All families are diverse, all families have ebbs and flows where one individual’s needs are greater than the others. Recognising that and allowing each other to take the time and space they need is key to any family, but especially in a family of Autistic people.
Imagine if you will, an inability to speak. The words sit in your throat but come no further. Not being able to do the action of making the words come out, your chin up, your throat stretched, a lump there as the words bottleneck, a physical manifestation of sound rising up your throat, that quickly turns to pain and frustration.
This is what it feels like to be Selective Mute.
There are parents who, in utter frustration with their children speaking incessantly, wish that they had a mute button for their children (I don’t actually, I know what it’s like to not be able to talk or be heard); frustration is common.
There are days when the best that I can hope for is to be allowed to get to the end of a sentence without being interrupted – pretty ironic for someone who has spent their whole life trying to mitigate anxiety to the point where he can feel able to speak when he wishes, only to be silenced by three children.
These are the perils of living in my household.
We are a diverse family. Three Autistics and two non-Autistics and, believe it or not sometimes, in fact often, the lines are blurred over who has the biggest needs or demands the most attention.
Stage Whisper: It isn’t always the Autistics…
A family of five with this kind of Autistic to non-Autistic ratio probably isn’t that common. Despite what people who are opposed to vaccinations think, (No, by the way we are not vaccine damaged) Autism is hereditary, if you have one Autistic person in your family, you will have more up or down the line (Yes, it could even be you). The fact that this isn’t common knowledge is mostly down to the myths that surround Autism, such as Theory of Mind and the history of Autism itself and the way the diagnostic criteria is far too narrowly defined. I talk about this in my article “The mess of Autism” (Be warned this article WILL challenge everything you think you know).
The difference between my family and other comparable ones, is the level of self-awareness in our household. Of the three Autistic people: Myself, my eldest Quinn and my youngest, Olivia (Who is going through the diagnostic process right now) each of us has completely differing needs. The reason for that? We’re all individuals. Each of our unique personalities means that not only are our needs unique, but our ability to function, our ability to cope, changes too.
Michelle and Albie are non-Autistic (Neurotypical in Autistic parlance), but each of them have their own unique and individual set of needs too and probably pretty much on balance, their needs demand equal attention to those of us who are Autistic.
Each of us is hyper-aware of the others. We all know that at certain times one or more of us is going to be more needy than the others, so Michelle and I have tried and continue to work on the ethic with the children that communication, time, space and respect are utmost.
It probably sounds a little odd to read an Autistic man write that he encourages communication in his Autistic children with his non-Autistic wife and Son – but again, therein lies another myth. Autistics are great communicators, we just aren’t always great in communicating in a way that Society expects. We struggle often to understand body language, but it doesn’t work one way. Non-Autistics are great with body language and it isn’t rocket science to see, from body language, when someone is uncomfortable and struggling with something (Or so I’m told). If we can’t verbalise what we want, we can sign, write, draw, use flashcards, type, act in mime, if we can’t communicate what we want, we can be given the time and space to be allowed to figure out a way in which to do so.
None of us force the others to do things.
We have an understanding that if Quinn is ‘socialised’ out and wants to hide under a blanket, then he doesn’t have to socialise.
If Olivia wants to talk like a cat all weekend because being a human for five days was enough for her, then that’s fine.
If Kieran needs to disappear upstairs for an hour or two because he can’t do hustle and bustle anymore or he’s exhausted through social interactions, then he goes.
If Albie is sick of routine and structure (And Olivia meowing) and wants to play out with his friends all day, then off he goes.
If Michelle is sick of the lot of us and needs to disappear for a while, then we wave goodbye.
Hold on a minute, those last two aren’t Autistic! Well, yes, because we try our damnedest to accommodate everyone in the house.
If you look around at your family, do you have ebb and flow. Are everyone’s needs really being met? Does it get to the weekend and does one of you start demanding that everyone pile into the car?
Another point to consider regards this, relates back to the hereditary nature of Autism. If you look around your family and there is only a child or children diagnosed, the chances are that either one or both parents are undiagnosed. An undiagnosed and non-self-aware Autistic can be a dangerous thing. They could go into burnout at any point, they could be in a safe career only for the rug to be pulled out from under them sending them into a tailspin. They may find that they get older and the Mask they’ve been hiding behind from both the world and themselves, starts to slip, their traits become more prominent, their need to control their environment stronger and stronger.
There is a growing number of people, men especially (we all know women are massively under-diagnosed) who are being late-diagnosed after a divorce. Circumstantial evidence it may be, but i honestly think in this case correlation is causation.
Being self-aware allows you to understand your needs and accommodate for them. It also allows you to start realising the needs of others.
The crux of this all, is communication. Talk to each other, talk to your children, talk to your partner, talk to everyone around the family and be utterly honest with each other. Promote that honesty, that directness and start working with each other instead of against each other. All your needs are different and interchangeable, so start meeting them.
We accept each other, so maybe you should too.
Oh and by the way.
Consider a cat.
What a difference Winter has made to our lives in a few short weeks. Everyone one of us is a lot calmer now that we have this fluffball to stroke and Olivia now has someone to miaow back at her! 😃
Important reading from The Autistic Advocate: