Storm on the Island

I finally got round to telling my grandmother about B’s autism this week. Elsewhere on the blog I’ve written about my reasons for delaying and my reluctance to confront the matter. I’d let it drag on for far too long and it was obvious that not telling her was unfair and cowardly. In the end I found it easy to tell her- the thought of it was much worse than the reality. Beforehand I was worried about being the cause of a heart attack (she has a history of heart problems). Killing your grandmother is never a good idea!

As it happened, telling her was quite easy. I wouldn’t quite say I’d been worrying over nothing, but it was nowhere near as bad as I thought, and I’m pleased to report there were no major medical emergencies. Her response was the response I’ve come to expect from family members: “But he seems so clever…“, “What exactly does it mean?” (Nan, I try to answer that question myself on a daily basis), and “The girl down the road is an autistic. She won’t look at you. I knew there was something wrong with her…” I explained that he is clever, and that, no Nan, he’s not a retard. I gave her the ’10 Things…’ book to read (see Reading List) and explained the massive differences between people on the spectrum. She held it together well and I left feeling quite pleased with myself for finally doing it and for doing it in a sensitive and thoughtful way. She didn’t even cry.

Of course, the bomb dropped the moment I had left. She immediately started phoning around the family and had clearly saved her crying for them. Poor woman. It came as such a shock to her and she was having trouble comprehending it all. In many ways, finding out is worse for other people in the family- we saw it coming for a while and were at least bracing ourselves for the diagnosis. For others, like my grandmother, it came out of the blue and a bigger adjustment had to be made.

I am suprised she didn’t see it coming to a certain extent. Her next door neighbours have a son born on the same day as B. They often talk over the garden fence and he is clearly more communicative and responsive than B. My wife told B’s brother they were exactly the same age and he said, with suprise, “But he can talk really well!” This sparked the latest of our debates about telling B’s brother what’s going on. I’m still reluctant but it is a battle I am slowly losing (see ‘My Brother Is Different’). I’d have thought my grandmother would have noticed the differences between them. Perhaps she doesn’t see B enough. I think she will do what we’ve all done now and start to recall little details that, in hindsight, are explained by his autism.

Below is a poem by Seamus Heaney who, like my nan, is Irish. Although on the surface it is about the effect of a violent storm, I’ve always read it as being about the need for a solid foundation to face the things life throws at you. If you are strong and prepared and united, you can face anything. This is how I feel about our life with an autistic son. At the end he writes, “Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.” That fear of the unknown is the most difficult part of what we are going through, but like telling my grandmother this week, things are not always as bad as you fear they might be.

Storm on the Island
 
We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
The wizened earth has never troubled us
With hay, so as you can see, there are no stacks
Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Which might prove company when it blows full
Blast: you know what i mean – leaves and branches
Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale
So that you can listen to the thing you fear
 Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo.
We are bombarded by the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.
 
Seamus Heaney
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