Globally known as the ‘X’ box, so why rename it? Well, before lockdown, in our house, the ‘X’ Box was generally viewed in a slightly negative way, approached with pensive caution and accompanied by statements such as “William, you have been on there for at least an hour, please find something else to do now”. One of the many rules that were laid down with the presentation of this birthday gift was that it could only be played Friday through Sunday. In fact, and as my husband amusingly recalls, I gave William the list of rules before he had taken the wrapping paper off which spoiled the surprise somewhat. Since the birthday last September until recently I have lived with the parent guilt every time I hear the online chat start, “Hey Millie, look out for the Endermen!”. I’m still yet to be acquainted with an Endermen but I’m told you are done for if you look one in the eye. As so many of us do, I wrestled with the overloaded trunk of parent failures and the need to make the ‘to do’ list fit on one page, until now that is….

Lockdown has meant that despite my beautifully illustrated timetable on the fridge every day has merged into a Tuesday, or any other day you fancy. Autistic people generally enjoy routine rather than rough plans and William is no exception. We’ve started well, enjoying short bursts of ‘homework from school’ as I call it, not ‘home school’, as these are two entirely different things. I allow him to set timers and use helpful phrases like ‘first and then’, which other parents in the SEN world will understand. The ‘Z’ cube seems to be being used sensibly after 3pm and all is well. The guilt trunk a little lighter and a bit of an inner glow for actually managing to keep relatively calm, I say ‘relatively’ as my husband is working from home and sat in the office shouting obscenities such as “Have you finished that cake yet, I could murder a piece with a cuppa”. I have found myself thinking about the capture of Osama Bin Laden, who lived with his many wives, wondering if he actually called the Navy Seals himself! SEN child versus annoying husband…..child winning every time so far.

Anyway, one day this week I decided to actively listen to the online chat from the playroom. What a pleasant surprise. There was a polite productive exchange happening, working towards a common goal. The violence seemed minimal and my son who normally has to rely on facial expressions and body language to select a well-rehearsed reply from his social skills rolodex was chatting freely with a casual style language saying things like “Alfie mate, we can talk about this”. Boom! Not only had we ticked a box on William’s short-term learning outcomes, which was to practice using less formal language with his friends, my son was practicing his speech and language therapy. We normally pay quite a lot for this and often it consists of him sitting in a one to one session painfully going through poorly drawn Scholastic style produced cards deciphering who is feeling what?

Next came the call “Mum, can you help me write a message to my friend?” I sat next to him and encouraged him to spell it out for himself. He used the keyboard and to my delight it has a text system a bit like predictive text. You of course have to read the words on offer and select the right one…. Boom number two! My dyslexic son is reading and writing on a platform he enjoys and is meaningful.

Now clearly as a teacher I know that these sources of ‘education’ are not ideal, but they are integrative and in a relevant context in which William seems very happy to participate. I’ll take that as mini ‘lockdown’ win at the moment. A more favourable opinion of the ‘X’ Box is developing, and I have renamed it the ‘Z’ Cube, much softer, arguably less catchy but I’m not trying to sell it. For anyone with a child playing with a ‘Z’ Cube who is in need of SALT (Speech and Language Therapy) or extra help with literacy rest assured some ‘needs are being met’ as they say in the SEN world! A huge glass of whatever you fancy for all parents who are still smiling at the end of week one…..You did it. If you are new to the blog and wondering about the title, The Naked Cyclist, you will need to read the first one on the website to see where it came from.