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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Lessons in Aspergers from Scowl the owl

"Does that hat really make you happy?" asked Scowl.
"Yes!" twittered the little bird.

"But what makes you happy, Scowl?" asked the other animals.
Scowl had a little think. "Being grumpy!" he said. "It's great fun!"

"Yippedy-doodah!" they all cried. "So we don't need to do anything to make you happy?"
"Well," said Scowl, "there is one thing that you could all do."
"What is it?" they asked eagerly.

"Flap off!" said Scowl. And they did.

This picture book spoke to me as the wife of someone with Aspergers as I read it to my four-year-old the other night. No prize for guessing who Scowl is in our family! 

In the book, Scowl is a grumpy owl whom all the other animals in the wood are trying to make happy. They sing to him, give him a happy hat, try to cuddle him. But through it all, Scowl just gets grumpier. Finally, when Scowl breaks the happy hat, one little bird out-grumps him and stops Scowl in his tracks, leading to the conversation above.

Now I'm not saying that Ethan should be allowed to wallow in his grumpiness all the time and, actually, he's getting better at being cheerful. But, when he is grumpy, what I've learnt is that trying to cajole him out of it, either by false cheer or by being cross with him, generally leads to more grumpiness. My instinct, when he's being miserable, is to criticise. But is it reasonable to expect Ethan, particularly Ethan, to be light and jolly all the time? I know I'm not. And I've not got Aspergers to deal with (well, I have, in a roundabout way but, you know what I mean). I think, subconsciously, because I know Ethan's prone to be a glass half empty kind of a guy, I try to jump on and quash the first sign of grumpiness in a bid to change him. But, for some of the time, I think Ethan might actually need to be grumpy. I think that maybe, being grumpy, or at least not being cheerful, is a kind of recharging process for Ethan. If left alone, he'll come out the other side better for it.

The message of the Scowl story, and one that I need to let take root and grow in me, is to let people be who they are. So, when Ethan wasn't clowning around with the other blokes wearing 80s wigs and striking rocker poses at that party the other week, I shouldn't have felt disappointed. I need to stop trying to squeeze him into my mould and allow him instead to be his unique self. 

That said, obviously we all need to make some effort to fit in to society, to be a friend, to be sociable and to make the effort even when we're feeling tired or grumpy, to be patient with the kids and to interact with their constant chatter when actually, we just want to be left alone. And that's the kind of selflessness that Ethan needs to work on. But, what I've learnt from the story of Scowl is that when it's appropriate, when the situation allows it, I should let Ethan be who he is - allow him to sink into his natural state of being for a while without being nagged to stop being miserable or unsociable. Maybe because he does make the effort (and it is a real effort) so much of the time, my job, when Ethan's having a moan, should be to let it flow over me and work its way out. To flap off rather than try to cheer him up, put him down or turn him around!

[Big bad owl, written by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Richard Watson and published by Little tiger]


  1. Love the story of scowl the owl, I might buy the book and read it to Mr H in bed - not a lot of anything else going on there!
    These days I mostly let Mr H grump to his hearts content, ignore it and keep out of his way, but it's not so easy if we have friends or family staying, or if we are out, and then I do find myself trying to "jolly him along", which probably makes him worse.
    Hannah x

  2. Could I just ask..... Didn't u notice these things of ur husband before u were married. Was he always as bad as this? Surely his good qualities outweigh his bad otherwise would u have married him?... I ask this as I have aspergers.... But I know I haven't changed in the slightest. I never pretended to be anyone else n my hubby knew who he was marrying..... But I often muse about the fact that I must make him incredibly miserable.... Why on earth did he marry me in the first place!? Was he hoping to change me!? A lot of the time I think he will leave me. So why did u marry it hubby?

    1. Really good question, and one that I expected to be asked long before now! Sometimes I think I made the wrong decision by marrying Ethan. That we're not the right people for each other. Other times, I realise that every other married couple have issues, conflicts & areas where they see things differently & I wonder whether I'd have fared better with anyone else. The truth, probably is that I married him, very uncertainly, for a variety of reasons. He made me feel safe, he provided for me, looked after me in a practical way, because I could see that his heart was kind & loyal. And, to be honest, because I could see he struggled in the world & felt duty bound to help him. And I liked being needed by him. And yes, I hoped I could smooth off his rough edges. We had a really, really shaky start to our marriage but, over the years, we have learnt to love each other & are learning to accept each other the way we are, but also, for both of us, to change where we can if it means making life better for ourselves, our kids or each other. Hope that gives some explanation. And sure your husband loves you very much, even though the journey is hard at times, for both parties!

    2. Laura, that is an incredibly honest answer, and one that I truly can identify with, I often wonder why I married Mr H, especially when he is driving me insane, but like you, he made me feel safe and gave me stability after a pretty rocky time as a single mother of 3 boys, and also like you, I felt a need to nurture him. ( sorry for that very long sentence!) I think now that I made a wrong decision, but it's too late now, so I have to make the best of it. We get on ok these days, it's made easier by the fact that we don't have kids at home now, but we will never be soulmates, will never have the sort of relationship that I dreamed of. Saying that, most of my friends don't have perfect relationships either.
      Hannah x