A passing comment from my wife sent my anxiety into overdrive recently – and it led to me writing this piece; a post on a delicate subject which is close to my heart. Here it is. Something happened – almost certainly an inconsequential event – which made me worry that my son might be autistic; or at least have some kind of learning difficulty. Now, to be honest, having read through many articles marking out the common indicators, it would appear that Sammy isn’t actually showing many signs of being autistic. But I’m such a paranoid, neurotic and anxious being that it only took one small thing my wife said to send me into a spin.
She mentioned him getting into a terrible state when someone was drilling (loudly) after a recent parent-baby class. And I’ve seen it myself before – he is terrified of the vacuum cleaner and hand dryers, and he finds the food mixer unpleasant most mornings when we prepare our breakfast smoothies. He’s also started experiencing inconsolable crying fits, which have been so bad at times we’ve had to pull the car over and try to calm him down. He grips us so tightly that actually he digs his nails in, yet pushes us away at the same time.
I don’t know if these kind of things are common, but they’re certainly unsettling. It’s like a storm – and you have to wait until it passes. It reminds me of the way Carl Jung describes ‘complexes’ taking hold of one’s psyche when they’re activated. This unconscious psychic energy takes hold of the ego and leaves the sufferer beholden to its whims. It’s as though the ego isn’t able to cope with the demands of the unconscious energy – and that the furious, unhappy or helpless phase just has to pass in its own natural manner.
I imagine those things are probably very common with kids of his age – 18 months old. But my wife Pru said of the recent incident that no other children were remotely bothered by the drill, and that this kind of aversion to loud noises could be a sign of autism, Asperger’s or some other developmental disorder. Well… to use the term again from Jung’s analytical psychology, that ‘constellated a complex’ in me – my heart immediately sank. I couldn’t think about anything else for the rest of the evening. I was straight on Google. My head was all over the place. And, after coming to terms with what my wife had said, I decided it would probably help me to explore and examine my feelings on this subject with a blog.
Because, you see, I wouldn’t have an issue with my son being autistic. I will love him no matter what – I will endeavour to treat him the same way regardless of any learning difficulties he might encounter. And I shall do my utmost to ensure that he has the best possible chance to have a happy and fulfilled life; I don’t want anything to stand in the way of my son being the person he wants to be. But I also know that learning difficulties can present challenges. My sister is autistic – she didn’t speak until she was five and, truth be told, I tormented her a bit when we were kids because, well, kids are little shits.
We actually have a good relationship now – she has a husband, twin girls, a degree and was a teacher to A-level students until she decided to become a full-time mum recently. When we were kids, my mum told me that she wouldn’t be able to look after herself properly when we grew up, and that it would be my responsibility, along with others, to make sure she was cared for. That also constellated a complex in me even at such a young age (I must’ve been seven or eight, I think). And so to see how much my sister has achieved and accomplished in spite of her autism is quiet remarkable. She is a true inspiration to everyone in our family.
So when I say that the prospect of my son having a learning difficulty caused me to panic slightly, it’s not because I resent the idea of him being autistic or anything like that. It’s because I know how hard one has to work to overcome such challenges in their life. I’ve seen the way people are treated differently – the way they can be pigeon-holed; the way society can shun those who are a ‘bit different’. My sister actually had a very normal upbringing. She started off her education at a special educational needs school, but was soon reintroduced into mainstream education at the same place as me and my other sister.
As I mentioned, she has since gone on to achieve higher education qualifications, including a degree, and taught A-level media studies. If you’d told my parents that would be the case when she was five, they’d have probably thought you were crazy. And that’s actually the main inspiration for me writing this post. Because a major part of my sister’s achievements, as well as her own drive, hard work and desire not to be denied a ‘normal life’, was the incredible efforts of my parents to make sure she had the platform to grow and develop successfully (for want of a better word).
To bring some more Jungian analytical psychology into it, they supported her ego development to the point where she was able to adapt to the expectations of society. Any barriers that her autism might’ve put in her way were smashed by their tireless efforts, love and defiance. My mum actually told me very recently that my dad wasn’t keen for Bec to have a statement confirming her autism – he didn’t wish to have that label placed upon her. Fortunately my mum was a bit wiser, and as a result of that statement Bec received plenty of extra support after her autism was confirmed at the national centre (in Birmingham back then). Mum insists that in those days (1990-ish) just SIX girls had been recognised as autistic. I can’t confirm whether my mum’s memory is correct, but if it is, that’s quite an incredible statistic. How far we’ve come!
I have opened up my heart about my dad in blog form before – if you’d like to read that post, it’s right here. He suffered a brain infection the best part of a decade ago and has experienced a rapid decline in his mental faculties due to Aphasia. His descent into dementia has left him in an infant-like state – and this is a cause of great pain for our family. It is a shame that he won’t be able to read what I am about to share with you, because I think he’d be pleased to know how proud we are of his efforts as a father. Anyway, here goes…
When I think of my dad, loving and caring aren’t necessarily the first adjectives that spring to mind. But when I think of how much time and effort and love my dad put into giving my sister Rebecca the best possible platform for a good life, those are the only words that really do him justice. He, and my mum equally, put in so much time to teach Bec how to speak and read, and simply cope in the real world. They weren’t prepared to let her not have the best chance she could to be a functioning member of society. As I said before, she didn’t speak until she was five. And I was told that me and my sister would have to look after her one day. Yet she’s now living a happy family life as an intelligent, articulate woman who even writes her own blog on parenting. You can check it out here.
My dad and I didn’t really have a conspicuously loving relationship. There are home videos from the 80s where he carries me around and cares for me, but I don’t really remember that aspect of our relationship because I think it became uncomfortable for him as I got older. But when I think about how much work he put into making sure Bec would have a chance of operating on some kind of level playing field, it just reminds me what an amazing man he is/was. Me and my sister Vicki probably thought we were second best to Bec a lot of the time. Dad was kinder and more sympathetic to her. He always had more time for her. And it was the same with my Nan. But that’s because they knew Bec needed it. And we didn’t.
We were both reasonably intelligent and sociable beings. We really didn’t need that extra bit of parental approval (which my mum actually gave us anyway). Now, when I begin to think about how Sammy’s life might pan out if he does have autism, and knowing just how tough that can be, I am inspired by my dad (and mum, and Nan). I take comfort in the fact that while there could be some really tough times ahead, if you’re prepared to put in the time, effort and love, anything is possible.
We need to remove the stigma of learning difficulties. We need to ensure that everyone has the best possible chance to have a contented life. There should be no barriers or boundaries based on how we’re expected to behave. Variety is the spice of life. Being different is a good thing. And we need to look after each other – whether or not you think people need it. Because the more care you put into something, the greater the results. I have seen this for myself. Thanks for reading.