Georgina Derbyshire lives with her young son, Bobby, on the outskirts of a small town in Derbyshire, UK. Starting her career at a local newspaper, she then went on to work for the courts service, join the police force, become a financial advisor and now works in sales & marketing. As diverse a career history as she has had, she considers her most challenging and rewarding role to be that of mother to a child on the autistic spectrum.
Here, Georgina answers some questions about her book Stand Up for Autism: A Boy, a Dog, and a Prescription for Laughter and her action-packed life with Bobby.
Why might parents of children with disabilities feel like they need ‘permission’ to see the humour in their situations, and why is it so important that they do?
I think there are many times when we want to laugh but can feel a bit guilty. It may be because laughing at a situation or a comment could be perceived as laughing at the child or at their difficulties and challenges, but this isn’t the case at all. Some things that our children say or do can be especially poignant in certain situations and, quite often, they can say things that are so truthful, we just wouldn’t dare say them ourselves! There shouldn’t be anything sad or embarrassing about situations like these. We should see the humour in it and not feel guilty to laugh out loud. I think it is important to embrace moments like these as we have enough of a hard time and laughing can help redress the balance. Laughter is very good for stress too, so there’s no excuse!
How do you think your ‘upbeat and constructive’ attitude has benefited your son Bobby?
Given the chance, Bobby will willingly take-on the worry and anxiety of everyone around him and so it is important that I try and neutralise those feelings by being more light-hearted. It isn’t always easy and it took me a lot of time and practice, but I now try to throw a positive light on every negative thought that he brings to me. Of course, I do take his concerns and problems very seriously, but I encourage him to understand that the world is not completely full of doom and gloom. This attitude benefits Bobby by encouraging him to laugh with me and this, in turn, makes him feel not as concerned about his differences. I laugh at myself, too, which helps! If, as his mother and “anchor”, I show a tense and sorrowful attitude towards him and the autism, then he will grow up feeling the same about himself. That’s something I’ll always do my utmost to avoid.
How do you stand up for autism at home and in the community?
Whenever I learn anything about autism, I usually share it with Bobby. I let him watch TV programmes showing inspirational people on the spectrum and remind him of the wonderful characteristics he has which make him so unique. I never portray autism to him as a ‘problem’ or something to be ashamed of and I tell him that he will have an important purpose in life, just like everyone else. At the moment, he believes that his purpose is to find the missing 0.1% of bacteria that no cleaning products have yet identified!
In the community, I meet with parents of newly diagnosed children as I know people can feel very isolated at that time. I am a member of Derbyshire Autism Services group, the National Autistic Society and Mencap and I support every disability awareness campaign at local and national level. As Bobby is quite well known locally, he makes his own contribution to awareness-raising and this is usually a positive contribution (but not always!)
Why was it so important for you to write down and re-tell your stories?
I could remember the main stories quite easily, but occasionally I would forget something really funny that Bobby had said or done and so I decided to write them down. Bobby loves to hear these stories, over and over again, and so I didn’t want to forget anything. Getting the stories in a more structured format was hugely cathartic as it reminded me of some of the fantastic experiences we have had and what an absolute joy he is. As a result, I have become more determined to discourage some of the stigma that people attach to autism – recounting the stories made me remember just how awful I felt at the time and that I shouldn’t have been made to feel the way I did. These days, I refuse to be embarrassed. I politely explain to people if there is a problem, but then it’s up to them whether they choose to understand or remain ignorant.
You must have enough stories to fill a library… How did you decide which ones to put in the book?
I had to put Bobby’s absolute favourite stories in the book as I thought this was only fair. There are hundreds of things I would have liked to have included, but he refused permission for some of them as he considered them “strictly confidential”! Everything I have included has been double-checked with him to make sure he is happy about it and I feel this is the least I can do. I do have a tendency to ramble on a bit, so I had to keep the reader in mind and try not to overload them with too much. Funnily enough, there have been a number of incidents since writing the book and I have wished they had happened before so that they could have been included. I am still keeping notes though!
What is the most important lesson that parents can learn from your experience?
The most important lesson is to take every day as it comes and deal with everything as it happens. The challenges we face today may be very different to those we will face tomorrow. Worrying too much about today’s problems will mean you aren’t prepared for tomorrow’s because you’ll be too exhausted! I also think that it’s essential to support your child and live your lives in a way which suits your circumstances. No child is the same as the next, and the same goes for children with autism. Always remember that you know your child better than anyone else and you are doing the very best you can. If other people don’t understand that, then that’s not your problem. Be your child’s advocate, smile, laugh and stay very strong!
If you had to choose one of Bobby’s (many) hilarious quotes to put on a t-shirt, what would it be?
It would probably have to be “You know where you are with sheep”. I know exactly what he means with this one as sheep are predictable, don’t talk a strange language and are placid creatures. They also tend to walk in the same direction at the same time! Bobby said this comment with absolute conviction and feeling, and I couldn’t help but agree. Closely followed by “… but what about the other 0.1%?!”
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Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.