For other write ups about my son, see Growing up with Autism  Growing up with Autism 2  An American Story  A trip to the Dentist



I've mentioned before the system of 'Befrienders' (as we call them) who support my Autistic son; ie, take him places, shopping, on walks, help with housework ( he lives in the cottage atached ours) and very much etc. . The official term is 'Carers' which conjures up for me a group of officious middle aged ladies cooing to him in what we have come to call the 'Special Needs Voice' . If you know someone on the spectrum who has contact with health care professionals you'll know what I mean. Otherwise think Nurse Ratchett on Prozac. There was one, a bloke who came to assess my son at a time when he was at his most withdrawn, who insisted on visiting him in his room. 'He doesn't like strangers, and he probably won't respond if you talk to him, ' I cautioned. 'Don't worry, I just want to look in on him,' the bloke responded, so we trooped up the stairs to my son's bedroom.The exchange that ensued was short and went something like this:


Social Worker, all six foot four of him looming over my son's bed.: So, and how are we today?


Son, curled up on the bed and opening one eye: Get the fuck out of my room!


I was impressed - I didn't think he knew the word. Needless to say the bloke beat a hasty retreat.


We've all come a long way since then, thanks in good part to the Befrienders. After the Swedish lady who read him all seven Harry Potter books three times over, at a time when he hardly left his room, we had a young lady from a farm down the road who taught classes for learning disabled kids at the local University. My son was so smitten with her that I believe he would have followed her anywhere; certainly the whole transition from his bedroom to the cottage next door ( which we did in a combination Keystone cops and Blitzkrieg one afternoon when he was out back with her) was only made possible because she was able to sooth his fright and rebellion at the change of scene.


Then there was a fellow I'll call Rick. We interviewed Rick as one of a whole slew of people who responded to an ad for Befrienders we ran in the local paper. He was a chap in his thirties who confessed openly that he knew next to nothing about Autism, only that he worked part time in a local care home from which he had just been fired. We found him vague and self-effacing to the point of invisiblilty, and told him thanks-and-we'll-call-you.


About two weeks later Rick showed up at our door cradling a three month old puppy. He announced he felt for some reason that he would really like to work with our son. He did not enlarge on his qualifications, but insisted that he felt a strong desire for this particular job. It was the puppy that did it. My wife, bless her, took one look at those melting brown eyes (the puppy's) and invited him in to have a cup of tea and talk about it. The upshot was that we decided to give him a trial.


My son was less than pleased. Good looking women were one thing, but he already had a Father, not to mention an older Brother who wouldn't talk to him and why did we need another man around the place?


At least that was my take on his reaction. What he did was to virtually ignore the poor guy for nearly a year. Rick would arrive, tell my son who was invariably in bed that he was there, and then sit downstairs and wait. And wait. And wait some more. If I came along, my son would deign to go out to look at the chickens, or walk down to the adult -size swing I'd built for him by the river. Otherwise, bupkis, nothing


Rick became despondent. I spent I don't know how many afternoons explaining to him that my son's relationship with the young woman from the farm down the road was of a different quality than Rick's relationship, that as a young man in his early twenties it was only natural that my son would be more receptive to someone of the opposite gender... - 'You're saying I haven't got tits,' Rick interrupted with a bitter smile. I agreed that this was substantially correct.


However I urged him to persevere. 'He does this to everyone at first', I told him, which was true. It was also true that whenever I asked my son privately if he would rather Rick stopped coming, he would always say 'No!' I got the distinct feeling that my son was enjoying the contest of wills.


'He has to feel that he is the boss, ' I told Rick. 'Just follow along with whatever he wants to do.' Gradually, almost imperceptably, they started doing things together. First just a session on the swing, where my son insisted Rick stand alongside and watch and not talk. Then Rick was invited to take a turn on my son's mountain bike.. Still no talking allowed.


Then, wonder of wonders, one day the four of them, my son, Rick, our dog Finn, and Rick's puppy, all trooped off across the river and up the hill for an hour long walk. I will confess that I spent the hour mostly scanning the hillside with binoculars trying to spot them, to no avail, and at the end there they were, spashing back across the river, the dogs playing tag and all four of them spotted with mud and grinning like loons.


Other outings followed- Rick had a mountain bike of his own, and one day the two of them went up into the hills ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD ( as my horrified wife put it) and returned two hours later even muddier having explored the forestry roads in the distant pine woods around the radio beacon.


Now to the present. Rick has been unswerving in his crusade to get my son to a public swimming pool, and last month saw success. I went along as supercargo the first time but I might as well not have bothered. Both of them merely swam laps for over an hour, my son gamely trying to learn to backstroke, and made it out and into the car for the return journey with only a minor melt down when Rick closed the driver's door too abruptly.


Son: You closed the door so loud!!


Rick: Sorry, mate. Fancy some music?


Son: Yes.


And that was that.


Now the latest thing is Movie Night. Rick had been upset that my son refused to watch a movie with him, so he devised a day's program where after swimming, they would come home and watch 'The Dark Knight Rises,' which had the added incentive that the cave used in the film happens to be in the neighborhood, a short drive away.


It was after diinner that night that my wife came into the living room and beckoned to me with an odd look on her face. 'Come here, ' she said, 'You've got to see this.'


Bemused I followed her, through the connecting door to the neighboring cottage. Said door was wide open, and there on the floor were Finn and Rick's dog, and the two boys, Rick and my son, eating popcorn out of bags with identical expressions of rapt absorption as they watched Batman save Gotham yet again.


Long life to you, Rick, I thought to myself, Long life and many sons.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.