Autism, caring and me
Glyn lives in Hornchurch and cares for his wife who has mental health needs which have re-occurred over the past 25 years. He took early retirement at 60, from a 20+ year City IT role and following a 14 year RAF career. Glynn is autistic.
Glyn has shared his experiences of caring and being autistic. How his diagnosis has helped him in his caring role, the challenges it has presented and how he has overcome them. Plus what he's learnt along the way and advice for other carers in similar situations.
"Coming out as autistic is liberating, especially when others are aware of the syndrome"
Background to my Autism
Having a 'Bee in Your Bonnet' may be a classic description used, for someone you know, as being on the Autistic Spectrum and that 'Bee' has been buzzing in mine for a few days now, wanting to explain Autism to someone not on the Spectrum. Even this short paragraph has seen me go back and forth over it for grammar, inflection and intention.
Firstly a background to mine and my paternal family's history with this condition or gift. My father is, currently, the source of this Aspergic river we all are tributaries of.
From childhood, I remember what were 'hobbies' but now are quite clearly Autistic 'devotions' and the classic 'devotion drops'. He initially was devoted to Airfix models, a hobby for many a man in his 20s. But they had to be authentic, with several models being adapted to indicate subtle changes to this or that airline's configuration. So a BAC 111 for Court Line may differ to BEA with a tipped wing or additional length or windows. He would then tell us over and again why.
This was dropped in favour of drawings and details of steam engines and rolling stock of the Great Northern Railway (a hobby/obsession kept to this day). Photography also became all encompassing only to decline after a few years.
From dad came the three boys, all touched in differing ways with obsessions and Aspergic tendencies. The eldest, being a gifted look and draw artist, a draughtsman, a curious intellect who would take things apart to see how they worked but fail to see the logic of putting them back together again.
You then had me, born left handed (but corrected by the church), a reading age ahead of my years, inability to make friends, preferred factual books to fiction, an A student in class but Z student in exams, totally absorbed in history. My failure to mix with people almost cost my RAF career ever starting, but for the pleadings of my dad.
Social gatherings that included loud music and flashing disco lights were a taboo, a discomfort and are still to this day.
My younger brother, was the statistics man, totally immersed in cricket statistics, memorising single overs in 1930s or 1950s test matches for trends. He is the reminiscer too, possibly very informative to others but dull to me. He too cannot take loud noises and flashes, with New Years Eve being his latest time of having to hide away from them.
So we are establishing here a genetic link to autism through my paternal line and it doesn't stop here. My eldest brother has two sons through different partners, the eldest is not on the Spectrum (possibly through his mother's chromosomes), the other, from a mother who is also on the Spectrum, a diagnosed Aspergic.
I only had a daughter and she does not appear to display the trait but my younger brother has three sons, with the middle one so high on the Autistic scale that he is unemployable. My sister's children do not show the tendencies.
"...caring in my case can be considered relatively straight forward if all the ducks are lined up."
What Autism is like for me
So that is the potted history of where we are. I suppose I need to assist the lay person to understand what it is like.
To us, what we do is normal, with a view that perhaps the rest are abnormal in not needing the details we so much strive for. We are constantly gathering information, constantly learning, constantly analysing this or that fact. A question cannot go unanswered and could, before the wonder of Google, go for weeks of research. If that subject appeals, scratches an itch, it then can become the next big thing within our devotions.
There are varying forms of attachment we can place with people but never expect me to be best mates. Friendship is too big a commitment to make with our in and out fluctuant ways, not to say that common ground shared with someone isn't akin to friendship.
You have to consider that an action or deed to us is there permanently, it is a reference point for our understanding. Being wronged once means it is a tangible expectancy that it would happen again.
You may not find us to be unfriendly, we may be aloof, peripheral and avoiding any central position. We are capable of courtship, romance and marriage.
For me, Autistic people are details people, are seldom late or on time but early (just in case), we can take offence easily but similarly can miss the whole tenet of a discussion. Most of the time it will be difficult for you to read our expressions.
"I have an intense loyalty to people or positions and therefore know it [caring] is something I have to do with gusto"
How autism has helped me to adjust to my caring role
We have to accept that autism has many guises and facets of ability. In my case it is logic and order. So caring in my case can be considered relatively straight forward if all the ducks are lined up.
I regiment the day into periods of activity that best suit my wife's care. I am therefore up before her and retire after her. I ensure all that she needs; food, medicines etc are available and that they are consumed at set times.
How autism has made my caring role harder
Obviously an autistic person tends to follow things that suit their needs at the time. I have displayed above that we have all encompassing interests and throw ourselves into them, only to drop them for another interest. Unfortunately caring, nursing etc does not come into that category but thankfully I have an intense loyalty to people or positions and therefore know it is something I have to do with gusto.
"The social and emotional void we often display to people are irrelevant, if you are able to plan and deliver care."
Have my own needs been accommodated by professionals, when putting support in place for my wife?
Whether I view this as an autistic person or as a carer, my needs have never been paramount in any of the professional support for my wife.
I have purely been seen as an ancillary arm of their support to her, or more so her own support. I didn't know I was viewed as a carer until I broke down in front of a psychiatrist attending my wife and was introduced to carer groups. With my finding Mobilise myself at an online event.
What techniques have helped me?
Thankfully through carer meetings on Zoom with Mobilise, I have learnt I am hardly the first or only person with a caring problem. I have learnt that in real terms my situation is no easier or harder than others.
I have learnt to be open and expressive of my feelings (a challenge for someone on the Spectrum). I suppose I have also learnt about myself and how for some of the parents with autistic kids, that a normal-ish life is achievable for their charges.
I suppose mindfulness and wellbeing through creativity are not for me but I can use the breathing techniques - which I have checked against an Oximeter for SpO2 and pulse improvements when doing it – I know sad!
What would you say to another carer who also has autism?
Without doubt the main thing I would advise is that you are capable and able to adapt to the role. The social and emotional void we often display to people are irrelevant, if you are able to plan and deliver care.
If like me, you have the added heightened emotional string – 'have excessive tears for a sad story' such as watching Long Lost Families or Love you Gardens, don't expect it to be apparent when dealing with your cared for because you will be too engrossed on your role.
Personal growth is hard to score on this journey because I have adopted a role, that is needed to be done and will be done to the best of my endeavours. I will say, however, that coming out as autistic is liberating, especially when others are aware of the syndrome.
With many thanks to Glyn, for sharing his story.