For many fathers, few moments in life can be more poignant than sharing a dance with his daughter on her wedding day.
The pride at seeing his daughter grown and happy is made ever so slightly bittersweet by the vivid remembrance of her as a little girl; a time when wedding gowns and life-long promises felt centuries away.
For one family from Brighton, this moment was especially memorable; a brief window in time which both father and daughter will treasure forever.
Newlywed Hayley Elliott always knew her dad, Martin, was ‘different’. However, she didn’t completely understand why until he was diagnosed with autism just five years ago.
Prior to this diagnosis, Martin had been misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, meaning he did not receive the help he needed for the majority of his life.
Sadly, this case isn’t as unusual as you might think. Misdiagnosis and late diagnosis is an all too common predicament for those on the autistic spectrum, with symptoms manifesting differently from person to person.
A diagnosis can help an individual access beneficial support and understand themselves better. But this can take a long time, and a person can be fully grown with a family of their own before this part of them is revealed to others.
Often a person can go many years without those around them even suspecting they have autism; having learned over time to ‘blend in’ and cover up certain telling aspects of their identity.
According to a 2017 article in the Journal Of Autism And Developmental Disorders, adults with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) commonly ‘camouflage’ autistic characteristics while in social situations as a social coping mechanism.
Motivations behind camouflaging can include the desire to ‘fit in’, or to improve connections with others. However, this coping strategy can have both short-term and long-term effects; leaving a person exhausted and with a threatened sense of self-perception.
Despite being a deeply caring and generous individual at heart, Martin has previously struggled to show his emotional side; instead expressing his feelings through music and telling silly jokes.
However, Hayley’s wedding photographer managed to capture a perfectly-timed black and white picture of her dancing with Martin, who could be seen wiping away a joyful tear.
Hayley had rarely seen her dad expressing such open emotion, and so seeing him shed a tear brought additional meaning to their father-daughter dance.
Sharing the picture on Facebook, Hayley described the image as a ‘picture I will cherish for the rest of my life’. The photo was quickly shared by thousands of people, with Hayley left ‘astounded’ by just how deeply the image had resonated with people.
Speaking with UNILAD, Hayley admitted she was ‘still in shock’ at the sheer number of likes her post received:
Everyone was so wonderful and their comments were so kind! My dad is more worried about what people think of him as he doesn’t like people knowing he’s autistic.
It’s hard for him as he thinks people will think he is stupid and to quote him ‘r*tarded’. I obviously explained this wasn’t the case and that everyone found it very moving, but he doesn’t see it that way.
Although being on the autistic spectrum brings about challenges, the notion that those with autism will automatically be intellectually disabled is simply not true.
Many autistic people will have normal to high intellectual abilities, with a number of individuals excelling in a range of highly skilled areas, from music to maths to art.
Many autistic individuals view their ability to think differently to others as a gift, channelling their energies into creative pursuit. Beloved Ghostbusters actor Dan Aykroyd is on the autistic spectrum, as is quirky movie director Tim Burton.
According to the National Autistic Society, there are approximately 700,000 autistic individuals in the UK, making up over one in 100.
However, there is still widespread misinformation about those on the autistic spectrum, which in turn fuels harmful misconceptions and stereotypes.
Perhaps the cruellest of these myths is that autistic people do not feel emotion and empathy, a complete falsehood that completely misinterprets the sometimes different ways such individuals express their feelings.
Often, an autistic person will experience profound emotion – from overwhelming happiness to terrible despair – but may exhibit this in a way neurotypical people (i.e. those not on the spectrum) misunderstand or misinterpret.
Before this poignant story went viral, this was a moment shared just between Hayley and her dad, and the clear love and respect they have for each other shines through the photograph.
Hayley told UNILAD:
Seeing my dad cry at my wedding was a huge shock to me, I’ve only ever seen him cry once and that was when our first dog Tiffany was put to sleep.
Our Father/Daughter dance song was Everything I Own by Bread and it was dedicated to my late grandma and I think everything just got so overwhelming for him, but in a good way if that makes sense!
My dad has always been a very caring and giving person, he always makes sure I’ve got everything I need. The most important thing to him (other than me and his dog Tiny) is making people laugh.
He has always used comedy as a way of dealing with things, even if it isn’t probably the best time to do so. Obviously he doesn’t realise this with his autism, but we know his heart is in the right place. He loves music and he also volunteers in a charity shop.
Tom Purser, Head of Campaigns and Public Engagement at the National Autistic Society, told UNILAD:
This photo captures a touching moment between a daughter and father on her wedding day. It also makes a powerful statement about autism, by challenging the myth that autistic people don’t have empathy or can’t show emotion.
Almost everyone is now aware of the term autism. But few people understand what it can be like to be autistic and stereotypes and misconceptions are still very common.
We know many autistic people who feel emotions intensely, but may express themselves in their own way. They may even sometimes find their emotions overwhelming, and have a meltdown or shutdown.
Hayley and her father will have this lovely memory to treasure forever and wish the newlywed couple and their family all the very best for their future.
When you take into account the family members who love and live with those on the spectrum, autism affects 2.8 million people across the UK, according to the National Autistic Society.
Although great strides have been made in recent years, as a society we don’t speak enough about the realities of autism in adulthood; of misdiagnoses and employment issues and the tricky business of parenting in a neurotypical world.
Dealing with an autism diagnosis as an adult – and as a family man – takes courage, and Martin has shown himself to be a truly top notch dad.
By raising awareness, Hayley has helped show Martin as the caring, fatherly individual he is as opposed to a faceless, nameless statistic. No two autistic people are the same and hopefully this photograph will encourage others to speak about autism in a more human and nuanced way.
For more information on autism, visit autism.org.uk.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.