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Thursday, 26 September 2013

Our gadget-loving, zombie-tigging Aspergers dad

Was reflecting, whilst Ava sat smiling and compliant as the hairdresser pulled and tugged and even straightened her hair (the shrieks and shouts would be audible halfway down the street if I tried to do the same thing at home!) about how great Ethan has been lately.
He's been the one defusing my irrational and emotionally-charged behaviour. He's come home from 8 hours of social demands at work and has, most of the time, kept up the effort at home with me and the kids. He's been out for lunch with other dads twice in one week and, amazingly, both meetings were instigated by him! And, in response to Ava's confiding in me that she wishes 'our dad' was fun and jolly like other dads and not grumpy and miserable, he's made a concerted effort to high-five the boys, play zombie tig on the trampoline and generally jolly himself up. Seeing him traipsing around the trampoline, eyes closed, arms out trying to catch the kids who were squealing with delight was a genuine pleasure.
It's not all laughs and loveliness though...yesterday his irritability levels instantly shot up when I mentioned that Sam's school shoes had been left somewhere, as yet undiscovered, at school. He instinctively barked out obvious, unhelpful and angry statements such as 'well they've got to be found' - a comment which I read as a telling off for me for not having found them yet (which, of course, I reacted to - I'm not quite at the point where I can put aggressively-charged comments like that down to his Aspergers and let them go). He went on to argue that the shoes needed to be found not just for Sam but also so that the (clapped-out, scuffed-up, ground-down) shoes could be passed onto Oliver in two years time.
That made me mad too.
He expects us all to scrimp and save and make-do but thinks nothing of spending £280 on wood for 'work' surfaces in his shed, £400 for a newer, bigger, better, louder amp to replace the fairly new, good, loud amp he already has, and buying a £300 ipad that, one week earlier when it was brought up in discussion I'd absolutely voiced my disapproval and disagreement with-given that we already own 2x laptops, a PC, a DS and an iPod.
It's that old self-absorption rearing it's head again: expensive purchases for him are fine. Any kind of
purchases for anyone else are not.
Still, at least in two years time when Oliver resembles a street urchin at school in Sam's threadbare hand-me-down trousers and worn-away shoes, he'll have a jolly dad at home who likes to play zombie-tig, along with a plethora of electronic items to lose himself in.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Aspergers Syndrome and friendship

Let me start by saying I was really proud of Ethan for going on this men's camping trip with church last weekend.
For a start, camping in the north of England in September is not for the fainthearted. The weather was gloomy, cold and rainy. Secondly, by Friday teatime he'd just finished a long week at work which had been filled to the brim with overtime and he was shattered. And thirdly, he barely knew anyone. Fourthly, actually, the weekend was packed with activities, meetings and social time from dawn to dusk. No chance for Ethan to slip off for some downtime with just his iPod and 3G for company. In fact I don't think the site even had 3G. The trip would have tested my social stamina and emotional endurance so goodness knows how Ethan was feeling about it. And yet he went, because I wanted him to. And he almost left with a smile on his face...
...but he didn't speak to that guy we'd both identified as being a good person for him to raise his Aspergers with: the guy we'd both agreed would be a good person to meet up with every couple of months to keep Ethan accountable and spur him on. This smarted with me a bit because I thought I'd let Ethan know how important this was to me. How, for me, it was kind of an indication of how serious he was about dealing with the issues that were affecting us both about his Aspergers. One of the problems seems to be that what Ethan hears one minute is forgotten the next.
It was also disappointing that Ethan didn't really gel with any of the other (70) guys that were there over the weekend. When I asked if he'd had any good chats with anyone, he said that the men mainly just talked about football (something he has absolutely no interest in and no knowledge of). So Ethan mainly stood on the sidelines looking, at best, floundering, at worst, unsociable.
He relayed to me with incredulity when he came home how much men knew about football: how obsessed they were with it, how emotional they got, how they remembered fouls or goals during matches that happened years ago. I gently broke it to him that they would probably find it unfathomable that he knows who every film is directed by, who stars in it and what year it came out!
I don't know why it bothers me so much that Ethan doesn't really have friends; that he doesn't really connect with other men in a way that builds into anything more than polite chit-chat when they see each other. I guess because, however much I try not to let it, to me it's subconsciously an indication of how likeable Ethan is, how nice he is as a person and therefore of his worth.

He did however meet another dad from school for breakfast at the pub yesterday. And he didn't return home until almost noon - they were just chatting...and drinking beer (at 9.30am in the morning, as you do). He came home on a high - and I don't think it was just the effects of the beer! 
If he can build just one or two real friendships, it would do us both good.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Aspergers and 'normal' weeks!

It's been a better week this week.
Last week the arguments were relentless and Ethan, by his own admission, was dark and angry and irritated. He doesn't know why. But then I have days/weeks like that with only my hormones to blame. I guess the ideal in a relationship is that, when one is down, the other person helps lift them up. In our relationship, if one is down, it tends to send the other ranting, nagging and voicing annoyance (my response) or retreating into a happier world of gadgets, computer and telly as far away (physically and emotionally) from the grumpy person as possible (Ethan's response!)
This week, Ethan has seemed far happier and more patient with us all, I have let things go more and our home has been a happier place.
This weekend Ethan is going camping with some guys from church. I am proud of him. I think part of him would rather stay at home and lose himself in films each night and the other half of him desperately wants to be accepted and a part of something and to feel like he's got friends and is doing 'what blokes do'. We talked about Ethan having a bit of a heart to heart with one of the guys, explaining, in as relaxed a way as he can, that he's got Aspergers and that there are a few areas where he really struggles and which are affecting our relationship and his relationship with the kids and asking if this guy would mind being Ethan's sounding board and meeting up for a couple of beers every couple of months for him to be able to talk through with someone how things are going - and also have someone to be accountable to.
Ethan is really trying to be the best person he can be and to address the issues that are making our life difficult. And I'm really committed to helping him: and to changing myself where I need to. But whereas I wear my heart on my sleeve and have got any number of people I could speak to about things (as well as writing to get things off my chest) Ethan internalises everything. We both recognise that it would be really helpful for him to talk things through with another guy - and it would help Ethan socially too.
I just hope he goes through with taking the first step and, I guess, making himself vulnerable. I'll let you know...

