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The challenge of living with autism

As challenging as my life may appear to others, for me it represents normality


I am 46, a husband to Elaine, who is my greatest support, a father to two boys James, 11 and Thomas, 9, a full-time History teacher, and doctoral student in Education at Glasgow University. I am proud to say what enabled me to follow this education dream was my study with The Open University (OU) – I graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.

Like everyone else who has studied, I encountered my fair share of challenges. My most important daily challenge, shared with Elaine, is raising our boys – James and Thomas have high dependency autism requiring around the clock care. It is quite rare to have two children with autism and both were diagnosed at the age of three. James also has ADHD, which can make him exhausting to be around.

As a parent to children with autism and a full-time teacher, I quickly realised I needed something where I could take my mind to a rewarding place. It was the OU that enabled me to pursue my love of education and, along with the support of Elaine, it helped me get through the challenges that come our way. 

If someone in a similar situation were to ask me how I do it all, I’d say, it’s about using your time carefully. Elaine and I soon found that the boys’ anxieties could be eased by rigid routines around dinner and bedtimes – it helps them cope with the world – and I was able to fit my study time around these routines. If you want to study and need to do it from home, distance learning through the OU makes it entirely possible.

There were times during my study when James would wake up at 2am, so that’s when my day began too. Rather than sit and stare at the wall during those long nights, I realised I had to use this time to my advantage. And that’s exactly what I did.

I would look after James and my study books would come out too. I would use the time to read and study for my modules. I remember one night during the Shakespeare module starting to read a play out loud to James, putting on silly voices to engage him. He didn’t understand what I was saying but clearly loved the sounds of the words. Being able to connect with him in this way was very special. I can truly say that without the OU, I don’t think I could have managed during that period.

While studying for my Doctorate, I have learned to make every precious moment count. James needs someone with him constantly, but I can still have a life of my own – during his bath time, I sit and read. I’ll often cook dinner using one hand and take notes on an article with the other. Multi-tasking is second nature. 

When it comes to fitting in a full-time job with everything, it helps that I love teaching. Yes, there are many days where I feel exhausted, but my family mean everything to me and I am proud to be a father to my two children.

I’ve always believed you never give up when life gets tough. I also know that we can only do our best – whether that be studying, teaching or raising children. Life may be challenging at times, but having Elaine and the boys, I wouldn’t change my life for anything.


by Paul Carabine

Dedicated to my wife Elaine who is my best friend and my greatest support

Paul Carabine is an Open University (OU) English Literature graduate, teacher of history, a loving husband and father to two young sons – both have autism. This week (27 March – 2 April 2015) is National Autism Awareness Week and this entry is in recognition of all hardworking parents of children with autism.

Find out more at World Autism Awareness Week



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