I love building Lego, and creating my own things. I am super fast at running and a good diver. Mum talks to me about different ‘smarts’, like sports smarts, or art smarts, or swimming smarts, or learning smarts. I have good heart smarts.
I have really, really good ideas. I just make a plan. Sometimes I get sad or worried or anxious. Mummy does pictures and posters for me and they help. My teacher says if I need her I can find her and stand next to her until I want to talk. I have some good friends at school and I like playing at lunch time. I never get tired!
Shannan, Harry’s mum.
Harry has an eidetic memory. He can navigate to any destination he’s visited irrespective or time or season. He is so creative, designing Lego houses, vehicles, and city infrastructure that is inspiring, imaginative and supportive of all figures in the Lego community. He sees dust mites dancing in streams of light and hears movement and sounds that are imperceptible to others. He is incredibly kind and loving. He has an energy and a joy that lights him from within. He smiles with his eyes and is happiest when surrounded by other’s happiness.
At the conclusion of Harry’s diagnostic journey, we were advised that he may need special schooling, would have difficulty reciprocating affection and closeness, and may be unable to form friendships. We were devastated. And then, over time, we observed our gorgeous boy smile and laugh, and we saw how others seemed to be warmed and energised by his exuberant spirit. We received five birthday party invitations within two months, and realised that diagnostic profiles are not necessarily prescriptive or set in stone.
Harry is my superhero. He has expanded my consciousness and spirit in ways I never thought possible. He teaches me lessons about positivity, fun and joy every day, and reminds me that small, seemingly insignificant moments can be relishable.
It has been a challenge and a relief to introduce the term ‘Autism Spectrum’ to casual, open conversations with other parents. We emphasise diversity, and often talk of Harry’s strengths, his kindness, his loyalty, his love, compassion and ingenuity. Often after observing Harry, other parents will note that “he seems perfectly normal to me”. I often respond by saying “he is perfect”.
Inclusivity is a long-term and sometimes seemingly distant goal. Even though some people are interested and dedicated to understanding our gorgeous superhero – there is a tendency to focus on difference within a mathematical framework. Difference is often perceived as less, rather than equal but varying from others. We are heavily involved in advocacy within our school and wider community, because there is a predisposition to normalise Harry’s behaviour. I often clarify that most of the time I want Harry to have equal opportunities, chances, experiences and challenges, but at other times, treating Harry just like anyone else would be to invalidate his amazing strengths and qualities, and would fail in acknowledging the courage and trepidation that are part of each day.
It’s so important to celebrate those moments when your child is actively being a good friend, a kind person, or an integral part of family life. It’s important to celebrate belief and faith in humanity, and to understand that the journey we travel together is more important than the destination. We talk of being an “I CAN family”. Positivity empowers Harry to engage with his anxiety and self-doubt to build agency, motivation and self-respect. Harry knows that being on the Autism Spectrum is different, but that difference does not mean that he is less. In so many ways for Harry it means more: more creativity, perception, detail and imagination.
We proudly celebrate Team Harry. Mum and Dad are both at the centre of his personal ‘I CAN’ network, along with our GP, Paediatrician, Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Tutor, Teachers and Psychologist. While the core of our team is indispensable, it’s the satellite members and random acts of kindness that imbue our journey with a special kind of magic. It’s the Vice Principal, who acknowledges Harry’s first independent craft project with a gold sticker and photo; the pharmacist who acknowledges Harry’s great smile; and the parents of older students in the school who greet Harry with a smile and tell him he’s gorgeous. Our I CAN Network includes godparents who live overseas and send Harry special hand-selected gifts that celebrate his interests and passions. Our I CAN Network also includes some very special friends who persevere with game after game of “Tickle Monster” and “Superhero Battle” just to hear Harry laugh and fill our home with mischief and merriment.
We love Harry to infinity and beyond. We love him for the amazing, wonderful, loving person he is and the incredibly fantastic and outstanding adult we know he is on the journey to becoming. We will always be, proudly, Team Harry.
The I CAN Network for Harry has been a group of kind, encouraging and unconditionally inclusive friends who regularly take the time to celebrate their inspirations and the little things that occur each day that conjure feelings of gratitude. It’s a special group of people who celebrate their superpowers by sharing them and by being kind to others. The I CAN Network directly challenges the public perception that Autism = deficit and inability. It is incredibly important for our society, our children, and our future, that one component of our lives does not define us as a whole. We are always more than the sum of our parts.
I CAN has been such a source of elucidation when it comes to understanding different learning trajectories, different ways of information processing, and different perceptions of the world and our place in it. Most importantly for me, I realised that as a Mum, my role is to love and enjoy my son for the wonderful, amazing boy he is, while working towards making his world a little more Autism-friendly.
I’d like readers to know that assumptions will never build an understanding of the potential every child and every adult living with Autism encompasses. I wish every person understood that Autism is not oppositional, or obstructive. Inclusivity does not mean basic tolerance, rather it involves a unique and often idiosyncratic embracing of different perceptions, abilities and expression. A world that celebrates Autism allows my son to grow, learn, change and develop freely, without diminished expectations, opportunities or appreciation.