World Autism Awareness Day
This autism awareness day, Christian from our Digital and Innovation team generously invites us into his world, to share his insights in his own words as a dad to Luchino who has autism.
When my son Luchino was three, we felt that something wasn't as it should be. With our first son, we were finding our way as parents, but Luchino wasn’t really talking by that time, so we thought it was time to seek help.
I speak in Spanish with my wife, and even though our children are multi-lingual, and this may make learning language a little harder, we thought that Luchino should’ve been speaking by that age. We ended up finding a good developmental paediatrician and she diagnosed him as being on the autism spectrum. We didn't even know what autism was at the time, nor had a clue about what the diagnosis would mean. I had watched the movie Rainman with Dustin Hoffman a million years ago, but that was it.
It's been quite a journey since then, quite the ride. At first, we didn't know how to support Luchino. We saw a lot of doctors and treatment can be super expensive, but we had volunteers helping us with his treatment along the way, which at that age was basically helping him with socialisation.
We were so lucky to have a lot of people helping us, especially the volunteers. We’re so grateful that as a society when you need some help, it’s there, Australians in particular have been so helpful to us. I’m originally from Argentina, so I will forever be grateful about how people just helped us in a way that we didn't think was possible.
What does Luchino’s life look like now?
He’s 14 years old now, six foot tall and a long way from where he was when he was first diagnosed. He’s always been a happy person, a very happy person. It’s been a challenge, but the background music to everything in our lives was always happiness, because Luchino set that up in that way from the start.
Treatment has helped a lot. It's incredible how much it can help to have personalised treatment on the things that he needs the most. He has a very narrow diet and he struggles when his schedule changes, so as you can imagine, snap lockdowns were a big problem during the past few years.
But he's always been happy. Given that he’s learnt more words to help him communicate, he’s become much better at dealing with his anxiety and emotions. He loves to talk about his favourite things, which include trains and eating pizza – like me!
He's also always wanted people to be happy around him and I'm amazed how much he can understand about someone just being around them but not talking. For instance, when he was very young, he learned to say ‘happy cheese’ when you take a photo and he noticed that people would smile when he said that! We have a big family of six and he likes to check in on everyone. He goes to everyone's bedrooms to check that everyone's happy. So, he's been a force of good for our family.
I think a lot about how it’s changed us. We’ve had to learn how to be very patient and work to understand the clues he gave us because he didn’t speak. We’ve had to tell everything from his behaviour, how he moved around and from his eyes. I think we have become much more patient, not only with him, but with everyone around us.
I've noticed that the people that make a difference are not the ones that are aware of autism, they’re just the ones that are kind.
What would you like the world to know about autism?
Autism is very difficult to diagnose and treat and there's no one size fits all.
Life is not straightforward. Every once in a while you have these challenges and then you just have to keep going and remain an optimist.
You also have to be kind. For instance, Luchi has a lot of trouble going to public spaces with a lot of people, and I've noticed that the people that make a difference are not the ones that are aware of autism, they’re just the ones that are kind.
You know, you have to be kind with anyone. Today is Autism Day, last week was Transgender Day and next week will be some other day. The one common denominator that makes a difference is being kind, it’s not even about understanding more about autism.
What would be your hopes and dreams for Luchino’s future?
I just want him to be happy. When he was diagnosed, everything focused on him being functional. Then, eventually, through all the treatment and through the years, we've sort of put that in the background and really, we just want him to be happy.
We stopped caring or paying that much attention to him being independent and all those things. We just want him to be happy.
For all our kids, as parents, you just want them to be happy.