Age of Autism readers may recall reading of the tragic death of Harry Horne-Roberts in December 2009 (HERE) age only 20, after the administration of an anti-psychotic drug behind the backs of his devoted parents. For Jennifer Horne-Roberts (a lawyer) and Keith Roberts (an architect) this was a hideous symmetrical tragedy with the one near the beginning of his life when a routine dose of MMR vaccine propelled him into the world of autism. In between these two events Harry nevertheless led a life which was often inspiring, while his parents also fought a unique and heroic battle for justice, which continues until this day.
Now, Keith and Jennie have published on-line a book to commemorate Harry’s life and their decades of struggle (Harry Horne-Roberts Book HERE) on his behalf, and of all our children.
I first encountered Harry early in 1997 on a visit to the school which our own son was eventually to attend, and it was already apparent that he was pretty special. Though memory plays tricks I have this image in my head of Harry with amused look on his face filling sheet of paper after sheet of paper with his drawings. I think this image is true, that what we see in Harry’s work - numerous examples of which are found in the book - is a small genius for amusement: a young man entertaining himself and then us. It is also an art that develops in an unnerving way: in his later drawings, many of which are large in scale, the apparent childishness of technique is in tension with an astonishing skill in capturing the feel and character of people and things. The book records that he had much tuition in developing this skill. Nevertheless, it leaves you wondering which bits of the social comedy, if any, as an autistic person he did not understand.
Harry’s pictures tell one slightly mysterious story. The text is a compilation of reminiscences and documents (medical and legal), which also give a strong impression of time and place, and of the heart-breaking issues which confront so many families touched by disability and particularly autism. I have scarcely ever encountered a book in which the human and geographical landscape is so familiar: it will tell you what it was like to have had an autistic child in North London in these last two decades, and not least about the bureaucratic and legal constraints on people’s lives. As a barrister (a lawyer who works in the British court system) Jennie relentlessly (and belligerently) attempts to challenge the surrounding web of intrigue and entrenched interests through the British and European courts ( as well as an advisor in the US omnibus hearing), only to keep on encountering the same authoritarian hand deciding things only one way.
But, of course, nothing prepared Keith and Jennie for the final cruel twist, and now they find themselves campaigners on the indiscriminate prescription of psychotropic drugs as means of social control over the mentally disabled, and in so many cases a means to their premature death. All of these issues are represented. We have become a land fit only for pharmaceutical companies to exploit.
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.