My ridiculous dreams about our family life


Last night, about 7pm, we'd had dinner and the three year old had already gone to bed, snoring peacefully under her covers. The teenager was doing her homework on the computer in the living room, Bright Eyes was hanging around reading on the sofa and the eight year old wanted to play a game with me.


I love board games. They take me back to my own childhood and 'family nights' spent playing Careers and Scrabble and Uno. In fact, family board games are part of my idealized, fictional 'perfect family existence' that I keep tucked away in my brain. "If only we were like this, or did this, or played that," I think, probably too often. We have a whole shelf full of family board games, mostly because I want to hang on to the dream. Maybe one day we'll all play them and enjoy them! 

The problem, of course, has always been that *The Child In Question* generally can't deal with competitive games. We've worked up to fragile, tentative games of UNO and sometimes we can get to even five completed games before it all explodes with tears and accusations and unhappiness. Other games? Forget it.

I was happy enough to play with the eight year old though. Even just playing with one of the four kids should satisfy my fantasies of normal, wholesome family life, I thought. I pulled out a new game that he'd never seen before and we sat down and started to play.

The game in question was Sequence, which is a part skill, part chance version of Connect 4. My eight year old enjoyed it, although it nearly killed him to have to make a decision (he likes to take his time looking at his options) and we had a good game.

I then noticed that Bright Eyes was watching on. It took him about two seconds to figure out the rules. He spent the next ten minutes after that reminding us to pick up an extra card when we'd forgotten, and trying to work out who was going to win.

"Do you want to play?" I asked him, after the eight year old had been beaten twice and the exhaustion of having to make so many decisions had done him in. 

"Yep," he said. So I set up the game again and he started to play.

Let me say, he was awesome. He played strategically, blocking me off at every turn, and his fast, analytical brain made for a zoom, zoom quick game in comparison with playing with his brother. 

"You're really good at this," I said, admiringly, and he agreed. He was enjoying himself.

The room was quietly and happily humming and I looked around, enjoying the peacefulness. I felt exultant inside. See, we can be normal? I thought. This is just like other families

It was then I made the mistake. It wasn't me winning the first game. He coped just fine. It was the fact that I invited his brother to play with us. I mean, really, you'd think I'd have learned after eight years.

The three of us sat down to play. It was tricky from the beginning. Every time the eight year old dawdled around making a decision, his brother growled at him. I encouraged him to use his kind voice. Har har. We made steady progress but my husband saw something I missed with my head down looking at my pieces: Bright Eyes glared at his brother almost the entire time. *Glared.* 

Finally, we had a winner. And guess who it was? Not me, not Bright Eyes. It was the worst possible winner in Bright Eyes' books. It was his brother.

"Yay!" he said. 

"Yay!" I agreed.

And then, in the next second, a wail came up from beside me.


All the serenity was sucked out of the room as Bright Eyes yelled and his brother yelled back in self-defence. 

"I am NOT an idiot! You ALWAYS say that! I'm so sick of it!"

"You're just a baby and I should never have had a brother. My life's been terrible since he's been born!"

Blah blah blah.

It went on until we finally managed to separate them. And then I was left on the couch with a snivelling, physically shaking, gasping Bright Eyes who was tearful and angry.

We had a conversation. It went like this.

Him: "He's the worst brother. My life is terrible because of this family. He's the worst one in it. etc. etc.  blah blah blah along the same lines.

Me: "Stop. I think you mean to say this: I am really really disappointed that I didn't win."

Him: "I am really really disappointed that I didn't win, but HE's TERRIBLE and I HATE HIM etc etc."

Me: "No. That's not true. You are very disappointed. You have strong feelings. You wish you could have won."

Him: "I wish I could have won. My sisters are better than him."

Me: "That's not the point. You need to not say that."

Him: "But I'm angry! I can't help it. I have autism!"

Me: "Yes, you have autism. But autism is no excuse for terrible words and appalling behaviour. You have to learn to control it. You are disappointed. That Is All."

I explained again to him that his angry feelings go from nothing to 100 in 0.2 seconds, that autism made it all harder, and that he was actually, really, really good at that game. He really wanted to win because he was so good, but there was an aspect of chance in the game too, which meant that anyone could win, even if they weren't as good as other people.

He listened, subsided a bit, and agreed with me in the end.

"Can you apologise to your brother?" I asked.

"Noooo...." he said, starting up again.

"Well, how would you feel if someone yelled at you because you won a game?" I asked.

"Paranoid and annoyed, I guess," he said, and I could tell he really was thinking about it. He then added for good measure, "What does paranoid mean?" (I gave a quick explanation. He likes word definitions - they calm him down.)

"But the point is, you've hurt his feelings, and not for a good reason," I said. "Can you apologise later?"

"Hmm. Maybe," he said.

We then talked about what he'd do next time. He worked out that he could play competitive games with me because he didn't mind if I won, but he definitely couldn't play them with his brother, or his sister for that matter.

"I can't play competitive things with him for the rest of my life!" he said. I'm inclined to think it's probably true. I said that he and I should practice playing competitive games so that he can get used to winning and losing and he agreed.

After only a 15 minute conversation, he was calmed down enough to clean his teeth. We went on up to bed and by the time we got there he was able to give a reluctant apology to his brother.

Even though it was a great result, I felt beaten up by the end. I wanted peaceful, happy families. I got a complete and utter meltdown and a difficult conversation which took all the resources I had to guide him through, as well as another child feeling completely attacked and assaulted simply because he won what he thought was a fun game. This is the problem with ASD - at least our experience. It holds your family life hostage for years, and then, just when you think things are improving (and they are) it comes back in, all guns blazing, just to remind you that there's STILL so much work to do, and so much energy to use doing it.