Speaker by Various Artists

Hustling at the San Francisco Bathhouse

by Deborah Hill Cone

It was the kind of night that reminded me why I used to love going out. It was the kind of night which made me wonder why all I ever do now is go to dinner parties and talk about property prices. It was at the site of the old Windsor Castle pub for a start - brought back memories of seeing Children's Hour, walking on sticky Axminster and drinking jugs of beer. There were the people - such an eclectic bunch - everyone from Ahmed Zaoui to Brent Hansen and lots of old faces. And there was the music. Loud Messy. Glorious. There was even, in my case, the compulsory drunken interlude sitting on a Parnell Road pavement with my shoes off (before going back in for more hijinks) All in all, Hustle for Russell was one of the best nights out I had had in ages. And it was debauchery in a good cause - it raised money to help home school Russell's son Leo who has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

Well, now the folks who brought you Hustle for Russell are having another party and this time it's in Wellington. Hustle for Autism is a fundraising event in the style of Hustle for Russell aiming to raise the profile of autism in New Zealand, raise money for a terrific cause, and at the same time launch David Cohen's book A Perfect World (Random House) and Russell Brown's humans.org website for autism.

Hustle for Autism will be at the louche-sounding San Francisco Bathhouse with hot band the Bonnie Scarlets providing the soundtrack and Russell Brown as MC — and the organisers are promising no long speeches. But although it will be a humming night, the reason for the event is a serious one.

Subtitled "A father's quest to unriddle the mysteries of autism", David's book is both a personal memoir and a global investigation. The work traces his journey — physical and mental — to better understand Eliot's autism and collect new information about the condition, meditating as he goes on its scientific, historical, cultural, artistic and existential dimensions.

Autism affects up to one child in 150 and families are largely left to struggle to make sense of the complex and mysterious condition and to try to give their children the best chance of overcoming it. Many parents report that once they get the seemingly grim diagnosis they are left alone to deal with its implications. Unlike other medical conditions affecting children autism has never had that cosy disease-of-the-week status which helps to raise funds and awareness, yet it is everywhere. Once you know someone whose child has been diagnosed you find parents with autistic kids popping up all over the show, like a secret network.

The first few years after diagnosis for children are critical as therapy can help compensate for the communication difficulties which are part of the autism spectrum. ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) is one of only a few intensive treatments for autism that has been proven to show results. It teaches social and verbal skills autistic children may not be able to pick up spontaneously through imitation.

The thing is, therapy is bloody expensive. So the families of autistic children who are already at the end of their tether trying to deal with the emotional burdens of an autistic child then have to shoulder the huge financial burden of providing this therapy. And when kids reach school age there are a whole new set of challenges with little support and specialist options for autistic children and no special schools. There is a growing sense of agitation among parents about how the state provides education for their children; someone may have a case to claim under the Human Rights Act that the government is reneging on its constitutional obligations to provide education for all children, not just the easy NT (neurotypical) ones.

Hustle for Autism aims to put the issue on the agenda. It will feature a cool auction with some terrific items to raise funds for the Autism Intervention Trust, a registered charity that helps fund therapy for the autistic children of its member families — and any family may join the group — and it has started running workshops for teacher aides to better understand the challenges of working with these great kids.

Please come along. I can promise you will have a better time than sitting home talking about property prices.

Details are below:

Hustle for Autism
Monday, 6 August at SFBH (San Francisco Bathhouse),
171 Cuba Street, Wellington from 6pm

Tickets $10 each and available from: Working Style Wellington, 8 Woodward Street, 04 472 2194; Millwood Gallery, 291b Tinakori Road.

Plus door sales on the night - book through info@peadpr.co.nz

All proceeds go to the Autism Intervention Trust