autism, ASD, aspergers, parenting

My eldest son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was 13. Yet, from about a year old, my motherly intuition told me something wasn’t quite right. For one, he was super smart. Way too smart for a toddler; but there were certain things he really struggled with, particularly around other kids.

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By about 3 years old I knew we needed help, yet regardless of appointment after appointment to various professionals, no-one picked it up. They seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. For example; the psychiatrist was looking at possible abuse, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. So, for over a decade, I was told things like his behaviour was simply the way he was. Or the real tough one: his behaviour was a result of my parenting.

Not happy with the analysis I was determined to discover the underlying cause behind some of his unusual behaviour. So I enrolled in a Behavioural Science degree at a local uni primarily to help my son. By then he’d been suspended from several schools and it wasn’t because he was a bad kid. He’d experienced severe bullying and each time he’d lashed out in sheer frustration.

In my second semester, I enrolled in a class about ASD. The very first day I realised that I’d finally hit the jackpot and that light bulb moment I was hoping for fully emerged. By then my son was 12 and displayed most characteristics of ASD (listed below, so I promptly did some more reading and finally had some idea what direction we could source help.

While awaiting his diagnosis, my son’s behaviour escalated. After years of torment at school he’d eventually had enough, so our only option was to home school him until he could get some support. In hindsight, it was the best decision we ever made – and as the stress of the school environment dissipated, his behaviour improved significantly. By understanding his condition we were also able to accommodate his needs.

Since his diagnosis life really has changed for the better. He was identified by the local high school as a special needs child and placed into a supportive environment. We had to fight to keep him there, realising mainstream schooling was simply too demanding for him at that time. However, after several years and extensive support he completed year twelve in mainstream.

My message to other parents who think their child may have ASD is to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. The longer you wait the harder it is to access vital support services. There are waiting times, but schools are becoming more ASD friendly once a diagnosis has been made. It’s essential for parents to understand the signs because, as in our case, you can’t always rely on professionals to get it right.

Behavioural characteristics of ASD

  • Significant difficulty maintaining eye contact.
  • Highly routine driven. For example; must adhere to a strict routines otherwise it causes them significant anxiety and distress.
  • Intense focus on a particular interest. For many people with ASD this involves computer games.
  • Repetitive hand flapping, leg shaking, twitching and inability to sit still.
  • Very high sensitivity to visual and audio stimuli. For example; everyday sounds are amplified and things such as posters cause severe distraction.

Social characteristics of ASD

  • Severe difficulties making and maintaining friendships.
  • Difficulties with appropriate social and emotional responses.
  • Lack of understanding of facial expressions and non-verbal gestures.
  • Unable to initiate play with others.

Communication characteristics of ASD

  • Delayed language development.
  • Difficulty initiating and maintaining a conversation.
  • Can speak tirelessly on particular topics of interest, regardless of whether the other person is interested.
  • May repeat phrases from television.
  • Hesitant to answer questions and may take a long time to respond.

If you’d like to find out more about ASD please head to Autism Spectrum Australia.

Image via epilepsyu.com