The Boy Who Fell to Earth – shining a light into the world of autism

Meet Merlin. He’s Lucy's bright, beautiful son - who just happens to be autistic. If only he came with operating instructions…

As well as being a comedy romance, I do hope The Boy Who Fell to Earth shines a light into the world of autism and helps us all to be a little more understanding of people who are different.

New research, published in the Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine this month, suggests that over half of all teenagers with an autism spectrum disorder are bullied at school, compared with an estimated 11 per cent of children in the general population. It also reveals that the problem is largely ignored. This certainly chimes with my experiences. My son Julius (Jules) was diagnosed with autism aged three. Autism is a life-long neurological disorder, chiefly characterised by an inability to communicate effectively, plus inappropriate or obsessive behaviour.

One grey, rainy London day my 11-year-old son arrived home from school with his shirt torn and hair matted. There was a sign sticky-taped to his back. It read: Kick me, I’m a retard. ‘The other kids called me a moron,’ he whispered, his wide blue eyes filling with tears. ‘What does that mean? Am I a moron Mum?’ Trying to protect a child with special needs from being bullied is like trying to stop ice melting in the desert.

Venturing out of the house when you have special needs can feel as hazardous as Scott leaving his Arctic base camp. It’s no wonder that the hardest thing for parents like me is to stop mollycoddling. All through his teens, I would never let my son leave home without a list of instructions longer than War And Peace and enough supplies in his backpack to set up a comfortable wilderness homestead. I was so overprotective that my friends and family would often joke that they couldn’t believe I’d ever let my son out – out of my womb, that is.

Even now, whenever my darling young man walks out the door, you’d think he was emigrating. The fuss, the worry, the long hugs and heart-felt goodbyes. But how will you ever know if your child can cope in the outside world, if you never let him out into it? Still, when I read about the horrific fates that have befallen other young men with Aspergers, the tragic death of the Steven Simpson, who had his genitals set on fire at his 18th birthday; or the autistic boy known as ZH who, in 2008, was falsely imprisoned and shackled by the police for jumping into a swimming pool fully clothed, and other horror stories, my paranoia seems justified. After my son was mugged at knife point aged 14, I read this comment from a police officer in the paper: ‘People with special needs are routinely targeted. I’m afraid, it’s the price of disability.’

If this is the price of being born ‘differently abled’ then the price is way too high.

Without doubt, my son is the most interesting, unique, brave and beautiful person I have ever met. Although the novel is not based on him, he did inspire every word. I hope that The Boy Who Fell To Earth, as well as giving a lot of laughter, helps to de-stigmatise the condition of aspergers, helping people on the autistic spectrum to be accepted into mainstream society. With understanding, they could contribute to society in the most interesting ways.

Click here to read some of the comments from my readers

7 Comments

  • Hello Kathy, you have no idea, how I understand, I have Aspergers syndrome myself, although only very recently I have discovered that , when I was young I was bullied every single day by piers in school, every single day, I was called retard, idiot, cabbage,etc etc not only by children but also by adults

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  • As the mum of a seven year old and a 4 year old both on the kinda high function end of Autisum this book interests and terrifies me! I will buy and read I’m sure there will be years though!

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  • I bought your book after reading about it in an article in Writing Magazine. It was mentioned in an article about writing books with disabled people in. It interested me because I am an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome and wanted to read a viewpoint of a mother with AS/autism. I look forward to reading it.

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  • Hi Kathy, I heard the interview with Chris Smith of Macquarie Radio station on Friday morning and found it very awakening on the subject of Autism. I missed the name of your book which I would like to get for a friend of ours who has a 4 year old just diagnosed with Autism. He is not speaking a yet and the family are devastated. Through reading and education I hope they can see that it is something ‘special’ as you say. Could you please give me the name of the book so I may purchase it for them. Thank you so much for your time and understanding. Regards Jocelyn Henson Baulkham Hills NSW 2153

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  • Hi Kathy, I have just finished this book, and it was like reading my life story (In fact, I’m slightly worried you may have stalked me as research :- ) ) I have a son who has Aspergers, he will be 16 in October. I am also a single Mum, since his Dad decided to have no further contact 14 years ago. Apparently, it really isn’t cool to have a child on the autistic spectrum. I have done the self denial, keeping my son constantly by me, pre-empting what he might say, and more importantly, when !! He is in a mainstream school, and is an A* student, but doesn’t like the ‘people’ much. However, he has had very little bullying, as I think the other kids just accept him, the strange boy who says weird things.
    I have recently decided to unwrap the cotton wool, and just go with it. I will obviously be a nervous wreck, and spend my days worrying if he is coping, but as Lucy discovered in the book, you can’t protect your child forever, whether they have aspergers or not.
    Thank you for a wonderful book, that was funny, and sad at the same time. It was particularly poignant for me, and I am going to encourage family and friends to read it, at least then they won’t think my son is inappropriate al the time.
    Elaine James

    Reply
  • I would have preferred to contact you personally, however I appreciate as a member of the public this is not possible. I was moved by the interview you and your son gave in the Sunday Times.
    I thought you both might find this book useful: Autism and the Seeds of Change by Abigail Marshall with Ronald D. Davis

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  • Hi Kathy, I love reading your books and take a huge interest in any article that you are in. I have a 8 year old daughter with Asperger’s syndrome and her comments make me smile every day. When I read about your son it reminds me of the quirky things I hear from my daughter. I do worry about her future though, especially those that will bully or take advantage of her innocent nature. Thank you for making me feel a little better about autism every time I read your stories about your wonderful son.

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