Communication! This was a really enormous issue for us. James only had a handful of words by the time he was two. He couldn’t put two words together and he didn’t use words as a way to communicate with us. He didn’t point so we never knew what he wanted. He couldn’t speak, so we didn’t know what he wanted. He didn’t hand lead us to what he wanted, so we didn’t know what he wanted! We never knew what he wanted! So our days involved lots of meltdowns and face planting from him as he just couldn’t communicate his needs to us. Even before his diagnosis, we had started using pictures with him to help work out what he wanted. He responded well to this. When he was a baby, I had introduced sign language to him but had abandoned it after a few months because he wasn’t attempting to sign back to me. Lots of people use sign language or the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with their non-verbal children with autism. In the end, because James’ motor planning was and is so poor, he probably never would have managed the signing so PECS was a better option for him. We still use picture schedules and social stories with lots of pictures in order to reduce his stress and anxiety. Even highly verbal children with autism will still struggle to communicate their needs and feelings to you particularly whilst under stress. Communication deficits are one of the key issues for individuals with Autism.
At this point, I need to talk about Chris, keeping in mind that he’s not as comfortable about the sharing of our story as I am. The last few years have certainly challenged us personally and in our relationship, that’s the honest truth. Parents of children with special needs are at a significantly increased risk statistically of divorce and family breakdown. Through all the ups and downs, Chris has shown unconditional love to all of us. I don’t know what I would have done without him through the many steps of this journey. We have had moments where we have cried together in frustration and in joy, and we’ve laughed together (generally after drinking just that one extra glass of wine) whilst passing a screaming child backwards and forwards between us with me asking, “Are you having fun yet?” At the end of the day, your partner is the only one who feels that same immense, overwhelming bond with your children that you have yourself. They are the only ones who can truly look beyond the hell you may be enduring with a child, and still see that beautiful little cherub that you gave life to. It’s a unique and extraordinary love that a parent has for their child. I’m so grateful to Chris for his love, support and patience (let’s be honest here … I’m not exactly an easy woman to handle!!). There’s very few people who would have taken this journey with me, standing by me through all the twists and turns, and no-one that I’d have rather had the adventure with! Bless you a million times over, Chris!