The Story of Our Autistic Son
Key Themes: autism, aspergers syndrome, family story, education, advice
“I didn’t ask to come here,” said a bad tempered psychiatrist at Southmead hospital. They’d sent him to see me because I kept crying. Well, I hadn’t asked him to come and wasn’t particularly pleased to see him either. I cried a lot in those days and didn’t think it was cause for calling in the mind doctor. I’d just had a baby and I don’t think I’d quite believed in it till then. Birds must have the same shock when a fully formed chick pecks itself out of an egg that had only ever required sitting upon and nothing else. The pregnancy had seemed enough to be going on with, but the pregnancy was over and the baby was for life.
“Where’s home?” Home was a flat in St. Paul’s, which didn’t impress him. It didn’t impress me. We’d been turned out of our flat overlooking St. Andrew’s park on account of my pregnancy and it being discovered that Charlie, my new husband, worked on a building site and went to work in a donkey jacket with ‘Cubitts’ written on the back. Writing on clothes hadn’t reached St. Andrew’s park. “I told you I worked on the buildings,” said Charlie. “You said you were working on the new medical centre, I thought you were a junior doctor,” said Mr. Bools, our landlord. He’d been fooled, though not intentionally, by Charlie’s public school accent which was still evident then. He was nineteen and looked more student than builder’s labourer. His accent was all he had to show for an independent education. Well, there were five O-levels, which were more than I had and like five pounds went further then, but not in this case as we hadn’t got beyond St. Paul’s. Not quite the St. Paul’s of today, the old Irish (a couple lived downstairs) hadn’t quite moved out or died out and the young blacks were only just making themselves at home among the St. Andrew’s Park rejects.
About the Author
Elaine Eveleigh has been writing for a long time, mostly narrative poetry and short stories, the stories were published in Punch, a famous, but now extinct magazine and broadcast on Radio Three. All very much once up a time. More recently Elaine tried my hand at playwriting and had amateur productions done at local venues. She has lived all her life, sixty six years so far on a hill in Somerset but only three miles from Bristol City.
“If you can’t manage in hospital you won’t be able to manage a baby in a flat in Brigstocke Road,” he said unhelpfully, confirming my doubts.
I wasn’t worried about the baby or even my ability to cope, but I could feel the ropes chaffing already whilst maternal instincts hadn’t quite kicked in. He was a pretty baby however, and had filled out, having arrived late, overrunning the nine months. It was the last day of November 1961, we were in a ward full of premature screwed-up, red-faced infants. I thought he was the pick of the crop.
“What have you called yours?” asked the other young women, mothers of the inferior babies.
“Guy,” I said. ‘Guy’ was Charlie’s choice, after a boy called Guy Slater who used to play rugby at his school and was, he said, good at everything. Indeed we’d seen his name as a producer on television. I liked it. It had the feeling of the knight, rather than the night, about it.
“After Guy Mitchel?” they enquired, an already yesterday’s popstar who’d once had a hit with ‘Singing the Blues’.
“After Guy Fawkes,” I said, not expecting anyone to have heard of Guy Slater. Probably got that right. It was St. Andrew’s day and I’d decided to call him Guy Andrew even before he’d been born so late in the month. Charlie’s mother was working in Southmead and had previously, on antenatal visits, not wanted him mentioned. She worked on reception but was in with the Doctors being able to speak Hindi and French fluently as well as Received Pronunciation on account of being born in India and educated in Belgium. There were no paid interpreters then so she was probably very useful. But when the name Eveleigh was mentioned he couldn’t be denied. Suddenly he became “Mrs. Eveleigh’s grandson,” and we got our own room. She was keen on ‘William’ as it was an Eveleigh family name, the name of Charlie’s brother and grandfather. ‘Andrew’ was the name of my brother and my grandfather and the day itself, which should have clinched it, but I went with ‘William’ which was my father’s name, besides I thought a W would look nice tooled into a leather briefcase. GWE had arrived.
It was just before my 20th birthday and just after Charlie’s. The pregnancy was the catalyst for our marriage in May, a common incentive in the year preceding the pill. We were young and inexperienced and the honeymoon of having the prettiest baby on the block was soon over. We couldn’t quite believe that babies could be so disruptive despite all the scare stories. Surely the human race would have died out by now? Our friends had been more careful so we couldn’t make comparisons but like a pair of sparrows with a cuckoo’s egg in the nest we accepted what hatched, however mismatched, and attended to our demanding chick.
When our contemporaries had children, they weren’t that careful. We noticed the difference but hoped things would even out, late developer and so on. He’d come from a good gene pool. Charlie seemed very clever to me, knew where countries I hadn’t heard of could be located on the map, their rivers, their leaders, their politics. He could quote Chaucer, Shakespeare and Keats, subtract a darts score, finish the crossword, had gone to Wellington College which admittedly he’d walked out of at sixteen but his brother and sister had gone on to Bristol University. University had more gravitas in the 1950s. I’d failed the eleven plus but my sister and both brothers had passed against the rural odds.
Only one out of forty-three of us in my class passed. It was my best friend Jennifer, but I still managed to avoid an inferiority complex. I was relieved to get into the A-stream at my local Secondary Modern, the cream of the creamed-off. I’d read everything, though couldn’t quote anything.
Guy was a traditional-looking English baby, blonde, blue eyed, clear skinned- like the one currently being used to advertise cellular cot blankets. Well, when he was asleep like the baby in the advert. When he was asleep? What a small window his time asleep fit into! He’d hardly have given them time for a photograph had he been in the cot blanket advert!
He’d settle down, wouldn’t he? Dr. Hayes, who may have heard from the hospital that I was bad mother material, didn’t seem to have a word for post-natal depression in those days. He said, “He’s a lovely baby, a lot of people would love to have him,” which was a bit heavy. I wasn’t intending to abandon him or put him up for adoption. Other people were already labelling him difficult however, even my mother, stoic as they come remarked, “Well I had four children and he’s more work than all of you put together”. What were we doing wrong? You can’t blame a baby. I’d wanted a girl but I had expected a boy as the Doctor had said it would be a boy despite a lack of prenatal scans. In those days one trusted a Doctor. A neat, clever little boy who would play with educational toys and be interested in science and spaceships. Space was more front page then before man had landed on the moon. There was Yuri Gagarin who crossed some spatial frontier and a Russian dog called Laika (translating to ‘Little Lemon’) was still up there somewhere. We’d all been a bit shocked to find out that after the excitement of her send off there was to be no happy returns and Little Lemon was aptly named. Guy wasn’t neat he was untidy. Can you have an untidy baby?
I suppose it was the parent’s fault at this stage, but he looked interested which fooled me at first. He wasn’t living up to his looks.