Blog of the day on Mumsnet – 2nd April 2014

 

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. In this guest post, MN blogger Matt Davis shares what his son’s autism has meant for his family, and argues that there’s still much to do to ensure that people with an autistic spectrum disorder are treated with understanding and respect.

A year-long, punishing process of tests finally came to its conclusion with the words “autism spectrum disorder”, delivered in a paediatrician’s room. It was a tongue-twister that deliberately acted as a soft landing for the harsher truth: “your child has autism”.


The diagnosis assuaged the regular bouts of heartbreak I felt at Isaac’s regular bouts of distress. It was the alibi for his perceived anti-social behaviour. But I came to realise quite swiftly that a chasm existed between what some people knew about autism and what most people didn’t. If the condition hadn’t touched someone, it just wasn’t on their radar; autism awareness was minimal at best. On the other hand, professionals, experts and parents who had accepted their child’s diagnosis were awash with facts and immersed in the world of autism.


I joined Ambitious about Autism’s online community ‘Talk about Autism’ and quickly benefited; questions were posed and answered, discussions launched and new people nurtured with the help of its Community Champions. It became a safe haven from the everyday assault course of discrimination, generalisations, judgements, ignorance, exhaustion and difficulties that parents of children with autism battle.


So what is autism? An impossible question to answer with any semblance of brevity. For last year’s World Autism Awareness Day, Ambitious about Autism ran a Twitter campaign called ‘Autism is…’ asking everyone to share their thoughts, feelings and perspectives on what autism is to them. The answers tweeted invoked honesty, warmth, sadness and happiness – a pretty accurate flavour of what autism really is.


The campaign was such a success that the charity is repeating it this World Autism Awareness Day. I’m supporting it again because awareness is a big deal for me. Things have improved drastically over the last 20 years, but there’s still a long way to go. People just don’t know enough about autism. It affects 1 in 100 children, yet the condition is often misunderstood.


Autism’s myths are myriad. People assume Isaac won’t have eye contact, that he’ll be quiet and introverted, or that he must have mind-boggling talents. None of these statements are correct. Isaac is a boy you remember when you meet him. He is funny, inquisitive, determined – at moments tender and full of wonderment, but also unable to know his own strength at times. He loves to learn (if allowed to in his own way) and he never forgets anything.


For my family, autism has been a game-changer – but certainly not in a bad way. We don’t only have a bright, funny little boy – we have a heightened understanding of disability and other people’s needs too. For me #AutismIs heightened everything – love, sadness, stress, happiness.


My wife and I wanted to do something else to mark the day – the more people know about autism the easier life can be made for everyone affected by it, and of course we wanted to raise money for Ambitious about Autism, too. 


The Happy video above came about because my wife, a musician, received a video from her friend Abigail of her son Reuben who also has autism. In the video Reuben was singing Pharrell’s ‘Happy’, on his own, so perfectly, and you could see the joy he experienced as he sang. My wife decided to make a short film set to the song with Isaac and Reuben doing things that made them happy. Simple and honest, just like any other children. We wanted to celebrate the boys. Autism is something to be respected and acknowledged, but we wanted it to be about the boys having a ball.

Long before my son Isaac was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, I saw how the world, with all its peculiarities and obstacles, was that little bit more hostile for him. Seeing him struggle – often articulated as screams, anger and crying – seemed so unfair to me. I didn’t subscribe to the ‘terrible twos’ or ‘naughty toddlers view’; there was something about Isaac’s tears that was different. 

 

A Problem Shared


This article originally appeared on www.senmagazine.co.uk

Long before Isaac was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, I saw how the world, with all its peculiarities and obstacles, was that little bit more hostile for him – that little bit harsher. Seeing him struggle – often articulated as screams, anger and crying – seemed so unfair to me. I didn’t subscribe to the terrible twos or naughty toddlers view; there was something about Isaac’s tears that was different. Then the year-long punishing process of tests finally came to a conclusion in a paediatrician’s room with the words “autism spectrum disorder”, a tongue-twister that deliberately acts as a soft landing for the harsher truth: “your child has autism”. 


Autism now affirmed my regular bouts of heartbreak that accompanied Isaac’s regular bouts of distress. It was the alibi for his perceived anti-social behaviour. The subsequent learning curve was steep and rapid but was aided considerably by Brent, where I live in London. Its support structures involved workshops, relevant therapy, advice on education, and bodies to assist Isaac through mainstream or specialist school. My wife and I felt reassured that, as long as we fought Isaac’s corner, there was a team of people who would fight it too.

However, what I came to realise quite swiftly was that a chasm existed between what some people knew about autism and what most people didn’t. If the condition hadn’t touched them, it seemed not even to be on their radar; autism awareness was minimal at best. Professionals, experts, and parents who had accepted their child’s diagnosis, on the other hand, were awash with facts and immersed in the world of autism. 

I quickly benefited by joining an online community about autism where questions were posed and answered, discussions launched and new people nurtured with the help of its community champions. I also became aware of its presence as a safe haven from the everyday assault course of discrimination, generalisations, judgements, ignorance, exhaustion and difficulties that parents of children with autism battle with – to varying degrees – day in, day out. Things like the postcode lottery for support services only compounded the ignorance around autism. 

Crucially, it kick-started a need in me to write about autism as a cathartic personal response, coupled with a commitment to help spread awareness. I began writing in the emotional stories section of the site and became an autism campaigner by accident. 

I was able to express how I felt being at the beginning of my journey and it seemed to be well received. Getting regularly involved in discussion forums compelled me to do more and this is what inspired me to start blogging about life with Isaac. 

Simply writing as honestly as I can, about the plethora of issues one faces as a parent of a child with autism, has provoked an overwhelmingly positive response – one I couldn’t have predicted. People in a similar predicament seem emboldened and appreciative that I’m writing on their behalf too. Family, friends and now strangers who may not be directly affected by autism are grateful to be educated. Even professionals have circulated my blog among their staff, which is humbling. 

Recalling those early tormented years fuels my campaigning as much as fighting for Isaac in the present does. I know parents whose children haven’t got a diagnosis yet or are in environments impervious to the effects of autism. If sharing our family’s story helps them in any way, then our experiences will be serving the best purpose they can.

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