Christmas Shenanigans

Christmas in a photo - the world as a blur!
Christmas in a photo – the world as a blur!

What has Izzie learned to do over the Christmas period? A whole heap, it seems.

Raspberries. She was pretty good before, but she’s perfected it now – perhaps because the funniest thing in the world is when daddy blows them on her belly and on her neck.

But I have created a monster.

It’s okay when she’s chomping on a wooden spoon – she blows on the bowl and uses her fingers along the handle like she’s playing a clarinet. And it’s tolerable when she has the dummy in her mouth – it just sounds like a lot of farts. But when she does it with food in her mouth – porridge, mushed-up carrots, rusks – it’s not pretty at all. Especially as I tend to be sitting right in front of her trying to feed her at the time. And she finds that pretty funny too.

She’s also making weird faces recently, like she’s trying to learn how all the muscles work. Mostly, she does duck impressions, sucking in her bottom lip, sticking out her top lip, and burbling. I guess it’s part of the process of learning to speak – after all the vowel sounds, double-ues and gees, she’s starting to make bee noises and something approximating an em, and the other day she randomly blurted out, ‘Hey you!’ which terrified the heck out of me.

Noise is something she’s fallen in love with over Christmas. The aforementioned wooden spoon that used to keep her quiet is now a drumstick for cracking out a rhythm on the tray of her high chair (always with her left hand). And the dummy is no longer a tool to help her sleep – it’s a passive-aggressive torture device she rattles back and forth along the slats of her cot like a prisoner with a mug along the bars of his cage. When she’s not laughing, that is, because bedtime is now an opportunity to chat to her teddy bears, kick the wooden headboard repeatedly, and generally have an amazing time.

Though she really ought to be tired, considering she barely sleeps at all during the day. She gets tired but she fights it, gets stroppy but resists any attempt to quieten her down, spits out her dummy, rubs her eyes, and cries. In fact, the sound she makes reminds me of that scene in Jaws where Quint is being eaten by the shark. She doesn’t want to miss anything, you see, though what she’s afraid of missing, I have no idea. The opportunity to be a nuisance, perhaps.

Because she’s loving being a nuisance too. She throws the dummy down the back of the cot so I have to pull the drawers out and crawl underneath to retrieve it (never fun at three in the morning). When she’s on her play mat she kicks the uprights over so it rolls up and buries her.


She constantly tries to turn the spoon round and jam the handle down her throat, and keep your face away from her if you value your ears – her current speciality is scrunching them up in her hands and digging in her fingernails, which is excruciatingly painful. And if she gets your phone, somewhere between chewing on the corner and drooling into the earphone socket, she sets the alarm for four in the morning.

But woe betide if you try to take it off her, because she knows what she wants.

If you think you're taking my spoon, you've got another think coming, mister!
If you think you’re taking my spoon, you’ve got another think coming, mister!

She’s become fixated with the TV controller and screams if you prise her robot-strong fingers off it. She wants to stand up all the time, not sit, not crawl – stand. So this morning when we put her in her chair for breakfast she slammed her little fists into the arms and stamped her feet  like an eight-year-old throwing a tantrum – she’s six months, for crying out loud. And the ball pit we bought her for Christmas isn’t going to get much use because all she does is press her face to the little holes in the side and strain to get out.

Get me the hell out of here!
Get me the hell out of here!

Which goes to show that the old adage is true: kids would rather play with the box than the toy within it. She got approximately a million toys for Christmas, and her favourite toy from the whole period? The bag container from inside the nappy bin. Typical!

Thanks, dad! It's just what I always wanted!
Thanks, dad! It’s just what I always wanted!

But at least she’s not the dog, who followed the gingerbread house with a bag of popping candy chocolate orange segments…

Future Worries

I had an argument with my six-year-old niece today.

‘I know more than you,’ she said.

‘No you don’t.’

‘Yes I do. All you know is how to eat chocolate.’

‘Not true,’ I said. ‘I know how to dispose of a body where nobody will ever find it.’

