The BBC is currently running a series called The A Word which is based around a little boy who has autism and his family’s struggle to come to terms with it. So far, his mother has struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis and while I can understand why some parents might feel like that – it wasn’t my experience..
Autism was suggested as a reason for his behaviour when he was 3 years old but prior to that we hadn’t considered it as an option. I knew very little about autism so I researched it and soon realised that he ticked all the boxes. One year later he was diagnosed.
The formal diagnosis came via a phone call. The pediatrician had told us unofficially that our son was autistic but she needed the full report before she could make it official and she was waiting on the speech therapist who hadn’t yet seen him in clinic. A change of plan on the day of his speech therapy appointment threw The Boy into a major meltdown to the point where the therapist was unable to work with him. As distressing as the meltdown was – we were quietly pleased that this would be going in her report. A few days later later the consultant phoned and gave us the official diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder with Sensory Processing Disorder.
How did we feel?
Relief, mainly. We had concerns for the future, but what parent doesn’t? Before that I was more worried about him not receiving the diagnosis or having to wait because that meant he wouldn’t get the full support that he needed.
Having read a lot of blogs from autism parents it’s clear that we’ve been lucky. We’ve had no problems at all in getting an assessment, diagnosis and subsequently the right support. I know that many parents are not so lucky but each of us can only speak of our own experience as we find it.
Why Go For A Diagnosis?
Some people live their entire lives knowing they are autistic but never getting assessed formally. When you look at the figures for the amount of people in the UK who have autism, I would suggest that the actual figure is much higher. For some people, they know and it’s enough.
Early intervention makes a massive difference. The Boy copes in mainstream school with one to one support. Without it life would be very different. When I was a child, Leo Kanner’s narrow opinion of autism still influenced attitudes and my son would have been labelled a troublemaker and most likely expelled.
A diagnosis can:
- Provide relief to the person and their family.
- Allow access to services only available with a diagnosis.
- Give better understanding of how to cope with any problems.
- Provide access to financial support.
How To Get a Referral
Our journey was different to a lot of families as our son’s nursery manager approached us with the suggestion of autism. The child psychologist observed him at nursery and agreed that he should be assessed whereas most parents start with their GP. The one thing I would urge all parents to do is to document unusual behaviour when it happens and note what was happening prior to it.
If you suspect your child has autism:
- Make an appointment with your GP. Prepare notes on what you want to say in order to get the most out of your ten minutes. If you feel you require a longer appointment, request one.
- Keep a diary to log unusual behaviour.
- Not all GPs understand autism. If you are not satisfied, ask to see another one. Trust your instinct!
- Take a look at the National Autistic Society website.
Diagnosis and its Effect on the Family
Every parent/family reacts differently to diagnosis. For some it brings a sense of relief, for others they grieve for what they feel they have lost. It’s important to understand that your child is still the child that you’ve always loved. The only difference is now you understand that they have a condition and it’s down to you, with support, to ensure that they reach their potential in order to live their life to the fullest.
Caring for an autistic child can be all consuming but you need to make time for your other children. Remember that autism affects the family as a whole.
Looking After Yourself
Caring for an autistic child can be mentally if not physically exhausting. It’s important to take time out for yourself in order to re-charge the batteries. Don’t be afraid to ask for support and accept it when it’s offered.
The one thing that’s kept me from going completely doolally is being able to talk about how I feel with other autism parents and sympathetic friends. Being able to talk (or type) things out can make all the difference in those low moments that we all experience. I’ve also phoned the NAS helpline a few times and they have been helpful and informative.
The helpline number is 0808 800 4104
Autism doesn’t begin with a diagnosis. It’s been there from the start and it will be there in the end but the right support can make all the difference. The difference in The Boy after three years of support is nothing short of amazing. He is loved and accepted for who he is because he goes to a wonderful school with people who care. More importantly, he is happy.
I gave some thought to potentially burdening him with a label but the benefits of diagnosis outweighed the negatives, especially with him being so young. Hopefully when he comes to leave school in twelve years time- having autism will no longer be an obstacle to employment thanks to programmes like Employable Me which highlighted how valuable an autistic person can be to the workplace when given a chance.
Ours is a relatively positive story but it’s not the case for everyone. There are some children whose autism is so severe that there is little hope of an independent life and that must be absolutely devastating for their parents to cope with. It certainly puts things in perspective for us. Life can be difficult but we know it could be a lot worse..
Life with an autistic child is an emotional roller coaster or at least that’s how I see it. There are highs and lows in every day. Sadness and joy. Hope and despair. Resignation and determination. Courage and fear.
But always there is love.