I’m the mum to an almost 4 year old boy who I affectionately refer to as The Monster, and a baby boy who is 3 months old. I’m a long time partner (but not wife as he refuses to put a ring on it) to my other half.
I often get asked how we knew The Monster was different. What triggers were there that made us question his ‘normality’? Well in short we didn’t realise he was different since we had no comparison. Was he hard work? hell yes. Was he challenging? of course. Was he hitting all his milestones? Some but not all. All sounds pretty normal to me. Nobody had ever told me having kids was easy so I assumed this was ‘normal’. The fact I’d managed to eat toast and have a shower which I’d been reliably informed was impossible when you had a small person meant we were winning, surely!?
It was his childminder who raised the flag. She described him as having tunnel vision and very busy. His speech wasn’t coming, he was super noisy but no words and he was mildly delayed at walking, taking his first steps at 17 months. When she told me in no uncertain terms that he was, quote “hard work” it was music to my ears. I thought all kids were this challenging! And so with that we mentioned it to our GP and the ball started rolling….and rolling….and rolling. Here began what was to become a just over two year diagnosis process.
In the months that we waited for his first appointment with his paediatrician I raised the flags with The Monster’s health visitors. His two year check was fast approaching and I was now more aware than ever of the things he wasn’t doing. He used to wave but had stopped, he used to say hiya but had stopped. He didn’t have enough concentration to hold a crayon never mind draw a line and he was constantly busy. Sleeping was cheating and being up for several hours in the middle of the night wasn’t an uncommon occurance. Everyone assumed it was normal waking and nothing some sleep training wouldn’t resolve. I finally broke, ringing the health visitors uncontrollably sobbing down the phone after a particularly long stint of about 4 hours broken sleep a night. They sent someone around that day. But they still didn’t get it. The boy did not sleep! This was to continue until the actual day of diagnosis when I was finally granted the magic potion, melatonin. Hello sleep…oh wait, hello newborn baby!
At the first paediatrician appointment I was asked a whole host of questions whilst The Monster ran rings around me. He turned on every switch he could find, played with the taps, banged the window and avoided all toys in the room, obvs. At least he was on form and she could see what he was like. We got refered for a hearing test, a speech and language appointment and for an epilepsy test since he was having frequent episodes of staring into space. We waited so long for these appointments to come through that I arranged the hearing test and contacted a speech and language therapist myself. Eventually he had his epilepsy test and it came back normal. After over 18 weeks we still hadn’t heard anything for the other follow-ups so I contacted the paediatrician to find out what the blooming heck was going on, only to be told his records had been archived rather than sent to the relevant departments. Furious. Lucky I had been so pro-active or he could’ve been lost in the system forever. By this point I already had a speech and language report and he was undergoing more hearing tests which at least meant we didn’t have to start afresh. I can’t recall too much from the next appointment with the paediatrician other than to confirm that he needed further assessment.
In the months that followed we confirmed he had no major hearing problems that would affect speech. He had an NHS speech and language appointment and he was observed at home before being refered to the multidisciplinary team for observations which would ultimately lead to a diagnosis.
I did my homework. I read and read and read about autism, I completed countless quizzes online and I watched The Monster a lot. I did all this in secret. I was plagued by guilt for looking so much. What if he wasn’t autistic, what if he was ‘normal’ after all?
Communication was becoming increasingly difficult. He was growing physically but mentally and emotionally he was now much behind his peers. He still didn’t talk, he only just started waving and he couldn’t nod to indicate if he wanted something or even if he liked something. We started signing and amazingly he picked up a few. Progress at last. His behaviour was at times uncontrollable and I began dreading going to new places. On one occasion before diagnosis I apologised about his behaviour and said he was autistic. That was the first time I used the ‘A’ word to anyone outside my circle of friends and family. He wasn’t even diagnosed. He had tried to nick someones mobility scooter so I had to say something! I had a lump in my throat the size of a grapefruit and I cried all the way home.
Time went by and I had it all but confirmed that he was autistic. I was relieved when the assessments came around. Another step closer to it becoming formal. But what if they didn’t see what I saw, what if in the hour a week that they observed him he was on good form, what if he wasn’t behaving autistic enough!?
The assessments came and went and finally D Day (diagnosis day) loomed. My partner and I were handed a 13 page dossier before entering the room. It was tough reading but also made me laugh out loud. They had seen what we see. They had him down to a tee. We entered the room and were granted the sofa whilst the paediatrician and 2 other professionals sat opposite us. Not daunting at all! We went through their report fully before finally being told “He has Autism Spectrum Disorder”. I think they expected us to crack there and then, constantly asking if we were OK. My feelings? Relief. Sadness. Happiness. Grief. Real.
It’s been five months now since The Monster was diagnosed. I still grieve for the child I thought we would have. It gets me some days that I may never hear my boy talk, I may never see him ride a bike, have a partner, get a job, learn to drive, leave home. I’ve learnt it’s OK to be sad sometimes and I don’t feel guilty for shedding a tear about it. It doesn’t mean I love The Monster any less. If anything I love him more. He has taught me to always be kind, to be compassionate, not to judge, to be patient and to be a better person. All this and he isn’t even four. That’s pretty epic.
I no longer feel guilt for accessing support and I can talk freely about his autism without feeling like I am betraying him.
My name is Lisa and my son is autistic.