Notoriously private Gold Logie winner Waleed Aly has opened up about his family’s experience after his nine-year-old son was diagnosed with autism.
Aly and his wife Dr Susan Carland have usually been guarded about their family life, but The Project host recently told TV Week the candid story.
The academic and media personality said his son Zayn’s 2011 diagnosis was a seismic event for the family, but added it had been wonderful watching him flourish.
“He’s a lovely little man, and it’s lovely watching him grow through all these things,” he said. “Because of the early diagnosis, he was able to get the support he needed. He’s just coming on in leaps and bounds.”
Aly said he and his wife had initially decided not to speak about Zayn’s disorder publicly until their son was old enough to make his own decision on the matter.
But he decided to open up about his son earlier because he wanted to reduce the stigma around the disorder.
“I had another really good chat to Susan, and we spoke about whether it would be a good thing for us to do. And this was before I was on The Project.”
The follow-up chat prompted Aly’s first public exploration of autism, in a story on The Project in April 2014.
After that, “the seal was broken”, he said. “It was like, ‘OK, well, I can talk about the topic’.”
Aly whacks anti-vaccination crowd
Aly wrote a column for Fairfax Media in April 2015 rubbishing scientifically discredited claims that childhood vaccinations led to autism.
“As the father of an autistic son, this stirs in me a uniquely furious revulsion,” Aly wrote. “I lack the words for it, and words are kind of what I do.
“Let me be clear. I am no fan of the anti-vaccination movement. I can’t stand the free-riding hypocrisy that, under the protective, disease-free cover of everyone else’s dutiful vaccination, affords itself the luxury of a ‘personal choice’ to abstain.
“This is not a politics of selfishness. It is instead a politics about power. They [anti-vaccination believers] resist the corporate onslaught, and in the process seek to empower themselves.”
Autism Asperger’s Advocacy Australia reported autism accounted for 31 per cent of those using the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
In 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated 115,400 Australians had autism with the largest group between ages five and nine.
That figure rose nearly 80 per cent from the previous survey in 2009.
Autism Awareness Australia executive director Elisabeth Sarian told The New Daily that there was “overwhelming scientific evidence” to show childhood vaccination did not cause autism.
She said that autism rates in Australia had been rising in recent years, but researchers were still unclear on whether that was because of more autism occurring or better testing and diagnosis methods.
“Like Waleed described, being a parent of a child living with autism is very different from what some might expect,” Ms Sarian said. “The outlook for children is quite good now, there is an enormous amount of support available.
“With early intervention and really good education and developmental help there is a great outlook for children living with autism.”