By KATE HUNTER.
I admit I was apprehensive.
Jim’s mate Shaun was coming to stay with us at the beach, and he was bringing his kids, Ella and Aidan.
Ella is nearly nine and as delightful as only a nearly-nine-year-old girl can be.
Aidan is eleven and a half, and he’s profoundly, heartbreakingly autistic.
He’s at the severe end of the spectrum. Never spoken a word, never laughed at a joke, pulled on his own jeans. He flaps his hands in front of his face, makes sing-song sounds and follows his parents about. Sometimes he uses the toilet, sometimes not. When he’s out and about, his parents put a nappy on him.
Years ago, we lived close to Aidan’s family in Sydney. Our sons were born three months apart. There were foolish jokes about our boys playing for the Wallabies, the silly things thing new parents say. Turns out neither boy will bother the Australian selectors.
We moved home to Brisbane when the boys were two; about the time it was becoming clear there was something wrong with Aidan. Our toddler was chattering away to us, Aidan wasn’t. He seemed to be going backwards. The diagnosis from the specialist was swift and brutal. There could be no prediction about how he would develop. Would he talk? Make friends? Go to Shaun’s old school? No one could say. Any guess would be just that, a guess. No medical or educational professional would ever know as much about Aidan as his parents – there’s no how-to guide for autism.
Shaun told us he had to ‘readjust his dreams’ for their boy. Not a Wallaby, but maybe some words? So far, no.
Shaun and Jim still call each other every week or two, to see how stuff is. They go to cricket matches and footy games. Both being interested in military history, they walked the Kokoda track together in 2009. They’re close friends, but we’d only seen Aidan a handful of times. Things just worked out that way.
They came up briefly last September, when I was amazed at how big Aidan was – he’s tall and heavy for his age. It had been easier to think of him as a little boy who might one day be ‘normal’. But here was a boy taller than me, and I couldn’t ask him how school’s going. Who he barracks for. I’m a chatty person, so that felt odd. Fine, but odd.
That was a lunchtime drop-in. This visit would be different. When Jim told me Shaun was coming for, ‘A night, maybe two,’ of course I said great. I love Shaun – he’s a terrific bloke – he loves a chat and a wine – two of my favourite things. But I worried. Would Aidan sleep well? Shaun told us years ago Aidan once spent the nights in a holiday house wandering hallways and slamming doors.