He’s a Little Boy Lost in a World of His Own

Helen Thomas, The Age
12 February, 1979

Julian is nine years old and owns the world. His world – a peculiar place that makes it impossible for him ever to be left alone. He doesn’t know how to play like other children and can only imitate his mother and father. And he’s never owned a soft toy. He avoids direct gaze and rejects everyone around him, at least to a certain point.

Julian is autistic – any of the few children and adults who live each day in strange isolation. But as his father points out, Julian is also luckier than most because he contradicts one of the strongly-held beliefs about autistic children. He likes to be touched – “and he likes to touch mum and I”.

The boy we diagnosed autistic about four years ago, after his parents spent a year going from a GP to a paediatrician, a psychiatrist and a leading hospital to try and find out what was wrong with him. They eventually took him to the Victorian Autistic Children’s Association where – “after three quick looks” – it was decided he was autistic.

He now lives in Melbourne with his parents, older sister and younger brother. As long as he is awake, he is never left unattended. Why? Because he does crazy things like smashing windows and digging up and resetting pipes in the lawn. Not because he’s crazy, but because he perceives the world differently to most of us.

As his father, Mr. Bill Martin, said yesterday, “he doesn’t understand the way we understand. Julian’s basic understanding of simple things is misdirected and incorrect,” Mr. Martin said. “Like last weekend, when we were pruning the garden all day … at four o’clock, I stopped and went inside for a cup of coffee. But he gets the hand saw out and saws directly across the stumps of two trees – the moment you stop, he will undo everything that has been done. Not in a vandalistic sense … he’s just going on with the job and perhaps in a confused sort of way, is actually helping. This applies indoors, as well.”

“Julian doesn’t really understand anger”, Mr. Martin said. “The only threat that gets through is not to be taken to McDonald’s” Like other youngsters too, he likes music. But again, in his own way.” He’s virtually wrecked the record player, but he’ll get it out and play it at full volume” Mr. Martin said.

Mr. Martin said Julian had “cemented” his family rather than split it. But the future was uncertain.
“He shows so much promise, so much false promise really, that we keep telling ourselves he’ll come good. But he’s not … and we just don’t know what the future is. “

Julian Martin, aged 9, with his father, Bill Martin
Julian Martin, aged 9, with his father, Bill Martin Picture: John Krutop