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Ross County player Simon Murray wants to help others after son's autism diagnosis

By Andrew Henderson

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Ross County footballer Simon Murray recently had a weight lifted off his shoulders as his son Novah received an autism diagnosis.

Known for his hard work on the pitch, Mr Murray has also had to put in the hard yards off it over the last three years, after first seeing signs that Novah – now four – may be neurodivergent at 18 months old.

What caught the professional footballer's attention was his son stimming with his hands, and being unresponsive when his name was called.

Originally from Dundee, the Murray clan is still based there, meaning they had gone to the Armitstead Child Development Centre to try and get the support little Novah requires, but it proved to be a long, drawn out process.

Ross County forward Simon Murray with his son, Novah (4), who has just been diagnosed as autistic.
Ross County forward Simon Murray with his son, Novah (4), who has just been diagnosed as autistic.

While some people may not see an autism diagnosis as a positive thing, then, it was something of a moment to celebrate for Mr Murray and his wide Casey.

"A lot of people have maybe thought it would be something sad or upsetting, but actually it was a massive relief to finally get what we wanted to hear," he said.

"We obviously knew that Novah has these difficulties, so we wanted something in place that was going to help him get the right support he needed going forward. Without a diagnosis, it was becoming difficult to get the pathway for education and additional support that was needed, so it was a relief.

"We can now close the door on that part of what we've been through as a family, trying to get somebody to listen and help us get that extra bit of support, and now we can start on the next chapter that Novah needs.

"It has been very frustrating and very hard. We were told he wasn't old enough yet, and they couldn't diagnose him that early.

"It just felt like we were hitting our heads off a brick wall. As a parent, you obviously want to try and speak to the right professionals who can then implement what you need to do to get Novah that extra help he needs.

"From everything we were reading, the earlier you get on to these things the better chance Novah's got of developing a bit more easily."

Over the last few years, Mr Murray (31) and his family have gone on a massive learning curve to find out more about autism.

That is part of the reason he is so passionate about wanting to help others, as he believes there is still a lack of awareness and understanding about it.

In a bid to make it more accessible and relatable, wife Casey has created an Instagram page to share both their journeys as parents, and Novah's progress in the world.

"Maybe looking back, we weren't looking out for anything until we noticed something that was obvious," Mr Murray reflected.

"At that time, we never knew anything about autism or autistic kids, so our knowledge then compared to now was very limited. We've done a lot of reading over the last three years – it has been a real eye-opener.

"We're trying to help him as much as we can and trying to understand autism, and I think that's the biggest thing you can do as a parent – accepting the problems that Novah has, and help him try to overcome those barriers. It will take him a bit longer, but with the love and help he needs he can get through them.

"Now, I'll speak about anything, because we've got to try and help people understand it a bit more for other parents and children who are in the same situation.

"We want to raise some awareness as a family. Just from our own scenario, we felt we were the only family going through this, and my wife had a lot of sad times thinking about whether Novah would ever talk, or if he could go to school.

"In that moment it can feel like there's nobody to talk to, so hopefully other families can look at our situation and see things that we've done that they can do – we looked at other families on social media, and took things from them, and it has definitely helped Novah.

"If we can help one other kid or family, that makes us quite happy to try and help anybody."

Progress has already been made for Novah. Attending the Frances Wright nursery, which provides additional support needs, he has already gone from only saying a couple of words to stringing together short sentences – just some evidence of a "night and day" change in his communication level.

Simon Murray has had a tremendous start to the 2023/24 football season on the pitch with Ross County – but has always had his son's autism lingering off it. Picture: Ken Macpherson
Simon Murray has had a tremendous start to the 2023/24 football season on the pitch with Ross County – but has always had his son's autism lingering off it. Picture: Ken Macpherson

As a family, the Murrays can also now look forward to Novah starting school next year, and having a formal diagnosis will open doors to a number of other services.

On a personal note, the Ross County striker can only praise the Staggies for the support they have given him through tricky times.

"Obviously the most important thing in life is your kids and your family," Mr Murray added.

"Football is a very important aspect of my life, it always has been, but trying to keep my mind off the troubles we've had with Novah has been hard.

"You never know what's going to happen with Novah day-to-day – if he's going to go into nursery, if he's going to have a meltdown or go to sleep at night. If I'm away from home, my wife is then managing with two kids, so it's difficult.

"At the same time, football is my release. Everyone has stress in their life, but it has been hard.

"The club has been very understanding, and the manager has given me time to go home and get to Novah's assessments.

"I try and use my football as a way of trying to make Novah's life even better. If I can do better in football, I can get Novah more help off the pitch."

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