Although he met all the usual milestones, there were other things that concerned me. When you called his name, most times he would not respond. James had lots of ear infections as a child so we had his hearing checked – it was normal. There is an increased prevalence in ear and throat issues in children with autism. He had such an extraordinarily high pain threshold that you would only know he was sick when his temperature went up or his ear drum finally burst.
His eye contact was unusual too. He didn’t really track things as they moved and he didn’t really sustain eye contact. He would just not look at strangers or new faces.
He did smile but he wouldn’t smile in response to other people very much – mostly he just smiled at Chris and me and normally in response to something we knew would make him smile!
He favoured one or two vocalisations – “gickle-gickle” and “thicka-thicka”. He would say these over and over again. He never imitated sounds we made.
He didn’t often clap his hands and he never pointed or waved. He didn’t use gestures at all. When we played games like “Peek-a-boo” he would either look at as like we were lunatics or he’d be totally terrified and would cry.
James did not enjoy being passed around to others. He was pretty good with the Grandparents and with Chris and I, and that’s where it ended. He wasn’t really naturally affectionate in terms of giving cuddles. He would tolerate the cuddles but he never initiated them.
Through all of this I was in complete turmoil. I never discussed this with anyone. Chris probably knew I wasn’t coping (who am I kidding??? Poor buggar!) but I didn’t communicate the extent of my difficulties with James to anyone. I probably didn’t truly do this until he was about 18 months old and I was pregnant with Thomas. I felt so incredibly inadequate. Mothers are supposed to be able to fix everything, yet I couldn’t do anything to make him happy. I thought that I should absolutely not complain or whinge because I was so very lucky and so grateful to have him at all! We had tried for so long and so hard to have him! I would seem a total ingrate to say he was difficult or that I wasn’t coping well, especially as God and I had formed a kind of pact all that time ago out on the oval at Quilpie. I knew from the day he was born that something was going on with him but I wasn’t sure what! It became clearer as he got older.
I had always thought I’d be a good mother and that I’d really enjoy it. I’d always loved children and thought it all came fairly naturally. James made me question all of this because I found it stressful, overwhelming and frankly, I didn’t seem to have any natural ability at all!!! That first year of James’ life was really tough and I think I remain slightly damaged from it to this day. I don’t in any way blame James for any of it. I really should have asked for help and although we had some absolutely beautiful friends out west, I do think that our remote location and being so far away from our families made an already difficult situation all the harder.