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LauraGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 01-Dec-16 09:40:01

Dear Dad

In a heart-warming letter to his late father, author John Williams muses over what it would have been like if his autistic son - someone who has taught him to view life in an entirely new way - had met his grandfather.

John Williams

Dear Dad

Posted on: Thu 01-Dec-16 09:40:01


Lead photo

"It’s all relative, this life, isn’t it? Wasn’t it?"

Dear Dad,

I often wonder what you’d make of the world nowadays, twenty-five years since you died. But most of all, I wonder what you’d make of your grandson. He’s a teenager now. He’s almost as tall as me, but if I comb my hair up and back like you used to do I can still get a few extra millimetres on him (sorry, about a quarter of an inch – is that better?).

Here’s the thing, Dad. Your grandson, he’s autistic. He was diagnosed years ago, together with the cerebral palsy that means it’s difficult for him to walk too far. He gets by though, leaping out of his wheelchair when the mood takes him to chase some pigeons or track down the latest Pokémon. It’s all relative, this life, isn’t it? Wasn’t it?

I can’t pretend it’s been easy over the years. Your grandson has been misunderstood by far too many. The judgmental stares at the young boy kicking off in Tesco’s, who was desperately trying to cope with the noise and smells and bright lights and crowds; he just couldn’t find the words to tell someone how painful it was so he communicated the only way he knew how.

We’ve been through so many schools – both mainstream and special – where for too long people have tried to make him conform to their way of seeing the world. As parents we’ve dealt with a fair bit of stick too – "you’re not strict enough" would soon be followed by "you’re too strict"; whatever we did it felt like we couldn’t win. That was the hard bit when all we were trying to do was our best for him. Would you have recognised that, Dad? I hope so.

The very best people aren't necessarily those with the widest knowledge; they're the people who just love and value him for who he is.

When your precious grandchild was diagnosed, I suppose in the commotion that followed, I didn’t appreciate how it might have impacted the wider family. Not sure how to react, never feeling like they said or did the right thing. All the finger-pointing from strangers meant I’d probably become over-sensitive too, feeling like we were being judged in it all. I can’t tell you how important the family has been to us over the years, Dad. The very best people aren’t necessarily those with the widest knowledge; they’re the people who just love and value him for who he is.

We’re much better at talking about disability nowadays, but actually the disabling bit in all this often hasn’t been his diagnosis, it’s been those reactions from other people; it’s been trying to get the right school or support, endlessly filling in forms listing everything he can’t do. For too long people didn’t seem interested in what he could do. Yet he’s much, much more than just a cost implication at the council offices. And that’s never been more apparent when he’s with his beloved family. He’s funny, Dad, really funny. He’d make you laugh more than anyone I know. He’s got your sense of humour. Whenever we all get together it feels like you’re never far away.

You taught me a lot in those years we shared together, but no one has ever taught me more than your grandson. I’ve learnt about the importance of seeing the world through the eyes of another; I’ve learnt that often in this life there is joy and happiness in the small things and I’ve learnt that pretty much every episode of the Power Rangers is exactly the same. Above all else, I’ve learnt about love and acceptance. A thirteen-year-old boy taught me that. You laid the foundations Dad, and he built the walls.

Your son,


My Son's Not Rainman by John Williams is published by Michael O'Mara Books and is available from Amazon.

By John Williams

Twitter: @Gransnet

Swanny Thu 01-Dec-16 10:54:34


My father died many years ago. He never met my husband, our son nor, of course, our grandson. He would not have heard of autism, let alone faced the difficulties it throws up. He was quite a strict man who expected unquestioning obedience from his own children, but I can imagine him being much more tolerant and undemanding of grand- and great-grandchildren. In fact I would like to think he would be our Boy's champion. He certainly would have stood no nonsense from those finger-pointers and judgmental starers!

John Williams' letter moved me so much that I've already ordered the book. I hope it will help me explain to others the joys and sadness of seeing life through our Boy's eyes.

ninathenana Thu 01-Dec-16 11:24:36

WOW, indeed.
Our 25 yr old has ASD after getting teary reading the above, I think I'd blub my way through the whole book.

Greenfinch Thu 01-Dec-16 12:36:58

I shall certainly buy it for DD. I think she will find it interesting and helpful.

