Autism Awareness Week: Edinburgh dad gives up his work to help son living with condition

Dad Dougie with son Lucas, 2'' Dougie and Lucas with mum, Judy. 'Picture; Greg Macvean
Dad Dougie with son Lucas, 2'' Dougie and Lucas with mum, Judy. 'Picture; Greg Macvean
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A loving father has taken early retirement to become a full-time carer for his two-year-old son who has been diagnosed with autism.

Dougie Thomson will hang up his overalls for the final time at the end of this week after spending his whole career working in car garages.

Picture; Greg Macvean

Picture; Greg Macvean

His young boy, Lucas, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in January after doctors noticed his slow development at his 27-month check up.

ASD is a complex developmental disorder that affects the brain’s normal development. Children with ASD have difficulties with social communication and interaction. They also have narrow interests and repetitive behaviours.

It was a turning point for Dougie and wife Judy, 38, who knew their lives had to change to accommodate the needs of their son.

This led to the 61-year-old dad deciding to leave behind what he knows best to learn more about his son’s condition to give him the best chance in life.

He said: “I feel physically fine and could easily have continued, but I knew my son needs me.

“It will be a completely different lifestyle for me. I feel as though I had to make whatever sacrifice was necessary.

“I will miss the working environment and the customer interaction on a daily basis. I’ve worked for Hope Scott Garage in Currie and Stockbridge.

“However I’m happy to be in the position where I can do this. I’m just looking forward to spending more time with my son.”

Prior to his diagnosis, Dougie had noticed Lucas was not behaving as he should. The youngster cannot talk and doctors say he has the communication of a one-year-old.

The devoted father recalled taking Lucas to a soft play area where he went into the ball pool and emptied all the blue balls while not interacting with any other children.

Dougie said: “It was upsetting at first. But we knew as parents we had to step up and learn about our son. We are now part of a number of parental groups who share their stories and help us understand what happens with autistic children.

“He’s physically clever and uses his hands well. He will gesture if he wants something. He’ll stand near the drinks in the kitchen if he wants a drink for example or if he wants help with his lego he’ll grab my hand and get me to hold something. He is in a world of his own a lot of the time. We are now looking up everything to support him and give him the best chance in his future.

“Lucas is a very happy little boy. I would not change him for the world. He is very precious. His is my first child and is an absolute joy.”

Lucas will begin to attend Lawfield Nursery in May with his parents hoping it will improve his interacting and development further.

Judy has huge admiration for her husband for cutting short his working life to spend more time at their Easthouses home, but she believes Lucas will reap the benefits.

The IT worker at Edinburgh University said: “I’m immensely proud of Dougie for giving up work to look after our son. I remember at the review when we were being asked questions as to what Lucas could do. To most questions the answer was ‘no’. At the time we were thinking ‘of course he can’t do that’. But then we later realised most children his age could do those things.

“It was difficult at first and you get the impression people are judging. But we have heard and read so many anecdotes that we’re learning each day so we can understand Lucas and care for him the best we can.”

Today is the beginning of World Autism Awareness Week (March 26-April 2) – seven days of fundraising activities and events to help raise money to continue life-changing work.

Pioneered by the National Autistic Society it aims to draw attention to the 700,000 UK people living with autism, both to educate those unaware of the condition, and make the world friendlier to those affected.

Dougie added: “I think it is very important nowadays to raise awareness of autism. In the past people were stigmatised if they were not ‘normal’. Now there’s more medical science and diagnosis is quicker than ever before.

“People need to be educated about those with autism and the way it affects them. After the initial upset, we quickly focused on learning to understand our son.

“He is happy in his own world and sometimes they stay like that all their lives because they see things in a different manner.”

Charlene Tait, director of Autism practice and research at Scottish Autism, said: “While stories in the media, portrayals of autistic characters in film and TV and numerous inclusion initiatives by public venues and organisations have helped significantly raise awareness of autism, there is a long ways to go when it comes to wider public understanding and acceptance of autistic people.

“This is a huge challenge as autism is an invisible and multi-dimensional condition which affects people in differing ways with some requiring 24/7 care and others able to live independent lives but possibly requiring more low level or occasional support. World Autism Awareness Week provides an important platform to help address this gulf in understanding of autism and autistic people.”