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The day my Aspergers husband surprised me with words!

Feel tempted to write about the blow-out Ethan and I had today over broccoli and carrots for tea – which resulted in him drinking a large tumbler full of Pimms and me crying.
But, I’m aware that this blog could quite easily slip into a ‘Isn’t Ethan awful and aren’t I badly done to?’ commentary and I am far from where I should be in terms of being a supportive, calm and positive partner to Ethan. So I’m going to talk about what went right this week instead...
...the most notable being the text that Ethan sent me last Friday when I was at work. It was notable for its length (it’s the most communication I’ve ever had in one go from Ethan), the fact it came completely out-of-the-blue, and its content – proof that Ethan can both identify and express his feelings. Here it is [with my two-pence worth inserted in square brackets]:
Ethan: ‘I’m sitting in Costa. Finished the job and, amazingly, no rain.’ [light-hearted opener – he’s learning the art of conversation, even by text] We’ve been OK the last couple of days but still not right. Our priorities are wrong. One of the biggest causes of marriage breakdown are arguing and not spending relaxed time together. We may be better not arguing as much [he’s right – we (me really) are learning to let things go more] but not good with spending quality time together. [At this point I really did get butterflies thinking that maybe he was calling time on our relationship...I couldn’t imagine why else he would be sending me such a, for him, epic length communication.] Being relaxed and laughing together is our next milestone we need to pass. Should have sent you an email. My longest text ever.  I Love You. [First time I’ve heard/read that in a while].
My reply: ‘Wow, that’s the longest text I’ve had from you ever. I know. We haven’t laughed together for a long time. We need to find more to celebrate and less to criticise. And you really need to stop trying to fill the gaps in your life with buying things. [We’ve had another issue lately with Ethan spending all our money on expensive items for himself.] Let’s use the money to go out instead.’
Ethan: ‘Agreed (back to normal 1 word texts).’ [First joke he’s made in ages too].
To me, that text conversation – not about the kids, not about jobs that need doing, not about (too much) what gripes we had with each other, not about his Aspergers; but a constructive, positive, feeling-based text, prompted by Ethan and written out of love, was a little taster of what we can have, if we keep working at it. And proof that there are feelings, and the means to express them, within Ethan. I need to find ways to extricate them more often without wearing him out in the process – it’s taken him ‘til now to recover from his texting marathon (both the RSI and the emotional drain!)

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Aspergers and compulsive scooter-fixing

The kids started back at school today after 5 weeks off.
Even though he was on a day off himself, Ethan was up before me and had given the boys breakfast and was chatting to them happily by the time I came down.
The next hour went smoothly. We worked as a team. We got a boy dressed each. Ava got herself dressed without too much coaxing. Ethan only needed reminding once to hurry up in the shower so that he wouldn't make the kids late for school (I was working so he was on drop-off today).
By 08:30 all three kids were dressed in clean uniforms, Ava's hair was brushed, we'd taken a photo of them all together, shoes were on, bags and lunch-boxes were packed and we were still all fairly calm and affable. And we were going to be on time!!
By 08:33 Ethan had discovered that Ava's scooter wasn't opening properly. At 08:36 Ethan was still fiddling with Ava's scooter. By 08:37 I was shouting at Ethan to stop fiddling with the scooter, look at it later and get the kids to school. By 08:38 we discovered we'd lost Ava's school bag. At 08:38:30 Ethan started walking off with the boys down the drive. At 08:38:32 I started shouting down the drive at Ethan to stop walking off - we'd still lost Ava's school bag and went back inside to locate it. At 08:38:40, Ethan started walking off again (minus Ava and her bag). Simultaneously I started shouting again (with more vigour this time) for him to stop walking off, nothing had changed since ten seconds ago when we couldn't find Ava's bag. By 08:39 Ethan had stomped back into the house and raced upstairs, followed by Sam, looking for Ava's bag. By 08:41, Sam was crying because Ethan had snatched a toy off him (that Sam had decided he wanted to show his teacher) and had thrown it across the landing whilst shouting at Sam to get downstairs. I was sniping at Ethan for having made Sam cry just as he was leaving for his first day in a new school year. Ethan was shouting at me to stop interfering and that he was going, with or without Ava's bag. Ava, in turn, was getting hysterical about going to school without her bag. Poor old Oliver had been strapped into the pram in our driveway the whole time and so couldn't do much except watch and despair at his dysfunctional (or perhaps entirely normal?) chaotic family.
We found the bag. The kids were late for their first day at school. It wasn't the end of the world. But it was frustrating and stressful at the time when I thought we'd been so on top of things. I don't know whether my scattiness was to blame (I'd moved the bag and forgotten where I'd put it) or Ethan's compulsion to fix a problem right there and then however inappropriate the timing and however urgent the other priorities (Aspergers, or just him? I don't know. But the compulsion only relates to fixing objects - not relationships!). Or were the kids to blame for, well, just being kids? I suspect all three: the combination is explosive at times. And Ethan recognises that he really needs to reign in his temper and self-control as well as engaging with the moment and listening to what's going on. Just as I need to reign in my nagging and intensity...ok, and scattiness.

Every day brings another lesson and another opportunity to practice.