Archive for the ‘autism’ Category

Not quite the Oscars

Monday, August 5th, 2013

So, I heard today that Peter Fitzpatrick’s book The Two Frank Thrings won the National Biography Award. Of course, I’d figured out I wasn’t winning it as the Award presentation was in Sydney this morning, and last week there was no suggestion that I fly over there from Perth. (In any case, my book was always a real long shot to win it.) I’d kind of hoped that Robert Drewe would win so that I could casually drop into conversations here in WA the phrase “Robert Drewe and I…” – he being a bit of a WA literary hero. I haven’t read Fitzpatrick’s book but it sounds terrific and fun, too. When you think how much research goes into a biography like this, I reckon he deserves the Award.

It’s really great to be shortlisted for an Award of this nature. Something like getting a great review from a critic you admire combined with a big hug! And I like the way the press release announcing the winner also had the Judges’ comments on all the shortlisted books. Here’s what they said about my book:

“Rachel Robertson’s gracefully written memoir about life as the mother of a child with
autism is a deeply moving, compelling narrative from a perceptive writer. Robertson’s
son, ‘Ben’, is one of an estimated 230 000 Australians with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

She writes of Ben’s life but her relationship with her son is bound up with her own past
and so this memoir is, in many ways, a relational biography: the lives of ‘Ben’ and
Rachel. Reaching One Thousand combines several elements: analysis of the latest
pedagogy about autism; discussion of daily life; descriptions of her son’s behaviour and
her own reactions; reminiscences of her own childhood. Robertson addresses the fear
we have of ‘strangeness of others’, by delving into what might be seen as her own
strangeness as a child. In contrast to some seemingly similar stories, this memoir never
positions ‘Ben’, the child with autism, as a problem or an object; the author tries
wherever possible to enter imaginatively into his mental landscape.

This memoir also interrogates narrative and identity. Autistic children are said to have
great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships. Robertson uses the vantage
point of her relationship with her son to critically evaluate the literature on autism at
every point. In this way the book becomes an outward looking conversation about autism
and the possibilities of management and interaction. Crucially, Robertson addresses the
ethics of life writing; specifically whether her use of ‘Ben’s’ life story constitutes a
betrayal, or an invasion of privacy, on her part. The issue of invading people’s privacy is
at the centre of all memoir but it is rarely so directly considered.”

I’m grateful to the Judges for engaging with my book so deeply, to the NSW State Library and to the Award sponsors, Dr Geoffrey Cains and Michael Crouch AO.

Events and talks about biography are happening all this week at the NSW State Library, including the National Biography Lecture on Wednesday, which is being given by John Elder Robinson. Robinson has written several memoirs about living with Asperger’s Syndrome. To me, this really shows the way society has changed over the past ten years in terms of listening to and respecting people with neurological differences like autism. Promoting this change was the main reason I wrote Reaching One Thousand, so I’m happy!

By the way, a colleague at work asked me the other day if there was any news on this Award. I told her I was pretty sure I hadn’t won, but was fine about that. She said, “Yes, that’s right. You can be like Hugh Jackman at the Oscars when he didn’t win best actor!” I’ll go with that, I think.

Thanks for the contact

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

I’ve not written a blog entry for ages (as I’m trying to write something new), but today I’ve been energised to do so by a wonderful email I received. A reader contacted me after finishing Reaching One Thousand, explaining that he was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome some years ago. He has now written a fantastic poem, partly triggered by his reading of my book. I found it so moving to read the poem.

I’ve received a lot of generous emails from readers, giving me their responses to my book. It’s a real privilege to hear from people who have taken the time to read a book and then bothered to make contact. It wasn’t something I was expecting, but it has been quite moving at times. Parents, grandparents, teachers, interested individuals as well as autistic people have all been in touch. One of those lovely surprises in life.

Fear of the future

Friday, October 5th, 2012

When you have a child with a disability, it is easy to fear the future. I was thinking about this because Ben will be starting high school next year.
See my guest blog on how to handle this at Rhonda’s SillyMummy site.

