Author Kathy Lette tells what it is like to raise a child with Asperger’s syndrome – and how her story became a book
a child on the autism spectrum is as easy as skewering custard to a mid-air boomerang. I know this because my own son, Julius, was diagnosed with autism, aged three. I sat in stunned silence in a drab London hospital as a doctor told me that my cherished, beloved boy had a developmental disorder. I remember the pediatrician’s voice being all light and falsely cheery – which was when I knew something was seriously wrong.
My son walked and talked early then, at about 14 months, lost his language. I’d presumed he simply had a chronic case of glue ear or some form of dyslexia. So the word “autism” slid into me like the sharp, cold edge of a knife. This is a diagnosis which pulls you into the riptide and drags you down into the dark. The doctor had reduced my child to a black and white term. But to me, my little boy was full of the most vibrant colours.
An ache of love squeezed up from my bone marrow and coagulated around my heart. My darling son had become a plant in a gloomy room and it was my job to pull him into the light. I felt disbelief, followed by dismay and then by a fiercely protective lioness-type love.
Denial is a common response of parents in my situation, hence the years of alternative medical rounds, trudging through a labyrinth of social workers, speech and occupational therapists and top pediatric psychologists. For years I trekked here, there and everywhere, in the endless search for experts. My son had so many tests, he must have thought he was being drafted into the elite moon mission astronaut program.
I tried everything from cranial massage to karma maintenance and other areas of scientific expertise based on medical ideology that’s been rigorously and methodically proven by Goldie Hawn and other well-known academics. I ricocheted from psychoanalysts to biofeedback practitioners and other nouveau-voodoo nut-jobs, until my own inner-child wanted to throw up. (I hate to think how many doctors’ children I have now put through university.)
Next came the guilt. When a mother is told that her child has special needs, her guilt gland throbs. Was it something I ate whilst pregnant? Soft cheese? Sushi? Was it the glass of wine I shouldn’t have drunk in the final trimester? Was it something I should have drunk – like pureed beetroot? Was it something I didn’t eat? Organic tofu, perhaps? Or maybe I ate too much? I hadn’t just been eating for two, I had been eating for Pavarotti and his extended family. . . If only I’d feng shui-ed my aura in yogalates classes chanting to whale music like Gwyneth Paltrow and Organic Co.
Finally, many experts, tests and schools later, my son was re-diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which is the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. I have never spoken publicly about my unique and wonderful boy. But