Despite the difficulties we had, Chris and I were really excited to be taking James home. We were well rested, the feeding situation was sorted and we were looking forward to settling in to our new life as a family of three!
The first six weeks are hard going even in the best of circumstances as all you parents know. James had chronic reflux which made him miserable. A significant number of children with autism (some research says over 50%) suffer from reflux and/or other gastro-intestinal issues.
Initially, we tried all the simple over the counter medications with him but these just weren’t effective. He vomited constantly and profusely. His breath smelt acrid, acidic and when he refluxed into the back of his throat he would scream in pain. At about six weeks of age he began to breath hold, a little trick designed to send his already fragile mother over the edge. I could startle him out of the breath holding by squirting him in the face with cold water or by blowing across his nose and lips. It sounds cruel but it seemed better than him losing consciousness. He continued this breath holding behaviour well past toddlerhood.
When I dreamed of having a baby, I dreamed of the joy of sharing this baby with others. I imagined passing him around to others, and as a stay at home, of visiting friends and their children or going to see Chris up at school. On the rare occasions I visited Chris at school, James would be OK to begin with and then would start to fall apart. By the time I got home we would then often have marathon screaming sessions that lasted for hours. Sometimes I would put him in the car. On some occasions we made it to Eulo (about 70-80km from Cunnamulla), on one particularly bad day we got to Bollon (about 150km away)! The movement of the car particularly on the long, straight roads seemed to soothe him and I was just relieved to not hear screaming for a period of time. Because of this he was a fantastic little traveller. The trip backwards and forwards to Toowoomba was generally easy when he was a baby.
The other thing that he found really soothing was the water. He loved the pool and the bath. He and I would often spend time in a friend’s pool, in a wading pool or in the bath together. This was a pleasure to do given that it was close to 50 degrees in Cunnamulla the summer he was born. He also adored the swing. We did some serious hours in both the indoor battery operated swing and an outdoor swing.
The biggest blessing of all is that he was a great little sleeper and still is … and the parents amongst us know what a huge blessing this is! When you put him in his bed, it was like it was just the hugest relief. He needed this complete sensory shut down. I played him beautiful music – the soundtrack from the film “The Ladies in Lavender”. If you haven’t heard it, I highly recommend it. Again, James is still like this to this day! Bedtime is like a relief, he never resists it!
James met all the usual milestones. He smiled at around 4 weeks, he rolled over at around two months, he was babbling, he was sitting by 6 months, and he was crawling by 7 months. When he first crawled, he Rambo crawled and I remember the health nurses and other health professionals saying that developmentally it would be best if he did the traditional, cross body crawl before he walked. Motor asymmetry and motor planning are common issues for children with autism. Like all things, this is a trait of children with autism but it doesn’t mean that because your child crawls unusually that they have autism. I hope I’ve made that clear. Ultimately, James crawled in the traditional way and then walked at 12 months.