My husband and I split up before our son Howard was born. He left
the city and I had no idea of his whereabouts. I didn’t tell anyone
that I was pregnant as I was afraid I’d lose my job. The last straw
was when a debt collector called because my husband had taken his
car, which he hadn’t paid for.
Howard is profoundly autistic and asthmatic and has diabetes. As a
child he was hyperactive and had no sense of danger. I had to nail
bars over the bedroom window because he’d climb on the sill and
push against the glass. Once he butted me and chipped my two front
teeth when I picked him up quickly to save him from danger.
I always worked, there was no choice. Social security money would
have been insufficient to keep Howard. He always had a large
appetite and his extra large-sized clothes were expensive.
In 1973 my son received an official letter saying my ex-husband had
died. He’d never remarried so my son was his only relative but
nothing was left except enough to pay the burial expenses. In those
days there was no allowance for a disabled child or lone parent. I
managed to get enough cash to buy a very old house with no bathroom
and an outside toilet. It took ages to clean up.
Once, when Howard was very small, I gave in and applied for help
from a charitable organisation set up to give financial and other
support to unmarried mothers. I felt so embarrassed when they
turned me down flat telling me it was my husband’s duty to support
my child and me. The stigma of being a divorcee with a handicapped
child was very strong.
I am proud of Howard. Many will always consider him as being a “bit
odd” but he is popular and has a tremendous sense of humour. He is
great company and is kind and affectionate. A few years ago we both
signed on for part-time computer courses. A disability officer at
the Job Centre referred him to the classes and I joined too, partly
because I felt he needed a helper to cope. I need not have worried.
We both became hooked and ended up signing on for a full-time
course at a local college. My son became so proficient that the
tutors nicknamed him “cyber-junkie”.
We completed the second year of full-time studies and gained Btec
diplomas in computer studies. Howard’s assignment was about
shopping on the internet and mine was about older people online.
Despite his slight speech impediment he gave a great 20-minute
presentation on the subject to the class and tutors. We were both
thrilled to gain our computer science qualifications and continued
our studies. Last year, Howard graduated from university with an
HND in computer science. We are both happy and have made lots of
friends through our IT interests. Our lives have been
Barbara MacArthur’s son has autism.