight and the chance to be active. Both have lost the opportunity to socialise.

On the television this evening a very sweet little lady aged 110 years, who lives in a care home and looks amazing, gave the nation her recommendations for longevity. Her advice was eat sensibly, exercise and a glass if wine when you want to, but not too often.

It's good advice and certainly exercise is an important factor. My father-in-law has put most of his weight on his chest and is now finding it hard to breathe. His doctor has told him he has to cut down on sugar, salt and fat and go for a brisk walk everyday. However, his wife can't walk far, won't go in a wheelchair and he can't leave her so such exercise is unlikely.

He must therefore reduce his calorie intake, but he is an ex chef and likes to cook. He has been brought up to enhance the flavour of food by adding all the things the doctor has recommended he reduce, and his taste buds have become accustomed to the taste. At the age of eighty-six he wonders if making the change is worth it, especially as eating is now one of the few pleasures he has left.

It is a fact, as you get older you need to eat less calories simply because you lose muscle at the rate of ½ lb per year. Unless you actively do something to replace it your body will replace the muscle with fat, and being too fat is unhealthy, as you know.

Muscle burns far more calories than fat so unless you are prepared to reduce your calorie intake year after year you need to think about that. Whilst cutting down on the fats, sugars and salts, especially the hidden ones in packaged and processed foods will most certainly help you lose or maintain your preferred weight, you still consciously need to build lean muscle otherwise the next year you'll have to reduce your calorie intake even further.

That little old lady has it right - eat sensibly and exercise. Everyone is unique and it's far more important to be healthy than slim. Unless your weight is affecting your health just concentrate on living and enjoying every single day.