The social minefield of school

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

This week, Ben is experiencing a new problem at school.

“There’s this girl in year 4, mum, and she follows me around at lunch time and asks me questions,” he says.

“Oh, are the questions rude or something?” I ask because of the worried look on his face.

“No. But she keeps following me. It makes me feel funny.”

“Maybe she likes you, Ben,” I suggest.

He frowns: “Mum, she’s in year 4. I’m in year 7.”

It turns out that not only is he uncomfortable that a girl is following him around, he also feels it is totally inappropriate for a girl three years his junior to be friendly with him, especially as she is “quite short for her age”. Of course, I don’t point out that he is immature for his age (common with autistic boys) and short himself, but I do suggest that he can do with all the friends he can get. After all, he spends many lunch breaks on his own while the other year 7 boys play sport and the year 7 girls hang around in little groups.

“Why don’t you just play with her?” I suggest.

“I don’t know if that’s allowed,” he says.

If there was a prize for the most law-abiding kid in school, this boy would win hands down. (He’d also win child most likely to remember to ring the school siren on time, not to mention most anxious child of the year.) I encourage him to loosen up a bit and try to make a new friend. Then a frightening thought strikes him.

“Mum, you don’t think she like-likes me, do you?”

“It’s not a tragedy if a girl fancies you,” I say. “You don’t have to do anything. Just talk and play on the monkey bars or something.” He looks unconvinced.

“I don’t know if today is going to be a good day,” he mutters as we get into the car to drive to school.

I have to laugh. I never thought I’d be counselling my son on how to remain cheerful when a girl seems to like him!

Being a ‘real writer’

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

When my book was published, a writer friend said to me, ‘now you must feel that you’re a REAL writer?’ I know what she meant, because having a first book published does feel like a watershed, an event that defines you as the real thing. I also knew that it was false – the product and the process are quite far apart at times. (Though I love having published a book and my publishers, Black Inc, were and are terrific.) Now, four months after publication, I can see the irony. Now I’m a ‘writer’, I’m doing less writing than I was before I was published! The past year or so I have spent editing my book, proof reading it and then doing publicity for the book. I really enjoy talking about autism and memoir and meeting readers – its been great. But there hasn’t been much time or energy for writing anything new – until now anyhow.

That feeling of noticing the world in a different way, looking at people and places slantwise has finally returned to me. I’m back at the beginning of a writing project, fumbling around in the darkness, no idea what I am doing or why, making obscure notes on the back of shopping lists, cutting out articles from the paper and then wondering which side I cut it out for, borrowing bizarre books from the local library (thank you City of Melville), listening to the sound of crunching leaves underfoot, being preoccupied without knowing what preoccupies me, feeling horribly restless and then unable to settle to anything, waking from dreams that escape just as I reach for them, buying my son red shoes … hold on, perhaps the red shoes aren’t a sign that I’m writing again, though they could be, because I love the colour that is back in life when I’m sort of, almost, writing again. It can be painful though, the struggle to create something new, something worthwhile and beautiful and true, which is what I strive to do. Still, like a lot of life’s pain, I don’t want to do without it!

That Denmark Vibe

Monday, May 7th, 2012

I have just come back from a weekend in Denmark (WA) where I gave two author talks and ran a one day workshop. I’ve visited Denmark often and always enjoyed my time there, but this was particularly special.

Around 70 people attended the talks and 20 participated in the workshop, surely a sign that Denmark and environs are extraordinarily bookish places! People listened with such respect and warmth, asked interesting questions and gave wonderfully encouraging feedback.

The writers at the workshop ranged from a mother of toddlers to an 84 year old, all producing fantastic ideas and prose. It was inspiring to be among such enthusiastic and engaged writers and readers.

There were moments of surprise and humour, too, courtesy of an unexpected visitor to Tea House Books. And, of course, there was time to sample delicious local wine and food.