Her jaw dropped open. When she’d recovered, she said, ‘Well, I know how to kill a dinosaur.’

‘That’s nothing,’ I said. ‘I’m the reason there are no dinosaurs.’

And it got worse from there.

I’ve always been a bit of an easy target for kids. No matter how old I get, they treat me like I’m one of them. In fact, they treat me like I’m beneath them. When I was an eighteen-year-old sixth former – tall, bearded, tattooed and pierced, with a leather jacket, a ponytail and chunky army boots – the eleven-year-old Year 7s used to trip me up, call me names, tease me, even spit on me. And it’s always been this way.

No matter how much I threaten, shout, growl, snarl, swear, they still think I’m just a big teddy bear. Maybe it’s my Asperger’s Syndrome, but I have no idea how to get a child to respect me as an adult. And since Izzie turned six months old yesterday, that’s starting to worry me.

I want Izzie to like me, of course. I want to be best friends with her. But I also want her to respect me. To trust me. Not to see me as a figure of fun to be poked and teased, but as a person with a wealth of knowledge and experience and, stemming from this, a certain amount of authority. If today with my niece and nephew is anything to go by, she’ll laugh at me, snap at me, make fun of me, throw things at me, hit me, talk down to me, roll her eyes when I talk, and generally treat me as just another plaything. As kids have always done.

It’s worse for Lizzie. Instead of people just seeing her as a big kid, she is a big kid. Thanks to her autism, learning disability and dyspraxia, she thinks the wind is caused by trees, spends her time doing paint-by-numbers and playing with gadgets, and can’t walk past a ‘keep off the grass’ sign without cartwheeling on the lawn. She gets on great with kids because she’s on their emotional level – space hoppers and trampolines, Kinder Eggs and Happy Meals – and she’s so clumsy, everything she does looks like it’s been made by a five-year-old. This is not to be mean – she would admit as much herself.

And so, as little Izzie grows, Lizzie is daily becoming more nervous about how she’ll cope with a young, precocious child. She’s terrified of Izzie growing up and making fun of her. She’s terrified of Izzie overtaking her very quickly and coming to look down on her. And she’s terrified of Izzie growing up to be embarrassed of her immature, incapable mother.

I don’t think she has much to worry about. I have no doubt she and Izzie will be best friends. They’ll have an innate understanding of one another and while it is likely true that Izzie will overtake her in knowledge, skill and maturity, I don’t think she’ll make fun of Lizzie – she’s more likely to be fiercely protective of her mother, and help her with her deficiencies.

However, I sincerely doubt Lizzie will be much of an authority figure or a disciplinarian, and so this will fall to me. In our relationship, I’m the one who has to say ‘no’ when Lizzie is getting carried away, climbing over safety barriers, trying to dance in the rain without shoes or a coat, or spending a month’s income on frivolities. Even now, she’s the one who buys cute outfits and toys and bouncy chairs; I’m the one who buys nappies, and nappy creams, and baby wipes.

So the question is: how I can be the lawgiver parent when no child has ever respected me?

I mean, I can’t even get the dog to behave anymore. Lizzie spent six hours making a Christmas Gingerbread House. I then spent three hours correcting the mistakes Lizzie had made with the Christmas Gingerbread House. Since it kept collapsing under its own weight, I froze the pieces overnight then as I rebuilt it, I reinforced it with chocolate fingers so there was an internal frame, then glued it all together with icing sugar. It collapsed again, so I persevered, and finally I had something I was proud of. I put it on a plate on the table this evening, left the room for two minutes to change the baby’s nappy. In case you can’t guess the ending to this story, I’ve attached a photo. Now, if I can’t get an eighteen-month-old Cocker Spaniel to behave, what hope do I have with a spirited toddler?


After the Cold

You look around your house, a shell-shocked survivor of the tornado that has swept through. Stained clothing lies scattered over chairs and banisters, dirty muslins screwed up in every corner. Tissues, and pieces of tissues, and the wrappers from cough sweets, litter the floor like patches of melting snow. And over it all lies an icy silence.

