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Silent Jack's birthday grace

  • 13 February 2018


At the park, the party is well underway. Teenagers are chasing balls, a toddler weaves between them wielding a striped umbrella, people stand around under big eucalypts — undeterred by light rain. An hour earlier the sun brightened and warmed, but soon the guests will seek shelter. None of them are quite clad for the cooler-than-expected breezes.

Jack's mother welcomes me with a little hiccup of surprise. Her beaming smile is all the reward I could want for making the journey. As I return her hug I can feel the slightness of her frame. Her face is mobile and expressive underneath a crown of twisting dreadlocks that sit atop her close-shaved head and soft pink-coloured fringe. She leads me to Jack, whose 15th birthday we are here to celebrate.

Jack has been out in the park with his dad and they've come under the rotunda to put on another layer of clothing. I haven't seen Jack for months. I notice how the young man he will be is written into his firm jawline and strong eyebrows — his upturned curving nose an impish tweak to his dark good looks.

My friend touches her son's arm and says, 'Jack this is Julie, she has come to wish you a happy birthday.' Jack turns his head and briefly his eyes settle on me before he turns away again. He doesn't have his headphones on yet. He's wearing a light grey hoodie which will cover his ears when the wind comes up.

Jack's cousins leap about outside, tall, athletic, confident, calling over distance for the soccer ball. Jack does not join them, ball sports hold no magic for him. He is a walker, hiking and camping with his parents.

A circle of family and friends stand within and around the rotunda. They gather to wish a happy birthday to the boy-now-young-man who does not speak and whose hearing and seeing are easily overloaded. The headphones now over his hoodie are designed to cut sound out not to bring it in.

Even before his diagnosis of severe autism at 18 months, Jack's parents were translating the world to him. Since then they've been translating him back to the world — Jack's movements and gestures, the nuances of his facial expressions, a careful reading of the language of his body.


"What other 15-year-old boy would deliberate over one careful bite?"


When Jack is overwhelmed by the too-much of the moment, his father leads him away to