The West

Breaking the barriers of autism
Patrick Barter. Picture: John Mokrzycki/The West Australian

Patrick Barter can recite the entire dialogue of his favourite film The Da Vinci Code in the French, British and American accents of its characters.

He memorised the 2½-hour script after watching the movie just three times.

The 22-year-old can rattle off the history of Doctor Who, all the way back to the first episode of the science fiction television series in 1963.

He has an impressive knowledge of American politics and a remarkable recollection of the scientific discovery of autism spectrum disorders.

Yet, like many others with autism, Mr Barter's gifts are widely considered a disability.

The social differences that come with such a condition see many "auties" and "aspies", as Mr Barter calls people with autism and Asperger's syndrome, alienated from society.

Unbound by social conventions, if Mr Barter, who has Asperger's syndrome, thinks your hair looks like straw, you've got wrinkles or he doesn't like your outfit, he won't hesitate to tell you.

When Mr Barter met _The West Australian _at his Balcatta home, he declared to the reporter: "You're tall", before turning to the photographer and concluding: "You're not so tall."

Mr Barter's mother Melissa Kelly laughs nervously as she probably does whenever new people meet her youngest child.

"Once people get to know Patrick, they know the outrageous things he says do not come from malice," Ms Kelly says. "He just says what he thinks."

Mr Barter was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome when he was 7, but Ms Kelly could see he was different from the age of 3.

"He was verbally precocious," Ms Kelly explains. "We used to say he was like a little professor. My daughters called us Mum and Dad. Patrick would call us Mother and Father.

"He has a fantastic memory, auditory and verbal. He will watch a very long movie and completely focus on it. He watched The Da Vinci Code movie three times and by the end of that, he had memorised the whole dialogue, including the accents."

One in every 160 children in Australia is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Mr Barter was among the first cohort of boys to be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in WA.

Mr Barter attended three different primary schools but his autistic behaviour was not accepted by the teachers or the other children.

"School was horrible," he says. "Most autistics think school is awful."

When he was a 10-year-old pupil at the third school, Ms Kelly was helping him get ready for classes when he dropped a bombshell.

"He said to me, 'I hate my life. I wish I was dead'.

"I took his shirt off again and said, 'I will think of something else'. With that, I signed myself up for six years of home schooling. It was the best decision but there should be ways of catering for these kids. I think it has improved now," Ms Kelly said.

But Gabriella La Bianca, from support group Autism West, said parents were still struggling to get appropriate help for autistic children in WA, particularly when it came to school and bullying.

"There's no autistic-specific school in WA," she said. "In other parts of Australia, they do have them."

Mr Barter refers to autistic people as "my people" and, according to his mother, all his friends are autistic.

About to turn 23, Mr Barter is happy doing a TAFE course in children's services and a work placement at an out-of-school club.

Ms Kelly said her son had aspirations to have a wife, a baby and house with a garden big enough for a staffie dog - in other words, a normal life.

April is Autism Awareness Month.

For more information, go to

'School was horrible. Most autistics think school is awful.' " *Patrick Barter *

The West Australian

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