In all our lives there are befores and afters.
There is life before marriage and after marriage. Life before children and after children. There is life before diagnosis and life after diagnosis.
For 54 year old Arsenal Whittick, who has autism, life can be defined by his befores and afters.
Life before his eldest daughter’s suicide attempt and life after.
Before 15 year old Samantha’s suicide attempt, the family was living through a tsunami of pain. Unspoken. Unacknowledged. Unbearable.
Undiagnosed at this point, Arsenal was unable to show his girls physical affection. He had never hugged them, not in infancy, not in early childhood. Not over grazed knees or bumped heads or fevers, coughs and colds. Not when friendships ended or exams were passed or failed. Not over family Christmases or birthday celebrations. Not at all. Not ever. Not even once.
For Arsenal’s daughters, Samantha and Danielle, hugs weren’t a part of their nurturing. And that lack of intimacy was one of the myriad reasons Samantha took herself upstairs one dark November day and tried to take her own life.
Matching her father’s expectations was impossible. As she grew up and wanted to spread her wings, Samantha in particular felt like a failure around her father. He was incapable of seeing her point of view. Changes in routine; a late departure for school, dinner being a minute late to the table, a coffee cup left unwashed, all these things would render Arsenal unable to cope. A state of mind would take him over, leaving him to survive in the only way he knew how; to self harm. He would hit himself to the point of feeling light headed and nauseas, in front of his children. Samantha was left feeling isolated, insecure and unloved.
Following the suicide attempt the family had counselling. The Clinical Psychologist was quick to send Arsenal for referral after learning of his rigid routines and uncompromising behaviour. Following assessment, 6 Months later, Arsenal was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Arsenal has a thing for dates and can tell you without hesitation all the milestones of his life and the full dates on which they occurred. The 26th May 2011 was a life changing day.
After diagnosis the family started to find their way, tiny step by tiny step. Arsenal received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and had regular support.
Arsenal now sets himself daily challenges helping him overcome his desire for discipline and exactitude. Every Thursday he can be found at the local post office buying just one second class stamp, forcing himself to endure the human contact in the queue and the stress of being in an environment he can’t control.
From being a disengaged, emotionally absent man, On Christmas Day 2014, Arsenal conquered one of his biggest challenges. He hugged his children for the first time.
This Christmas, Arsenal is enjoying a happy relationship with his children who now think he is the best dad in the world. Five years on, the family has come so far. Arsenal works tirelessly every day to become the very best version of himself. He is positive, joyful, and present in his children’s lives. And the cuddles are now endless.
Autism Wessex’ Information and Advice service help many families like Arsenal’s.