We were driving in the New Forest and had just made a three-point turn on a dirt track that was supposed to be a short cut that linked up to the A35 outside Lyndhurst. It was bank holiday Friday and the traffic was appalling. It was raining, we were late and most importantly we were hungry.
“I’m sorry,” Said Clare who was navigating using an AA map. We had long since given up on the satnav.
“That’s alright,” I said as we passed the Bell Inn for a second time having done a big circuit, “Let’s just go back to the traffic jam on the main road and go the way we know.”
Just then another voice piped up from the back seat, “Give Mummy a stroke.”
Arun leant forward in his toddler seat and stroked Clare’s hair in the seat in front of him. “Don’t worry Mummy. It will be OK.”
He looked at me, “Don’t worry Daddy,” he said shaking his head, “It’s OK” Looking at his sister in the seat next to him, “Don’t worry Meri, it’s OK.”
Clare and I looked at each other and laughed. My disabled son’s intervention had broken the tension in the car.
“That’s amazing,” Clare said and she was right.
What was remarkable was not that a five year old had picked up on the decaying mood in the car and had re-assured us but that an autistic five year old had done it.
Autism is a wide ranging condition, which is why it is frequently described as a spectrum. Arun is very firmly on the spectrum. People often talk about the characteristics of autism as being problems with social communication, social interaction and social imagination. Arun displays elements of all three characteristics.
A lot of Arun’s behaviours are entirely predictable (for example like many autists Arun has a number of obsessions). We strive to give him every opportunity to grow and develop but find that sometimes, we close doors for him unknowingly. Too often we find ourselves thinking “Arun won’t like that” or “Arun won’t do that” and it is a conscious battle to fight the instinct to protect him and so pigeon hole him
However, Arun has a habit of reminding us not to do it. Like all children he has the capability to surprise and delight. Empathy, like Arun had just demonstrated in the car, is often not a common trait amongst many autists.
Autism has no known cause and no known cure. As the excellent article last week on Dad.info highlighted, many desperate parents are drawn into trying unproven or even quack remedies in the hope that they will witness a miracle.
However, we’ve learnt a very simple truth: We don’t need to look outside of our son the find a miracle and all too often it’s not the autist that needs to be cured, it’s the person judging him.