Doctor tells mum her child will never love her
JUDY Sharp was in tears in a Brisbane doctor's car park. A specialist had told her moments earlier that her then three-year-old son had such severe autism he would never love her, and she should lock him away in an institution.
That news, delivered 25 years ago, cut the mother of two to the core. But as she strapped her son Tim into the car she felt his little hands wipe away the tears on her face. It was that moment, she said, that sparked a hope in her the doctor was wrong.
"No one can predict the future," Judy, now 57, said. "You have to rely on (doctors') experience and knowledge, but you have to also realise this is your own life and make that the best life it can be."
It is a story Judy has told countless times, as her little boy Tim, now 28, defied that doctor and did more than connect with his mum - he's changing the world, one colourful artwork at a time.
The hope ignited in that Brisbane specialist's car park fuelled Judy to find another way to communicate with Tim through drawings. They began to "talk" using pictures and Tim's vocabulary grew from 10 barely used words, to 100, to more.
Judy said she could not draw when she discovered this line of communication with Tim but, while her artistic skills did not improve, her son quickly discovered a natural talent that flourished as the years wore on.
When Tim was 11 years old, his admiration for superheroes prompted him to create his own and Laser Beak Man was born. The character first appeared as a little sketch on a scrap of white paper, then on a birthday card with the message, "Have a filthy disgusting birthday".
Now, 17 years later, there is a play about Laser Beak Man in development. Tim's art was also made into an eight-part cartoon series for the ABC, which the channel then sold to the Cartoon Network and made Tim the first person in the world with autism to have his work turned into an animated series. Tim has exhibited his pictures in venues worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
As Tim conquered the art world, his little brother Sam, 26, started to make waves in the pool.
He was a state swimming representative and competed at Olympic trials. He is now a swimming coach.
"I'd like to point out I'm not a pushy mother," Judy said with a chuckle.
"All I hoped for was that I wanted them to be happy in life. I'm proud not of what they've achieved but of the men they are. I can't believe that I've ended up with two of the most perfect people on earth."
Tim and Judy are now sought-after public speakers. They have attended events from a Tedx talkfest at the Sydney Opera House in 2014, where they received a standing ovation in front of thousands, to a talk at a special school in Redlands, south of Brisbane, last month. No gig is too big or too small for their speech about love and the need to accept difference.
It was a message Redlands District Special School parent support co-ordinator Judy Howard first heard during a conference in Melbourne, and she knew the teachers and parents at her school would also value Judy and Tim's outlook.
Mrs Howard said the pair astounded the audience of about 120 staff and parents.
"Judy comes from a battler background, and look what Judy and Tim have achieved. It's a story of autism being a different ability and not a disability," she said.
"One of our parents here told me afterwards she was in absolute tears because she was also told to put her child in an institution and forget about him. The story gave her hope."
Mrs Howard said the parents in the crowd seemed to identify with Tim and Judy because Tim started his education at the Redlands school.
"People admire one of them who's cracked it and made good," she said.
"It's been with a lot of hard work but it's also got the message out there that when you go to the strength of someone's autism rather than try and make them fit into our box, look what can be achieved."
Judy said public speaking was often an emotional experience for her.
"You stand on the stage and you can feel the love," she said.
"There's something in a human being and you can feel the love pouring out of people."
Judy's life, however, has not always been so full of light. In 1992 she walked out of a violent marriage. It's something she has only started talking about in recent years.
"It's all surreal," Judy said of that period of her life.
"You think 'how do we survive' for a start. We couldn't get to a refuge. I had a child with autism, how could I get out of the house? We went to a house with no electricity and we were getting food from the Salvation Army."
She said that like anyone who has faced violence, the fear never left her and more women needed to hear the message of walking away from such "toxic" relationships as the best path of action.
"I think you always live with the scars," Judy said.
"The main thing is getting out."
Judy said she now wakes in the mornings and cannot believe all the good that has occurred to her and her two boys. She started to chronicle her good fortune, which turned into her memoir, A Double Shot of Happiness.
"It's my academy award, it's my gold medal," Judy said of the book.
"I still wake up and shake my head at all the good that happened. I thought I'd best write this down and then it just started flowing out of me, I couldn't make it stop."
Judy makes no secret of what is at the heart of her decision-making process.
"Like all the stuff we've done, we think what's best for Tim? We don't do it for money. I can't tell you how much we made at the last exhibition, but I can tell you all the people we met."
Judy credited her son with giving her a wider perspective on life. She said without him she would have had the world view of an ant.
"His art has this perspective on life that people don't see and people really connect with that. It's the difference that people connect with," Judy said.
"His personality is his strength, his art only reflects that. It's his presence. He's so peaceful, so honest."
The final words, though, belong to Tim. He spoke them during the TedxSydney talk in 2014, in front of thousands of audience members. It was a phrase the Brisbane doctor told Judy she would never hear.
"You have to try hard in life," Tim said.
"Every day is a good day for me, every day is a happy day for me. Mum and I are a good team. We are nice to each other, we are never mean to each other. We like hanging out. She's my mum and my best friend. She's beautiful and excellent. I love my mum. All you need is love."