It’s amazing what a little education can do to completely change someone’s perception of something. After interviewing author Kathy Lette last week, I decided to attend a speaking event she was doing the following night. She’d promised to share more about her life raising her 22year-old son Julius, who happens to be autistic. Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD or what I learnt is the more accepted terminology these days, on the spectrum, which makes sense, given the wide breadth of severity leading up to the Aspbergers end. The latter often being highly functioning people who may struggle to connect on an emotional or social front. But these people are often gifted at the work they do, in fact, I suspect although not out publicly, or even diagnosed, there are probably many well-known Australians that fall into this category.
Kathy got up and talked about the long list of books she’s written, all of which have had major success, then a bit about her life growing up in the Northern suburbs of Sydney to where she now she resides in London with her husband Geoffrey Robertson, also an author and a human rights lawyer.
But it was clear that the most rewarding, most heartbreaking, most challenging and most proud achievement of hers to date is that raising an autistic child whilst navigating the vast terrain that goes around it.
Her recent book The Boy Who Fell To Earth is fictional is a story about a woman who has an autistic child who, whose father took off not long after their son’s diagnosis. Something I’m told happens a lot as one parent, more often the father I’m told, struggles to cope with the symptoms and ongoing issues.
There’s not even vaguely enough space in this column to share all that I learnt from not only Kathy but the panel of experts that included Dorothy Scott (OAM) who until her retirement in 2010 worked at the Australian Centre for Child Protection at the University of South Australia.
It’s said that ASD neurological disorder affects the brains normal functioning. , However from what I can gather, it also open up parts of the brain that non ASD people either don’t get around to using or don’t know how to tap into at all.
The encouraging news is, although there’s a very long way to go, but slowly awareness for ASD is building which is lucky because so are the numbers of people being diagnosed with it and essentially because there’s a lot of funding needed in so many support areas.
What I loved about the experience of getting to know about living on or with someone on the spectrum is that within the space of 24 hours I had completely changed the way I looked at it. I suddenly looked around the room at those who appeared to be on the spectrum and thought, “Wow, I bet you’re an interesting person! What a fascinating mind and brain you must have.”
As Kathy’s son said to her one day whilst he watched her cutting up veggies in the kitchen, “Mum, if onions make you cry, are there vegetables that make you happy as well?” Although easily dismissed as just a cute comment, you can see from a boy like her son, whose intention was not of making a joke, there is a uniquely investigative mind there that would be a shame not to acknowledge and maybe learn something powerful from.
Many of these children and adults by nature of how they are wired, just don’t understand or feel the need to pander to other people like the rest of the human race usually do. All our constant chatter about nothing, the words we use that don’t even relate to what we mean, you’d have to imagine they must listen to us half the time thinking “And they think there’s something wrong with me?”