Last year I started a little tradition simply for myself. I wrote a little about our journey with Autism every day for the month of April in order to raise awareness and acceptance of Autism in our community. April is Autism awareness month.
So much has happened since I shared our journey last year. Where to even begin …
Perhaps I should start with a little recap …
In 2008 at the age of two, our eldest child James was diagnosed with Classic Autism – high functioning. This simply meant that he had delayed language development and that his autism was moderate, however his intellectual functioning was normal. Thomas, our second child, was 6 months old. At that time we were working and living in St George, 4 hours West of Toowoomba. We relocated back to Toowoomba so that James could attend AEIOU (Autism Early Intervention Outcomes Unit) in Toowoomba, 5 days a week.
James is now 7 years old and is in Year 2 in a mainstream school. Although he experiences many challenges at school particularly due to anxiety, he is doing well and is academically keeping up with his peers. James’ brother Thomas started Prep this year at the same school as James. My husband is a school Principal and I am also a teacher. I work in the area of learning support and also as an Advisory Visiting Teacher specialising in Autism and Intellectual Impairment. This job takes me to a number of schools and introduces me to many wonderful children and their families.
So … just two weeks ago our Thomas was diagnosed by a Child Psychiatrist with Asperger’s Syndrome. This has been a tricky road for many reasons. I’ve had concerns about Thomas since I found out I was having another boy when I was twenty weeks pregnant. The risk for male siblings of children already diagnosed with autism is between 40-60% – pretty high odds!
According to Wikipedia, “Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger’s syndrome or Asperger disorder (AD), is an Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical (peculiar, odd) use of language are frequently reported.
In a nutshell, the difference between the boy’s diagnoses is language development and the degree to which the autism impacts on the child and their functionality. James had delayed language development and moderate autism, and Thomas had no language delay and a milder form of autism. James’ autism affected him to such a degree that he was quite dysfunctional and our lives were incredibly restricted. Thomas’ Autism affects him to a much lesser degree. He is quite a functional little boy. He copes quite well with school but has anxiety and social interaction issues.
Tom has a strong sense of social justice. He is like a little policeman of others. He’s not so concerned about HIS choices 😉 Tom loves mini-figures, particularly superheroes and Star Wars. He recreates dramatic scenes from Superhero Squad or Star Wars and doesn’t like to be interrupted when he’s in the throes of the dramatisation. He can recall long streams of dialogue from various shows and movies that he watches. Tom is very literal. My latest favourite example of his literality occurred when he was watching an ad for those rice snacks with the big blue monster on them with the slogan “Food for champs”. Tom came flying out to the kitchen saying earnestly, “Mum, you’ve got it all wrong! Those snacks are only for champs! There are no champs in this house! We can’t eat them anymore!” And then there’s the devilish Lollipop man at the boys school who has spent months saying “G’day Tiger!” to Tom, only to have him respond, “I’m not a tiger. I’m Tom” every single day, month after month! We just wink at each other now.
The interesting thing about the Autistic Spectrum is that it is so wide and varied, and like all conditions, no two people with Autism are the same.