Caroline Northeast says her son Julian’s autism is what makes him such a special person.
Julian was diagnosed on the 7 June 2004 with mild-to-moderate autism. He has the triad of conditions associated with autism but the main component is his lack of understanding and inability to acquire English language.
Initially, my husband and I weren’t worried about Julian not speaking, as neither of us had spoken until we were three. We assumed that Julian was following suit. He did not walk until he was nearly two so we just thought that he would get there eventually. It did not occur to us that there was anything to concern ourselves about.
A barrage of experts
Concerns were raised when Julian went for his two-year check-up. The health visitor asked for a referral for him to see a speech therapist. He had just started nursery and was supposed to be in the 2-5 year group. However, because he wasn’t speaking, and was having difficulty settling in with the other children, his teacher advised that we move him down
to the 0-2 year group instead. It was while Julian was in this group that we were first alerted to a potential problem with his hearing. He often did not respond when they called him or asked him to do something. By this point, we were still waiting for an appointment for Julian to see the speech therapist.
In March, Julian was finally seen by the speech therapist, who wanted a second opinion by another therapist as her session with him was inconclusive. In the meantime I began looking into what might have been the problem. I had come across autism as a possible problem but dismissed it when the therapist said he wasn’t autistic. After the second session with the therapist and a hearing assessment, we then received an appointment to attend the
Child Development Centre in June. By this time, I was expecting my second child any day and was rather anxious. At this appointment, Julian was finally diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum and suffering from the triad of conditions, particularly with his lack of language and understanding of the English language.
Julian does not speak very much at all and has a limited vocabulary. He can say some things very well and at the appropriate times (eg Daddy, bye-bye) but there are other words that he can say but not understand the meaning of. Julian is slowly learning new words but does resort to repetition a lot; for example, if you say ‘It’s time for bed’ he will say ‘bed’ and just sit in the lounge or stare at you.
The other main thing that you would probably notice about Julian is his ability to ‘go off’ into his own world. When he is concentrating on something (ie a book or a toy) he will often be so far away that you cannot connect with him. He is so deep in himself that he cannot hear what you say. I have found that the only way of getting him back is to either take the toy away or just to wait until he comes back of his own accord. This does not happen as much as it used to but it does still occur. Julian also follows horizontal lines with his eyes which is a common feature of a child with autism. Again, this is something that he does not do quite so much but every so often he will. It is most noticeable when he is somewhere new and he is getting to grips with a new place.
The effects his diagnosis has had on us have been wide and varied. We have been upset, angry, frustrated, confused. It is very difficult for a parent to hear that their child has a mental health disability and that he is likely to always have problems. As a mum, I was very angry that it had taken so long (nine months or thereabouts) for this to be diagnosed but understand that it can take longer and that we were one of the lucky ones. My husband and I both found it difficult and my husband was convinced that they were wrong. It took some time for him to come around to the idea that Julian had a problem.
We are going through this together and, even though it has been a difficult time for us and our families, we try to talk about what is happening and why and what we do next. We have not made any huge changes in our life since Julian’s diagnosis but have tried to vary his routine in little ways that help him whilst helping us.
Julian is totally unaware (to the best of our knowledge) that he is ‘different’ to other children. He tries to interact with them and they look at him oddly and then they walk away. This does not seem to upset him or cause him any concern. He is quite happy with his own company and will play in his room alone for some time before looking for either me or my husband
to socialise with.
No matter what diagnosis you are given, your child is still your child. As my husband pointed out to me after Julian’s diagnosis: ‘Julian is still Julian’ and this is so true. Take each day as it comes and appreciate the little things your child achieves.
I was recently asked the following question: ‘If you could give Julian a tablet to take away his autism, would you give it to him?’. My first reaction was ‘Yes’ but then I thought about it and realised that Julian is Julian because of his autism. It has made him the person he is, with
his cute giggle and the way, when he sees me or my husband, he shouts ’Daddy!’ (he calls us both Daddy) and runs up for a hug. I think that he would be an entirely new, different and unknown person if his condition was taken away. He is who he is because of what he has.
- For more information on and support with autism, visit the National Autistic Society at http://www.nas.org.uk