Merry Christmas 2016 from Sam and James


Hello, long time, no blog. Life is so much duller in Sydney than in Africa, but we thought it was time for an update, and what better time than Christmas. Sam has now finished Year 9 at De La Salle College, Ashfield.  While it hasn’t been all smooth sailing, his behaviour at school this year was in stark contrast to that prior to our Africa adventure, with him being able to focus better and rarely cause any disruption. Benison and I used to fear the school phone number appearing on our mobiles’ screen. This year the phone calls didn’t happen. Sam is increasingly able to fit in and attend better to what is happening around him. There was some low level bullying this year, but Sam stood up to the bullies and the school has been supportive. He even passed his Year 9 science exam in a mainstream school, something we were all particularly pleased about.

He has continued to expand his repertoire of extra-curricular activities. Chief among these was an initiative of his own making, setting up his own YouTube channel. Fostering a long-standing obsession with old VHS tapes and DVDs, he has been making his own short film clips and loading them on to the channel, which now boasts over 300 followers. This morning after loading a clip of himself presenting and describing the two new videos he received for Christmas, we heard echo out of his bedroom ‘I’ve got three Likes already!’.

Apart from this giving Sam more of a sense of identity and individuality, it is improving his language skills, particularly the ability to present ideas to others. Focusing on what others want to see and hear, and trying to second guess this, is the central principle of what is referred to as Theory of Mind, recognised as a core deficit in people with autism. Theory of Mind is summed up by the line from  Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird: ‘To walk in another man’s shoes’. So, Sam is walking in the shoes of other like-minded teens from around the world who are interested in old VHS tapes and DVDs!

This year he’s had surfing lessons at Manly, caught buses and trains around the inner west (not by himself yet but we are working on it), and continued his piano lessons. His wonderful teacher’s aide, Virginia, has been encouraging him to engage in long conversations with teachers and peers at his school. Through these conversations, he is getting to know them and they are getting to know him. The teachers, Virginia reports, are particularly thrilled to discover more about Sam.

We’ve maintained connections with some of the wonderful people we met in Africa, including, Ed and Lana (who are getting married – hooray!), Gabriel, our Herero guide in southern Namibia, Etienne, who managed to get Sam to eat his first curry in Durban, South Africa, Petra, the stalwart of Autism Association of Namibia and her son Michael, and our friends Mama Grace and Kerry at Connects Autism Tanzania, who, like Petra in Namibia, have worked tirelessly to improve prospects for Tanzanians with autism and advance the message of inclusion to a society traditionally unaccepting of this ‘invisible’ disability.

We’re looking forward into the rest of the holidays and, in 2017, Sam and I will continue our boxing and chess, our swimming in the surf, our getting out and about.  It’s going to be a big year for the two of us, with Allen and Unwin announcing they will publishing the book (as yet untitled) of our African adventures in July. Pending funding, we are also hopeful of our documentary being released this year as well. Exciting times!

James & Sam