There’s a photo on my windowsill. It’s a snap of my Dad with my younger son, Christopher. There’s nothing different or remarkable about it; just a young boy sitting on his Granddad’s knee. Forgive me for not sharing it.
But the picture tells a story; about communication.
You see, my son was just 4 when it was taken. He couldn’t talk – yet. And neither could my Dad – any more. My son is autistic and my Dad had dementia. What bonded them was their shared inability to communicate with words.
But they could communicate.
Christopher would always sit on my Dad’s knee and give him a hug. In him, he found a kindred spirit. Someone who didn’t ask questions. Or expect him to behave in a certain way. And crucially, someone who didn’t pressure him to talk.
My dad just accepted him the way he was. And Christopher did the same in return.
On December 2nd 2012, 3 years ago today, my dad lost his battle with dementia; as I knew he would. But my son’s life has just begun. He can talk now. He’s even starting to read – something I didn’t expect to happen.
Communication is much more complex than saying words and reading them. I could read from a young age, and I’m not a bad writer. Does that mean I’m a good communicator? Probably not as good as I used to think. But good enough to write this and good enough to try and help my son. I’m learning new ways to communicate, and he’s my teacher.
When you live with someone like Christopher, you learn to put yourself in his shoes. Words are not enough. He needs clear instructions, visual aids at anxious times and patience. Endless patience. You have to keep plugging away. Sometimes it goes horribly wrong. And sometimes it goes fantastically well; they’re the moments you hang onto.
I love communicating through writing words. That’s why I do what I do. But I’ve had to learn much more about communication, so I can understand and manage Christopher’s needs. So that our family life is liveable; and bearable. For us, as well as for him.
It’s difficult, but it’s doable. There’s a lot of children like him. And one day they will be adults. When they are, parents like me might be in my late Dad’s shoes. Where will our children be then?
I make no apologies for writing about my son, or his condition. Autism is a lifelong condition and I can’t cure him. But I can raise awareness.
Because, if you meet me and Christopher on the street, in a shop or at the swimming pool; you will notice us. He’s loud. His behaviour is inappropriate. Sometimes I don’t react as you might think I would; or should. You will make a judgement. Not necessarily a bad one, but probably not the right one. And I won’t have time to stop and explain.
So I cherish that, for now, words come easy to me; I understand what a gift that is. I think carefully about how I use them and work hard to improve the way I write them.
For my clients, for autism awareness and especially, for Christopher.
Alison is a Freelance Copywriter in Milton Keynes offering a range of services, including blogging for small businesses. For further information visit www.mkwordstudio.co.uk