The first few years of my son’s life appeared normal like most babies; nappy changes, bathing, feeding, tickling, crawling, seven teeth at 7 months, walking and his first words mum and dad. Through his early developing years, he would play like most children. Then shortly after his second birthday and for several months following he seemed to stop developing and spent more hours a day staring at the leaves on the trees or was just vacant looking into space. Next came a breakdown in his speech, he stopped saying mummy and daddy, or asking questions like other children such as “why is the sky blue” or “how much longer”, and at pre-school he would generally prefer solo play, he was truly in his own world.
As discerning parents, we went to our local GP to ask why our child was not progressing in his development, rather he was going backwards? The GP uncertain of reason or cause referred us to a pediatrician, a specialist in development disorders for children, who, after 15 minutes observing Mitchell informed us he has PDD-NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). Once we understood this was Autism, the realization set in and we were naturally devastated. We collected the pamphlets provided as well as a list of telephone numbers. We started ‘intervention mode’ and commenced speech therapy sessions immediately and found an occupational therapist, got hearing tests, psychologist assessments, started a gluten free diet, enrolled him in early Intervention programs and found a uni student to work with him 4 hours a week, while we continued our journey trawling the Internet and books to further research about Autism and how we could help our little boy fit into our world and how we could try to better fit into his world. At the age of three, Mitchell had a formal assessment and was diagnosed having high functioning Autism.
When Mitchell was 6 he was able to put a few short sentences together and asks for most essential needs, sometimes the words are not in the right order but at least he’s trying and socializing more, he loves to imitate people and characters and is very good at it, he sings beautifully and hums a lot, he remembers strap lines from all kinds of TV jingles and enjoys practicing faces in the mirror, we get the occasional sentence like “I want milk please mummy” or “help please daddy”, or “thank-you very much“.
Mitch also has delayed echolalia and repeats phrases he has learned, sometimes in the right instance, most times it’s random phrases from TV programs he likes or phrases he’s learned while surfing You Tube.
If you can imagine Autism as a broad spectrum of light with many beautiful colours and darkness, then somewhere in each child there is an individual contrast balance switch we need to find to help all who live with Autism and experience the beauty through their eyes and the many wonderful gifts they have.
Not that long ago, Autism was a rare occurrence, you may remember the 1988 movie Rain Man when Dustin Hoffman played a man with Autism, in those days as few as 1 in 10,000 people were recorded having Autism. Today, research some 21 years later reports 1 in 160 diagnosed with Autism each year in Australia. Ratio between boys to girls is 4:1. Without proper facilities and teachers, children with Autism will be extremely challenged to integrate into the community and understand our world. Importantly, as parents we have adopted a lifestyle culture with a better understanding of Mitchell’s world, and really, when you get into Mitchell’s world and get to know it and live it… What a cool world it is!
There is no known cure for Autism and services available to families with children that have Autism is very limited. It took us two years to get Mitchell into a special education program. Since his placement, Mitchell has grown enormously, he plays with his peers now, and he is reading books and occasionally engages in basic chat if it interests him. Early diagnosis and intervention has helped us tremendously.
Mitchell is 9 now and my worries have lessened about his future, he is smart and funny, interesting and all the kids at his school know his name and love him. He wants me to make some T-shirts for some of the girls (he calls Dudetts) at the school that says “I Love Mitchell” hee hee …how funny his mind is and how delightfully self absorbed he can be! Mitch is in a private school in a Satalight class for Children with Autism, there are 6 kids, one teacher and one aid. Mitchell has a great desire to be a movie star and enjoys memorizing lines and practicing in front of the camera…the skits usually end with “please subscribe to my videos” I am so excited about his future and the future of all with Autism, it really does seem like their minds are the way of the future and it is us who needs to slow down and see what they see.