Thursday, June 29, 2006

on sam

A couple of weeks ago I spent an afternoon with Katharine and my godson Sam, who had just been diagnosed as autistic. We caught up on recent events and wandered to Preston Park to gossip with a beer, enjoy the sunshine and let Sam have a run about. It was only a brief stay, but one which opened my eyes to one of the many difficulties that Katharine, Rich and Sam face.

Sam loves gates, and doors, and anything else that opens and closes. Whilst sitting in his pushchair on trips to the library, he will watch the automatic doors open and close. This causes great excitement, his arms flap, his hands clasp and his legs wiggle in joy.

He also loves to open and close the gate that leads to the play area in the park. Unlike other small boys, the swings and slide hold no interest for him. He only has eyes for the gate, which he opens and watches with glee as it bangs closed.

Unfortunately the problem arises when other people want to use this gate, and quite naturally, don't understand why the lovely blue-eyed boy is trying to push them out of the way, or slowly crumbling into tears, or worse still, screaming in obvious distress. Most people move through the gate, look bemused and carry on, forgetting the incident within seconds. But there are the odd one or two who simply want to stand it front of it, or lean against it.

It is an effort to explain why it would be appreciated if they could move, they looked confused and in the end there is the inevitable disclosure of Sam's autism. It is traumatic for all, especially if people still don't understand. Sam, who doesn't either, begins to cry and then to scream.

These little things, a simple trip to the park, are in fact not simple at all. Instead a battle to be fought, to communicate that Sam simply wants to open and close the gate. There will be many more battles as Sam grows up, but I'm proud to know that Katharine and Rich will continue to fight them, whether big or small, with the same love and devotion for Sam. He is, after all, the best godson in the world.

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