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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


I 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.' * 


As 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 was Hitler.


My 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.


Now 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.


I 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, 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.


The 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.


The 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.


I 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:


Me: Hey, you want to help us?


Son: I'm not helping you.


Me: Fine then, I guess we'll do it ourselves.


Son: (in a bass growl) I'll help you!


Me: No, I think you should go back to bed


Son: (shouting) I'm not going back to bed!


Me: Well, OK, just grab the handle there. ( son grabs the handle, does three or four hits and quits.)


Son: That's enough.


(I 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)


Me: That;s OK, we'll finish it.


(we 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 )


Me :This is hard work, isn't it. (he nods agreement) Boy, we could sure use some help, couldn't we? Somebody really strong...


BF- Yeah, somebody really strong....


Son: I'll help you!


(He grabs one handle in each hand, and now we are in a three corner position)


Me and BF together: and-one! And two! And Three....!


Son: One! Two! Threefourfivesixseveneighttentwenty!


(By now the three of us are laughing like loons, and that ol' post, it just melts into the ground.)


We 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 something? We hadn't seen the sun for days but the expression on my son's face made up for it.


* (ibid)

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