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Everyone thinks they know what autism is but the condition remains woefully misunderstood. We’ve all heard of the “autism spectrum” where, on the one hand, you have autistic savants as depicted by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man while, at the other end of the spectrum, there are people who need 24/7 care, unable to speak or function to any significant degree in the real world.

The truth, however, is that most people with the condition sit somewhere in the middle and, while their neurodiversity may present problems and cause them to look at the world in a different way, they are perfectly able not just to function but to make as much of a contribution to society as anyone else.

An autistic adult’s ability to live a normal, fulfilling life is often predicated on how their family got to grips with handling a child under what can be extremely trying and challenging circumstances. One such family are the Averys from Essex, whose son Aston was unable to speak until he was six. He would constantly bang his head, attempt to ingest inanimate objects and lived in an almost permanent state of tantrum. Anyone who has coped with a neurotypical toddler’s tantrums – which is pretty much every parent on the planet – should multiply the experience 100-fold to even begin to have an understanding of the stresses this can put on a family unit.

Despite holding down full time jobs and having another child to look after, with the love and patience of Aston’s parents and some invaluable professional intervention, a functioning family unit and, in the case of Aston, a functioning and loving human being began to emerge from the chaos, and this is the journey that Aston’s mum Dawn Avery faithfully chronicles in her heart-warming memoir From Tear to Here.

Autism is always a challenge yet, as the book reveals, Aston is now living a contented and satisfying life. He’s been the recipient of a prestigious National Diversity Award, is an Ambassador for a national autism charity and presents his own show on a local radio station in Essex. Coincidentally – and this is totally unconnected with the book – I was once a guest on Aston’s show and I had absolutely no idea he was autistic.

It is the case that what, for neurotypical people, is instinctive behaviour needs, for many on the autism spectrum, to be learned, and many autistic people have to have strict routine in their lives, may not display emotion and have difficulty getting their heads round metaphor, irony or untruth, and yet the flipside of this is an engaging innocence which, certainly in the case of Aston, is evident to this day.

Visit the OutNewsGlobal Books Channel for information on how to get hold of From Tear to Here by Dawn Avery.

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Rob Harkavy

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