Meet Michael Farley, otherwise known as Henry VIII. As well as ruling over his royal subjects, Henry VIII is also a father to an autistic son. We had the pleasure of speaking to his Royal Highness, who told us why he's supporting Team Autism in the Royal Parks Half Marathon!

I am a parent to the most wonderful person who is autistic. When James was born he turned our lives upside down in the most amazing way and has continued to do so. We always knew he was unique, but when he began to struggle, we did what all parents do and looked for answers. That answer was autism and with that answer came a commitment to helping James achieve, while also celebrating his unique qualities. 

We were very clear that James had his challenges but he also had a lot to offer. It helped that his mum has also turned out to have autistic traits herself so can understand why James struggles at times.

As a family, autism has affected lots of things we do together. When James was younger it meant being aware that there were certain situations he couldn’t cope with, such as hand-dryers (which he still cannot cope with). It has meant explaining to people why our seemingly able child is using the disabled toilets. In the disabled toilets he has control over the hand-dryer and it isn’t just going to be set off by another user. It has also meant defending our parenting and explaining why we parent James in the way we do, why we make extra allowances at times and why we still help him with skills like tying his shoe laces. 

It has meant fighting for the right support for James in school. It has meant overwhelming frustration at times when you watch your child struggle emotionally, psychologically and educationally as the mainstream school tries to push a square peg into a round hole. It has meant feeling helpless and hopeless as you yell into the abyss that is the local education service, because it seems nobody is hearing you. 

It has meant listening to people say “he doesn’t look autistic” and inwardly rolling our eyes while we explain the concept of “a spectrum” and try to spread a little education.

It has meant worrying about James' growing decision to isolate himself in the world of gaming, because talking to friends online is not fraught with the same challenges he faces when doing so in person.

However, it’s also meant finding other amazing parents walking the same path as us who do 'get it'. It has meant that we looked more critically at local services for parents walking this path. We set up a very successful Facebook group where parents can privately ask for help or just occasionally rant about the pressures they face. It’s also meant the creation of a local charity which offers support for local parents where none previously existed - in the form of a youth club for teens and young people with developmental disorders like autism, coffee mornings and 1-1 listening by trained volunteers. 

Autism has affected everything we do. While it’s been challenging it hasn’t been negative as we’ve had the amazing James as our focus. He’s already achieved so much and who knows what he will still manage in the future? 

Good luck to all the National Autistic Society runners taking part in my Royal Parks half marathon. See you at the finish line!


Spaces for this year's Royal Parks Half Marathon have now been filled! If you're keen to run with Team Autism, then why not sign up to our London Landmarks event, taking place in March 2019? 

Sign up for London Landmarks