Emma Noble speaks out about son's autism

06/05/2008 at 09:01 AM ET

Emmanoble_ferda_51871007_maxcbbjpgWhen their son Harry was 2 ½, English model and actress Emma Noble and James Major — son of the former Prime Minister John Major — watched in bewilderment as their toddler slowly retreated into a world all his own, losing his vocabulary along the way.  The last word to go was ‘Mummy,’ Emma, 36, recently recalled,

He was trying so hard but all he could get out was ‘Mu, Mu’. All the time I was desperately willing him on.  That look of fear and confusion on his face will never leave me. 

What the couple, who have since divorced, later learned was that Harry — who is now 7 — has autism.  Receiving the diagnosis was devastating, Emma said, leaving her feeling "very alone and isolated."  Fortunately, years of therapy and determination are yielding good results for Harry — whom Emma likens to an "encyclopedia" and describes as a "chatterbox." Her son is now mainstreamed in school, but progress was not quick or easy.

It was like slowly building the bricks back up which had just been knocked down. It was Harry who pulled me out of that despair. I started doing courses on autism and could then see tiny improvements – they meant everything to me.

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Although her marriage began to unravel not long after Harry began his descent into autism, Emma said "it is very important to me that people – and my son, above all – know the two were not connected."  Both mother and son have "come a long way" since the initial diagnosis, a moment in their lives that Emma said feels like "another lifetime." She added,

I felt I really wanted to know why. I was very angry, very upset. It was a form of grieving, a bereavement. But that feeling dies – the desperate wanting to blame – and what takes over is the day-to-day living…Now I can honestly say I don’t feel bereavement. Time helps things move on. You have to be very positive – and Harry makes that very easy. 

That’s not to say that there still aren’t obstacles to overcome.  Harry, Emma said, recently started telling his mom ‘I love you’ — a breakthrough in any context — but he also says it to complete strangers.  He gets frustrated and angry, and has difficulty making friends.  There’s also the issue of dealing with the reactions of others who are unaware of Harry’s diagnosis.  A recent outing to see The Lion King led to an uncomfortable exchange.  Recalled Emma,

[Harry] desperately wanted to go but even such a simple trip takes a lot of preparation.  I had to explain there would be a lot of people and a lot of noise.  We took his ear muffs and reassured him that he could leave at any time. He was squealing, putting his hands over his eyes, loving it as any child would. 

Then a woman next to me said, ‘Can you please control your child? I have paid a lot of money for these tickets.’  I replied, ‘My son is autistic and is behaving impeccably. Please be quiet.’ Well, I wasn’t quite that polite – but words to that effect.  She did apologize but I was angry. There are times when a little bit of understanding would go a long way.   

Emma said she imagines autism must feel like "being in a foreign country and not knowing the language."

If he is in pain or hungry he can’t communicate it. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be – not knowing your way around or how to ask for directions?

Still, with so much to be thankful for, Emma said she wants to "give others hope" by speaking out about Harry’s diagnosis and progress.

He does have a disabling condition but by the same token I don’t want to slap a label on his head. I want people to stop thinking of the film Rain Man whenever they hear of autism. I am lucky to have Harry and very proud of him. I have high hopes for his future now.

Source:  The Sun; Photo by Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage.com

Thanks to CBB reader Chloe.

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phoebe on

I am British and I remember this family from when Emma and James were married (she was more famous than him probably, mainly for her modelling) and then when Harrison was born. I always got good vibes from them, like they were friendly and down to earth, despite their celebrity status. Now Harrison has been diagnosed with autism, I have developed a whole new level of respect for them. I am the aunt of a beautiful six-year-old boy who is autistic, and while I have never lived with my nephew, I do see him three to four time a week, and to that end, I can completely empathise with the struggles Emma has described. It is devastating, not only to recieve that diagnosis of a child you worship, but to see the lack of understanding of people who make not even the slightest attempt to ‘get’ what autism means. I can’t count the amount of times my sister has been scolded by busybody’s in the street who think that her son should not be in a pushchair (which we have to use in ‘behavioural emergencies’), or who come up to her and tell her that he should be talking properly by now. Even when she explains (although she should not have to) the reasons for his difficulties, people don’t always apologise and I do believe that some of that comes out of ignorance.

Having said that, it is wonderful and heartwarming to hear of stories like this (it reminds me very much of Jenny McCarthy), where parents have fought like crazy to give their little ones the best they possibly can. I probably haven’t articulated myself very well her, but as you can tell, this is a subject that is close to my heart. Thank you, Emma, for bringing publicity like this, it helps people like my sister feel that they are not alone.

I wish Harrison and his family all the very best, and hope that he, and other beautiful kids like him, have a future that is filled with promise and understanding.

Phoebe. xx.

mary on

I wish people would not always come to the conculsion that when a child is acting up in public that he/she is a bad child or is acting that way because of bad parenting. Yes I understand that someone paid a lot of money for the tickets BUT a small child or a young teen who is not acting according to your standards could actually have a learning disability or autism touretts AND just because these children have that, does not mean they can’t enjoy a play, movie or some sort of entertainment too! I feel sorry that she had to defend her child in a way that also made her feel guilty.

DLR on


Not another child who by age 2.5 was “gone” due to autism. I would bet the farm the last thing Emma did before she noticed what happened with her son was she had taken him for his latest round of immunization shots.

The governments and medical communities need to wake up. All those immunizations and “all-in-one” shots are wrecking havoc on children’s bodies that can’t handle the constrant influx of foreign viruses and bacteria all in the name of preventing things. Plus the schedule the shots are at is crazy. All that stuff by 15 months?

Look at your own immunization records, especially if you were born before 1980. Then compare with the immunization records of a baby born in 2006. Scary, eh?