Saturday, June 13, 2009

An Introduction - Part Four (Family)

This is the last part of my story, thus far. Next week I'll get back onto normal aspie topics.

Marital Delays
It was more or less assumed that I'd get married within a year of engagement but instead, it was exactly three years (to the day). A lot happened in those three years. Initially, I'd assumed that I'd stay with my parents more or less until the day I was married but Joanne had been renting with various groups of housemates for years and the proposed demolition of her building meant that she had to move out.

Eventually, on advice from my parents (and threats from my fiancee) I moved in with her. After a few months, we got tired of paying someone else's mortgage and bought a place of our own. After three years, we'd learned to solve our problems together and everything was going well. The wedding went off without a hitch too, though that was mainly due to my wife's carefuly planning.

Joanne and I on our Wedding Day.

My wife was always quite ambitious but I'd always been a "homey" person. I stayed in jobs for years and would take quite a "beating" at work from managers. It would take a lot to make me change jobs and since my library work, I've only had three jobs - all in computing. I've been in my current role for 10 years. I guess that it's not surprising that I'm quite structured in other ways too. I'm not ambitious but I did have a plan - and kids were next.

The First Child
It was I who suggested that we have children. My wife although keen in the early parts of our marriage, had started to enjoy life without them and took a little convincing. Our first son, Kaelan was born in September 2000, again, a neat three years after our marriage.

Kaelan's birth was quite traumatic and it wasn't helped by the fact that my wife had a fall while in hospital. He was a foreceps delivery when he should have been a cesarian. The forceps took him on the forehead and under one cheek and his head was pulled out sideways. Eight years later, those marks are still clearly visible.

Kaelan was paralysed for the first few days and had to stay in intensive care. Since Joanne's fall had given her a back injury, she couldn't get up and didn't see him for several days after the birth. Joanne took a long time to heal and I took time off work to help. We also had a nurse visit us for a while.

As Kaelan grew older, it was apparent to Joanne that there were other factors impeding his development. I noticed some of the issues but since I didn't go to mothers group, I never had any idea of what toddlers were supposed to be like. Plus, many of his "strange" activities, like lining toy cars up and sorting them by colour were things I remembered doing as a child.

At 18 months, Joanne and I had major relationship problems. I think that it was clear to us that something was wrong but we couldn't figure out what it was. We went to counselling but it did no good. It simply felt like "point scoring", who did what, who was right and who was wrong. It didn't address the underlying issues, just the symptoms - and it didn't explain why a brilliant relationship had suddenly gone dark.

Joanne's mother sent the two of us on a "Marriage Encounters Weekend". It was run by the Catholic Church and at first I was worried that they'd try to shove religion down our throats - after all, I don't think we'd been to church since we got married.

Instead it was very different, it was just three groups of leader couples who talked about their marital problems and taught us how to talk to eachother with love and respect. It was during that weekend that Joanne told me how she felt with our son and we recognised the problem for what it was - post natal depression.

I was very upset that weekend because I finally realised that she'd been in pain for a long time but I was interpreting her outward signs as anger. The weekend was probably the first time in years that we'd properly communicated. Today our communication and marriage is stronger than ever. I've recommended Marriage Encounters to several people but I think in retrospect that it's particularly applicable to aspies because it teaches you, right from basics, how to communicate and understand feelings.

The Second Child
After another neat three year gap, and once again, in our family's "special month" of September, we had another son. This time, we were ready for the PND and we insisted on cesarian. Tristan was born without any of the drama that accompanied his older brother - but his carriage had been difficult.

Fast forward two years (time flies in families) and Kaelan was starting kindergarten. By this time, it was obvious that there was something very different about him. I'd started listening to my wife more and I could see some of the problems but I still felt that some things weren't as bad as she made out.

Things became very stressful when the school started pushing for a diagnosis and eventually we took him off to get an ADHD/ADD diagnosis. We made the difficult (and long-researched) decision to put him on ritalin and he started to improve. A little.

Things took a turn for the worse when we were called into a school meeting and told that ADHD wasn't the full condition. They wanted us to return to our pediatrician and investigate his behaviour further. They said that for legal reasons, they couldn't tell us what the condition was but they knew. They also slyly nodded towards me and said "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree". I guess I probably should have felt insulted but I didn't figure out what they were saying until we were out of the meeting.

The pediatrician did a heap of tests and identified the condition as aspergers. I still couldn't see anything wrong with the cited behaviours - they were all things I'd done at home. Nevertheless, we bought some books on the subject and started reading up on things. My wife and I were reading different books at more or less the same time when she said "look at this, it's all about you". It was something I'd been thinking myself.

