We got mar­ried… then I found out he had as­perg­ers

Here, Han­nah Bushell-walsh ex­plains why her hus­band is the per­fect part­ner and fa­ther – be­cause of his con­di­tion, not in spite of it

Woman (UK) - - Eat Right Tonight -

It’s late Satur­day af­ter­noon and the four of us are hap­pily dec­o­rat­ing the cups and vases we have just made in our fam­ily pot­tery class. well, Hec­tor isn’t do­ing much dec­o­ra­tion, but my one-year-old is hav­ing a lot of fun dip­ping his lit­tle hands into the pots of brightly coloured poster paint.

We’ve al­ready been here for a cou­ple of hours, but no­body seems in any hurry to usher us out. How lucky, I muse aloud. And then, in a flash, the calm is gone. ‘There are no rules here!’ cries my hus­band, as if from nowhere, his face a mix­ture of ex­as­per­a­tion and fury.

Shock rip­ples through me. I know Steve likes things to be or­gan­ised and pre­dictable, but his out­burst feels ridicu­lous, his re­ac­tion wholly in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

That scene took place two years ago – and a cou­ple of weeks be­fore my hus­band was di­ag­nosed with Asperger’s syn­drome, a neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der on the mild end of the autism spec­trum.

Aspies, as they’re af­fec­tion­ately known, of­ten have above-av­er­age IQS and vo­cab­u­lar­ies, but find it dif­fi­cult to in­ter­act in large groups and have trou­ble pick­ing up on body lan­guage, hu­mour and sar­casm. They thrive on rules and a strict rou­tine.

Gen­uine per­son

This cer­tainly de­scribes my hus­band. Steve and I met eight years be­fore we mar­ried, on a dou­ble date as plus-ones. I was 28 and Steve was 23.

I liked him im­me­di­ately. He was clearly a gen­uine per­son who didn’t have a con­trol­ling bone in his body. But he also seemed very shy. In the months be­fore we be­came a cou­ple, we hung out with other twenty-some­things, sit­ting around

camp­fires in the Nor­folk coun­try­side af­ter work and so­cial­is­ing in pubs.

While Steve was liked by the group, he also some­how seemed on its edge. Soon, I re­alised there was a di­chotomy be­tween Steve’s pub­lic and pri­vate selves. He was con­fi­dent in an in­ti­mate set­ting, par­tic­u­larly when chat­ting one-to-one, but when he was in a loud and busy place, such as a restau­rant, he’d re­treat.

I used to think it was a con­fi­dence is­sue, but I now know those with Asperger’s can of­ten strug­gle with sounds, in­clud­ing mu­sic, foot­steps and peo­ple talk­ing. Even now, when we go out to a restau­rant as a fam­ily, it’s al­ways me who walks in first, who asks for a ta­ble, or­ders and pays. Steve will sit there, his head down. At times, it feels like I’m re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­one and that can get tir­ing.

When we were dat­ing, I some­times found his be­hav­iour hi­lar­i­ous. I’ll never for­get the party where Steve was cor­nered by a drunk woman who was clearly at­tracted to him. For an hour at least, he just stood there, lis­ten­ing and nod­ding, en­tirely obliv­i­ous to her ad­vances.

My hus­band is the kind­est, gen­tlest and most de­pend­able of men. He’s moral, sen­si­ble and bril­liant at one-to-one com­mu­ni­ca­tion. We have been mar­ried for four years and, when I see him, my heart still jumps.

His won­der­ful traits are be­cause of, not in spite of, his autism. I work as a dig­i­tal man­ager for a multi­na­tional tech­nol­ogy com­pany and Steve, un­til re­cently, worked in in­sur­ance. He left his job so he could look af­ter our chil­dren – Belle, six, and Hec­tor, three.

My work­ing days were get­ting longer and our fam­ily life was be­gin­ning to suf­fer. We needed one of us to be at home.

The kids are lucky it’s their fa­ther who has that job. Yes, I have to plan and di­arise his days with them down to the small­est de­tail, and yes, it’s oner­ous. Steve has to know what he’s do­ing and where, and at what pre­cise time: any­thing un­planned, be­yond an im­promptu light ‘hello’ at the school gate, can be dis­tress­ing for him.

But the re­ward is enor­mous. Science and facts are the lens through which Steve sees the world. He spends hours tak­ing Belle and Hec­tor on na­ture walks, teach­ing them the Latin words for flora and fauna, ex­plain­ing the life cy­cle of the cater­pil­lar or wood­louse they’ve spot­ted. He shows them the world in a way I have nei­ther the pa­tience nor knowl­edge to do.

Steve and I bal­ance each other out per­fectly. I’m gre­gar­i­ous and emo­tional, and he an­chors my ex­tremes.

Last month, we were look­ing to buy a new car, and I got so ab­sorbed in the de­sign and colour of the ve­hi­cles that I lost sight of the prac­ti­cal rea­sons we needed new wheels. Steve pro­duced a list of the cri­te­ria we needed to con­sider – cost, fuel econ­omy and whether we could comfortably fit the kids in the back.

Of course, it’s not al­ways pos­si­ble to re­move feel­ings from a sit­u­a­tion.

Be­cause Steve finds it hard to read fa­cial ex­pres­sions and body lan­guage, when­ever I’m an­noyed by some­thing, he im­me­di­ately pre­sumes it’s be­cause of some­thing he’s done.

His in­stinc­tive re­ac­tion to ten­sion is to re­move him­self from the sit­u­a­tion and me. More than once, he has said, ‘I’m just scared of ev­ery­thing, Han­nah.’ I can only imag­ine how scared he was on our wed­ding day. For him, be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion and hav­ing to pub­licly de­clare your love pretty much de­fines ter­ror.

He coped bril­liantly. His wed­ding speech was short, but he made a cou­ple of jokes, thanked ev­ery­one and re­ferred to me as his wife. While he may not have lit­er­ally ut­tered the words ‘I love you’, his love shone through his ner­vous body lan­guage and the sev­eral funny anec­dotes he re­layed.

Sweet ges­tures

I hadn’t ex­pected him to say those three words, in any case. In our 12-year re­la­tion­ship, Steve has said he loves me, but I could prob­a­bly count the times on one hand.

In ev­ery­day life, he ex­presses his feel­ings through ac­tions, of­ten by do­ing some­thing sweet, such as buy­ing flow­ers. Straight­for­ward ro­mance is hard for him. Per­haps, un­sur­pris­ingly, it was me who first asked him out all those years ago.

The idea he might be on the spec­trum first came from Steve, as did the search for a di­ag­no­sis.

Early on in our re­la­tion­ship, I used to say to him in a jokey way, ‘There’s some­thing go­ing on with you, isn’t there?’ But I didn’t sus­pect autism. That came from Steve, who, ever the sci­en­tist, was keen to un­der­stand the rea­sons for the on-off de­pres­sion from which he, and count­less other Aspies, suf­fer.

And there was an­other im­pe­tus for his in­ves­ti­ga­tions, too. I was preg­nant with Belle at the time, and Steve was con­cerned about the in­her­i­tance fac­tor.

It’s too early to say whether Belle is also on the spec­trum. Like her clever dad, she loves sys­temis­ing things and has his kind, gen­tle per­son­al­ity.

But do I care that my hus­band is autis­tic? Do I ever wish I was with some­one more easy-go­ing? No and no. Steve is all you could ever want from a hus­band, and I love him for ev­ery as­pect of who he is.

‘WE BAL­ANCE EACH OTHER OUT PER­FECTLY’

Steve and Han­nah have been to­gether for 12 years

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