Day Five: Autism Awareness Month blogathon
The Wednesday Girls were a group of new mums that I fell in with when L was a few months old. We got together every Wednesday at one of our houses or would go on an outing – swimming, playgrounds, bus rides. The kids had all kinds of fun and we would get to download, debrief, laugh, cry and work our way into some really solid friendships, sealed with the fire of a shared journey.
There were times when I felt like these women were saving me from drowning. None of us were perfect mothers by any stretch, not that there is such a beast. Some had been through fertility issues, others had horrible gestational conditions but here we were with these beautiful children. And over the years, the number of kids has grown quite considerably.
L was the oldest of this crop but only by a few weeks. So when the other kids would reach a milestone before him I was aware but not overly concerned as I know that every child has their own schedule to follow. The regular professional support I got through the Narby playgroup was reassuring. The therapists who see so many children come through the school, advised patience. It was going to take a little longer for my boy.
I do remember seeing one of the boys quickly moving through the crawling, pulling himself up to stand and then walking stages. I said to his mum Abby – your boy is amazing! He is so advanced! I can laugh now as I think back to this comment. Because of course, he was just totally normal, doing what most kids do within a month or two of each other.
Gradually, all the kids in the Wednesday Girls playgroup overtook my little darling. He wore the knees out of a lot of pants crawling for a full 12 months. I eventually had to get him some knee pads as he ended up with big callouses on his poor little knees. Still he was a happy, laughing boy with an engaging personality. Because of that the Wednesday Girls kids have become a wonderful neurotypical friendship group for L.
It was around this time that his obsession with string began. He would gravitate towards anything with a string, anything that looked like or resembled a string. He had a particular way that he liked to fold the string and would do this over and over. My sister in law had given him a beautiful toy that was a block of wood, painted yellow and shaped like a wedge of swiss cheese. Attached to the cheese by a string was a little mouse. You could thread the mouse through the holes in the cheese. Not my boy! He got very attached to it and wanted that stringy mouse in his hand all the time. So as he would crawl along, the wooden cheese would swing through the air and thump down beside his hand. That was the start of me modifying toys for him. Of course I detached the string from the cheese. Oh happy day! That little mouse went everywhere in that pudgy little hand of his. Sometimes, being an extremely oral boy, he would pop that little mouse into his mouth to the shock and horror of some, who thought it may have been an actual mouse.
I had gone back to part time work as an arts bureaucrat. As L got a little older and it became obvious that I needed to give him as much as I could during these early years. I was juggling the work commitments, where the demands on the limited time I was in the office became increasingly overwhelming and a little boy who needed everything I could give him. Priorities!
I arranged to have a year of leave without pay.I knew that it would make a big difference to both of us. So it was with enormous relief that I was able to stay at home and start ramping up on L’s development.
I’ve said in other posts that I am the kind of person who likes to push the envelope a bit. I’m never shy to get in there when something needs doing. So, true to form I put my hand up to care for another child during this time.
Just before L was about to turn one, I had provided some respite care for a little baby girl who was waiting for all the red tape of the adoption process to be finalised. It was only for a few weeks, but I just loved doing this. So the week after I finished work, as I sat there twiddling my thumbs (!!) I took a call asking if I would be willing to care for a ‘pre-adoptive’ baby. She’d only just been born. She was a few weeks premature and was up in the hospital waiting for her placement with a foster carer while the adoption team did their thing.
I guess you know by now how I responded to this request. I was up at the hospital lickety split. It took about another 10 days before she was able to come home, but I was up there every day, giving her lots of love, feeding her, bathing her and giving Baby E as much as I could.
Some people questioned me taking on another child when L had a lot of special needs. Being one of five children myself, I felt that the benefits of having siblings far outweighed any possible negatives. I still think that I made the right call there. It’s why I have three kids in my care right now. But back to the topic…
At this point L was almost two. We had a wonderful Christmas that year in our steamy sub-tropic city. Lots of water play and backyard fun, visitors and family.
The new year started off great. L was finally walking and he was on a mission to make up for lost walking time. We walked every day. He refused to go in the pram. He just needed to walk, so we did. Sometimes he’d walk up to 3 kilometres before finally slowing down and stopping. We’d walk right past the playground – not interested. At all. Didn’t want to stop and look at the ducks or the water or the trees or the cars or the flowers or the dogs. He just wanted to walk.
At the Narby playgroup, they were able to access what they called ‘visiting teachers’ who have specialised skills in various areas. They organised for the teacher who specialised in autism to come in and meet L and myself. He wasn’t convinced that L was autistic as he was quite a social boy, especially with adults. But despite this, he was a great support though that year when a few more behaviours emerged and we started down that well trodden path of behaviour management.
I remember saying to one of the therapists in the middle of that year that I was pretty sure that he was on the spectrum. At that point, I had done quite a bit of research and I knew what the indicators were and the criteria was a pretty good match for my boy. Now that he was two & a half plus, the evaluation process could begin and the evidence gathering and doctors appointments became an even bigger part of our routine.
It may sound blasé now, but I didn’t care if he would be diagnosed as autistic or not. I knew that a diagnosis would not change him. He was still my little darling no matter what. I figured that if he did get the diagnosis, then great – we know what we are dealing with and can get on with it. If not, then also great – he’s not autistic, fantastic.
It would take almost a year before a diagnosis would be made.