My poor wife. It was bad enough being the only female in the family but now, two of the men were diagnosed with aspergers - and our youngest son was beginning to show signs.

Two years later, we took our youngest for evaluation, expecting Aspergers. We deliberately selected a different doctor so that we'd have alternative sources of information (and second opinions). We were quite surprised when the diagnosis came back as high functioning autism. To us, it seemed like he was even closer to the textbook aspie than our older son.

Tristan and Kaelan on a Scout Weekend.

I started researching the differences between aspergers and high functioning autism. It appeared to be only a language delay. I reasoned that had our eldest been evaluated at the same age as our youngest (and without having had speech therapy before), then he'd have gotten the same diagnosis.

I put the matter in writing to Tony Attwood who confirmed it. These days, aspergers and high functioning autism are seen as clinically identical. We had a family of three aspie males and one nt female.

So that's where I am today, applying the memories of my past to both of my children's present to come up with a pretty clear picture of aspergers.


StatMama said...

Your family is beautiful. Your story really hit a note with me, because it was so familiar. Thank you for sharing this with the blogworld. It is so validating and comforting to know that others have walked the same road.

My children's diagnoses are the same as yours, and I was also surprised by the second one, if for different reasons. I'd not noticed anything was out of normal limits; the doctor diagnosing our daughter suggested I bring our son in for evaluation. Our son had spent the entire hour sitting quietly at a table lining up cars and turning the larger ones over to spin their wheels.

Marita said...

Thank you for sharing your story on the blog. It really helps to hear the experience of others, to know we are not alone.

Damo said...

To top it off and to compound things, they're both Virgo's. Good luck when they get older.

Rachel said...

Gavin, your boys are so lucky to have parents who have worked so hard on their relationship, and to have a dad who can use what he's learned about himself to help them. Lots of kids don't have either one. Your kids have both!

Jejune said...

I really appreciate reading your story. I'm the NT mum with a husband and 2 kids with Aspies &/or ADHD, so can really relate to your wife's experiences too :)

We've had the same confusion between high functioning autism and Asperger's - it was good to hear what Tony Attwood had to say about that.

Elizabeth said...

I know this is really old, but I am very curious about your references to Marriage Encounter. I've only heard great things about it, but I've talked to some people who went and they said that a lot of the time is spent one-on-one in the hotel room with time to talk and that intense explanations on how to communicate really are too far beyond their level. We have the cards saying, "When you... I feel... I would like... I hope..." but they are ineffective for us because my husband doesn't recognize feeling frustrated, worried, etc and therefore doesn't ever request I change or relate when I make requests of him.

My husband is very uncommunicative and alexithymic. Your reference to being really upset because you thought your wife was angry but she'd really been in pain is something my husband would never experience or be able to communicate. Do you really think Marriage Encounter would work well in these circumstances?

Gavin Bollard said...

I've been seriously thinking about blogging more on how Marriage Encounters works because although I don't want to "spoil their secrets", I get the feeling that many couples might not go without understanding it properly.

Not knowing your husband, I can't say for sure how well it will work but I suppose it depends on whether the person has any "empathy" at all.

I'm not referring to the famous "aspie lack of empathy", which we know is a myth. I'm talking about a truly sociopathic lack of empathy. In which case, I'd be inclined to suggest escaping the marriage while you can.

The question that you need to ask is whether your husband would feel in any way upset if he found a cute puppy lying on the ground whimpering with one leg completely torn off. If the answer is no... then it's probably time to start packing.

Marriage encounters isn't about getting your partner to automatically be empathetic. It's about taking invisible inside hurt (and good feelings too) and making them visible to your partner.

For example, a recent relationship issue you may have had could leave you feeling like the aforementioned puppy. An aspie won't necessarily pick up on this.

Marriage encounters teaches you how to communicate this feeling to your partner. It also teaches your partner how to listen to what you're saying and translate it to something they can understand too.

Of course, it won't tell them what to do in a given situation but it will teach them what to ask - and teach you what to tell.

Elizabeth said...

Very interesting. Thanks! You are right that my husband does have emotions and that he acts on them--he just doesn't cognitively realize it most of the time. We've been to a lot of counseling, including with someone who works with adults with AS. I'd be very hurt if we went and discovered it was the same thing and we continued the same cycle. I'd definitely be interested if you post more. I'd be looking especially for your perspective on how Marriage Encounter is different and would provide room to grow that other venues we've tried haven't had. I appreciate the time and explanation greatly!