Friday, May 01, 2015

Is there a doctor in the House?

When our younger son, Anthony, was four years old he was diagnosed as autistic and admitted to the The Key School (the autistic school in Johannesburg.)  Then the miracle occurred; somehow, among their myriad therapies, something clicked and he began speaking - and at great length.  He slimmed down from the chubby child in the photograph to a skinny six year old as he used his mouth less for eating and more for talking.  (I should say I do not wish to offer false hope for parents of autistic children: the condition is incurable and Anthony, although exhibiting autistic tendencies, must have had some other undiscovered problem.)

After two years at the autistic school, they said they could do no more: he was speaking as well as any non-autistic six year old.  So we enrolled him in a mainstream school.  Life was back to normal.

For nine months.

After nine months in a mainstream school, we were called in one day by his class teacher.  She explained Anthony didn't fit in, but it was clear that she'd just found out about his time at the autistic school and this had coloured her views on him.  It didn't matter: we were told that he had to leave at the end of the academic year.

This change of school was one of the big factors influencing our move to England.  We came here and found a wonderful mainstream school that, knowing his history, was happy to accept Anthony.  For a term or two he was given a bit of extra coaching to help him catch up and then he was taught the same way as every other child.  He did well at primary school: he did well at high school; he made enduring friendships along the way.

Before going to university he spent a gap year helping out at nearby schools for children with special needs.  We still treasure the photograph of the presents that the schools gave him at the end of the year.

He went on to get a good degree from Bristol and make some lovely friends there.  Bristol was just 90 minutes' drive away, which we liked.  Then, to our surprise, he decided to do a Master's degree at York.  That was pleasant for us, too: a much longer drive but a beautiful city and a marvellous supervisor. We wondered what he'd do with his Masters and soon found out: he wanted to do a doctorate in autism at Reading University.  (Of course, there is no such thing as a doctorate in autism: the title of his thesis runs to a bunch of polysyllabic words incomprehensible to the layman but, trust me, it's a doctorate in autism.)

He has just about finished his doctorate, once again with great supervisor support and encouragement: there are some "i"s to be dotted and "t"s to be crossed but essentially he's there.  He plays tennis and golf and badminton and squash.

We are so fortunate and pleased with Anthony (and his brother Craig about whom I will blog on another occasion).  We're especially thankful for all the people who helped him along the way: from the staff at the autistic school, who set him mentally on his feet;  his teachers, lecturers and supervisors; the au pairs who looked after Anthony and Craig while we were at work; his many friends; and Anthony himself.

Thank you all.

[Footnote: when parents say they are fortunate or blessed in their children, they are generally telling the truth rather than being falsely modest.  Chance plays a huge role in how the next generation turns out and, of course, this powers evolution.]

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