By Lindsay Weekes

Shaun is completely absorbed in the sensations of running water. Picture: Liza Jarvis

Shaun was the first autistic child I got to know. During my second visit to his early intervention program (a kind of kindergarten for autistic children) he looked at me from across the playground and the look said: "You're like me."

Shaun is playing while waiting to be enrolled.
A bear hug for Ben. Picture: Kelly Jarvis

It took him over a year from then before he really believed that he'd met an adult who was like him and we've been friends ever since. In the picture left, he's aged around 3 and playing in the grounds of the special school while waiting to be enrolled in the early intervention program. His older brother Ben, who is not autistic, is playing in the background. This is important. There has always been a strong and affectionate bond between them. Ben by nature has a streak of pure comic lunacy in him but when it comes to protecting Shaun there's no sign of it at all.

When I first began receiving invitations to visit autistic children in their homes, I used to be very cautious dealing with their siblings. I didn't know what reactions they might have to anything I might do or say. In other words, I couldn't read their body-language anywhere near as well as I could their autistic brothers or sisters.

One day, after romping with Shaun for quite a while, I noticed Ben hovering nearby and thought: "Maybe this guy wants to romp as well", so I grabbed him in a bear-hug. Yep, right move as you can see. His mother was right there with her camera. Ever since, I've made a point of including sibs in at least some activity whenever I go into an autistic child's home.

A picture of Shaun, Ben and their mother Kelly. Picture: Lindsay.
Anthony is hugging Shaun. Picture: Lindsay

Shaun is recognisable immediately by most people as autistic. This is actually the exception rather than the rule. After I'd spent some time with Shaun I got to know his mother, Kelly, who invited me to visit their home. I wanted to do this just to see Shaun in another environment and one where he'd be the most reactive. At school, he didn't speak and had only begun to interact with one fellow student, Anthony. Kelly said not to expect too much. Shaun always stayed in his room whenever there were visitors. So she was quite surprised when Shaun emerged from his room and astounded when he sat on my knee without being asked. I knew that although Shaun didn't speak, he understood so told him that if he ran away I would chase him and when I caught him I'd tickle him. This game persisted for at least the next eight years. I took the picture on the left after the first game of chase and after Kelly had got over her surprise. Ben was watching closely all the time and I felt that he wasn't surprised at all.

Shaun and Anthony used to hug each other spontaneously every now and again. Nobody knew why because they couldn't tell us. In the picture on the right, Anthony is wanting Shaun to hug him but not getting the response he's hoping for.

Shaun is spreading dirt around. Picture: Lindsay.
Shaun is reluctantly eating. Picture: Lindsay

The picture on the left shows Shaun engaged in the calming activity of moving dirt around. On the right, he has managed to eat the icecream but is having real trouble with the pear.

Shaun is waiting for me to chase him. Picture: Lindsay

Whenever I visited their school, I'd always go with Shaun and Anthony's class on an excursion to buy and eat fish and chips. If you're in North America and have no idea what these might be, you're missing nothing: fish dipped in a flour batter and fried in fat and potatoes somewhat like fries but fatter and greasier. An excellent cure for both constipation and anorexia. Shaun is perched here on some playground equipment, waiting for me to catch my breath and chase him yet again!    

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