Meet Lizard parent Julia who shares an incredible insight to her journey in the discovery of her son with autism.
Hi I’m Julia. For about three years now I have been the mother of a little boy named Michael. Let me tell you about him.
Michael is a very special three year old.
He is a wonderful, fun, vivacious, affectionate, incredibly happy little kid. He has the softest skin and the bluest eyes. He is also very busy.
It is four pm and Michael has made at least ten people smile today, just by being around them. Just today he has spent five hours in therapy. He has also spent an hour running around the playground screaming with laughter while I chased him, and eaten so much food I am mildly concerned about where it all fits in his little body. More importantly he has given and received more hugs and kisses than I could possibly count (and I did four unit maths!).
Things are not always rosy in Michael’s life.
You see he has autism, ADHD, global developmental delay and a possible intellectual impairment. He is also nonverbal, so far. His receptive vocabulary is extremely limited and he has a lot of trouble understanding pictures as well. Every single word, and every single picture, has to be taught to him by painstaking repetition. So do basic skills that other children do with no trouble at all – things like gesturing, waving, pointing, imitating, all had to be taught to him over months and months. I’m talking one thousand trials per skill, sometimes more.
They were right of course. All children do develop differently. But that’s exactly why you need to watch out for the ones with delays, and help them out as soon as you can. Our capacity for denial is amazing.
The first couple of years of his life were very difficult – for me, for my husband, and for Michael himself.
When Michael was born, I swore to myself (like so many new parents) that he would not be allowed to watch TV until he was two. Once he did turn two, I decided that half an hour a day was all he was going to get.
Are you laughing yet? Yes, it’s pretty funny. But I did actually keep to this, more or less, for about a year. I broke down eventually and Michael could be seen happily watching his iPad while I did things that usually caused him to scream for half an hour. All those cruel things I had to do to him, like change his nappy, feed him vegetables and wash the dishes, were much easier now. But then I would turn the iPad off and the screaming would continue.
His favourite show at the time was Peppa Pig. And I remember watching it, thinking how annoying her voice was and how much I owed to the writers of that show. They saved me many hours of listening to my child cry.
George is about two years old on the show. He followed his big sister around, was always aware of what his parents were talking about, and often spoke. He didn’t do any of this very well, and he was WAY better behaved than any real toddler, but the point was that he could.
Meanwhile my little boy, at one and a half, couldn’t speak, point, or gesture in any way. He cried almost constantly. While he had a great relationship with me, and would be surgically attached to my hip if he could, he ignored most other people. He couldn’t follow directions, and didn’t even understand that they were directions. Michael lived in his own little world, and was retreating further and further into it by the day.
Everyone always says that you shouldn’t compare your child to others but… it was this constant comparison that led me to look up the early signs of autism.
I tried everything to help Michael meet his developmental milestones. In almost all of them he was so far behind his peers he would have needed a rocket traveling faster than light just to catch up. I took him to playgroup, Gymbaroo, every kind of music/swimming lesson invented for us type A mothers.
Not one doctor mentioned autism to me. At his eighteen month check up I asked the nurse why he never answered to his name or responded to any instructions. She asked me if he pointed or waved. I said he didn’t point and he used to wave but hasn’t for a while. She said not to worry and that maybe he just had a difficult personality. Did my husband or I have a difficult personality?
I can tell you for sure that if I did have a difficult personality, this nurse would not be alive today. Yet she’s not the only one that missed the obvious signs. My family GP didn’t see it. Michael’s numerous grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, didn’t see it. Between them they had probably raised hundreds if not thousands of small children and yet they would often go out of their way to tell me that nothing was wrong and all children develop differently.
One day soon after that I was watching George on Peppa Pig and thinking – there’s no way my son will be like this in six months. I remembered his cousin who was counting to twenty by one and a half (with lots of help). And his other cousin who was pointing at nine months old. Michael could barely do the things my friend’s six-month-old baby could do. Something was wrong.
Exactly two months later, when he was 20 months old, I took Michael to a paediatrician specialising in autism and ADHD. He was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism and global developmental delay in about an hour. And I’m pretty sure the paediatrician knew after about five minutes.
And most importantly we are learning to let him know, every day, how much we love him just exactly as he is.
But we did what we had to do. We trained ourselves to play and speak to him the way he needed us to. And he is now catching up on the milestones. Not in a faster than light speed rocket, it’s more of one of those slow trains that stop at every tiny little station. But the important thing is that he can now communicate his needs, he is learning new life skills every day, he cries less and laughs more. That train just keeps chugging along, stopping occasionally but always moving forward.
Many of the things he has learned have put him well on the way to leading a full and happy life. And it was all possible due to that early diagnosis and intensive intervention. Thank you Peppa Pig!
To learn more about Julia, visit her blog at www.michaelsmum.com