Behind the Label ‘Autistic’

Posted on 19th September 2016 by Sally Campbell
John Williams’ My Son’s Not Rainman is a deeply personal and hilarious book, overflowing with fascinating insights into his son’s autism. Intended not only to dispel the notion that all autistic children are geniuses,  Williams' tender and comic writing shows so clearly the astonishing, witty, charismatic boy behind the label ‘autistic’.

Photo: Boy Looking Through Window (c) Dubova

“What are you doing?”

“I’ve just got to write something for Waterstones.”

“Water who?”

“Waterstones. They sell books.”

“Stupid name. You can’t make stones out of water. They should be called ‘Books’.”

My absolute favourite thing about my son will always be his honesty when expressing his view of the world. His disappointment in the naming of retail outlets isn’t just limited to Waterstones. I can’t tell you his contempt when we discovered that Boots didn’t sell a single item of footwear; PC World seemed to be faring better until we discovered an array of televisions across the back wall, and as for Currys next door…

There’s something really refreshing about spending your time with someone who just expresses themselves and their view of the world without applying a filter. It makes you realise it’s something we should all do more often. The Boy (as he likes to be called) has made me question things that for too long I just accepted as the norm. But, of course, such a level of honesty isn’t always appreciated by everyone.

I remember a few years ago at school when The Boy got his first ever sticker. Yes, even in the days of computer games and apps, in special needs education the sticker is still king. He came out of school leaning over to one side, pushing his chest out to ensure that the sticker could be viewed by as many people in the vicinity as possible. So proud. What did he do to deserve such a fine prize? Well, he got it for ‘being kind’.

Apparently The Boy was in the middle of a meltdown in the sensory room. Another pupil, a younger one, was also in the middle of a meltdown. And he wanted in to the sensory room. So, after some negotiation The Boy agreed to temporarily postpone his own meltdown so this younger pupil could continue with his undisturbed.

He was extremely proud of his magnanimous gesture. "I've been very kind", he kept repeating on the way home. We talked about how it was nice to do kind things for people, and how it made you feel good helping others. And it felt like another tiny step forward – a reminder that with the right help and guidance The Boy might well 'learn' some aspects of human behaviour that don't always come naturally to him.

As I pulled up at home The Boy insisted on closing the car door himself. "I'm being kind to you", he said. He then declared that he'd carry his own lunchbox inside as he was being kind to me. He even said I could cook him his dinner whenever I wanted as he was once again being kind to me. Selfless, my son.

Then as we walked into the building where we live, there was a neighbour leaving. She looks about my age, although this being London we have of course never spoken. I was walking in front (The Boy will never walk in first, only ever behind me, another little quirk). As I walked in I turned to find that he was waiting at the door for the neighbour. As she walked past him he shouted at the top of his voice, "DADDY, I'M BEING KIND AND HOLDING THE DOOR OPEN FOR THE LADY BECAUSE SHE LOOKS OLD..."




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