Autism

We have three children.  Our daughter who is a talented musician and teacher.  And our two sons who have autism, one at either end of the spectrum.  Our eldest son, now in his forties, can neither speak, nor read, nor write. Our youngest, now in his thirties, was able to attend mainstream school, but required specialist support.

In 1978, when our eldest son was born, little was known about autism.  Learning difficulties and differences between them were not well understood.  Many adults with autism were still locked up in mental hospitals, so few people were aware of their condition.

In the 1980s, the hospitals continued to close and the more able people with autism were placed into the community for their on-going care.

By this time, our eldest son was becoming difficult to care for in the home. So we looked for a suitable residential school placement for him.  The closest was in Devon, nearly 300 miles from our home town of Cambridge.  And this is where he lived until he was nineteen years old.

During this time, his mother and I found ourselves on a steep learning curve as we discovered more about autism and continued to care for our other children.  During the 1990s, we founded the East Anglian Autistic Support Trust (EAST) to raise funding for a home for young adults in Cambridgeshire – the only county in the East Anglia region without any specialist accommodation.

Together with an army of committed volunteers, we raised £1.5 million – enough to refurbish a former rectory in Stretham.  Our new centre became home for 16 young adults with autism.

We called it Juniper House, named after Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk who died in 1258.  A late medieval account of his unusual behaviour is believed to be the earliest record of someone on the autistic spectrum.