Tuesday 6 October 2009

(An interlude) Temper, temper

On the face of it, there aren't many advantages to having an autistic child. The disability money doesn't really compensate for the tantrums, lack of interaction and the deprivation of any chance of seeing your child grow up and blossom into an independent adult. Now and again, though, something positive emerges, often somewhere unexpected, to remind you that the effort isn't wholly wasted.
Recently I was in a meeting at which a manager took it upon himself to pull me up in front of my colleagues for my perceived lack of effort and poor teamwork. It's a surprise to encounter this style of management in the modern workplace, like stumbling across a sabre-toothed tiger in your allotment, but alas, it exists. His voice grew louder and louder, his tone more strident and hectoring, his argument less and less reasoned. His face started to go a funny shade of puce and he repeated a small repertoire of stock phrases over and over again. An unpleasant experience, in all.
I think it was the verbal repetition that triggered a gnawing sense of familarity in my head. But as his diatribe continued, I started to notice pieces missing from this tableau. He wasn't starting to flail wildly with his arms and legs, or utter high-pitched guttural shrieks. His face wasn't crinkling up into an expression of wild anguish, he wasn't lying rigidly on the floor screaming or slapping himself in the face, or jumping up to pull me down by the neck. More than once I had to remind myself I wasn't dealing with an autistic child but my workplace supervisor, a fully functioning man in his forties who was lecturing me on how to do my job.
Once I appreciated my manager was doing a rather tame impersonation of my son, I was able to apply the techniques I had developed to deal with Euan's tantrums. Firstly, I could detach myself emotionally from the situation and take in what I was hearing dispassionately. Secondly, I employed the rule "don't engage with the rage", declining the offer of a shouting match and waiting until the storm had passed before venturing a response. And in the meantime I could reflect on whether I should have any more or less respect for a man who believed he could earn it by acting like a six-year-old with a mental disability.
The specific conclusions I drew from the meeting aren't relevant here. But certainly I came away with a sense of how autism can provide a context for other difficult life situations. It supplies you with vast reserves of patience and inoculates you to some extent against the crude methods of the bully. Before I became a parent I would probably have run away and cowered under a desk. These days I'm more inclined to think: "The poor chap. He must be struggling so hard with himself."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Gordon Darroch is such a funny and engaging writer, no wonder his boss hates him. If I had a nice juicy kipper for every cretinous ranger that tried to bully me when I was a cub, I'd be an exceedingly fat bear by now. Actually, I AM an exceedingly fat bear. Maybe I could park my enormous bottom on Gordon's boss's head. Not so easy to shout at people then, matey.