I have been with my husband for twenty seven years. I am his 'second wife' as, even now, he tells people. He was married to the 'first wife' for a little over four years. He gets berated by many for referring to me as his 'second wife'. I doubt that it will stop him – after all it's a fact – I am! Joe deals in facts and cannot understand the point of fiction. He sees nothing wrong with saying something if it is a fact – no matter if it upsets or hurts someone. He doesn't mean to upset someone but it seems to just happen and he often can't control it.
Of course this is usual – Joe is autistic, clinically diagnosed just eight years ago with Asperger's Syndrome. I was, at that time, studying for a Post Graduate Certificate in Asperger's Syndrome, run by Sheffield Hallam University and the National Autistic Society. It was the second week of the course and a particular lecture on sensory issues, set off a light bulb in my head. 'takes his shoes and socks off, and often his trousers, as soon as he gets home' - yes; 'wears clothing inappropriate for the weather' – short sleeves all year round; sensitive to certain colours – thinks I wear red all the time although I now have only two red items in my wardrobe; 'fussy about the feel of clothes, bed linen, cushions etc' – yes; 'dislikes being touched lightly but enjoys hard touch or scratching' – yes. The list went on and I kept saying 'that's Joe'. Coupled with the tempers, often pedantic and repetitive speech, constantly moving things to make them symmetrical, obsessively cleaning the kitchen and bathroom after use, and a major dislike of any family occasions which require a party; my feeling was ' oh my goodness, my husband has Asperger's and no-one has ever realised. Two years later, and we had arranged for the diagnosis process.
I was a little ashamed. I had been teaching children with Asperger's for six years prior to this revelation, had read a lot about it, but had not put the two together. I suppose looking back, I had flashes of 'maybe' especially with moving objects around and his dislike of social functions – also his talking constantly about his favourite subjects to anyone he met. He often asks people he has met to describe him in three words – I always used one word – 'Unique', or I called them his 'Joeisms'.
Although the process was very emotional for him, he went through many stages of acceptance: it has been literally 'a new lease of life' for him. He finally understands his life so far – why his temper has been so bad and why seemingly silly triggers set him off; why his temper got him into trouble in his younger days; why his 'first wife' wound him up so much; why he didn't have many friends at school and why his few friends are so special to him; why he hates crowded places, loud noise, and the colour red; and why his music, love of history and Cromwell, and collections of sugar-shakers and keys are so important to him.
Joe is a wonderful karate instructor – children adore him, adults respect him. He tries to identify with students with Asperger's and other ASDs and help them to accept themselves. He also clashes spectacularly with other students. He has been, and is, the Chairman of a national martial arts governing body since its inception in 1992, President and Chairman of Karate England in its founding years, and ran another martial arts organisation (with the 'first wife') for some years.
He is also a Senior Freemason, something he is very proud of. He joined because of his love of tradition and history, and his fellow masons have an enormous respect for his attitude and conduct, his contribution to charity, and his willingness to help anybody he can. If anything he tries to get too involved; it is a passion and this ongoing eagerness can sometimes 'bite him on the bum' as far as some might be concerned.
He is constantly coming up with ideas and schemes. He set up NAKMAS Publishing a couple of years ago; became a renowned 'tea-room guru' some ten years ago when he was treated badly in a particular tea room locally; has turned his childhood love of Simon and Garfunkel music into an ongoing obsession, and has coined the phrase 'Isn't It Nice, Being Nice': good deeds to strangers randomly. For all of these passions, he has set up popular pages on Social Media and has extensive websites for them all. In addition he never forgets his past and has similar social media pages for areas he grew up in; namely Bethnal Green and Nine Acres in Ashford Kent.
Joe can be utterly exhausting to live with, yet his unique skills and talents, which he possesses despite or perhaps because of his autism, are inspiring and unending.
He loves an audience but is a very quiet and private man; a spicy blend which needs to be seen and heard!