The storm has passed.


“I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe…”

I struggled to make dinner this evening. Partly it was because I forgot to take my antidepressants two days running, leaving me horribly light-headed and with pupils like pinpricks; partly because in the endless round of buying vapour rubs, cough syrups, tinctures, ointments and snake oil salesmen’s charms, we’ve run out of food.

It’s a contest from Masterchef. I wandered around the kitchen, doing an inventory in a daze. One egg. A clove of garlic. Some carrots, best before two weeks ago. Strawberries that can walk by themselves. Some unidentifiable white substance lurking at the back of the fridge. And some oats. Make a dish out of that.

In my mind, I’m haunted by the memories of crying, sneezing, coughing, puking, and snot, endless snot. What started clear and runny turned thick and yellow-green – at this stage she blew vast snot bubbles from each nostril that spattered everywhere when they burst. Later, it turned into this sticky jelly-like substance, not dissimilar to the glue they use to fix bank cards to letters or CDs to the covers of magazines. It would get stuck all over her face, and I’d have to peel it off in strings. Now, as the cold fades away, it’s a healthy snotty green, and only visible when she sneezes – that’s when it hangs from each nostril like two little worms. Lovely.

I think the worst thing about the whole experience was little Izzie’s distress. You’re meant to protect her, you’re meant to take away the pain and discomfort, but there’s very little you can do to make a sick baby feel better. You can’t explain what’s going on, get her to blow her nose, give her a decongestant. I tried as many things as I could – held her in a hot, steamy bathroom, used vapour rub, nasal spray, Calpol, cough syrup, cuddles. I even tried to use an aspirator – kind of like a pipette where you squeeze a rubber bulb, put the attached tube up the baby’s nose and release the bulb to suck all the snot out – but frankly, more was dripping out on its own than I managed to get in the pipette, so I abandoned that one. And I didn’t bother putting pillows under her mattress to prop her up – given how much she moves about in her sleep, she’d have ended up upside down at the bottom of the cot with the blood rushing to her head.

And so much for three days coming, three days here, and three days going. I mean, the worst of it is over – her temperature is down, her nose isn’t running, her appetite has returned, and she only sneezes from time to time – but her throat still rattles with phlegm that she’s struggling to bring up, and she still has a nasty cough. Apparently, the average baby has eight colds in its first year, lasting ten to fourteen days. Since she turns six months on Friday, and this is her first proper cold, either she’s way below average or the next few months will be hell!

Now if only I could shake the cold she’s given me…

A total lack of sympathy

What’s really been getting my goat lately is that people won’t allow me to moan.

‘I’ve had five hours sleep in the past four days.’

‘Well that’s what happens when you’re a dad,’ they say in this incredibly patronising tone of voice, as if I didn’t know that.

‘All of my clothes are covered in snot and vomit.’

‘That’s called “being a parent”,’ they reply with smug self-satisfaction.

‘I’m completely exhausted and I haven’t eaten a proper meal in days.’

‘We’ve all been there.’

‘But you’re not there now! I’m the one bursting my baby’s snot bubbles and trying to clean it out of her hair at four in the morning! I’m the one sitting up all night listening to the mucous rattling in her throat in case it it develops into something worse! And I’m the one who’s tired, hungry, dirty, smelly, and more than a little volatile, so I’d appreciate a little more sensitivity to my plight from some well-rested, well-fed person standing in clean clothes, thanks!’

I have discovered, since the baby started with her cold, that if you complain about parenting you get no sympathy whatsoever. It’s weird –  I figured that, because other people have struggled just as you have, they’d be more empathetic about your situation, but it’s the opposite. Anyone who has raised a child of their own in the mists of history tries to make you feel like an asshat for saying that, God forbid, you don’t always enjoy the feeling that your brain is about to burst right through your forehead.

Maybe that’s because there’s this notion that not only are parents meant to suffer but they’ve chosen to suffer. And I get that. I knew going in that it would be hard. I knew that I would suffer, and I accepted that in order to get the good bits of having a child, I was going to have to face the bad. But when the baby has a cold and I’ve had so little sleep I’m hallucinating, for God’s sake let me have a little moan about it!

