My son is seven years old, likes to play the piano, enjoys maths, does chores for pocket money and has autism. My nephew will turn ten this year, loves lego, plays with his pet dogs, has a cheeky smile and has Aspergers. Both boys play with their sisters, tease their sisters and help their sisters. My son hates to eat vegetables, always wants Maccas, and pulls out a pile of toys two minutes before we want him to go to bed. They are two of the happiest, friendliest, naughtiest and clever boys I have ever met. And they also have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What is autism? Good question. Describing autism is something we have been struggling with lately, as our son is coming to an age where he begins to understand that he goes to a different kind of school than his sister. How do you tell a seven year old that he has, and always will have, trouble communicating with people, and that his intense interest in public telephones and Little Disney Library Books sets him apart from other kids? My son is a happy-go-lucky kid, when he isn’t terrified of thunderstorms or strangers, and he will deal with his differences the way he deals with everything – with a grin and a cheeky comment.

What makes me tight in the chest, as a Dad, is the lack of understanding from others. Many people hear the words “autism” or “Aspergers” and don’t really know what they mean. Sometimes it conjures up images of kids quietly rocking in the corner, or of Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rainman. They think of these things and then look at my son and tell me “He seems normal”, or “He’s not like those people”. That terrifies me, because when people don’t accept or realise that my son has a disability they look for other reasons for his unusual or “unacceptable” behaviour. They will not realise that asking my son to sit still, or speak to someone, or understand sarcasm is as impossible as asking a kid in a wheelchair to go up stairs. The fact my son is verbal, or appears happy, or has a sense of humour, does not change the fact he has an ASD.

As David, Steve, John and Ian prepare for and undertake their Kokoda walk, I hope that people become more aware of the many ways in which ASD’s can present, and the challenges that face people with an ASD and their families.