The roaring Twenties. A decade of post war jazz, extravagant fashions, Egyptomania and the Charleston. It was also an era of medical breakthroughs, with the discovery of Penicillin, Insulin, Vitamins A through to E and the Scarlet Fever immunisation. At the time, medical journals would not have had any mention about children being born with Autism. Autism was very present at the time of course, but confused with schizophrenia, and it wasn’t officially investigated and recognised until the 1940s.
Fast forward to 2013. I pieced together an outfit of faux fur, pearls, drop earrings, long gloves and, of course, the staple glittery headband for my night out in Sydney. I walked into the wonderfully authentic function room of the 1920s-born East Village Hotel in Darlinghurst and stepped into a time warp.
“What’s the password?” asked the flapper girl at the front desk.
“Tarantula Juice.” I replied.
I was handed my ration for a welcome cocktail and ushered towards the bar where I was served with an elegant concoction known as the Swanky Bea’s Punch. It was a full house, with guys and dolls of all ages, immersed in the sounds of 1920s jazz. Bar the distinct lack of cigarette smoke clouding above us, I could definitely believe I was living the life of a 1920s flapper girl for just one night only.
The only other giveaway that we were not Art Deco but post-millennia was the purpose of the evening, which was to raise vital funds for Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT). Not something the 1920s society would have worried about or even understood. Today it is known that approximately 1 in 100 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Aimee Meredith, the Community Fundraising Coordinator at ASPECT, took to the stage to welcome the hundreds of “decedent” revellers, and to thank the girls at CS2 Events for producing the themed cocktail party. Aimee spoke of the 230,000 Australians living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, explaining that ASDs are lifelong development disabilities characterised by marked difficulties in social interaction, impaired communication, and restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours. The word ‘spectrum’ refers to the varied and wide range of difficulties people with an ASD experience which includes autistic disorder, pervasive development disorder – not otherwise specified (or atypical autism) as well as Asperger’s Syndrome.
Once the formalities were complete the live house band, the ‘High Tails’, took position and the party got into full swing. There was a beautiful array of canapés including ocean trout, spicy satay chicken and gourmet mini beef burgers to tantalise the taste buds while whiling away the evening sipping on champagne and watching the roving dancer ‘Miss Fortune’ work the room.
A raffle was held, with prizes ranging from perfumes and teas up to Gai Waterhouse Racing experiences, donated by their Sponsors. When number 57 was called, I glanced down at the number 58 on my raffle ticket… and then shimmied over to the poker table.
As the night wound down, and I stepped out into the Sydney fresh air with my faux fur stole wrapped around me tightly, I was transported back to May 24th 2013. I wondered down the street past a group of girls in miniskirts and high heels and, adjusting my sequined headband, for the first time all evening… I felt out of place…
More prevalent in males than females, Autism, which derives from the Greek word autos (meaning Self) has been used to describe patients of schizophrenia for over 100 years, whose conditions included removing themselves from social interaction – hence “isolated Self”. The word took its modern sense in 1943 when Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins Hospital issued a report documenting the striking behavioural similarities of 11 children, including “autistic aloneness” and “insistence on sameness” which is, to this day, still regarded as typical of the autistic spectrum of disorders.
ASPECT takes on an enormous role in providing assistance to families and communities, and helping people on the Autism Spectrum lead productive lives through intervention, understanding and support. Their variety of services across NSW, ACT and VIC include eight specialised schools for children from the age of 4, an early intervention program, a helpline, adult outreach programs and workshops among other services. ASPECT receives 80% of their funding from the Government (Federal and State), 11% from fees for service, 1% from other sources, and 8% is made up from charitable donations and fundraisers just like Swanky Beas 1920s Cocktail Party, which raised over $2,574.
If you would like to learn more about ASPECT Australia, the work they do, and how you can get involved, please visit their website www.autismspectrum.org.au
written by Victoria Garside