Many of my posts during this transition period seem to be preoccupied with the events which led up to Dylan going into residential care. I keep replaying the narrative, recounting critical incidents and revisiting the unexplained. At the crux of my ruminations, quite often, is the transformation in Dylan from anxious and aggressive to happy and calm. How could the shift from home to residential care bring about such change? What meaning should I make of this?
I suppose in writing about this process I am attempting to understand it. I have suggested three aspects of Dylan’s residential provision, for example, which seem to have been particularly helpful in settling him. I have also begun to explore aspects of Dylan’s home life, and day care provision, which may have been unhelpful; in yesterday’s post, for example, I suggested that a lack of boundaries in Dylan’s day care may have contributed to some of his anxiety.
As well as helping me to make sense of the past, writing is part of the process of coming to terms with Dylan leaving home. It helps me to reconcile my feelings and assuage any guilt or anxiety I might feel about not being able to care for Dylan myself. I think this explains my preoccupation with the narrative and my attempt to bring order and meaning to it; I need to reassure myself that I did everything I could for Dylan while he was living at home.
I’ve been thinking about ethnographic approaches to research enquiry recently and revisiting classic and contemporary ethnographies. It’s a methodology I’ve sometimes referred to in relation to my parenting of Dylan. Living with autism, I have suggested, can feel like ethnography; I walk in Dylan’s shoes in order to see and hear and feel the world the way he does. In this sense, perhaps, living with autism is a form of ‘culture-studying’.
One of the articles I read today focused on the role of the researcher in ethnographic research. However deeply immersed you are in the world you are observing, the author noted, you cannot disappear; your assumptions and beliefs will be present in your observations and in your records from the field. As well as being observer, therefore, an ethnographer is part of the text. In living without autism, however, I am the text: this is my auto-ethnography of loss.
A module I teach which focuses on cultural representations of education requires students to view selected films. Today, as I was setting the lecture theatre up for a screening of Dead Poets Society, I lingered at the top of the stairs. A detail I hadn’t noticed before caught my attention. What was that dark shape? The outline of one of the boys in the Assembly Hall perhaps? I hadn’t noticed such a camera shot before.
The shape didn’t move as the scene progressed, however. It couldn’t possibly be part of the film, I told myself. The dark shape made no sense to me at all. I tried to think of technical explanations. Dirt on the lens perhaps? Something blown? I wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t possible to show the film like this, I decided: the students would complain. As I turned to go, the dark shape dipped and disappeared. I realised, with shock, that it was me; I was not just observer, but a shadow actor on the screen. How many times, I wondered, have I been in the way of what I could see?