SOMETHING I REMEMBER REALLY WELL.

It was January 17, 1988, and eight days before I would have to return to a place which was a source of great stress to me, school. Even though I’d had five weeks of my six-week summer holiday, I did not feel rested or recharged. A colleague of my father’s and some friends of theirs had two weeks at a beachside holiday house, and the point of their holiday was a mystery, as they went up to the holiday place, stayed for a few days, came down for a party for a friend of theirs and stayed at their house, then went back the next day. (I remember a holiday we had with them three years later, where we had four days without them, they came up and we had four days with them, then it was Christmas Day and they drove back to the city to spend Christmas with the colleague’s brother (it was a five-hour drive) and then drove five hours again to return to the location that day. It would have made more sense to drive down for Christmas, stay the night at their house and then drive back to the holiday location on Boxing Day). Anyway, their friends were far more compatible with them than we were, but they were incapable of understanding this, and they weren’t inclusive people.

I was overstimulated, as it was a day where I was expected to be with four other kids (the colleague’s younger son, their friends’ two daughters and my brother) and the colleague’s younger son, in what he thought was a joke, bound my brother’s wrists and ankles with rope and sprayed hairspray in his hair. Part of me, in light of him being so demanding and impatient, saw this one way, but otherwise, I was able to get them out of the room, close the door and untie my brother. The colleague’s younger son tried to bind my wrists with the same rope, but I was able to spread my hands out and shake the rope free and I remember him giving me a prissy smile and saying, “Oh, he got lose.”

I remembered my father had brought a bucket so as to get some sand to line the budgerigars’ cage floors, and I secretly wanted to go to a place where we’d had a holiday four months earlier. I knew that if I asked that, my mother would have told me not to be ridiculous and ask why I wanted to go to where we had been earlier, when there was a beach directly across the road. The answer, however, would have been obvious to someone who understood autism. Where we had been that day was noisy and I was overstimulated by the kids, I was facing a stressful event eight days from then, and a visit to the scene of our holiday four months earlier would have helped to centre me and calm me down. What I would have liked would have been to have gone up there, gone to the fish and chips shop or Chinese takeaway, gone down near the beach and eaten our food and then gone to get some sand for the birds before going home.

We were able to extricate ourselves from this colleague, four years later, when my father lost his job with that company due to corporate downsizing. The colleague was advanced but made redundant two years later.

That was a stressful day, and those holidays were stressful. As most people know, I have little regard for the ridiculous doctor and found his article about how your mortgage could be making you sick privileged and arrogant, as little was about interest rate increases and more about overscheduling kids, but in this case, I could have said, if my mother had gone to a doctor and asked how to solve my anxiety, an astute doctor would have said, “Firstly, take him out of school, and secondly, for heaven’s sake, don’t take things to extremes! Don’t force him to be out playing sports that he hates with his brother all the time! Give him some serious space to just do nothing for a bit.”

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Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.

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Peter Wynn

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.