"It's the little things you do together,

Do together,

Do together,

That make perfect relationships.

The concerts you enjoy together,

Neighbours you annoy together,

Children you destroy together,

That keep marriage intact..." 

(Stephen Sondheim)

There's this thing you do when you're a parent. I call it 'hopping' - not the joyous, unbridled bounce of a carefree six-year-old, but the awkward hop you do across a deep, fast-flowing river from one jagged rock to the next. It usually happens when you're on childcare duty for the whole day, with nothing in particular to do - and no real motivation to find something. It's not the sort of thing that makes the Smug Parenting blogs, but it's something we've all done, and anyone who informs you otherwise is either lying, or one of the Stepford Wives.

Essentially you start at bedtime and work backwards to whatever time it happens to be, and figure out how many hours you have to fill, and then switch your inner people carrier onto cruise control in order to make it happen. Let's say it's just after lunch, which was at half past twelve. If you take the kids to the park, that'll fill up an hour - an hour and a half if you include the time you spend hunting for shoes, checking the laundry piles for clean jumpers and shouting at the kids, usually something along the lines of "DO YOU NOT WANT TO GO OUT?". That'll leave three hours to get you through to dinner. Two and a half if you play a game. Fine, you'll have an aborted attempt at Ludo and then you'll stick them in front of a film and they can watch TV afterwards. That'll just about fill up the day until bedtime, whereupon the rest of your time is your own, because they're asleep, or at least secured behind a security door that can only be opened with a retina scan; perhaps that's just our house.

Have you ever seen that CBeebies programme, I Can Cook? You know, the one where Katy Ashworth takes a bunch of despicably obedient children into a brightly coloured faux-rustic studio kitchen (or underneath a gazebo) and rustles up something organic? There was a woman who under-filled her lesson plan. You can see it in the way she treads water through the dull bits, eking out a fifteen-minute activity so that it fills an hour and a half by getting the kids to pretend they're lemons being dropped in a juicer. What's worse, everyone's so well-behaved you can't tell whether you're watching a children's cookery show or a scene from Village of the Damned. I've long-since felt that a much better programme would consist of her trying to control four children with ADHD, running riot round the kitchen, tearing up the artichokes and setting fire to the fruit crumble. That'll wipe the smug grin off her face.

The simple act of getting through the day can be challenging enough even if you don't have children with obvious ASD - and if you do, it's a whole other ball game. Because children with ASD know what they want, and you know what you want, and ne'er the twain shall meet. You start each morning with the best of intentions - researching craft activities, rummaging in the cupboard for jigsaws you have yet to complete, and checking the weather. And then it's half past eleven and you realise that the sum total of your morning's labours have led to them watching CBBC while you drink too much coffee and become frustrated that your latest Tweet doesn't have more likes. And the kitchen needs cleaning and you really need to mow the lawn and at least they're quiet. Here's the inconvenient truth: a lot of the time it's a question of 'How much screen time can I feasibly allow him to have without feeling like a crappy parent?'.

But you're not always home - the principle of not being home, and the rationale behind it, is a whole other discussion, and one we'll save for another day - and thus the ability to adapt and improvise is essential. If it's a supermarket, you find a way of leaving them in the car - and if this isn't an option, you get what you want quickly and then you get out of there. It's three steps away from a smash and grab, except this instance you are actually paying for the stuff you've picked up. Bribery should be used sparingly, because if they happen to be having a bad day, the fallout from having to stick to your guns and refuse them the carrot you dangled earlier can be worse than just gritting your teeth and telling them to get on with it. I start with imagining the worst possible outcome; I am therefore seldom disappointed.

Besides the screen access and code books and magazines and whatever he happens to be into - and you know all this, you don't need me to give you links to Amazon material - you also have a backup plan. If you're at a concert, you buddy up so that you can leave the other children with the friend you've brought while your child goes outside. I never experienced the second half of the 2012 Gloucester Gang Show, or the sermon in my nephew's dedication service, and there is a part of me that always wonders what I missed. On the other hand, we spent half an hour that Sunday wandering around a churchyard discussing the nature of life and death, in one of the most fascinating conversations I can remember, so perhaps it doesn't matter that much. 

Child-friendly restaurants are a minefield, depending on what mood they're in: colouring sheets are a minimum requirement, outdoor play areas are better. We keep a bag of books in the car, just in case. National Trust properties do great children's activities - or at least they did; two of the ones we've visited this year have already ditched theirs. It's hard not to take this as a slight, an attempt to keep the children on site but out of the property and away from the porcelain. But it's probably for the best, given the number of times my children have inadvertently tripped the alarm by swinging on the security rope in the drawing room, or have threatened to urinate in the bedpan. You tell yourself that you're exposing them to heritage and culture. And you tell them that the small locked room in the corner next to the priest's hole is where they put children who misbehave.

At a festival we attended a few years back we allowed unfiltered screen access, which led to large segments where Samuel was slumped down in the chariot, tapping away at the iPod. There were times I felt guilty. On the other hand it enabled us to get through the entire screening of The Muppets without any silliness. Besides, I need to give Samuel some idea of how people in conventional society behave, not so he can emulate them, but so he knows what to expect. And it's a given that conventional society is permanently glued to a smartphone. Much of the time, we expect children with ASD to stand out in a crowd; Samuel's probably better at fitting in than any of us realise.

The concept of Little Things extends to parenting as well. If I can get through the rest of today without shouting, I'll tell myself, I'll have a glass of wine this evening. Sometimes you have to lower your expectations and decide that you'll have a glass of wine if you can get through the rest of the day without throttling someone. And sometimes it's just a question of drinking the damned wine anyway. Just a glass. Maybe a bottle. Actually, just wheel the rack over here.

But it's during those evenings, when you're looking back (usually via Facebook photo galleries) at a time you were hands-on, rather than hands-off, and how it led to criminal proceedings or, at the very least, several new grey hairs, that you realise how parenting is really just one hop to the next - how the Little Things don't always work, the contingencies are full of holes that you didn't see, and the best laid plans of mice and men usually wind up with someone shooting his best friend in the back of the head. And you think about the moments you put your foot down and threw the Little Things out of the window entirely, and decided to simply wing it. And you realise that the days you remember - not necessarily the perfect ones, but the ones that make up the highlight reel - are the ones filled with light and shade. The ones where the things that went well made up for the things that went wrong. For better or worse, we had dinner. We did a three-mile walk. We're sitting here on a picnic rug on the far side of Oxfordshire, and it's cold and it's getting dark and I'm hungry, but I got them away from the screens.

Oh well. At least he's outside.

James is a freelance writer who has written about autism for years. His parenting blog is currently invite-only, but he produces occasional articles for Metro and blogs about Doctor Who at Brian of Morbius. He and his wife have four sons, two on the autistic spectrum.