Giuliana Wheater describes her son’s journey with autism.
Autism and neurodiversity are what I live and breathe for, both personally and professionally. Having had to go to the ends of the earth to fight for my own autistic son for the last 23 years, this has become a journey for millions of special children and their families.
My professional journey began with my autistic son Ollie. I always say that children are my biggest teachers and this began with my own. Knowing that Ollie was different from the very start, I never made a special autistic world around him and treated him no differently from his siblings. That might not work for everyone and I’m not here to preach, but it worked for us.
Despite severe bullying, at times leading to hospitalisation, Ollie was extremely bright and talented. If you imagine school as the Titanic, books and words were Ollie’s life raft, his only friends.
Upon joining a mainstream school he was put into bottom set English and had English literature removed; his dreams of reading English at University were demolished. The ensuing years were a walk through hell.
Ollie became suicidal, had symptoms of psychosis, crippling OCD and depression. It was a pitch black time. No one would listen, I was a ‘problem parent’. The funding I fought so hard to get was legally spent elsewhere. So please keep schools accountable for any funding you get for your child. I tried to keep Ollie going by using massage and other therapies, he didn’t want to go the medication route which was offered.
I fought for Ollie to sit his GCSEs in my therapy chalet which I had now converted from the proceeds of my therapies in schools. Your child can sit their exams wherever they choose so long as an examiner and invigilator are present. Don’t take no for an answer.
My boy who would “never achieve” went on to get 11 GCSE’s. He went on to take A level Media, Drama and Art and gained a place at his first choice university where he went on to read a degree in Creative Writing and Publishing (there is something called ‘Widening and Participation’ at all universities to help students with SEN), then passing his Masters in Creative Writing with flying colours. He is currently studying for a PhD.
As Ollie’s life began to finally bloom, so did my own. I wrote a book to help other families and professionals living or working with autism. Now I do many talks, write articles, fundraise and give interviews. Recently I became the well-being ambassador for the autism charity AnnaKennedyOnline. During COVID when I couldn’t work face to face I set up a public Facebook group, along with a YouTube channel to keep people going.
I have been shortlisted as a role model for the National Diversity Awards. If I win this award in February 2022 I will be able to get our children heard from a much more powerful platform. I see all the children and young adults I work with the same way. I get behind the labels, meet every child where they are at and not where I want them to be and work with them, never on them. My aim is to ease challenges and to discover gifts, talents, strengths and potential.
Never take no for an answer and know you always have a choice. I’m just an ordinary woman who set up a business, determined that others would no longer define me or my son. You can do it too!
Never stop believing.