Christmas is almost upon us and I guess I should write a blog bursting with joy. Sadly I can’t. The loss of two family members this year is feeling very poignant at the moment.
The passing of my nan a few weeks ago has left a gap in our Christmas rituals. There are no more get-togethers in her cosy lounge, admiring the strings of Christmas cards, her plants and flowers and the ornaments in her display cabinet. There are no more teas and coffees served in fine porcelain cups and saucers and no more tins of biscuits being passed around the room. And of course there is no more conversation; no more chatter with my nan about family and friends and scrabble and crosswords and what’s on television. That has gone now, lost forever except for the memories in my head, lovely heart-warming memories of growing up and spending time at my grandparents’ house.
I wish I could say the same about my mother-in-law but her passing has led to a lot of regret. In the years before her death she and her husband had become increasingly distant from us and I could never work out why. Was it something I had done or said, was it something my husband had done or said, did we live too far away or were my in-laws too busy enjoying their retirement? I had hoped for the latter but I suspected something was up. Unfortunately no one said anything and we limped along only meeting up once or twice every year. It wasn’t enough. I wanted my children to have a relationship with their grandparents and to foster positive memories but alas the infrequent visits were hampering that. It didn’t help that my children’s difficulties were also having a significant impact on our lives; we couldn’t just jump in the car and visit people. We couldn’t leave our children either. We had to rely on others visiting us and even then such visits had to be pre-planned. We tried to explain our children’s difficulties but I don’t think my in-laws fully understood. I’m not sure they even tried to understand; perhaps they felt too old to cope.
Whatever the reasons I felt saddened by the loss of my mother-in-law and the end of opportunities to get together. I was also angry with myself for not doing enough to bridge the gap though it’s hard to imagine what more I could have done besides trying to explain why my son and daughter struggle to do certain things. I mean you can provide as much information of the autism spectrum as possible but if people aren’t interested or don’t want to accept difference in the family there is only so much a parent can do.
This is why for my Christmas post this year I would like to urge families to learn more about their autistic relatives and how they can help them and their parents/carers. It may seem daunting, you may not know what to say, you may even be nervous by autistic behaviours but please find the courage to talk to the parents or carers. Ask them what autism/aspergers is, ask them how it affects their children and how you can help. It may not seem a lot but your interest in our lives would go a long way to relieve the isolation many of us feel. It would also help you to connect with us and to learn about the joys (and challenges) of raising an autistic child. You may even find that you enjoy the experience and that your life becomes richer as a result. So, whatever you do please keep the lines of communication open. Don’t hide away because of fear or ignorance for it not only deprives you of getting to know our children but it deprives our children of getting to know you.