Eels take a life lesson from Stuart and his fight

”For fathers, new to this, give support and love.” – Ricky Stuart, page 200, The Australian Autism Handbook

A week after his team was humiliated 50-0 by the Sydney Roosters, Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart fronted the media following his team’s shock victory against Cronulla and detailed a game won with heart and toughness.

Stuart turned his focus to the club’s captain, Tim Mannah, who lead the assault to win the Johnny Mannah Cup, a trophy dedicated to the memory of his late brother, and paid a heart-warming tribute. ”Because of the person he is, I think a lot of that is what the players delivered for him,” Stuart said of the team’s effort. ”For what we have here … Timmy is Parramatta.”

Stuart was just as heart-on-the-sleeve on Thursday night, although the media glare was not as intense, when he launched The Australian Autism Handbook in Leichhardt, a book in which he has detailed his family’s experiences.

As he talked about the trials, the tribulations and the occasional triumphs of raising an autistic daughter, his eyes beamed with that same passion as after the Eels’ victory a few days earlier.

”My two boys will be better people for what they’ve grown up with,” he said of Emma’s impact on her two brothers.

Stuart and his wife Kaylie revealed their story about 14-year-old Emma last year because there was little available to help people understand or cope with a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

He also did it so people who looked at his daughter with judgment when she ”snapped” realised it was not a tantrum by a spoilt teenager. ”Because Emma looks normal, people look at you as though you’re not raising your child properly,” he wrote.

His revelation about Emma struck a chord with parents who have an autistic child, and he said it wasn’t uncommon for strangers, like the woman who sat with him as he and Kaylie ate dinner in a Melbourne restaurant to talk about her twin daughters.

”When I’m out in the street a lot of the time people come to talk to me about rugby league, but there’s times when people come up to me and they feel comfortable to talk to me about autism and sharing their story … I feel comfortable talking to them,” he said

The former NSW Origin coach started the Ricky Stuart Foundation to raise funds to help fight the good fight. However, he rejects the suggestion that, as a public figure, he’s seen as someone who is especially good because of his parental load. ”I just think no one looks up to anyone in this regard,” he said of being sought out to talk about autism. ”I think it’s a case of people thinking you’re part of that family … that group of people.”

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