All credit to Denmark Arts, the Shire of Denmark, the Denmark Library and Writing WA for their work making such events not only possible but also so positive.

Becoming a mother

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Thousands of people do it. I’ve written a book about it. But still, I’m not sure how one becomes a mother.

I don’t think it happens the moment you give birth or adopt a child. Biologically, yes, but in every other way it takes time to learn to mother. Does it happen during that first year of milky sleep deprivation, of joy and amazement, of confused helplessness in the face of pure dependency? Or does it happen more slowly, over the years, a gradual stretching and turning inside out of the self, a transformation both profound and subtle? It is so common, perhaps, that we hardly notice it and the process of reconfiguration remains mysterious.

Certainly, all those books about how to be a good mother, the parenting courses, the advice websites – none of these approach the actuality of becoming a mother. They simply tell us how society thinks we should act as mothers and provide a place for sharing tips on how to manage children. They’re useful, but every woman must learn her own way to become a mother, just as every child will develop into their own individuated self.

Some people would argue I’m expressing a very romantic view of mothering here, describing it as mysterious and transformative. But in fact, I think that it is all the “how to” books that are based on motherhood as an ideal. I am more interested in the real experience of mothering as a complex, ongoing encounter with the self, an encounter of pain as well as pleasure, but an encounter that is always a gift.

Celebrating autism

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

As April is Autism Awareness Month, I’ve written a few blogs for other sites.

Autism, Diversity and Difference for the ABC’s Drum website, where I expand on the concept of neurodiversity.

Fantastic. Autistic. My Boy Ben for The Hoopla, where I celebrate some of the great things about being a parent to Ben.

School holiday blues? Not for me! for BubHub website, where I compare my current experiences of the school holidays with those when my son was much younger.

In all of these blogs, I’m writing only about my own experience and views, recognising that every autistic child is different (as are all children). But I have appreciated the feedback and comments from readers and hearing some of their experiences too.

World Autism Awareness Day

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

In honour of World Autism Awareness Day (2 April) and Autism Awareness Month (April), I thought I would list just a few of the things I love about having an autistic son (beyond, of course, the fact that I adore Ben and everything about him).

Like many autistic people, he hates loud noises. I offered him a drum kit for his last birthday and he said he’d prefer not to have one. We have a quiet home.

Autistic people are rarely fashion victims or conformists. Ben never nags me to buy him the latest clothes, toys or computer craze.

He has some funny and weird ideas at times. It keeps life interesting! I think this might be true of lots of other autistic people too.

He has a fantastic memory (again, it often goes with the condition). I never have to remember addresses or family birthdays anymore.

He is honest. Yes, he’ll sometimes say what he thinks people want to hear in order to please them, but he is basically truthful. I have heard many other parents of autistic children say the same thing.

He is affectionate, considerate and forgiving, including when I get things wrong. People don’t think autistic children (or adults) are affectionate and loving, but many are. Ben certainly is. He is also considerate when he has the information about others that allow him to know how to help and support them. When I was stressed the other day, Ben picked this up and said, ‘come on, mum, give me a hug’. And I felt much better!

Happy World Autism Awareness Day!

A conversation on neurodiversity

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

When I was reading Gail Bell’s review of Robert Dessaix’s latest book in the Monthly, I was struck by this quote:

‘What I am best at is giving my readers a sense of intimacy with me. I say, come and sit with me for a few hours and we’ll have a conversation in which I want you to talk back to me. I have a kind of “don’t you think?” at the end of my sentences.’

I so agree – he is brilliant at creating an intimacy with his readers. And it struck me that this intimacy is something people seem to value more in non-fiction writing these days. It’s what I strive for in my writing, particularly in writing about topics like mothering and autism.

I wrote the book to be part of a larger discussion about autism, about difference, about neurodiversity and how we can parent from a perspective that values neurodiversity.

Already, I have had some feedback from readers who joined this discussion with their own thoughts and comments and questions.

Adapting the Dessaix quote, I would say that I have a kind of “what do you think?” at the end of my sentences.