BRILLIANTB­OY

Au­thor Kathy Lette tells what it is like to raise a child with Asperger’s syn­drome – and how her story be­came a book

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - AUTISM - K ATH Y LETTE L AUR A HYND

MOTH­ER­ING

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

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