It doesn’t mean I don’t like being a dad, or that I’m such an idiot I hadn’t realised it would be hard, it simply means I’m letting off steam, which is human, and natural, and healthy. I’m pretty sure even the most positive of people come home some days and say, ‘Man, if life is a shit sandwich I’m the filling right now!’

What is not helpful is when, instead of people saying, ‘Hang in there, lad,’ and slapping you on the shoulder, which is really all you want and need to buoy you up, they shut you down, belittle your struggles, and marginalise your pain.

The worst thing is when you say, ‘This is so hard,’ and someone replies, ‘Well, just imagine how much harder it would be if X, Y or Z,’ as though you’re not allowed to complain, as though your difficulties don’t matter and aren’t important because other people have it harder, and that’s just so wrong.

One of the best things I was ever told, and something I firmly believe, is that all suffering is relative.

I was sixteen and on my first date – she was a scary girl with a nose ring, tattoos and leather jacket. We met by a pond in the February cold and huddled together on a bench as the world froze around us. And in the dark we talked about things that really mattered to our sixteen-year-old selves: dreams, poetry, UFOs, alternative history, magic, the Illuminati, emotions, spirituality, The X-Files, parallel dimensions, the faking of the moon landings, Nirvana, and what it means to be a human. Ah, those wonderfully naive days before I discovered her whole identity was based on Alanis Morrisette lyrics and Mia Wallace’s character in Pulp Fiction, and I found that I didn’t actually believe in UFOs, alternative history, magic, the Illuminati, or the faking of the moon landings. The mid-nineties: simpler times.

Anyway, at one point the conversation got round to problems, because we were teenagers, after all. I told her about my chronic loneliness, but qualified it by saying it was very minor compared to the problems other people had.

‘Don’t do that,’ she said. ‘Don’t dismiss your problems. All suffering is relative. A starving African’s need for food is his worst problem; your loneliness is yours. It doesn’t mean your problem doesn’t matter.’

And while she might have turned out to be full of it, she spoke a lot of sense just then.

So yes, in the general scheme of things, a few nights of missed sleep don’t amount to much; yes, other people have it much harder; and yes, I chose to become a dad and therefore any struggles I go through are willingly faced; but telling someone who has had five hours of sleep in four days and is wearing a T-shirt encrusted in dried snot and sick that what he’s going through is trivial and unimportant will get you knocked off his Christmas card list before the next patronising syllable escapes your condescending lips.

So next time you hear me gripe, please, pretty please, instead of marginalising my feelings, just nod sagely and say, ‘You’re doing a good job.’ That’s all I need to hear.

The Plague House

Paint a red cross on our door and may the Lord have mercy on our souls!

Yes, the dreaded lurgy has come as an uninvited houseguest, like that uncle who always turns up and hangs around in his underwear and refuses to leave. The kind of houseguest who robs you of sleep, disrupts your steady routine, and gets snot on your clothes, and doesn’t even have the common decency to look embarrassed about the shit he’s causing.

Friday night during the power cut, Izzie developed a bit of a cough and sneezed a few times during the night. She woke Saturday morning with a chesty cough and a sniffle and she didn’t want her formula. By mid-afternoon this had developed into a temperature and a full-blown cold.

I say full-blown because she’s definitely acting like it’s the end of the world. But then, for her, it is. She hasn’t had a cold before and it must be terrifying to have litres of yellow-green snot pouring out of every orifice, slipping ceaselessly down your throat, and choking you every time you so much as move your head an inch. And the cough is awful – it sounds like she’s hacking up razor blades, the poor thing!

And so it has been, every minute, every hour, since Saturday. Unfortunately, Lizzie came down with it Friday morning, so she’s a sneezing, coughing, congested wreck who spends most of the time in the bath, drinking Lemsip or sleeping, leaving yours truly to press on solo. Really, this is a one-parent family right now.

