Farmer, autism advocate and wife of the former Australian deputy prime minister and ambassador to the Holy See, Tim Fischer, talks about her life and faith.
- Edwina Hall filed this interview for Kairos Catholic Journal
One of the first things that strikes you when meeting Judy Brewer Fischer is her attitude to the vicissitudes of life. The wife of former deputy prime minister of Australia and ambassador to the Holy See Tim Fischer AC, mother to two teenage sons, farm manager of ‘Grossotto’ Poll Herefords and autism advocate chooses to meet challenges with positivity and gratitude.
‘I can't describe in words how much my life has been enriched by living with people that think differently,’ she said. ‘We could have had the normal experience of two kids, work and the ordinary path. But I think it would have been quite bland, really.’
Tim and the Fischers’ son Harrison, 19, are both on the autism spectrum. Harrison was diagnosed with autism—now known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—at age three. At that time, little was known about the disability.
‘Harrison was our eldest child and neither Tim nor I had had a lot of experience with babies,’ Judy said. ‘From the time we brought Harrison home he was very unsettled. He was constantly sick, he didn’t like being touched and he didn’t reach any of his milestones in terms of crawling and walking.
‘At two years old Harrison didn’t have any speech but we didn’t know what autism was until someone said, “have you heard of autism?” It was an enormous relief.
‘All that stress about why we were such terrible parents. No one would have our child in their house because his behaviour was shocking in every way.’
Judy, who is now Chair of the Living with Autism Cooperative Research Centre (Autism CRC)—the world’s first national, cooperative research effort focused on autism from diagnosis to education to adult life—and 2013 recipient of the Asia Pacific Autism Award, often shares her experience at conferences.
‘Doctors will tell me they hate giving that diagnosis of autism unless they are 100 per cent sure. I say, “Give them the diagnosis.” They’ll be glad if it’s not right, but at least have a think about it because for us that was the turning point.’
Judy said parents’ feelings of ‘anger, grief and denial’ often followed a diagnosis.
‘But this isn’t grieving over the child you thought you had that you lost, because you never had that child. The child you’ve got is beautiful and has particular skills and the quicker you get to accepting that, that it’s about loving the child you have, who you will go to the ends of the earth to protect, the quicker you’ll get to acceptance and the better it gets.
After Harrison’s diagnosis the Fischers moved for two years from their farming property in Boree Creek in the Riverina of NSW to Canberra in order to have access to an early intervention teacher and eventually an autism kindergarten, where they began to see ‘a huge jump forward’ in Harrison’s progress.
Judy said her sons, Harrison and the Fischers’ younger son Dominic, 17 -‘two very different boys’- are ‘the joy of our lives’. Faith has played a crucial role in Judy’s journey.
‘My faith is my rock and I couldn’t live without it. The joy for me has been watching Harrison move from being a screaming kid who wouldn’t go to church to being a very spiritual person. His faith is also his rock, so that’s extraordinary. I don’t know how that happened but I am just so glad it did because it makes a big difference in your life if you have that anchor.
For Judy, it’s about perspective: ‘Loving someone with autism challenges your concept of what is normal, and it’s such a good thing to challenge what is normal because normal is not right, normal is just the majority.’
FULL STORY: Kairos Catholic Journal