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Alasdair Sprott is one of a growing number of dads who are working flexibly to help out with childcare responsibilities, but in his case those responsibilities are greater than for most parents.
His eldest daughter Charlie was born with speech and learning difficulties and autism, although it took a long time for these to be diagnosed which created its own problems. “We suspected what it was, but Charlie has a number of issues and it was only around three years ago that they diagnosed her,” he says.
Charlie was very tiny as a baby and looks around three years younger than her actual age. As an older baby she could not hold herself like her peers and she had poor coordination. When other children her age were starting to talk she was unable to. Unlike other autistic children, she was and continues to be very self contained. “She is not disruptive like other autistic children can be if they are upset. Quite the opposite – she withdraws. She goes into a room and does nothing,” says Alasdair. Her brother, who is two years younger than her was developmentally at the same level as her so played with her and has been “like a twin”, says Alasdair. “He’s a great support for her.”
As a toddler Charlie attended a nursery run by the charity I-CAN in Mid-Lothian then at six transferred to a mainstream primary school which she travelled to by taxi.
When she reached the age of two, Alasdair, who works full time as a business analyst at Lloyds Bank, started working flexi hours so he could attend hospital appointments and education assessment sessions. He would start early and could then take time out during the day to attend appointments and return to work to make up the time. “I have tried to be at every meeting. It helps with relaying information if both her parents are there,” he says. “It also means that the load is shared. I can take over as I am up to speed.”
Around six years ago Alasdair changed his work pattern again and started working compressed hours. He now works Monday to Friday lunchtime which is when primary school finishes and Alasdair can pick up his two youngest children, aged 12 and seven. This September his son will transfer to secondary school. Charlie is already at a mainstream secondary school. Now that she has been diagnosed with autism she can access specialist support which she didn’t have access to before.
During the summer holidays Charlie has some clubs she can attend for children with special needs.
Alasdair says his work have been very supportive. Lloyds Banking Group’s policies on family support have seen it scoop various awards and it believes it is important that dads also have access to the same support and flexible working as mums. The company has a broad range of policies in place to support parents, which generally go beyond statutory requirements, including additional paternity leave of between two weeks after the baby’s birth to up until the baby is one. The company also has a Carers Policy and Guidance which offers clear advice and guidance to anyone with caring responsibilities.
Alasdair states: “I have never had any problems getting time off work. Once managers were aware of what was happening they were really good. I know about the majority of the appointments in advance so can book them ahead of time.”
He feels it has been very positive for his family that he can play such a big part in looking after Charlie. “I know other families in the same situation and the wife is left to get on with doing most of the care. There can definitely be tensions if the dads are not on board or engaged or if they are in denial. In our case we both know what is happening and my wife does not feel she is on her own,” says Alasdair.
“I feel closer to my children. I can communicate better with Charlie because I am around doing things with her. I am a rugby coach for my son so spending a lot of time with Charlie when she needs me shows that I am around for her. She definitely feels better that I am around.”