The worst thing about all this is the total lack of sleep. The little ‘un panics and starts to scream and choke the second you put her on her back in the cot. Any position involving lying down provokes coughing and spluttering as she starts to drown in her own snot. She will fall into an exhausted stupor, but only on her front on you, leaking from mouth and nose onto your chest or arms or neck, so if you want her to sleep, you have to stay awake.

Thanks to the power cut, I got three hours sleep Friday night. Saturday night, thanks to Izzie’s cold, I got an hour. Last night, Lizzie decided she should free me of the burden of disturbing her sleep and moved into the spare room, so I dosed myself up on caffeine and set to it and I have no idea how much sleep I got – a few minutes here and there, I think, but I’m not sure as it’s all a bit of a blur. Tonight looks to be the same.

The new routine involves me getting Izzie settled on me for half an hour, then gently easing her into the cot in the exact same position, where she stays anything from a few seconds to fifteen minutes before starting to scream again. I honestly don’t know what’s best – to go back to bed for a couple of minutes, which leaves me feeling rough as hell, or resign myself to staying up all night, which leaves me super tired.

There are other horrors too. She has a temperature and she spits out the Calpol and won’t drink the formula if I try to sneak it in. She chokes on the cough syrup and after a while the vapour rub I put on her chest starts to smell like death. Even that’s preferable to her breath at the moment. And she farts with every cough, meaning it’s a never-ending concerto of trumping, scented with cauliflower, for some reason. And there’s not enough in her belly to poop, so every guff brings out a tiny little liquidy smear, so you keep thinking she’s done a poo, start to change her only to discover there’s nothing but a skid mark in there. But it smells so bad you might as well change it so I’m going through nappies like there’s no tomorrow.

Because she can’t breathe through her nose and has a sore throat, not to mention that she’s swallowing gallons of mucus, I’m struggling to get fluids into her. A lot of what does go in she brings back up with interest anyway. It was very disheartening Saturday afternoon when, despite my trying to stop her, she put her fingers down her throat and brought up everything I’d fed her all day. Worse was when she threw up earlier – an endless outpouring of water, milk and phlegm, mixed together like amniotic fluid. Pretty darned gross.

And I’m gross too. I’m sleeping in my clothes which I’ve worn since Friday – there’s no point changing them because they’re crusty with snot and worse, and whatever else I put on will get dirty just as quick. I haven’t had a chance to bath or shave, so I look like a pink-eyed homeless junkie, and smell the same.

Right now, Lizzie is in the spare room getting another good night’s sleep – hopefully she’ll feel a little better tomorrow and help out a bit. Izzie is lying asleep on my chest. My shirt is a soaking puddle of drool and baby snot. Given my almost total lack of sleep since Friday, my eyes feel gritty and my brain wants to leap out of my forehead. And I have a sore throat, a sure fire sign that whatever has infected Izzie and Lizzie is making its way into my system and trying to take me down from the inside. But for now, I’m hanging in there. Someone needs to look after the baby. If not me, then who?

24 Hours of Fatherhood

Here is an unabridged, not untypical day-in-the-life of an Aspie Daddy.

06.00 – get up and feed baby.

07.00 – wake Lizzie to look after baby while I walk dog.

08.00 – feed dog, feed cat, open hen house, have breakfast (porridge oats and coffee).

08.30 – resume looking after baby. She scratches my left eye with her fingernail – very painful.

09.00 – autism support worker arrives. Continue to look after baby and chat about issues until Lizzie is free to take over.

09.45 – tidy hall, clean kitchen, clean bathroom.

11.00 – autism support worker leaves. Feed baby while supervising erection of Christmas lights.

11.30 – prepare and eat lunch (rice and tuna).

11.45 – prepare a bottle.

12.00 – pack car and head off as family to swimming.

12.30 – arrive at swimming, change and get baby ready.

13.00 – father-daughter swimming lesson with baby.

13.30 – dry and dress baby and self, go home.

14.00 – feed baby.

14.30 – put baby down to nap.

14.40 – baby wakes screaming.

15.30 – baby pokes me in right eye.

