Special needs in this specially needy time

Photo by Matt Seymour

Have you found the lock down nerve-wracking? Well, imagine what it’s like if you suffer from an anxiety disorder. Or if you’re caring for someone who does. My 29 year old son Jules is autistic. Mothering a child with autism is as easy as skewering jelly to a mid-air boomerang. Especially during this Corona crisis.

The chief characteristics of autism are an inability to communicate, OCD and chronic anxiety. People on the spectrum also have no filter, so say whatever they’re thinking. Such quirky candour means that socially, I sweat more profusely than Donald Trump attempting a sudoku. Take for example, the time my son asked his intimidating, toupeed headmaster what he wrote on his driver’s license for hair colour, being secretly bald? Or inquired of a tattooed bikie if he’d ever noticed that his chin looked like upside down testicles?

During the pandemic panic Jules has a tendency to inform strangers at supermarket check outs how their obesity increases their likelihood of death if infected. As these chunky customers pick their jaws off the floor, Jules follows up with a well-meant enquiry about why they don’t slim down, starting with removing all those cakes and chips from their shopping trolleys? I’ve taken to walking briskly away, with the words, “Who is this child and why is he calling me mother?”

People on the spectrum also often have a very high IQ. Jules is Wikipedia with a pulse. At six he’d memorised whole swathes of Hamlet. By seven he could recite most of Shakespeare’s soliloquies. By eight, he was word perfect on Beatle lyrics. By nine, he could list every match point of any tennis game ever played.… These days he’s a plague expert – from Bubonic to Black Death, typhus to typhoid, encephalitis to cholera, Zika to Ebola; he knows exactly how many millions died and in what excruciating ways.

In other words, calling my son ‘anxious’ is like saying that a meteor hurtling towards earth is only a little life-threatening. Assuaging his angst with platitudes is as effective as standing up to Voldemort with a butter knife. The mistakes of world leaders chalk themselves up in his mind like a grocery list. This tendency to catastrophize means he’s constantly on the point of flying apart like an exploding light bulb. …In other words, I don’t worry about my son all the time – only on the days when the sun comes up.

Jules may be on the same planet as the rest of us, but in a different world. “Earth to Jules, come in. Are you reading me? Over. Ground Control to Major Mum.” Failing to calm his anxieties makes me feel I’ve officially forfeited my shot at Mother of the Year.

Jules is an actor and four years ago he successfully auditioned for a role on the BBC prime time medical drama, “Holby City”. It was the first time an autistic actor had been cast to play an autistic character. Jules’ sympathetic performance has done more to take the de-stigmatise the condition than a million dry documentaries. Work provides a life-line for him – the routine, the certainty, the schedule; things in very short supply during lockdown.

It’s no wonder he’s bamboozled. It took Jules so long to get the courage to venture into the outside world, only to now be told that leaving the house is as hazardous as Scott leaving his Antarctic base camp.

When I dished out a lame reassurance that life would soon return to normal, a sceptical Jules amusingly retorted that it was more likely the Amish community would introduce a Lap Dancing club. Despite my son’s dark moods, his quirky humour lightens my day.

After Jules’ autism diagnosis social workers told me that raising him would be a challenge, but an exciting one… This is as accurate as the captain of the Titanic telling his passengers that they were in for a diverting little dip in the briny. The coronavirus crisis made the whole world feel as though we’re on a sinking ship and didn’t pay attention during the muster drill so consequently have no idea how to find our lifeboat stations… What my original son has taught me is that love and laughter is the best way to keep each other buoyant.

Do share your tales of life in lockdown (or semi-lockdown now as we can at least go to the beach and meet up with a few pals) and let me how you’re coping your anxieties. I find that cake, chocolate, and wine-o’clock help. Oh, and a good book. Which, oh look, I just happen to have….

Buy your copy of HRT: Husband Replacement Therapy now!




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