Heather Jones is the author of Talk to Me: Conversation Strategies for Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum or Speech and Language Impairments – in this new blog she talks about what it has been like to relocate to the UK with her son Jamie, who has an autism spectrum condition.
Since moving to Australia 30 years ago I hadn’t given any thought to returning to England, but when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it became apparent that he would need my help I started making the arrangements. In August of 2014 I moved to the UK with my son Jamie, who has high-functioning autism. He was then 19 and it was a huge decision for us to make this move.
Jamie’s main problems are his severe speech and language impairments. The work that I have done with him to help improve his communication I ended up turning into a book (Talk to Me: Conversation Strategies for Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum or Speech and Language Impairments), he has long since passed his driving test, got his own car, held down a part-time job at a nursery and become far more comfortable socialising. I had my concerns about how he’d adjust to life in England, but I also had a huge amount of faith that all the work we had done would pay off and he would continue on as the independent person I’d worked with him to be.
I wanted Jamie to come with me because I would simply have missed him too much had he stayed in Australia, but I was faced with the prospect of removing him from the friends, hobbies and habitual living that had been a huge part of improving his communication and this was a problem.
I made my arrangements very clear in my head, I knew how long we were going back to the UK for, where we would be living and what Jamie would be doing. I wrote down all my plans and then told Jamie as if it were a fait accompli.
“Jamie, we’re going to England.”
(Then, as is Jamie’s way, came the questions over a period of hours and days).
“Where will we live? …. What will we do? …. Will I still drive? …. Will I work?”
We were lucky in two instances – my sister Ellie and her children (now in their 20s) all lived in the same town and she had just taken over a pub. This meant that Jamie had a ready made group of friends (or cousins) and that my sister could offer him a job there and my responses to Jamie’s questions could be reassuring:
“We’ll live in Malvern near your cousins… And you’ll get a job in the kitchen at Ellie’s pub.”
Wherever possible, I answered honestly and clearly. I got Google maps and photos out and we looked at the place we would be living. I took out photos of the cousins and we Skyped them to get Jamie familiar with their voices and homes and as a result I found that Jamie, while not wholly embracing the idea of moving away from all the things he knew, was more accepting of the prospect of moving.
When it finally came to getting our flight to the UK I tried to give Jamie as much responsibility for our situation as I could. I asked him what information we needed and guided him to the screens or gateways to find out the answers. In fact, we took two other flights during our stay in Britain – one to Paris and the other to India – and during both I tried to involve Jamie. But he finally said to me, “Mum I can’t do it. Can you, please?”
I realised that this type of organisation was too far beyond him at this stage of his communication development. However I still thought the process was rewarding for him and I will certainly take up the practice again when we next travel by plane.
Settling Jamie into a routine he was happy with in England was a serious challenge and one that I know other parents have faced in the past and will in the future.
Firstly he needed steady work, a routine built around establishing an income. Jamie could work at the pub and although he had never done anything like that before (and this would undoubtedly increase his anxiety levels) his cousin (David) was a very calming influence in the kitchen and before long Jamie was accustomed to loading and unloading the dishwasher, labeling foodstuffs in the fridge, peeling the vegetables and developing an instinct for what needed to be done.
That kind of initiative has taken a great deal of time to develop in Jamie and I am sure that the work we have done together has contributed to this. I’ve made sure that he has been able to continue with activities he has grown accustomed to at home, playing on the Xbox, going to the gym and going to see live music in some of the local pubs. With the help of family and friends Jamie has settled down surprisingly quickly and expanded his skills in ways I had never previously thought possible.
Heather Jones is the author of Talk to Me: Conversation Strategies for Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum or Speech and Language Impairments which is available in paperback or e-Book from Jessica Kingsley Publishers