Magazine article The Spectator

That Was the Week That Was

Magazine article The Spectator

That Was the Week That Was

Article excerpt

That was the week that was ONCE IN AUGUST LONG AGO by Liam Nolan Greylake Publications, £9.95, pp. 174, ISBN 0954386701

Autism is in the air. Newspaper articles, television programmes and new books abound. It was not always thus; when Liam Nolan's son, also called Liam, was diagnosed in the mid-Sixties, the term was almost unheard of by the general public. The condition was only identified at all in 1943. During Liam's childhood, his behaviour was profoundly misunderstood.

This book consists of the diary Liam senior kept for one week in August 1968, with an updated introduction and epilogue. 'Liamy' was ten. He was home for a holiday; he had already lived in an institution for some time, and still does. A social worker had insisted that his mother couldn't or shouldn't cope: '...it has to be done, for your sake particularly, Mrs Nolan, and for the sake of the other two children.' That was then. It's highly unlikely, now, that anyone would remove so young a child from his perfectly functional family, especially to place him in 'a madhouse' which Nolan describes as 'Dickensian in its awfulness'. After a year of hell, a more suitable placement is found, but save for brief holidays Liamy never returns home.

That's not the only important change. Reading this book shows that the lot of the autistic has changed dramatically for the better in the last 36 years. Like my own two autistic sons, Liamy is hard to occupy at home, so his father takes him out and about - day trips to London, long walks, a visit to relatives. In this one August week, Nolan encounters more incomprehension, hostility and aggression from passers-by than I've experienced in the last ten years with my sons, even though their behaviour is easily as 'challenging' as Liamy's.

The diary is of interest, not just as a benchmark of changing social attitudes towards disability, but as a period piece, a snapshot of a time when a Chinese restaurant was a novelty and a row on the lake at Alexandra Palace cost two and threepence. …

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