Joy and Colour, Oh My!

Judy Sharp
Allen & Unwin, June 2015, RRP $32.99

One could imagine Judy Sharp, small and grey-haired, lifting the heavy steel of a car, straining and breaking muscles and bones in order for her children to be pulled free. Motherly love is an extraordinary thing. After all, lifting a car is a small act when compared to battling the prevailing wisdom of the 1980s; that severely autistic children would never love, never communicate, and never have relationships. When door after door seemed to be closing for her son, Tim, to have a normal life, Judy Sharp forced new doors to open.

A Double Shot of Happiness takes us on a journey with no paths, but it’s a journey shimmering with the bright colours of hope. We ride emotional waves as we follow Judy from the joyous birth of her first son, Timmy, through the initial tremors of concern as he screams and screams with no respite for days, weeks and then months. It’s the terror of new parents. What can I do? What am I doing wrong? There were no answers except that new parenthood is hard. It’s through this haze of sleep deprivation, loneliness and, most importantly, love that Timmy meets the world.

More than anything, we feel the strong heartbeat of love driving the story forward. By three years old, Timmy is diagnosed with autism and doomed (by a cold psychologist entirely lacking empathy) with a future of disconnection and institutionalisation. But Judy Sharp, seeing with the sunshine sparkled eyes of a mother in awe of her child, refuses to allow her son to be hidden in the medicalised world of disability. She finds (helped along the way by many kind strangers) a pre-school, then primary school, then high school, where her son can be part of a wider community. Together they find a way to communicate. And then they find art (and Laser Beak Man).

A Double Shot of Happiness feels like reading an autobiographic comic book, with heroes and villains, triumphs and setbacks. It’s set in a black and white world where people are reduced to their best or worst qualities, wearing the shadow of horns or hallows as they touch on the lives of the Sharps. But it’s also an intensely personal story, written from inside the battlefield of discrimination and struggle. While the world might be black and white, at the centre is a rainbow of colour and vibrant expression that many people said would never be possible. Judy and Tim, by forging lives that defied expectations, remind us that people are not diagnoses. Every person has something to express. The key is finding the how.

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