16.00 – hand baby back to Lizzie and go online to enter short story contest.

16.30 – power cut, world turns black. Phone electricity company who think power will be restored by 19.35.

17.00 – send Lizzie to her dad’s with the baby, bottles, formula and Perfect Prep machine.

17.15 – feed cat and dog by the light of a headtorch.

17.30 – light mango and pomegranate candle and cook bacon and eggs for tea. Boil water on stove for cup of tea.

18.00 – go join Lizzie and baby at her dad’s. Play with baby; cuddle baby; feed baby; watch Lizzie eat lasagne.

21.00 – return to cold house. Power still out. Phone electricity company who think power will be restored by midnight.

21.15 – Start to put baby to bed. She is excited by my headtorch. Thinks it’s a funny game.

22.15 – baby finally settles. Run bath for Lizzie. Shut up hen house.

22.30 – Lizzie goes to bed with runny nose and cough. I wash up baby’s bottles and fill dishwasher.

23.00 – batteries run out in baby monitor. Find one new AAA battery (it takes four). Replace one battery.

23.15 – check on baby. Put extra blanket over her.

23.45 – try to settle horrendously unhappy screaming baby who seems to have developed cough.

00.30 – battery in baby monitor runs out. No spares. Wake Lizzie to listen out for baby while I take steriliser out to electricity engineer’s van and sterilise bottles.

00.45 – dress in onesie and lie on floor of baby’s (freezing) room as no monitor. Lizzie back to sleep.

01.20 – power back on. Make up two bottles of boiled and cooled water, just in case. Turn off Christmas lights, let dog out to toilet, turn up heating, fill and put dishwasher on, eat bowl of cornflakes and drink coffee.

02.15 – go online to finish entering short story contest (see 16.00).

02.35 – check on baby and finally go to bed.

03.00 – baby sneezes and coughs, but still asleep.

05.00 – kick bastard cat out of the bedroom.

06.00 – get up to feed baby. Baby has runny nose and cough.

The moral of this story is to expect the unexpected. And if you’re planning on having kids and think it won’t utterly and irrevocably change your life – hahahahahaha!

Five Months of Autistic Parenting, Part 3

Having Asperger’s Syndrome means you struggle to say the ‘right’ thing, misinterpret what other people are saying, fail to give due diligence to the feelings of others, and don’t appreciate that people have different needs. It also makes you rather self-centred. Mostly I can use my intellect to overcome my natural shortcomings in these areas, but the more tired I become, the harder it is to do that.

Having two tired new parents with Asperger’s in the same house with a five-month-old baby is a recipe for disaster.

This morning, for example – Lizzie is spending the day in Southampton shopping with a friend and she’s taking Izzie with her. Since I’m in desperate need of a break, I’ve been looking forward to today – for once there are no support workers, social workers or family members coming over, no urgent writing deadlines, no charity shop, no cooking, so it’s all mine, yes, all mine (he says, rubbing his hands together with a maniacal grin). I can soak in the bath with a book, make my model that has sat untouched for five months, go to the local coffee shop in the village and watch the world go by. Or I can mooch about in my underwear and watch rubbish TV. My day. Bliss.

And Lizzie would know that if she’d been listening and considering my needs.

So I’ve been up since five, fed the dog, the cat and the chickens – not to mention the baby – and I’m just waiting for Lizzie to hurry up and go when she says, ‘Oh, by the way, I want you to mow the lawn today.’

The lawn takes two hours to mow because we have a rubbish mower and a massive lawn. I have to empty the grass collecting box around twenty-six times during mowing. And it’s raining.

So I said, ‘No. Not a chance in hell. I’d rather poke out my eyeballs. You want me to do chores while you’re out on a jolly? How dare you even suggest that? This is my day.’

In hindsight, a simple, ‘No, I’d rather not,’ would probably have sufficed. Yes, I overreacted. And then she overreacted to my overreaction. And that’s how it tends to go at the moment. If we were less tired, we’d probably be able to rein ourselves in, realise the other person wasn’t being belligerent or deliberately insensitive, they just hadn’t realised their partner had been looking forward to a day off. But we flip out instead.

