My friend Teal is at wit's end with her live-in father-in-law, and I thought it might be prudent to turn to my wise resources in the autism blogosphere for some insight on the matter.
Teal's father-in-law, Ernie, a widower, has been living with them for several years. It has been difficult from the start, but over time it has gotten almost unlivable for Teal. Some of the highlights:
- Ernie is a collector. He goes to yard sales every Saturday and purchases old cameras and kits for model airplanes. He does not use the cameras. He does not build the models. He does not catalog them. He does not, in fact, look at them once they've been purchased. He stores them in cartons in Teal's basement. Until Teal declared mutiny and rented a storage unit this summer her very large basement was - quite literally - packed floor to ceiling and wall to wall with Ernie's "stuff."
- Ernie is not considerate. He makes demands on Teal's time (announcing, for instance, that he would like bagels from the bakery as Teal is rushing at top speed to get her children on the bus and herself off to work, expecting her to accommodate his whim and go get his bagels because he does not drive, and being shocked and offended when she does not acquiesce.)
- Ernie is (to put it mildly) not a people-person. He works as a science professor at a community college, but when he is not working he is sitting at Teal's kitchen table. All day long.
- Ernie has hygiene issues. He bathes infrequently. He does laundry even less.
- Ernie has skin problems. He picks at his problem skin while he is sitting at Teal's kitchen table, leaving shards of skin and drops of blood in his wake. Because he has hygiene issues, he fails to clean up after himself.
- Ernie is a creature of habit. His preference to stick with his habit often outweighs his desire to avoid contact with people, so when Teal has visitors Ernie stays at the kitchen table. When he does not enjoy their conversation, he puts his hands over his ears.
The list, I'm sorry to say, goes on from there. Recently, Teal has begun to compare Ernie's behavior to the DSM-IV criteria for Aspergers, especially 1) severe and sustained impairment in social interaction; 2) the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities; and 3) significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning, and it all seems to fit.
This realization, however, has thrown Teal into a bit of a tailspin. She cannot tolerate Ernie, but she wonders Am I being prejudiced and narrow-minded? She wrote in a recent e-mail:
(I imagine that) Aspergers (or whatever label you want to use as an example) isn't the only factor at work. I'm sure there's still the issue of personality. Of course, then you get into the chicken or the egg thing: did the Aspergers help shape the personality, or did the personality flavor the person with Aspergers? In terms of Ernie, I can only guess that Aspergers helped to define and shape the personality. For instance, the guy can't stand loud noises or lots of sensory stuff, and therefore learned to shy away from any situation that could possibly include those things, such as crowds, being with people, etc. And since he didn't know how to act quite appropriately (in social situations, anyway) people started to choose not to be with him - like in grade school, etc. On the other hand, I look at Bud, who clearly has a personality of his own that is not AUTISM, but just Bud - charming, funny, draws you to him, and I think that personality must not be shaped by disability. So, in all, I just don't know.
I wish I had insight for my friend. Ernie is not a child. Teal can't hire an OT to work with him or start an RDI program at home. Ernie is not interested in changing. But Teal is simply not able to continue living with the status quo.
So, blogosphere friends, what advice do you have for Teal? She is a warm-hearted, fiercely loyal person. Ernie is her husband's father, and she wants to do the right thing. But, as is so often true in life, the right thing remains elusive.