I have been active in the autism field for over more than 30 years now. I diagnosed children and youngsters back in the eighties, I supported families in a home training project, I’ve set up courses for parents and professionals. Always with the mission of improving the quality of life of autistic people and the people around them. But does my work make a difference?
There is no research into the effect of what I do. Would be a very special N=1 study, I think. But I’ve always hoped that I made a difference with what I do. A positive difference. Not always, obviously. I’ve made many mistakes in my career. And I remember situations where I felt as hopeless as the people I wanted to support.
There are a few people that stayed in touch with me in those 30 years. I am grateful for that, because it gives me the opportunity to see the outcome of autism and the life path of autistic people. But most people who cross my path, do this only for a short time. And then it is difficult to know whether I made a difference.
During the lockdown last year, I developed a new programme for increasing the well-being of autistic people, named H.A.P.P.Y. (*). Over the last year, I made quite a few individualized happiness plans, for children, youngsters and adults on the autism spectrum. I had follow-up meetings with some of them. That gave me some interesting feedback. But did the H.A.P.P.Y.-plan really made a difference on the longer term?
One year ago I made a H.A.P.P.Y. plan for a young boy in Ireland. He was not happy, had difficulties at school and spent a lot of time on the computer. I made a plan for him. One year later, his mother sent me this mail:
Hi Peter, I just wanted to touch base and let you know some exciting developments in our home and for J from his HAPPY plan. As you know exercise was always a huge challenge and the roller-skating is still a huge hit, he has upgraded his bike to a mountain bike and cycles every day. We installed a trampoline thats ground level for him so he has independence going in and out and again it’s a daily activity he loves before and after school. His biggest achievement I think is today though. Walking was always a struggle due to muscle tone and pain but this past 31 days he took on a challenge to walk 100km with his assistance dog and signed up to raise money for the Irish Guide Dogs assistance dog programme. Today he finished with 112km done in the month almost 500 euro raised and his school are hoping to double it on Friday in support of his achievement with a school fundraising day. He is so proud of himself tonight he’s walking on air! He walks 6km in the afternoon after school which he has grown to love and wants to keep doing. His muscle tone has increased amazingly his core is stronger and he has been getting 7-8 hours sleep most nights! He still has his struggles with going to school but has shown such improvement in his concentration and has learned to read alone and has been choosing an hour with his book of choice over screen time which is amazing. Thank you again for all the help with the plan, I think it will be one of the best things to support him throughout the future. We are so grateful to have had the oppertunity to participate.
This mail made my day! It seems that from time to time, I do make a difference. But this is only possible thanks to the people who do something with my advice, tips and tricks: the autistic adults, the parents and the professionals I work with. Without all those people, making a difference would be impossible. Making a difference is something that is the result of many heads and hands. It was J’s mother who did most of the work, and without her, my intervention would not have made a difference. And J now also makes a difference, raising money for a charity!