Parents: Mind the gap

On May 6 1935, the silver jubilee of George V was celebrated by my family and other inhabitants of our village in the field next to our house. My grandfather recorded the event in his diary, which he kept every day of his adult life. A pavilion was rigged up, "made of poles covered with rick cloths". A "fine large union flag" was attached. The committee "cut up meat and made sandwiches". An oak was planted, near those that commemorated the two previous coronations. My grandmother shovelled in the first spadeful and then "everyone put in some earth".

There were sports after lunch. My father and his siblings took part in the races. My uncle lit the bonfire. My grandfather "brought out the lantern I carried in the Eton procession of 1897 before Queen Victoria".

In 2002, our golden jubilee celebration will be rather different. The venue will be the same, because I live in the house where my father grew up. But the celebrants will be pupils from the ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) units attended by my sons George and Sam.

George is very keen to see his "friends", and often asks, "When are the boys coming to my house?" So the jubilee seemed like a good excuse. This new sociability is probably the biggest advance George has made this year, but I've put "friends" in inverted commas because not all the boys know that George regards them as such. Some are mute. Some, like Sam, are socially indifferent. But some are highly vocal and, like George, show enthusiasm for each other's company.

Instead of the rick cloths, we'll have a bouncy castle. Tea urns will be replaced by large bottles of juice. The food would be unrecognisable to a time traveller from 1935, but at least all those horrid, crispy, nuggety things beloved by 21st-century children are appropriately golden in hue. The postprandial sports will be noncompetitive; autists don't compete, because they don't compare themselves with other people. There will be trampolining, swinging, scrambling over the climbing frame and, I expect, the usual amount of autistic spinning and flapping. Some kindly adults will, I'm sure, play football with non-autistic Jake (aka Michael Owen), but the other children are unlikely to take part, because cooperating in a team runs counter to what it means to be autistic.

Jake is interested in the jubilee. He shed tears for the Queen Mum, thinks that her late husband slew a dragon, and is intrigued to hear about the third prize that his grandfather won in the four-year-olds' race on that warm May afternoon 67 years ago. Jake is four, too; he understands that his grandfather was once a child, and that he himself will one day be an old man. He is familiar with the jubilee oak in our field. He measures himself against the copper beech that we planted in honour of his birth. He knows that he has a place in the family, the village, the country. He is firmly anchored in time and place.

George and Sam have no such understanding. Trees were planted for their births, too; George's only response has been to snap off twigs to use as flappers. They don't know what a jubilee is; they only know the word queen because it comes up a lot in ABC books, like yacht and xylophone. George actively resists attempts to interest him in his own history - he rejects early photographs of himself, denies that he was ever a baby, or will ever grow older. Sam is interested in photographs that show familiar objects - his old dummy, his cuddly owl. He ignores pictures of people, himself included.

I have heard talk of "the autistic community"; this, to me, is a contradiction in terms. But our non-autistic community - family, helpers, friends - will enjoy the pleasure the boys derive from the jubilee party, whether, as in Sam's case, that pleasure is primarily sensual - physical exertion, fizzy drinks, flapping flags - or whether, as for George, approximately social. Part of the meaning of the jubilee is to celebrate the lives of whoever is around, whatever they may be like. I think we will plant an oak tree. Sam will enjoy the hole; he likes seeing worms wriggling in mud. George will enjoy watching people take turns to shovel in earth; he likes roll-calls of people he knows.

And Jake? He'll describe the scene to his teacher, his schoolfriends, anyone who will listen... and, one day, he'll show the tree to his grandchildren.

Thanks to who have provided this article. View the original here.


comments powered by Disqus