In 1990, when computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, I was expecting my first child, and the mysteries of computers and the internet were completely beyond me. I didn’t realise it then, but this lack of technological ability would prove to be a real blessing not only to me but also to my four amazing children.
Twenty-six years ago when my son was born, followed a few years later by his younger brothers, dire predictions for their future were all I ever heard: ‘He’ll never find employment when he leaves school’; ‘The best thing to do is think about putting him in a home’; ‘Don’t you wish you’d had an abortion rather than having another one of those children?’ Yes, this kind of blatant negativity (and much more besides) was pretty standard stuff for me to deal with back then, and although it hurt a great deal, I completely disagreed with it and never once let it stop me doing everything I could think of to help my boys learn, and grow up into happy, independent adults.
But I wonder: would I have been quite so determined if I was faced with the torrent of doom and gloom that today’s autism parents have at their fingertips? Would I have held my nerve after reading endless stories of depression, bullying, murder and suicide? And would I have pushed quite so hard if I’d been presented with studies full of flawed ‘evidence’ that my boys would never progress? The answer, as it happens, is ‘yes, I would’ because (as anyone who knows me will tell you) I’m ridiculously stubborn like that, but I’ll guarantee there are plenty of parents out there who’ve given up hope and given in to despair in the past after looking autism up online.
Seven years ago I started a charity called Autism All Stars, with the sole intention of offering positive and optimistic news to autism parents and to autistic people themselves. For the first couple of years, I’d spend hours every day trawling through websites and social media posts looking for encouraging stories, and believe me, they were few and far between. Can you imagine what I’d have come across if I’d searched the internet twenty six years ago? Sadly, I can.
The good news is that nowadays I have a permanent backlog of happy, uplifting and inspiring articles waiting to be posted on our Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest pages: autistic adults receiving sacks and sacks of cards and presents on their birthdays after online appeals by their relatives; children on the spectrum whose lives have been transformed by service dogs or even by the family cat, and a whole array of sensory-friendly experiences for families to enjoy – from relaxed theatre and cinema performances to ‘quiet hours’ at supermarkets and shopping centres.
It’s not that the bad news isn’t still out there doing the rounds of course, it’s just that so much more is now known about the incredible potential of autistic people. Not only that, but so many more members of society are willing to accept and embrace them now in ways I could only have dreamed of all those years ago.
So, in the interests of spreading the good news even further, here are twenty of the thousands of heart-warming stories I’ve shared in the past. Each link opens in a new page so you don’t have to worry about losing your place, just click and enjoy!
The time that Mothercare sent a whole box of shoes to an autistic boy whose mum couldn’t find them in store.
The Asda staff who found an adorable way to help an autistic schoolboy cope in their busy supermarket.
The story of why the inventor of Pokemon credits his autism with helping him create the whole phenomenon.
The autistic man who dresses as Santa and runs a sensory-friendly grotto for children with special needs.
These stories are just a small example of what’s happening in the world today, so as you can see, slowly but surely, attitudes towards autism are changing for the better, and that’s very good news indeed.
On a personal note, if you’d like to see what my boys are up to now, you can read more about them in my Facebook album ‘Never Tell Me the Odds’. The title is, of course, a Star Wars reference, because as I’ve mentioned before: I’m a nerd and always will be.
This then, is the post you need to share with anyone who’s struggling to get to grips with a new autism diagnosis, and with anyone whose bad days far outweigh the good. This is the post you need to share everywhere across social media, because you just never know who might see it and feel a little less alone.
You see, this is the post I so desperately needed to read when my boys were small, and the only voice I heard saying anything positive about their future was my own.