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Thursday, 6 March 2014

An Aspergers dad: Lessons for a neuro-typical partner #2

Lesson number Two - don't have three kids.
Hmmm - bit late for that, even if we could package Oliver up and send him back (and we wouldn't want to, I hasten to add, he is very much loved!)
However, had I known how much strain having three kids is to Ethan and our relationship...actually, I probably still would have had three. It's in my blood. I've always known I wouldn't be able to stop at two and, much as I love Ethan, I don't think I'd have been able to sacrifice the family I'd always imagined.
Anyway, the point is, we've got three of the little darlings. Aged nearly 4, nearly 6 and nearly 9. Life is pretty much always loud and screechy. Mostly messy. Always rushed. Often stressful. I think that what Ethan struggles the most with is lack of control. The children don't always do what they're told straight away (an understatement!), their actions often don't make sense, they argue - a lot. And they're demanding; they zap our energy, strength and patience. Also, Ethan can't be in control of his own time and pace of doing things with the kids - they're constantly interrupting, he isn't master of his own time.
The problem is that not many of the tactics for managing Aspergers work when you're faced with a gaggle of squawking kids! It's impossible and potentially dangerous to retreat to the 'safe place in your head' as your stress levels rise. Taking yourself physically out of the situation is out of the question when you're the sole responsible adult in charge. And reasoning with a 3 and a 5-year old and explaining why you need them to sit still and quiet for a while doesn't wash either. There's no relief - and therein lies the problem.
Two is manageable but the chaos of three tips Ethan into an agitated, anxious state in which he either shouts and tells the kids off disproprotionately to their actions (e.g. just for being kids) or he disappears - either literally or into himself. Either response usually results in an argument between us.
And even when he's on good form, his behaviour often exacerbates the kids as he finds it so difficult to pick up signs and know what response they need: he rugby tackles them when they need a gentle touch and hugs them when they want to be left alone to play. He's also appalingly bad at listening to them.
I can't make one of the kids disappear. But I can try to restrict play-dates, and therefore more kids in the house, to when Ethan's not around. And I can do my best to allow Ethan downtime away from the kids (and me, for that matter) WITHOUT WHINGING!
That's hard because, as a busy mum-of-three, I already shoulder most of the responsibilities at home as well as working. It grates with me when Ethan vanishes and leaves me to deal with life on my own. Depending on how harassed and indignant I'm feeling at the time, I'll march into the office (his sanctuary) and rattle off all the things I've done, all the things I'm doing and all the things I've still to do whilst he kills virtual soldiers on computer games.
But the fact is that, as a guy with Aspergers, Ethan already climbs mountains every day - just through being sociable all day at work, through helping put the kids to bed, through chatting to me about our days, just through being with us in the chaos and the noise.
The fact is - if I want the best out of Ethan, he needs time out. I might feel like I could really do with it, but he really needs it.
I'm slowly learning that accepting this fact and not resenting it makes for an easier and happier life for us all.
(I should add, in his defence, that Ethan is a great dad and that he does (almost) his fair share of standing at the sidelines of football fields, picking up and dropping off from various clubs and - his speciality - watching Star Wars! Reading the bedtime stories is down to me though - the kids, justifiably, complain that Ethan doesn't do the voices (he's monotone) and that he skips bits!

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