That is, unfortunately, part and parcel of having autism, and only to be expected.

What is not so obvious is why, as a result of my Asperger’s, I find it so difficult to entrust the care of my baby to others.

It would make life so much easier, and would have done over the past five months, to have babysitters. Lizzie has a remarkable ability to go out and then not think about home, or babies, or really much of anything (miaow!). I, however, find it nigh impossible to switch off.

The autistic brain is very susceptible to obsession – I’m using up my ‘day off’ writing about the baby! But this could also be the result of the fact that the autistic brain is also so structured that your thoughts can go round and round and round, growing bigger and more frantic with each circuit. Since Izzie was born, I haven’t rested, haven’t dropped my guard for even a moment – I am a dad, and that means constant vigilance, care and concern. After years of learning that people let you down, it’s very difficult to trust anyone else with the most precious thing in my life.

This goes for Lizzie too. As I have mentioned in previous posts, thanks to difficulties with Theory of Mind – that is, understanding how other people think – I struggle to comprehend why people would do things in a different way to me (because clearly my way is the best, which is why I’m President of Earth). I therefore find it very hard to step back – I want to take over, because Izzie is my baby and I know what she wants and I’m the best at doing it so back the hell away. This has inevitably led to friction between me and Lizzie and I realise now that I’m a total control freak.

But that’s because control keeps me safe. I’ve cleverly structured my life to avoid stressful situations and thus remain asymptomatic. If I go out to a social situation, I drive so I can leave any time it becomes too much. I sit on the end of tables so I can slip out unnoticed. I actively shun noisy and crowded environments. And so if I let others take over, I can’t ensure Izzie’s safety. I can’t be certain she’s getting what she needs, which is me, because I know best.

You see? Even I can see that I need to let go, step back, have a break, learn to trust others, and stop worrying so much when I’m not with her. But can I?

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to this is, again, my autism. I’ve always struggled to understand relationships – how to form then, how to keep them, what they mean – and I’ve only ever managed to have one friend/partner at a time. If I have a second friend, or a friend other than my partner, I feel as though I am somehow betraying the people I care about. If I have a friend, then it means Lizzie isn’t enough, and how can I say that? Of course, Lizzie has plenty of friends and I don’t feel she’s betraying me, but I resist any overtures of friendship because I don’t want to betray her.

The same is true of Izzie. If I let someone look after her, I feel I’m somehow betraying her, letting her down. I’m failing her as a dad. People tell me to stop trying to be perfect, because I’m only human, but that is like an admission of failure. Why can’t I be both?

That’s the biggest lesson I have to learn from five months of autistic parenting – I have to learn how to let go and relax. If I’m not careful, my ten-month review of autistic parenting will describe how I don’t let Izzie out of my sight and I haven’t left the house for weeks. Or it’ll just be gibberish.

Five Months of Autistic Parenting, Part 2

Because you act in a way that is normal for you, it can sometimes be easy to forget you have Asperger’s Syndrome. That is, until someone points out that your way of doing things is perhaps not strictly conventional.

I figured that most of our struggles as new parents had to do with us being new parents, because you’re meant to suffer, aren’t you? That was how I explained it to my autism support coordinator yesterday. We’re no different to any other parent.

‘Except that most of them don’t have difficulties with communicating, understanding relationships and processing information,’ she replied. ‘You do.’


As the stress and tiredness of having five unrelenting months of childcare have caught up with us, Lizzie and me have increasingly argued about our roles and responsibilities. That goes with the territory, of course – when you’re looking after a baby, there’s far less time and energy to invest in your relationship beyond occasional back rubs and I-love-yous – but I’ve come to realise that our difficulties have a distinctly autistic flavour. Because we’re not the same as every other parent, and that’s worth remembering.

In my last post I wrote about how the little idiosyncrasies of my condition affected my life as a dad. This post and the next (because it’s a big topic) are about how the larger underlying issues of Asperger’s have affected my relationship as a parent.

