There is a Twitter hashtag doing the rounds at the moment, #saynotowarm. As you might expect, it's utilised by a bunch of cheerful curmudgeons with low heat tolerance, to complain about the mercury rising. My two boys are not Twitter users yet but, if they were, they would be all over that hashtag like runny cheese on nachos.
This week is set to be particularly hot and I am ready to embrace that big yellow orb in the sky but, it is true that summer in London can require a certain level of fortitude on the part of its inhabitants. I am fortunate that I don't, any longer, have daily encounters with the London Underground. The feeling of being kebabed together with other sweaty sides of London flesh in a roasting hot cylindrical oven will be familiar to most Londoners. So to will the acute disbelief of parking your already damp behind on a bus' moquette only to find that the heating is on. City dwellers stride out in search of dappled shade and a breeze, only to find the urban heat island effect has infected every other human with the same goal. When personal space and air circulation is all your heart desires, you are forced to share every green inch, every park bench, every pavement bistro table with similarly-inclined members of your species.
Spike does not generally have to suffer those irritations, but he really does not like the heat. The poor boy has inherited my ability to leak briny water like a burst dam at the merest glimpse of the sun. Given that his father has an uncanny ability to keep all his salt water on the inside, he really drew a bad genetic hand, there. In general, Spike runs warm. Walking up our road on a sunny day entails staccato sprint bursts through the sunshine, followed by a painstaking crawl through the shade cast by the large plane trees which line the street. While I find this anti-rhythm somewhat annoying, I can see that it is his way of managing discomfort.
Despite his propensity to over-heat, Spike's perception of ambient temperatures seems inconsistent. He will only wear long-sleeved tops and long trousers, regardless of the temperature, although I rather suspect this is because short garments look incongruous or incomplete to him. When Ben wears short sleeves or shorts, Spike will instruct him to "go and put your clothes on, Daddy", although I am "allowed" to have my arms and legs out. Similarly, Spike prefers to sleep under heavy covers, even on the most hot and humid of summer nights.
Anecdotal reports from the autism community suggest that Spike is not alone in having idiosyncratic temperature perception. Interoception is our sensitivity to sensations and we need this feedback to keep our bodies in good order. It seems likely that many on the spectrum have dampened interoception, proabbly as part of a wider portfolio of sensory processing differences. This means that they may not be good at recognising hunger, tiredness, aches and pains, and temperature. When those important signals are not received or they are misinterpreted, then the important corrective actions which follow (asking for a snack, taking a nap, resting a sore joint or removing a sweater) don't occur, either.
I know other families struggle to get their autistic children to wear coats or sweaters when the temperature is below freezing, or have children who refuse to go outside into an environment they cannot control. In the main, Spike's idiosyncrasies in this area do not impact us very much. So, we generally just try and accommodate his preferences. I have, for example, given up trying to encourage him into shorts and tee shirts when the summer arrives. The populaces of hotter climes than ours often wear long garments, which protect the skin from the sun while allowing the air to circulate so, instead, I make sure Spike has lightweight clothes and go with his preference. I do usually have a mad scramble to buy up long-sleeve t-shirts in the spring, though, before they disappear from the shops for months on end. Largely thanks to Spike's wonderful tutors, we have, this summer, managed to segue him from socks and shoes to sandals. Spike's feet radiate heat and they will sweat after a few minutes in shoes, which makes him uncomfortable. This leads to him taking his shoes off constantly. While this is usually fine, there are times when it's not. Since transitioning to sandals, he has been so much more comfortable, and will opt for them when given a choice - and less of the day is taken up with the tedious off-and-then-on-and-then-off-and-then-on-again of his shoes.
I think other parents of autistic children might recognise the self-questioning that's required in situations like this: "Is this something we need to "work" on?". All parents want to support their children when they struggle, and teach them when there are gaps in their knowledge, but when your child is autistic there is a whole lot of supporting and teaching that needs to be done. I think that's why it is easy to slip into "fix it" mode, where any apparent deviation from "normal" behaviour feels in need of correction. I think my natural inclinations, learned patience and laziness means that this is not a particular problem for me, but I do check in on my motivations for intervening when Spike's behaviour feels a little off piste. So, long sleeves and trousers? Fine. Shoes and socks in 30 degrees? Let's push the sandals and see what happens.
Oz doesn't love the heat, either, although he likes a paddle in a pool and a good water fight, so summer does have its rewards for him. For Spike, summer means the return of the fluttering menaces* and the coal-coloured zig-zaggers**, bodily discomfort and school shuffling the cards of his timetable and chucking them up in the air. On the plus side, he had discovered the joys of a lemonade ice lolly, so it's not all bad!
While some of my boys' heat-related curmudgeonliness has rubbed off on me, I'm happy to have a hot spell land roughly where summer should be. I've got a feeling it's not going to do my to-do list any favours, as I spent today moving in slow motion and forgetting things. Still, there's lemonade ice lollies in the freezer and towels and an inflated paddling pool in the garden, so I might be able to bring the boys round...
Want to read more? A stroll around Shepherd's Bush.