for other writeups about my son, see An American Story and Growing up with Autism 2,Growing up with Autism 3and A trip to the Dentist
was just Googling on the open question of life expectancy for people
with Autism, when I ran across a reference to a person AKA Michael
Savage, an America talk show host who evidently feels that Autism is
an over diagnosed Fraud designed to extort money from the Government
for a fake illness . He is quoted as saying,' I'll
tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who
hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is.' *
a parent of a son with Autism, I never hear or read such statements
without a private shiver of foreboding. Sure, the man calling himself
Michael Savage is a homebred jerk and moreover has been banned from
visiting the UK (where I now live) as a person inciting hate crimes* I tell myself that he is just one more pathetic wannabe
seeking after the Holy Grail of the public spotlight. Of course, so
wife and I live on a six acre smallholding in rural Wales. A couple
of years ago we bought the cottage conjoined with ours (it's called
'semi-detached' in the UK) as a permanent home for my son. After a
lot of work and effort we have managed to assemble a team of 'Befrienders' who visit my son during the week, go on outings with
him, and generally hang out. This is the same kid I wrote about in An American Story who went through a period of near-Catatonia
(according to a well known psychologist who visited us at that time)
in his teens. Now twenty five, my son is around six feet tall,
topping my own more modest five-nine by a good bit, broad shouldered
and handsome in a classical sort of way, an effect not enhanced but
let us say complemented by the yellow industrial ear protectors he
wears everywhere. He has a full, bushy beard which for some reason he
insists must be shaved off every month and then regrows.
let me set the scene. Last summer we had a pond dug in the pasture
behind the house. For awhile we worried that it was just going to be
an expensive hole in the ground and the farming community would be
laughing at us. We worried needlessly. Winter came and for weeks it
rained steadily, turning what was originally a four-foot deep pond
into a lake. My wife worried that our three sheep would fall in and
drown. In vain I pleaded with her that even a sheep wouldn't be
stupid enough to walk into a ground level body of water and decide to
swim out to the middle. My wife countered with the well-known
propensity of domestic sheep for committing suicide. I protested that
that was only true of sheep in herds. I told her that, after all,
raising young only to see them sent off to be slaughtered as soon as
they were grown would lead to depression in even a semi-intelligent
animal. My wife told me to stick to the point and not start a
discussion about Universal Conscription. I told her that Ella Rose,
Boomer and Bea whom we had raised from infancy were unusually
intelligent sheep and quite capable of looking after themselves. My
wife countered with
do-you-want-to-be-responsible-if-anything-should-happen so the
argument ended as most of ours do, rather like an altercation
between two countries one of whom has an atomic bomb and is not
afraid to use it.
looked out the window the next morning and winced at the storm
sweeping across the pasture. 'It's raining,' I said uneccessarily
It says it's going to rain all this week, ' my wife said implacably,
' Do you want to wait until...'
ok, ' I sighed, defeated, and donned wax jacket and wellies. My son's
Befriender had arrived but His Majesty was still preparing to get out
of bed, so I asked the Befriender if he could give me a hand for a
while. He's a lad in his middle thirties and fit enough to keep up
with my son on a hill walk, which is more than I can manage these days.
'Sure,' he said.
posts were all on site, scattered over the muddy ground around the
pond. We got the Womper- this is a heavy gauge steel tube about six
inches in diameter, closed at one end and equipped with handles that
run down opposite sides. It is about 30 inches long and weighs
around twenty-five pounds at the start of the day; somehow the fiends
who designed the thing have made it so it gets heavier and heavier as
the day goes on. It easier with a man on either side holding one
handle each, but still no joke to use. In action one man raises the
thing over his head and fits it over the upright stake, then both
grab handles and pound.
ground was clay which is why we sited the pond there, and it was
certainly holding the water well, but solid clay is a nightmare to
drive a stake into. When it's dry it's like concrete, but wet it
becomes like vulcanized rubber and after six inches or so the Womper
bonged like a bell with every stroke. We agreed after the first few
that we would only do twenty strokes per stake as it was only to hold
a lightweight rail to keep the sheep out.
turned around after number four and there was my son, grinning
through his beard, with a floppy cloth cap over his ear protectors.
The dialogue that followed went something like this:
Hey, you want to help us?
I'm not helping you.
Fine then, I guess we'll do it ourselves.
(in a bass growl) I'll help you!
No, I think you should go back to bed
(shouting) I'm not going back to bed!
Well, OK, just grab the handle there. ( son grabs the handle, does
three or four hits and quits.)
can tell the noise bothers him. It's not that it's too loud, it's
just that he's not in control of it)
That;s OK, we'll finish it.
finish driving the stake home and I look up and my son is still
there, hovering . Inspiration comes to the rescue. I look over at
the Befriender )
:This is hard work, isn't it. (he nods agreement) Boy, we could sure
use some help, couldn't we? Somebody really strong...
Yeah, somebody really strong....
I'll help you!
grabs one handle in each hand, and now we are in a three corner
and BF together: and-one! And two! And Three....!
One! Two! Threefourfivesixseveneighttentwenty!
now the three of us are laughing like loons, and that ol' post, it
just melts into the ground.)
had twenty-five posts to drive, plus the rails to attach, and by the
end we were all three covered with mud, the rain continued to fall
and it was gone lunch time. The horses watched us from their
paddock the way horses do, as if we were performers who had come to enliven a dull afternoon. Ella Rose Boomer and Bea stood around
with their wool dripping, chewing their cud, staring at us out of
those rectangular pupils as if bemused because they hadn't the
slightest interest in all that water in the first place.
I know that Autism is a life long condition. In spite of what fools like M. Savage say, these are people whose brains are actually developed differently, living among us with no clue as to why we laugh, cry , or fall in love. Can you imagine what it must be like, to be always
outside, aware that other people had friends, worked together, shared
jokes, to be stuck behind the one way glass looking at the world with no idea how to share it – and then suddenly to be part of
hadn't seen the sun for days but the expression on my son's face made
up for it.