Being a mother is challenging…being a mother to a child with Autism, is much more challenging. Autism presents in boys 4-1 in comparison to girls, 1 in 86 …1 in 160 (1 percent of the entire world has Autism) as stated in Rain Man in 1988, 1 in 2,000.
8 years ago, Mitchell was learning to read languages, babble subtitles, wearing, “I LOVE Mitchell” Return to sender, T Shirts, teaching himself how to play the piano, making friends/fans, a part of Deadly Dancers, Kinaesthetic learning, being mentored to kick those NDIS Goals… there was fitness / self defence, time out, calming bulling anxieties, imitating Google map, brain leaves on the trees, parking lot dangers, hearing the words, “I’ll never talk”! -Getting involved as parents in the speech, OT Psychology, First this, second this… discovering new foods, how to cook, clean, do laundry… people apologising when you say your child has Autism. Music, art, flags… dog’s early diagnosis and intervention, all of which has helped us, tremendously!
A human paradigm shift … neo normal… super power, Autism! Who, is striving to be normal? Autism is simply another way of thinking…why not follow their minds and see where they take us? Look at Silicone Valley… half of the workers there, are on the Autism Spectrum; it really does seem like Autism Spectrum minds, are the way of the future and it is us who needs to slow down and see what they see. We all strive to be the ultimate Mom or Dad, yet when you receive an Autism diagnosis, you quickly realise you have so much more to do. Nowadays, Autism is common; most people know someone in their community who is on the spectrum. 1 in 68 kids are now diagnosed with Autism each year. Back in 2012, it was 1 in 160. I believe Autism is like an evolved human… their ability to zero in and focus is something our neo-typical minds have difficulty with yet it comes naturally to them.
There are more boys diagnosed with Autism 4-1, yet girls are much better at masking their differences. Girls are often very sensitive and caring with a strong imagination to escape into their own world…yet if you have met one person with Autism then you have met one person, they are all in varying 373. In 1988 the movie ‘Rain Man’ came out and we were all amazed by his abilities…that was the first thing I thought of when my son was diagnosed in 2006; Rain Man was the only example I had to go by. Back then about 1 in 2000 kids were diagnosed with Autism. 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. By the Age of 9 my worries had lessened about Mitchell’s future… he is smart and funny, interesting, and all the kids at school know his name and love him. He wanted me to make T-shirts for some of the girls (he calls Dudetts) that say “I Love Mitchell” …hee hee …how funny his mind is, and how delightfully self absorbed he can be! My triumph with Mitchell at this age was his reading… he does not like it when I read to him or him reading to me and he often walks off and says “You make me jealous!”
I can be very animated (As some of you know) so I have been trying to just read the words and hold back on my voice variations. When I said to Mitch “We have had this homework book for one week and we have not yet taken turns reading it.” …Mitch replied, “Yes I did!” So I opened the book and began to read the first page, so he would read the second and continue to take turns. He looked at me and said “I can do it.” He read the whole book, incorporating different voices for each character …the little mouse went squeak.. and did not miss a beat because he had basically memorised the entire story!
Mitchell, has a great desire to be a Youtube star and enjoys memorising 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! He started computer coding at age 11 and now has private mentoring 3 times a week…thanks to the NDIS. We are in our 3rd year of NDIS, the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It has allowed me to get the help needed, to help Mitchell. There are mentors to take him out socially, shopping, fishing, walks, on bike rides: The Red ink Social Clubs, art therapy, dog therapy, music therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy; it has all worked wonderfully. I believe Mitchell is more responsible than a neo 16 year old, young man, he works hard and he loves to do the right thing. He says his mind is like a google map…he just asks a question and it takes you to the answer. Last year on our trip to Perth, our friends had a piano and Mitchell wanted to stay home alone… we had a friend on call and Face-timed with Mitchell. Every time we called, he would play what he was learning…4 hours later, when we returned home, he had learned the German, British and Russian national anthems. He loves Google translate and is currently learning German with Babbel. He must say the phrase correctly before he can go onto the next phrase. He loves this way of learning; show him an example and he loves to copy.
