Digital storytelling - the parents' story - Kenny Robertson, Mary Robertson

Autism: from diagnosis to development to independence and a career…
Published in Videos on 16 Apr 2012

Liam Robertson is 20 years old and has autism. His parents talk about Liam's passion for the theatre and the support they received to help Liam develop independence and obtain an NVQ2 in customer service. They also talk about the difficulties encountered in obtaining a diagnosis and their aspirations for his future.

I think any child who has autism, their parents should make use of all the services - it's surprising just what's out there, what's available to various people. But you have to actually go searching for it and take everything on, listen to people.



Digital storytelling - the parents' story

Autism: from diagnosis to development to independence and a career...

Transcript of video interview with Kenny and Mary Robertson, 9 March 2012

M Well Liam first took an interest in acting after we had a holiday in London and Mary actually took him to a show - High School Musical - and he just went mental for it, and to the point where the next day he insisted on going to see, I think it was Mama Mia ...

K That was my choice, I chose Mama Mia.

M But he loved it, you loved it.

Question: Who has supported you?

M We could take it as far back as primary school. Moira Park and her team at Carlibar Communication Centre in Barrhead were absolutely excellent and really brought Liam on. We had a choice of secondary school for him - we went to visit Barrhead High School and they seemed to offer the best support that Liam was needing, requiring at the time. And Carol Cutler and her team, they have got a Learning Support Programme going on within mainstream school, and they just brought Liam on so well that actually gave him the confidence and the ability to be able to attend Cardonald College, where again he got excellent support and he managed to become an independent traveller for the first time by going to Cardonald. So Carlibar Communication Centre, Barrhead High School and Cardonald College. While he was at Barrhead High School, Carol Cutler, the Head of Learning Support there, made the connection with Cosgrove for him, to enable him to go there one day a week, and through that he has actually managed to obtain his NVQ2 in Customer Service, and he is now working part time in Barnardo's, and that was through the Social Services, and particularly thanks to Theresa - she actually made the connection, made the phone call and made all that possible for him.

Question: Liam as an independent traveller

M One of the necessities or the needs for Liam to be able to attend Cardonald College involved that he had to be an independent traveller, which he hadn't been up until that point. So Kenny did the route with him various times on the bus, and then the day of his first time Liam went off on the bus, and we actually followed the bus to Battlefields, because it involved changing buses at Battlefields and getting another one over to Cardonald. So Kenny ... the bus went away, and after the bus went away Kenny followed in the car and hid across from the bus stop just so he could watch him getting off one bus, phoning and saying "that's me dad, I'm at Victoria Road".

K He did that without any problems at all.

M But he was completely unaware that we had followed the bus and we were ... because even though ... we were just too scared to let him do it on his own for the first time. So we followed him.

K Protection, yes.

Question: And did you tell him?

M This isn't the first time you have heard it Liam? I think we have told him before, but not at the time, not at the time.

K A while after, but now he just goes everywhere himself, he goes all over the city himself, it's not a problem.

M He would be able to tell you what bus route to get to Birmingham.

Question: What did you think of Liam's choice of pursuing a career in the Theatre?

M At first we weren't particularly enthused by it all, but that was really, I would say, a protective mechanism more than anything. With Liam's autism, his social skills and his understanding of emotions, being able to read emotions, displaying emotions, following certain instruction, because of his autism ... and I just didn't want to see him go down a dreadful route of rejection because he wouldn't be able to perform as such. Also his speech, his pronunciation can be a bit of a problem at times, if he gets a bit nervous and he starts forgetting things and stuttering - and again, as parents we thought that would lead to more rejection in his chosen choice. So it was really a protection mechanism more than anything.

K I think the pair of us just want Liam to be happy, really we just want to support Liam in whatever he wants to do. We don't really have aspirations ... if he is happy, if he doing what he wants to do, then that is fine by us - that's all.

M We want him to be a happy, productive individual, just like any parents would want for their children.

Question: Advice for parents

K I think any child who has autism, their parents should make use of all the services - it's surprising just what's out there, what's available to various people. But you have to actually go searching for it and take everything on, listen to people.

M When ... actually obtaining his diagnosis was very, very hard. I knew nothing about autism, but I noticed certain behavioural patterns that just weren't linked to ... I don't know "normal" is not the right word, but progression of child growth. And I went to the health visitor and I was told ... I was told more or less to go away because I was an overanxious mother. But I actually sat in her office and refused to move one day and said "I don't know what's wrong with my son - there is something wrong, and I am not leaving until I get referral to someone". So initially getting into the system was very, very hard - but once we entered the East Renfrewshire educational system they have been absolutely marvellous and ...

K Can't see past them.

M We have been very, very fortunate.