An Aussie mum who is trying to make autism "not scary" says she is being silenced.

Brisbane’s Nikki Osborne is the mother of a child with autism. She’s also a comedian.

Osborne has written a stand-up show based around her experiences. It’s aimed at showing the lighter side of parenting a child with autism. Following a run at this year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival, Osborne wants to tour it nationally. But she’s afraid of the response she’ll get.

“I’m very fearful of what I’m going to face at every announcement,” she tells Mamamia.

Osborne’s son was diagnosed with autism at the age of four, although she saw the “red flags” from the time he was 18 months. She would write the occasional “funny post”, to put a positive spin on it. After a while, she was hired to write blogs for an autism-related website.

“Basically the brief was, ‘Write blogs to cheer parents up, because when parents first get a diagnosis they have no idea what to expect and usually they’re miserable and depressed and scared,’” she remembers.

“They said, ‘Please just paint light at the end of the tunnel.’”

Osborne later decided to turn them into a show for the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

“I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to use my platform of stand-up to take my blogs to the stage. I can entertain parents, carers, etc, but also take the topic to a larger audience in less of a doom-and-gloom format. I can put autism out there as something that’s not scary.’”


But Osborne says that as soon she announced her show, On The Spectrum, there was a backlash.

“I woke up to all these vitriolic messages,” she says. “I was like, ‘Whoa, what have I done?’”

Osborne says the criticisms came from a number of adults who have autism.

“I don’t want to argue with them because obviously some of them have had a very hard time,” she adds.

She says the people who were complaining raised the issue of her son’s consent.

“I’m like, ‘Well, he’s six and the content I’m covering is from when he was around two. I don’t know how many comedians get consent from their pre-schoolers about telling baby jokes. If that’s the case, we’re all stuffed.’”

But Osborne says she thought some of the criticisms raised were valid, and made changes to the content of the show, including other people’s experiences in it. The show went ahead.

“There are plenty of autistic adults who love the show,” she says.

However, it didn’t end there. When it was announced that Osborne would be a speaker at the Source Kids Disability Expo in Brisbane in July, concerns were raised with the expo’s organisers and Osborne says she was “dumped” by email.


“I just went, ‘Wowser.’”

The CEO of Source Kids, Emma Price, gave a statement to the ABC.

“The response from our audience in announcing Nikki as a speaker made it clear that her presence would prevent some members of this community from attending,” Price said.

Osborne wants to take her show around Australia, but she’s worried she’ll be attacked online if she does. She believes there are still people out there who want to close her down.

“I am being silenced,” she says.

Freya Pinney has autism and is a parent. She’s one of the people who has concerns about Osborne’s show.

“I think that the general subject area of autism parents is just a goldmine for comedy,” she tells Mamamia. “No issue with that, from my perspective. However, the issue about Nikki Osborne’s show is that it isn’t comedy about being an autism mum. Most of her stories aren’t first person – they’re actually about her child. So the comedy itself isn’t so much about her reaction to what happens – which is where the hilarity lies – it’s actually almost stereotypically making fun of a disability.”

Watch a snippet of Nikki’s show ‘On the Spectrum’:

Pinney says nowadays, there’s a digital record that exists.

“The danger in sharing huge amounts of data around your child who struggles is that they one day will also be technologically literate. It’s entirely possible that a child who’s autistic and possibly non-communicative can communicate successfully as an adult and see that digital history and see the way that they were portrayed by their parents, who they thought they trusted the most to keep their secrets and support them.”

Pinney feels Osborne needs to do more consultation with autistic people.

“What would be brilliant and raise really good awareness would be a two-person show where the other person’s autistic, so you’re actually taking those things together. Because everybody in the world deserves support with what they’re struggling with.”