When Ethan was diagnosed with Aspergers just over a year ago, I was gripped by an urgency to read and absorb as much information as I could about the condition. But, only one and a half books in to my learning expedition, my hunger has been quashed by the busyness of life. Reading about how to live with a partner with Aspergers has been taken over by actually doing it. We're learning on the job.
I did, however, manage a quick flick through Alone Together by Katrin Bentley the other day, and discovered that there are certain key practices that could really help Ethan to get the best out of himself - and life. The challenge is how to build these practices in to every-day life. Here are some of them:
1) Get plenty of exercise and fresh air. Some studies have suggested that people with Aspergers have less serotonin in their bodies than neuro-typicals. Getting a daily dose of sunlight helps boost levels of this feel-good hormone. Ethan has just joined a gym. Mainly to try and regain his pre-marital physique! I'm hoping though that the exercise might also be a tonic for his mind. If only he could also walk around with a sun-lamp attached to his head.
2) Building in downtime. This is so essential for Ethan - to be able to recharge and recuperate from life. I see the difference when he's had an hour hiding out in his cave (the office) with the computer. Even better would be if I could persuade him to go out for a walk - time out, exercise and daylight - a triple whammy. Creating this time for him means giving away more of mine. That's where the rubber hits the road. I feel stretched to capacity as it is. The upside is that more time out for him means a happier, calmer husband and dad when he is around.
3) He needs more sleep! People with Aspergers (again I've read) need more sleep than the average person. And yet Ethan is surviving on far less - a combination of shift work, three young kids and trying to grab kid-free time when we can (which tends to be evenings when we stay up too late). It's a sacrifice to lose some me/us time but I think it's a sacrifice that would bring more benefits than losses. With ear-plugs and renewed effort, I'm sure we could do better.
4) If we need to have difficult conversations, he needs to be calm. Having me shriek at him when he's already stressed and we're surrounded by noise and chaos, just makes matters worse and either makes him explode or switch off. If I want my words to be received and have an impact, I need to chose my moments wisely. I need to help him feel relaxed. I need to avoid being confrontational, intense or critical. In the past I've made Ethan look at me while I'm speaking about something important 'so that I know he's listening'. But it doesn't work. In fact I think that, most of the time, it has the opposite effect. It's too intense. His eyes might be looking at me but his mind has wandered off to somewhere less overwhelming. Where his skin doesn't crawl. If meeting all of these criteria for a conversation is too much to ask sometimes, perhaps I need to write down how I'm feeling and what's bothering me from time to time and let Ethan process the words quietly by himself.
5) This one's really pushing it but Ethan reckons that he feels calmer and happier when the house is tidy. As I write I'm surrounded by Lego, books, fuzzy felt, a half-eaten brioche, Spiderman gizmos, school letters and wet clothes hanging on the airer (oh, and three noisy, demanding kids spilling their tea on the table!). I feel like we'd be fighting a losing battle trying to keep the whole house tidy, or calm. But maybe we could do one room. It could be Ethan's haven from the chaos.
These are some of the things that would make life easier for Ethan (and there are many more). Of course, there are things that I, as his NT partner, need too. This Aspergers journey is about us both adapting, making allowances for each other where we can and spurring each other on in our very different realities.
Maybe I'll have my turn and list the five things I really need as Ethan's NT wife next time...