Probably the biggest thing I’ve struggled with throughout the past five months is the issue of fairness. Since people with Asperger’s can have very logical, systematic and pedantic ways of seeing the world, rules and routines are very important to us. Unfortunately, our understanding of fairness as a black-and-white, unbending entity does not relate to how fairness actually works in real life. And I have erroneously applied my logical yet unreasonable idea of fairness to mine and Lizzie’s roles as parents.

If Lizzie goes out for six hours on a jolly with her friends, for example, leaving me to look after the baby, I consider it only fair that the next day I get six hours to myself while Lizzie looks after the baby. If I put the baby to bed one night, I think it only fair that Lizzie does it the next night. And if I change a poopy nappy, it’s her turn to change the next. It’s logical, it makes sense, and it’s undeniably fair.

Apparently, however, this is not how parenting and relationships are done and I have been waiting in vain for a fairer distribution of duties. I said in an earlier post (It’s Not A Competition) that we each give what we can give, and if I can give more than Lizzie can, that’s okay. Lately, however, I haven’t been living up to that enlightened thinking. I look at how much I do and how much she does, how many warm meals she eats compared to the number of my cold dinners, the amount of sleep she gets, the frequency with which she has time out with her friends leaving me at home alone with the baby, and it’s all started to seem rather unfair and one-sided. And part of our problems of late have undeniably resulted from my resentment of this state of affairs.

But as I said, apparently this turn-taking thing isn’t how parents are meant to behave. Thanks to our autistic ways of thinking, we have been living like flatmates who pass a baby between us – you look after her for a couple of hours while I do my own thing, then I’ll look after her for a couple of hours while you do your own thing, and so forth. I thought that was totally normal, but apparently not. Instead, we should be doing things together as a family and supporting one another instead of playing pass-the-parcel.

I have to here point out that I love spending time with Izzie, and in actual fact I wouldn’t mind if that was all I ever did. But I’ve become hung up on this issue of fairness, particularly in regard to the amount that Lizzie goes out. In recent weeks it has reached six days out of seven, for a minimum of three hours at a time, maximum of nine, sometimes with the baby but mostly without, day after day after day leaving me to look after Izzie by myself. I thought she was running away from her responsibilities as a mother, and that is how I addressed it, but the truth is that it had to do with her Asperger’s.

You see, Lizzie has never really had friends, but in the past couple of years has made around seven of them. Having AS, however, means she doesn’t know how to manage her relationships. She’s terrified of losing them, and thinks that if she says ‘No’ when someone invites her out, they won’t be her friend anymore. And she doesn’t want to include me in her plans because that would be asking permission, and she’s an adult who doesn’t need permission from anybody. So if seven friends invite her out in the week, she says yes to all seven, without thinking about the impact it is having on our relationship and family life.

The way forward, then, is teaching her that when you have other responsibilities to a child, a partner, a home, you’re allowed to say no, and that if they’re true friends, the friendship will survive. Her support workers are trying to get her to limit her time out without the baby and spend more time in the home, because they feel that the balance needs to be redressed – though, when I ask them if ‘unbalanced’ is a euphemism for ‘unfair’, they strongly deny it.

So we have been doing things differently recently. We have spent more time doing things as a family, not just in the home but going out together too. Some of the things Lizzie would have done with friends, like painting a plate at a cafe, she has done with me, the baby on my lap. This weekend we’re all going to a Christmas market. And when Lizzie gets invites she asks me if I mind her going out, which isn’t asking permission but checking in with me as her significant other, which makes me feel more appreciated than before.

And life is so much better. If it hadn’t been pointed out to me that we were doing things separately that we should have been doing together, I don’t think we’d have figured that one out for ourselves. If people hadn’t told me that ‘fairness’ is not the criteria by which you divide up the responsibilities of parenthood, we might have continued passing her between us and inadvertently made her feel like an unwanted burden, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes you need other people to point out to you what you can’t see for yourself, and we’re lucky enough in our lives to have those people around us.