Jessie Hewitson is a staff journalist at The Times. She is a mum to two boys – one seven and one two. Her seven-year-old son is autistic and she has written a book, Autism: How to raise a happy autistic child, was published by Orion Spring on 22 March.
Describe a typical day for you?
My son arrives in my room just before 6am and tries to convince me to allow him to use the iPad, even though he’s not meant to have it until 6am. I agree, my son scampers off to his room and my husband tells me off for not holding firm. We go back to sleep then my youngest son wakes up a nanosecond after I’ve nodded off.
I rush to work, write stories on property and personal finance, fuelled by about six cups of tea. Battle the rest of London on the Tube home, rushing to make it back in time to say goodnight to my sleepy eldest son – youngest by this time hopefully fast asleep. Make myself dinner and flop on the sofa, watching something on Netflix. Eat chocolate.
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
My two sons – corny but true. I didn’t think I would be a mum when I was young, so it’s come as a wonderful surprise that I love being a mum.
Supporting my autistic son to be happy being his autistic self, though living in a non-autistic world is, I guess, an achievement, though I’m not sure that’s the right word, as it’s a work in progress. I think all parents think they are getting it right, then wrong, but I think these feelings are intensified for (non-autistic) parents of autistic children.
My book is my biggest achievement professionally. I don’t think the internet is a great place for parents as there’s loads of scary nonsense out there, and when I was desperate for sensible, practical information I couldn’t find it. And so I wrote it: a book that has everything you need to know in one place. Something that will tell parents of autistic kids (or parents who think their kids are autistic) that it’s going to okay.
What’s in your handbag/satchel?
I like my handbags large and inside they are a mess, containing a combination of makeup, tissues, notebooks, pens, my swipey card for work that I can never find at the right time, nuts that have spilled out from their packet, coins and asthma inhalers.
What are your ambitions in life?
I used to be very driven professionally – I wanted to work my way to the top and earn lots of money and holiday in the Caribbean. After my son’s diagnosis, however, everything changed. Wanting him to be happy was the only thing that mattered. Everything else faded into the background.
It was a very powerful experience and it hasn’t stopped being true. (Though I now have two sons to worry about!) Which isn’t to say that I’m no longer ambitious, it’s just my ambitions are for my family as well as my own career. I would love it if my children, when they are grown up, tell their friends they had a happy childhood.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your son’s diagnosis?
Tons of things. I wish I knew that the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder my son received when he was two didn’t mean a miserable or lesser life for him. I wish I had known how close we would become; how chatty he would be; that he would have friends at school; that his anxiety would lessen and his confidence grow. I wish I had known sooner how to adapt our lives to reduce his anxiety and help him cope, which is why I wrote the book.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
In a cafe in Crouch End, north London, writing another book related to autism, flapjack in hand, spilling crumbs over my keyboard.
What advice would you give a budding writer?
Writing isn’t usually something you are born good at. It’s just about practice. I think the best journalists are people who listen, gain people’s trust, who are open to different sides of an argument or issue, and who are self-aware.
What do you wish you’d known about motherhood before having kids?
I didn’t have a clue what it was going to be like and that is probably a good thing. If I’d know it would mean the end of eight hour night’s sleep, relaxing holidays and the ability to finish a thought, I don’t think I would have done it. So I’m pleased I didn’t know anything about motherhood before I took the plunge.
Finally, happiness is…
Drinking a cocktail lying on a beach in a sunny country reading a good book with children playing contentedly within eye shot.