Time out, to calm himself: he knows to have a shower, if he is feeling really bad about something, it’s usually a bully at school that he is confronting, out loud. Mitchell is an observer of behaviours; he loves it when people are kind and is often very upset and has often sent me a message from school telling me about someone littering, or some bullying that is happening. It is so lovely that he cares so much…there was a time when I didn’t think he cared about anyone but himself, yet I see now how much he dislikes to be told how to be, how to read,
how to write, how to talk and walk…he wanted to do it, his way.
There are so many extra things you must do for a child with Autism and early diagnosis, is the best place to start. Get a series of tests to find out where your child, is at. Our first diagnosis was PDD NOS then a year later came the official Autism diagnosis, then the following year they added, mild intellectual delay.
Ahhh shopping…people saying sorry, or giving you tips, “Ohhh…this is your first child, you will get used to it!” How I dislike these comments and that’s when the isolation started really, It was easier to stay home than to be stared at and receive lectures in public as well as the risk of him absconding into a dangerous situation. At age 5, Mitchell attended ASPECT School, the largest service provider for kids with Autism in Australia. I was very happy he was accepted there. The class ratios were 5 kids a teacher and an aid, in each classroom. The kids all had differing levels of Autism; some were non-verbal. When I would try to get Mitchell to say, “I would like a drink please” I realised I needed to start with 2 words: “Drink please.” This was a very long task, from 2 words to 3 words to 4 words as my son (like many men) does not like to be corrected, so much so in fact that he would often repeat, “I’ll never talk!” I heard those words for almost a year at age 4 to 5. We decided to move to the Central Coast to attend the ASPECT School there and Mitchell really enjoyed the new facilities and eventually after 2 years he was able to go to a big School in Gosford. St Patricks proved to be an interesting step, the challenge was that Mitchell would come home reciting the Lord’s prayer and though I searched for an Autism School that was not religious, I could not find one. ASPECT classes are usually in private schools. Eventually we realised we needed to be in a place that had a greater community feel; my husband often went to Sydney for work, yet the traffic from the Central coast often took 2-2.5 hours so he was going in less and less. Eventually I convinced him to move to the beautiful Byron Bay in 2012, to live in a place where my boy is accepted for being himself! I know how fortunate we are here; there are not many places in the world as multicultural and accepting as the Byron Shire.
My Mitchell is planning to do many mainstream subjects next year. He is very excited that next term, he will start wearing his white shirt to signify that he is a senior and tells me often about his white shirt and about being a senior. Mitchell loves dogs, all kinds of dogs yet particularly loves the Japanese Sheba Inu; he can’t get over how cute and cuddly they are and how pinchable their cheeks are! Mitchell has delayed echolalia and often repeats things that are circling his mind, for many years we had imaginary Sheba dogs
in our house… mine was white and fluffy and named Sheena, my husband’s was black and named Hero and Mitchell’s, a natural beige and white, named
Rosie and Rosa,; for years now we all have to talk to our imaginary dogs and pretend they are really there, patting them and me, speaking to my Sheena in a soft voice. “Hello…how you doing Sheena? Cockie the bird has a foul mouth and often swears.”
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 vacantly 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 paediatrician, a specialist in development disorders for children, who, after 15 minutes of observing Mitchell, lining up ear caps and checking out his gadgets, he then informed us, he had PDD-NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). Once we understood this was Autism, the realisation 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 as having high functioning Autism. When Mitchell was 6, he was able to put a few short sentences together and ask for most essential needs, sometimes the words were not in the right order but at least he was trying and also socialising more. He loved to imitate people and characters and was very good at it, he sang beautifully and hummed a lot, he remembered strap lines from all kinds of TV jingles and enjoyed practicing faces in the mirror, we got 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 they’re random phrases from TV programs he likes or phrases he’s learned while surfing, YouTube.
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! Early diagnosis and intervention has helped us tremendously. It really does seem like Autism
Spectrum minds are the way of the future and it is us who needs to slow down and see what they see. Who here is striving to be normal? Let’s follow their minds and see where they take us.
By Beverly Masters
AKA Mitchell’s Mom.