Our Autism Story
It took a long time for us to realise that our son had more than just issues with his vision. We genuinely thought his unease with strangers and his dependence on routine was a result of his earlier diagnosis of albinism. We didn’t realise that his phenomenal memory, constant questioning, inability to cope with change, fixation on books and Pixar movies, constant anxiety and his explosive tantrums were symptons of autism.
I vividly remember the first time the idea that he had autism was suggested to me. He had just turned 3 and his family daycare worker, who had previously worked with kids with autism, asked me whether we had ever considered that he may be on the spectrum. I looked at her, in shock, and quickly denied it. I mean, it was a ridiculous idea, I knew he had special needs but it was due to his vision problems. He couldn’t have a second diagnosis, life couldn’t be that cruel to him.
Soon afterwards, our youngest nephew was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum. I felt so sorry for him and our brother and sister and silently felt relieved that we ‘only’ had albinism to worry about. But as I started to understand the challenges our nephew faced, the idea of our son having autism kept gnawing at me, until I could no longer ignore it.
I am afraid that I did keep my head in the sand for some time, grappling with the enormity of what we might be facing. I eventually realised that I had to do something so I educated myself by reading reference books about the disorder. I found with every description of typical autistic behaviour I read, my insides twisted with the recognition that they were also describing my son’s behaviours. I remember sobbing in the middle of Borders one day, knowing deep in my heart, that my son had autism.
Grieving for his ‘lost’ future the second time around was unbelievably painful – more so as I had to face it virtually on my own. My husband took a long time to accept that our son might have autism and I found myself doing the legwork to get the necessary assessments done to obtain a diagnosis. He eventually accepted the diagnosis (and he is my absolute rock now!) but our separate bouts of grieving meant that it took a long time for both of us to be in the same place – it was a horrible, uncertain, stressful time, I hope to never be in that mental place again.
Two days after my son’s 4th birthday, after having a massive meltdown in the paediatrician’s office, he got a diagnosis of high-functioning autism. We were referred to Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT) and by the end of the year we had secured a place in their Hunter School for him. He was educated there for 3 years, finally making a successful transition to a mainstream class in 2012. I truly cannot believe how far he has come – his amazing progress is a testament to the wonderful support and assistance that ASPECT and his team of therapists and specialists have provided over the past 5 years.
I will leave it to the experts to provide information about the range of Autism Spectrum Disorders out there – far too complex for me to even start to explain! The following excerpt is taken from the ASPECT website. My son was a student in an ASPECT satellite class and made huge progress during his time there – they are a wonderful organisation and deserve everyone’s support!
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism is a lifelong development disability characterised by difficulties in social interaction, communication, restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours, and sensory sensitivities.
These behaviours often manifest in an intense and focused interest in a particular subject matter; stereotyped body movements like hand flapping and spinning; and an unusual and heightened sensitivity to everyday sounds or textures.
People with autism experience difficulties with social interaction and impaired and unusual verbal and non-verbal communication.
The word spectrum reflects the wide range of challenges that people with autism experience and the extent to which they may be affected. An estimated one in 100 Australians has autism; that is around 230,000 people. It is four times more common in boys than girls.
The quality of life for many children and adults can be significantly improved by an early diagnosis and appropriate evidence informed treatment.
The three main areas of difficulty are:
1. Impairment in social interaction
- Limited use and understanding of non-verbal communication such as eye gaze, facial expression and gesture
- Difficulties forming and sustaining friendships
- Lack of seeking to share enjoyment, interest and activities with other people
- Difficulties with social and emotional responsiveness
2. Impairment in communication
- Delayed language development
- Difficulties initiating and sustaining conversations
- Stereotyped and repetitive use of language such as repeating phrases from television
- Limited imaginative or make-believe play
3. Restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours
- Unusually intense or focused interests
- Stereotyped and repetitive body movements such as hand flapping and spinning
- Repetitive use of objects such as repeatedly flicking a doll’s eyes or lining up toys
- Adherence to non-functional routines such as insisting on travelling the same route home each day
The diagnosis of autism changed with the release of the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV) in May 2013. The key change to the new manual for autism is that there is now a single diagnosis of autism, replacing the previous sub-divisions of autistim, Asperger’s Syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
Autism is now diagnosed in terms of its severity, with a ranking of 1, 2 or 3, depending on support needs. Diagnosis is now based on difficulties in two areas – deficits in social communication, and fixated interests and repetitive behaviours.
How is ASD diagnosed?
ASD is diagnosed through an assessment which includes observing and meeting with the individual, their family and service providers. Information is gathered regarding the individual’s strengths and difficulties, particularly in the areas of social interaction and communication as well as restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours.
Such information may be obtained by administering standardised tests or questionnaires. ASD is usually diagnosed in early childhood, but assessments can be undertaken at any age. There is no single behaviour that indicates ASD. There are no blood tests that can detect ASD.
Developmental paediatricians, psychiatrists and psychologists with experience in assessing individuals with ASD are qualified to make a diagnosis. When making a diagnosis, the clinician will usually first determine whether an individual meets the criteria for autistic disorder.
What causes ASD?
Currently, there is no single known cause for ASD, however recent research has identified strong genetic links. ASD is not caused by an individual’s upbringing or their social circumstances or by environmental factors such as vaccination.
Is there a cure?
There is presently no known cure for ASD. However, early intervention, specialised education and structured support can help develop an individual’s skills. Every individual with ASD will make progress, although each individual’s progress will be different. Progress depends on a number of factors including the unique make up of the individual and the type and intensity of intervention. With the support of family, friends and service providers, individuals with ASD can achieve a good quality of life.
Feel free to check out this link which give a more personal view of our experiences with autism.
If you have any further questions about autism and how it affects families, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a question on the My Home Truths facebook page or contact me on twitter@MyHomeTruths.