Mumsy Mon 05-Dec-16 08:21:22

sad I so miss my dad, he was only 55 when he died, my younger daughter and grandchildren never knew him apart from photos and stories. happy memories.

hildajenniJ Mon 05-Dec-16 09:32:53

This brought tears to my eyes. My three beloved grandsons all have high functioning autism. Whenever they go out shopping, to the hairdresser, the optician, dentist, anywhere with different sounds or smells, it's a trial for them. We were in a garden centre cafe and one of them wanted to use the toilet. He went and came back out straight away, said it sounded fun and he didn't like it. My DD went with him and couldn't hear anything strange. Apparently the light fitting was emitting a buzz that my D couldn't hear, but her son could! You never know what bothers them. If my father could see the boys, he'd be extremely proud of how they manage. Life is difficult for them, strangers see them as naughty, unruly, poorly parented children. My DD and SiL have had to grow very thick skins. It takes a lot for them not to react to the assumptions of strangers. They are doing a wonderful job of raising their family. I am immensely proud of them.

Greenfinch Mon 05-Dec-16 09:56:49

That's really good to hear Hilda.I have only one autistic grandson and that is difficult enough.Because these children don't look different from others ,people expect them to act in a conventional way.They do bring their own delights and insights and I wouldn't be without mine.

Anya Mon 05-Dec-16 10:18:02

Absolutely spot on Greenfinch

And as the article said, because of the condition it's only within the family situation that you see the true nature of these individuals. GS1 is so loving, so funny, so creative.

But he's been labelled arrogant and rude, just because he's desperately shy and unlikely to return greetings or look at you so he appears to ignore people. Yet you should see how tender and caring he is with little ones, how animals respond magically to him.

Swanny Mon 05-Dec-16 12:35:58

I took my autistic DGC and his parents to the panto on Saturday to see Sleeping Beauty. We'd been to this theatre before and he'd enjoyed it. We get a box so he feels safe and can move around. It did not work so well this time though. The stage sound level was much higher, the flashes and bangs made us all jump and it was much too long. We got to the interval and he said 'the prince will kiss the princess and then it's the end yes?' We were wrong. It was dragged out even more. We left early. Judging by the looks from members of staff no-one had ever done that before.

Anya Mon 05-Dec-16 13:36:25

Sometimes they do drag on a bit, don't they Swanny?

hildajenniJ Mon 05-Dec-16 13:42:00

We are taking ours to the panto in Glasgow. They will be well primed so they will know what to expect.

ninathenana Mon 05-Dec-16 15:16:41

A theatre near us has a performance of their panto scheduled specifically for autistic children. Brilliant idea.

ninathenana Mon 05-Dec-16 15:19:45

Anya your second paragraph describes my son. He and his two young nephews love each other too bits.

rosesarered Mon 05-Dec-16 15:28:22

our DGS wouldn't go near a Panto [although it's amazing where he will go if the school take him!]It's as if there is one rule for home and another for school.I have read endless books, both textbook and true lives on autism, so feel I have read enough, though every book, and child is that bit different.because the public think he is about 8 and not 12, he is often indulged and smiled at, but that won't last.

Greenfinch Mon 05-Dec-16 16:24:34

Each year we ask our DGS if he wants to go to the panto because we like to take his twin but each year he is happy to refuse saying that he doesn't want to sit down for that long. He can do it because we have taken him to films but clearly he prefers not to.He never minds his sister going.

Yorkshiregel Wed 14-Dec-16 12:39:42

What a lovely letter that was. Very educational too if I might say that. Nowadays it is I think much easier for people with disabled children than it used to be. Strangers are more tolerant about their 'differences'. My dil used to visit a boy with Autism as part of her job. One day because she was ten minutes late for her visit, she found that he had barricaded the door and would not let her in. They seem to see things literally, which is very hard for other people to understand. Noise, colour and crowds can be very upsetting for them. Somewhere with flashing advertising signs can be a nightmare. Everyday noises are magnified. Also as my dil found out, they do not cope well with change. They tend to live in a world of their own and are not good at communication. They need to be shown how to do things, not told. You need to speak in simple terms, not clichés. Sometimes their senses get overloaded and that sends them in to a panic. It is not their fault, it is just the way they are. They can also be very intelligent, funny and never lie!

Thank you for posting the letter. Maybe it will help others to understand these children better.