A friend of ours, whose daughter is austic, recently asked us how we knew and when we got Jake’s diagnosis of autism. My wife and I had to cast our minds back and it re-iterated to us, with hindsight, how obvious it was and why it was quite a simple process to achieve confirmation from a paediatrician of ASD. We were told early on by a health professional that a doctor wouldn’t take us seriously until he was at least two years old but we had known long before this.
From the moment he was born Jake had trouble breast feeding and couldn’t latch on properly. He wasn’t putting on enough weight and was crying for more milk. After a week or two the midwife told us to put him on the bottle if it didn’t improve. I still remember now heading up to the supermarket at 3 AM to buy some baby food formula and getting back home to figure out what the hell to do with it! Even then we quickly discovered that we had to use the teets that enable the milk to come out easier that were for older babies. This wasn’t necessarily related to his Autism as Jake also has Dyspraxia but the two combined meant his co-ordination and ability to manipulate his body weren’t working as they should.
At the time we had put the above down to “not all children breast-feed successfully” and had thought nothing of it. As the weeks/months rolled on my wife, who was with Jake 24/7 started to pickup on the fact that he wouldn’t settle easily for a sleep or make eye contact with her. In fact she used to get him to sleep in the end by looking into his eyes whereup Jake would close his and finally drift off. The fact that we had also made a decision to put Jake to sleep downstairs during the day in a cot wasn’t helping as there was too much noise and light. We had thought lets get him use to being able to sleep anywhere but of course to him this was a complete sensory overload. My wife grew suspicious that something wasn’t quite right.
As he got older my wife grew concerned and she was becoming upset at the fact that at six months old Jake was crying endlessly at times and she didn’t know what was wrong. He’d also get extremely upset when she attempted to take him out to playgroups and nine times out of ten she would have to leave and come back home. Upon returning home he’d settle down and was fine. Looking back it was just too noisy, too much going on, too many people and he couldn’t cope. I’d often come home to Jake screaming/crying with my wife also in tears not knowing what was wrong but knowing something wasn’t right but wrongly blaming herself too. Friends, family and health professionals would just say the same re-assuring things along the lines of every child is different and develops in their own way.
More months rolled on and Jake started to play with toys, crawl and stand. This was probably the time we knew something was definetely not right and we needed to research. His playing with toys consisted of choosing the same ones and doing the same things with them over and over again. The favourite being the stacking cups which he would just endlessley spin around and around along with lining them up in the same order over and over again. He started to crawl but could only go backwards and went from this to standing. He never crawled forwards in the end. Between the ages of one and two when he started walking he would be extremely unsteady on his feet and constantly banging into things/falling over far more than children of the same age. Again this was more linked to his Dyspraxia we later learnt as his core muscles and co-ordination were not developing as normal.
The final confirmation for us was between 12 – 18 months when he had started to talk and had about a dozen words in his vocabulary. One day he suddenly stopped and would say nothing. We’d already done our research and had strong suspicions. This just re-enforced our belief that our son had autism and we were ready to get a diagnosis to then get the help that we needed and was available. The nearer he got to two years old the more apparent his condition as he was still not talking, still obsessed with spinning cups, playing with the same toys, not interacting with anyone, oblivious to the world around him, sensitive to noise, sensitive to light and more besides.
Not long after his second birthday we had gone to your local GP and explained his symptoms and our diagnosis. Whilst in the doctor’s room Jake just ran from one side of the room to the other laughing to himself completely oblivious to the world around him. It took five minutes for the very nice doctor to give us a referral to a specialist paediatrician. Awaiting our next appointment other incidents would occur with Jake getting extremely distressed at light coming into the car on his face or the hoover in the house being too loud both overloading his senses. The solution having to get tinted windows for the car and only hoovering when Jake was on another floor in the house. Food had also become an issue and where he would once eat buttered cheese sandwiches he regressed firstly he ate them without the cheese, then without the butter before finally not even the bread. He still doesn’t to this day and has an acceptable range of food and drink that hasn’t changed for years.
A few weeks later we went to the hospital to see the specialist and again it didn’t take very long for her to come to a conclusion. Five years on I still remember it now in response to my question “So do you think he’s autistic?” she replied in a thick Australian accent “well, it’s bloody obvious isn’t it”. That made us chuckle and even though it was confirmation from a professional that Jake had a mental illness it meant that he could get all the help that he needed to improve his life. It also meant that fiends/family who were in complete denial and insisted that there was nothing wrong and he would “grow out of it and catch up” could finally be told to sod off!