Jamie has Down's Syndrome and he is also on the autistic spectrum.
Raising Jamie has made our lives difficult. I would describe it as being somewhere between The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and We Need to Talk About Kevin. There cannot many people in my position, reading Mark Haddon's book and thinking "I will see your Autism and raise you a Down's Syndrome", but I did. On the other hand though, I cannot really complain because Jamie has never gone on a killing spree.
Sometimes I tell people about Jamie's dual conditions and then watch their faces as they process the information. Most people do not know what to make of it. I see them wondering whether he fits the Down's Syndrome stereotype (affectionate, fun loving, gentle) or the autistic one (anxious, distant, brilliant at counting cards in a casino). Surely he cannot be both, as they seem so different?
More often than not, after a few seconds deliberation, they ask the same question:
"Wherever did he get his ginger hair from?"
I don't know what it is about the slightly awkward social situation of being around a disabled child that makes people feel the need to lighten the mood by implying that Jamie's paternity is questionable, and that perhaps my wife has been a little free with her affections and that we are all in fact living a lie, but they do. Sometimes I see them mulling over the fact that my best friend at the time, Andy, also had ginger hair, and wondering whether or not to mention it.
I am not worried of course. I know that both Meg and I have relatives with ginger hair, and I know that the only way Meg would ever have touched Andy would have been to push him from a tall building. Nevertheless, it does seem to bother some people.
What is Down's Syndrome?
It is a genetic condition. A lot of people think that Down's Syndrome is associated with missing chromosomes, but actually the opposite is true. People with Downs Syndrome actually have an extra chromosome - they have inherited three copies of the genes on chromosome 21, rather than the usual two. Of course, I do not really know what that means, not being a biologist. A genetics nurse came round to my house when Jamie was a baby, and tried to explain it to me using diagrams and leaflets, but it did not help.
What is Autism?
People do not seem quite so keen to explain this one to me. I don't think anyone really knows.