When Louise Cummin’s son Lachlan was diagnosed with autism at age three, she went into shock. Four years and many treatments later, she’s learnt to embrace the spectrum – and written a book about her journey to acceptance. Ahead of World Autism Day on April 2, Cummins, 46, reveals why she wrote the colourful children’s book A Different Kind Of Brilliant…
“I was at a boot camp class when I got the call that shattered my whole world. A doctor had been assessing my son Lachlan at childcare and when I saw his name come up on my phone, everything started to spin. He confirmed what we had suspected: Lachlan was on the autism spectrum.
I first took Lachlan to a developmental paediatrician when he was 18-months old. I could see he was different; it was like he was in his own world. Lachlan was always on the go, running, running, running. He was such a happy kid, but the sheer volume of movement was hard. He also didn’t sleep; for close to three years we were up at 4:30am every morning. I knew there was something askew when we weren’t getting any speech from him at 18-months.
When the doctor gave me the autism diagnosis after more than a year of appointments, I desperately hoped he was wrong. He laid out the worst-case scenario for me: ‘It was unlikely Lachlan would live independently, have friends or a job.’ For six months after that phone call it was just awful. I was so crazy worried about Lachlan’s future.
The best advice I received during that time was to just get through the next 90 days. Someone told me to only focus on the 90 days ahead and the things I could do to help my child in that time. I’ve lived by that ever since.
Over the past four years, we’ve thrown ourselves into early intervention. We’ve tried it all; behavioural therapy, music therapy, swimming, speech therapy, martial arts for focus and lying in hammocks for relaxation. We even tried a neuro chiropractic therapy, where they put a tuning fork on different parts of the body. Lachlan didn’t speak much at that point, but he got up, looked at me and asked: ‘Why?’ I didn’t know the answer.
I’ve struggled with other people judging my parenting. Some people think Lachlan’s behaviour is just him being naughty or bad parenting on my part. We have been left out of certain occasions and I think I’ve lost one or two friends because of it. That was really hard.
After a particularly tough week of therapy, Lachlan was watching Trolls on the iPad in the car and the song ‘True Colours’ started playing. We were both exhausted, but he started singing along to the song (he had never really sung before). When he sung the line, ‘True colours are beautiful like a rainbow,’ I had a real epiphany. The last thing I wanted was for Lachlan to feel like he was less than, because he’s not, he’s brilliant. I realised at that moment the person I needed to change the most wasn’t him, it was me.
The hardest part of this journey has been me. I spent so much time trying to make him normal, when my job was to make him the best version of himself. I’ve had to learn to accept the diagnosis for what it is. Life is so up and down, you can have a good day and feel high, and a bad day and feel so low. Now I accept that and roll with the punches.
Every day Lachlan teaches me something about myself; I wanted him to know how amazing he is. That’s where the idea for my book came from.
For Lachlan’s Christmas present last year, I wrote him a book to help him understand his autism. I called it A Different Kind Of Brilliant, because that’s what autism is. Without autism, we wouldn’t have Einstein’s theory of relativity, Mozart’s music or Andy Warhol’s art.
The dedication reads, ‘Dedicated to Lachlan, and to all those people who are different enough to change the world around them for the better.’ It's full of rainbows, which is a node to the lyrics of 'True Colours' and autism being a spectrum.
I approached a graphic designer friend of mine to help me format the book and asked him how much it would be. He sent me an invoice for $0. In the last few days since the book has been out, I’ve been overwhelmed with the response. I’ve had emails from parents saying, ‘This is exactly what we needed.’
The book encourages everyone to accept and embrace their differences. I read it to Lachlan at bedtime most weeks and he loves seeing himself in the book, especially the page where he’s dressed as a superhero – he loves Batman and Spiderman. I want Lachlan to know he’s special in his own way, just like a superhero.”
A Different Kind Of Brilliant by Louise Cummins ($24.95) is out now at adifferentkindofbrilliant.com – 10% of all Australian direct sales from the website will be donated to Autism Spectrum Australia.