Several years ago I was invited to my Boss’s Wedding in Spain. It was going to be a sumptuous occasion, with a lot of ‘posh’ frocks and name dropping as he was very well connected.
I had spent weeks planning my outfit and arrived in full regalia for the weekend, arriving the day before as planned.
As I checked into the Hotel that had been booked for the Wedding Party I noticed a lady standing next to me also waiting to check in. Her hair was long and unkempt and hung randomly around her face, she hadn’t a scrap of makeup and her clothes were clean but out of fashion. My judgemental self concluded that she could not possibly be attending the Wedding, as all of the attendees would be beautifully turned out, but how wrong could I be! She was best friends with the Bride.
Emma was also the most wonderful individual I had ever met, and after an evening and a full day with her at the event, she was also hopefully a close friend of mine too. Emma told me that she had two autistic sons, and that she cared for them most of the time. She also had a lovely daughter called Sophie, her third child, who had no autism. Emma had prepared to have another autistic child with her third pregnancy, but this had turned out not to be the case.
As the weekend progressed Emma described her day to day activities, and described the severity of the spectrum of Autism that had been diagnosed for her first son which was severe. It was the first time in five years been able to leave home for more than a couple of hours, and the first time in ages she had been able to have a glass of wine. I reprimanded myself for criticising her appearance, which was actually beautiful, but the last thing on her mind.
If I say that every waking hour was dedicated to all of her children, it would not be an exaggeration, and in spite of this, Emma sung the praises of each of her children equally.
Since that time, Emma has received support from local campaigns and her eldest son is cared for in a special school locally and her second is doing really well in a main stream classroom with other kids.
I have now met so many people with children suffering from Autism and have re-educated myself in that Autism is not a disease and there is no ‘cure’. More and more Research is now taking place with the Autistic Society who explain that Autism is actually a lifelong condition. But, there is a range of strategies and approaches – methods of enabling learning and development – which people may find to be helpful.
It is also true that one in a hundred people are diagnosed with different degrees of Autism and that previously kids were labeled as naughty or inattentive before being diagnosed, or when Autism was not identified. It is just that people suffering with Autism view the world and people in a different way.
Thankfully this was brilliantly addressed in the West End play The Curiousa Incident of the Dog, where the main character, a young autistic boy encounters prejudice and frustration from his family and neighbours through not being able to read people’s facial expressions, jokes or sarcasm, which is usually the case with Autism.
Early diagnosis is beneficial for both families and teachers, as children can then be integrated into a classroom or social situation as with Emma’s offspring, with the knowledge of their struggles. In many cases, parents have coped really well with the support that is provided nowadays and have found their children benefit too by the strategies that are now known to work.
How you can help?
You can help autistic people and their families by visiting the Autistic Society and help them with:
• spreading understanding about autism – sign up to support the “Too Much Information” campaign.
• donating so they can continue to give millions of people information and advice about support.
• volunteering in one of their schools, care services or offices.