For the last eight years World Autism Awareness Day has been held on 2 April where autism organisations celebrate the day with fundraising and awareness-raising events. The best known of these is the Light It Up Blue Campaign

April 2 ‘Shine a Light on Autism’ (Photo Credit: Autism Speaks)

April 2 ‘Shine a Light on Autism’ (Photo Credit: Autism Speaks)

This international day is adopted by the United Nations as a “growing global health priority” and it is marked when thousands of landmarks and ordinary homes shine blue lights in honor of those affected by autism with some individuals opting to wear blue.

The charity called Autism Speaks say that the colour blue was chosen as it is almost 5 times more common among boys than girls. The color blue therefore represents the boys diagnosed with autism.

On this day I usually raise awareness in my own way. I usually change my profile picture on Facebook to a blue light bulb and I share as many autism related posts  as I can. This year I did likewise and I also decided to interview a very special young man; my nephew Cian O’ Farrell from Seattle USA. Cian has autism and he is a writer. In fact he is author of The Big Book About Stanley which he wrote at the age of 12.

The Irish Society for Autism have explained autism as a range of complex disorders but I often wondered how I should refer to it. I mean, is it a ‘condition’ ‘special needs’ or what? It feels really awkward not knowing. Awkward for me that is because I’m ignorant. But Cian is very clear about what autism means to him – “Nothing at all. It’s just something I was born with”.

This is not one of those articles that attempts to tackle stereotypes and prejudices directed at people who are different to the “norm”. In any case, I refute the notion that there even is a “norm”. I myself am a, according to those ethnicity surveys I used to complete during my HR days, “White European Christian Male in his 40s” yet I am not convinced that I fit the “norm” of “White European Christian Male in his 40s”. Is there such a norm?

More importantly I don’t think such articles actually challenge stereotypes or prejudices. They usually result in lots of people saying the socially acceptable thing, with little feeling, while others defend their prejudices with a combination of randomly selected statistics and unsubstantiated anecdotes. That certainly is a norm!

Light It Up Blue Logo (Photo Credit: Autism Speaks)

Light It Up Blue Logo (Photo Credit: Autism Speaks)

So what about author Cian O’ Farrell? What does he have to say? I interviewed him about this and his book – The Big Book About Stanley – and how he came to write it at such a young age. This is how Cian responded to my questions.

How did you get interested in writing?

I would sit at my desk and write the story on cardboard and then tie them together with pieces of string. I then stapled pieces of paper to make a book and I then wrote titles on the front page – this was the start.

Did you do a course to learn writing skills or just start writing?

No, nothing. I just started writing.

Who do you admire as a writer?

Walt Disney, Jim Henson, Kate Di Camillo, Maurice Sendeck, Dave Pilkey, Jeff Kinney.

When did you write that book?

3 years ago when I was 12.

What is it about?

It is about a boy who celebrates Christmas with his family.

Where can people buy it?

You can buy it on Amazon.

Are there any other writers in your class/school?

No, I don’t think so.

Do you commemorate World Autism Day? If so, how?

By hanging blue lights outside our house and wearing blue. This year we had a special event at school during lunchtime to educate the students about autism. My mom posted pictures of it on FB.

Autism Awareness Day - Skyline High School (Photo Credit: Roisín O’ Farrell)

Autism Awareness Day – Skyline High School (Photo Credit: Roisín O’ Farrell)

What does having autism mean to you? Does it mean anything at all?

Nothing at all. It’s just something I was born with. 

What is school like – interested in the subjects/classes, teachers supportive etc?

School for me is great. Teachers are nice, they let me have free time to work on the computer to work on my new book. My favorite class is his language/writing group.

Hope to be writer in the future or do you have other plans?

I hope to be a writer in the future. I am working on my 2nd book now.

Plans to write any more?

Yeah.

Cian O’ Farrell outside his School (Photo Credit: Roisín O’ Farrell)

Cian O’ Farrell outside his School (Photo Credit: Roisín O’ Farrell)

He’s my sister’s kid and my nephew so obviously I am proud of him. But I am most proud of the fact that he is happy and doing what he loves. It’s inspiring, even to older people like me.

It may be too delicate or even insensitive to say this but I envy people with autism. I envy them even though I don’t fully understand what it is. Cian is my nephew and I see him as I see my other nephews and nieces and I don’t notice anything different about him apart from his amazing American accent. I mean, I’m from a large family and we are all quite different to each other, so Cian is just another example of this.

The reason I say I envy people with autism is that I have witnessed how they express themselves with an honesty and fearlessness that most of us could only dream of. How often have we called for such qualities in our public representatives or in our business people? How many of our public representatives posses these qualities? They continuously walk on eggshells, double deal and play games under the pretense of doing what is in ‘the national interest’? Is this really what they doing?

People with autism also have an incredible memory for detail, no matter how far back. Something that would scare the absolute bejaysus out of our public representatives!

I’ll leave you with a story a primary school teacher told me once about a ‘special needs’ class she supervised. There was a boy in this class with autism. He asked her;

“Miss, what is the worse thing you ever did?” She thought about it and said “I smoked a cigarette when I was 13”. He asked “What was wrong with that?” She replied “well its bad for your health and my dad was so angry that as a punishment he made me smoke the rest of the packet” The young boy replied “Ms… your dad is crazy!” to which her assistant teacher said “Hey…you can’t speak like that to somebody, apologise to Ms…” The young boy said “Sorry Ms…your dad’s an idiot”!

Brutal and heartfelt honesty and definitely what I would call ‘special needs’ – because quite simply it is special and we have a great need for it.

Light It Up Blue Logo (Photo Credit: Light It Up Blue Aspen)

Light It Up Blue Logo (Photo Credit: Light It Up Blue Aspen)