Waiting for the eruption: Why our autistic son had to leave to save our family

Tony Carr

It was a normal Saturday morning.

I was preparing to drive down to the local shop with my then 16-year-old autistic son Brandon to buy the newspaper and an ice cream.

Brandon looked forward to his weekend treat from dad and I enjoyed our little outing.

But this didn't turn out to be any normal Saturday morning.

Just before we were about to head out to the car, Brandon attacked his mother Joan with such ferocity it took me completely off guard.

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Audio: Putting your autistic son into care (Focus)

 

We had not seen this type of violent behaviour from our normally happy teenager. It took all my strength to release his grip on his mother's long hair.

He was biting his hands incredibly hard — a sign of frustration and stress — but not showing any pain. They say autistic people have a very strong pain threshold.

Once Brandon had calmed down I told him to go and get into the car. I waited a few minutes before climbing into the driver's seat and then, to my great surprise, I heard a voice in the back seat saying, "sorry dad, sorry dad".

We'd been told autistic people generally don't show remorse for their actions. Brandon seemed genuinely upset about what had just happened in the kitchen.

Waiting for the eruption

A smiling man in a light blue T-shirt Photo: Brandon Carr's violent episodes began at the age of 16. (ABC News: Tony Carr)

 

This was the start of five years of violent, unpredictable behaviour from Brandon which had our family on tenterhooks waiting for the next eruption.

The regular outbursts were taking their toll. Brandon's older sister, Rebecca, said she didn't look forward to coming home at night if her brother was in an unsettled mood. I couldn't leave Brandon alone with his mother or sister.

It got so bad that I had to take stress leave from work as the situation at home was spiralling out of control. I eventually came back to work in a part-time capacity, as another stress — financial — was starting to impact our ability to keep up with the cost of living.

Yet Brandon's violent behaviour continued, with one incident leaving me particularly shaken.

He had for several years enjoyed horse riding for the disabled on a Wednesday afternoon. Sadly it would be his last time at the riding facility after he exploded in rage as he was putting on his riding gear.

Thankfully he hadn't got onto a horse — I shudder to think what might have happened.

But the latest eruption wasn't over. On the journey home I had to stop the car three times as Brandon kept grabbing my hair and pulling my head back as I was trying to drive.

A drastic solution

A family photo of a young boy with a colourful striped T-shirt. Photo: Brandon Carr aged about 18 months, before he was diagnosed with autism. (ABC News: Tony Carr)

 

After this incident we started to seriously think for the first time that our beloved son — now aged 20 and displaying the strength of an angry young man — needed to be moved from the family home.

We needed some good news and it came in the form of the National Disability Insurance Scheme announcing it would be starting trials in our area of the Perth hills.

The NDIS was very supportive and, combined with the Autism Association of WA, quickly found a group home in which Brandon could live.

The dynamic in the first house didn't suit Brandon but he's since moved to another home and is thriving in that caring environment.

Brandon is now about to turn 23 and his behaviour is becoming gradually less of a mystery.

He has been officially diagnosed with epilepsy, which we had long suspected was complicating matters. His medications have been adjusted and his epilepsy is being controlled after twice being taken to hospital following major seizures.

His rages are now becoming less frequent and we all know how better to deal with them before it becomes a full-blown crisis.

We know to back off rather than confront, and give him space to work his way through it.

Brandon comes home one night a fortnight and is always happy to return to the care house. His behaviour has improved markedly since he transitioned out of the family home.

The atmosphere at home now is so much more relaxed.

And there's no more waiting for the next eruption.

Tony Carr is a radio news producer for the ABC based in Perth.

from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-15/wh...