My Husband’s Autism Diagnosis At 44 Changed Our Family – For The Better

It was only when our children were diagnosed that Kelly realised there might be a reason why he felt and acted the way he did too.
The author, with her husband and children
HuffPost UK
The author, with her husband and children

Eighteen years ago, I lived in Norwich and worked on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff as a co-presenter. One day, I received a phone call out of the blue from Kelly, a man I had met years prior. He had seen me on the show and decided to call the station to get back in touch.

I was over the moon to hear from him. It had been five years since we’d been in touch and I had always held a bit of a torch for him. He asked if I was ever in London, I said yes, and we met up and went on a date. We had such a fantastic evening, chatting lots over cocktails. I knew then that this was more than a regular date – it was the start of a relationship.

Just three weeks later, Kelly broke the news he was going travelling to Australia for a year – and asked if I wanted to go with him. Obviously, I said yes. I remember sitting at the airport, waiting for our flight, literally jumping up and down with excitement. Kelly, on the other hand, didn’t look excited at all. I asked if he was looking forward to travelling and he replied “It should be good”.

I couldn’t help but think that was an unusual reaction for someone going backpacking for a year. I couldn’t stop talking about how great it would be and all of the fantastic places we would visit. Kelly seemed more subdued and didn’t look like he minded if we went travelling or not.

Over the years we had mentioned on and off about Kelly perhaps being autistic. He has always been quite direct and very honest – if I ask him his opinion, I always get a 100% honest answer, even if it’s not what I want to hear, whether I ask him about what he thinks of dinner I’ve cooked or if he’s excited about our plans for the weekend.

“Both our children have sensory processing disorder – they struggle with textures, strong smells, bright lights and things that just don’t feel ‘right’.”

We married in 2008 and had our first child, India. When our son Hudson followed two years later, Hudson was often sick and would scream and cry at mealtimes. We learned that both he and India have sensory processing disorder – they struggle with textures, strong smells, bright lights and things that just don’t feel ‘right’, hence Hudson struggling so much with food.

Seeing specialists about Hudson’s eating, the word ‘autistic’ came up a few times. During an appointment with a psychologist, she asked questions about Hudson and how he reacts in certain situations. At this point, I realised she was also describing India. As girls can ‘mask’ their autism more than boys, I hadn’t noticed anything unusual. Both were diagnosed with autism (Asperger’s Syndrome).

The more I read about autism, the more we realised Kelly had a lot of ‘typical’ autistic trait: being direct, over-analysing situations, needing routine and structure. I would share traits of autism and Kelly would joke “is that describing me or the children?”

Kelly and I wondered for some time whether he should get diagnosed or not. After all he had gone through life without a diagnosis. We decided to go privately, like we had with the children; the wait on the NHS can be up to two years. Kelly was also officially diagnosed with autism (Asperger’s) last Christmas. Seeing it written down in black and white was reassuring. Kelly realised there was a reason why he felt the way he did.

“With Kelly’s attention to detail and straight-talking honesty, I couldn’t wish for a better business partner, or husband”

When we would tell friends about Kelly’s diagnosis, their first reaction was usually surprise. Some asked why Kelly decided to get an official diagnosis. At 44, it may seem rather late for him – but for us as a family, the timing is invaluable. The children love knowing their daddy is ‘just like them’ and they don’t feel so alone, knowing that he is autistic too. Kelly draws on his experiences from growing up and his time at school and offers support and advice to India and Hudson. I can’t offer advice, as I don’t know how they see the world around them. Although I try and help them understand why neurotypical people act the way they do.

With our greater understanding of autism, Kelly decided he wants to have more time to spend with the family. Despite building a successful career over 23 years, managing teams, presenting at conferences and hosting events, he chose to leave the corporate world. He wanted to be more flexible with his time, at home more to help with the children and feel more in control of his career and his life.

We’ve set up a consultancy together. It’s called Hudia, named after Hudson and India. We’ve talked for years about working together, ever since we cleaned shoes together at the Melbourne Boat Show. With Kelly’s attention to detail and straight-talking honesty, I couldn’t wish for a better business partner, or husband.

Hester Grainger is a freelance journalist and co-founder of Follow her on Twitter at @HesterGrainger