When my baby boy was born, he was perfect! Ten fingers, ten toes, a healthy full-term baby!
He was such an easy baby and seldom cried.
At two-years-old, he still couldn’t utter a single word and alarm bells went off in my head! My worries were brought to light by friends and family. Many saying that he was a late bloomer and that lots of children start talking late. At 2.5-years-old, I took him for a hearing test, and to my dismay, he had a hearing problem. The audiologist described it as “being underwater and hearing people talking”. He needed an operation to have grommets inserted in his ears.
Forward a few months later and he still couldn’t utter a word! Off to speech therapy and a developmental psychologist. Months of speech therapy didn’t help and the psychologist diagnosed him with a developmental delay and informed us that he will never be on the same developmental level as his peers. I was advised to enrol him in a special needs school.
Something kept gnawing at me and I felt that something just wasn’t right. It was as if God heard my cries. Soon after a small local community newspaper had an article about autism. My boy ticked all the relevant boxes! I burst out crying, “this is my son”! Off to a paediatrician we went, still hoping that I was wrong. Physically he was healthy but had low muscle tone (another autism symptom). He was referred to a clinical psychologist, who tested and observed him for three days. The diagnosis was as I feared. He was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome which is high functioning autism.
At home, I broke down. Everything made so much sense! No eye contact, nonverbal, hates being touched, didn’t eat most foods, hates loud noises, etc. I thrashed myself for being a bad mother, for not listening to my inner voice! If only I had sought help earlier! But weirdly I felt relief that I could finally put a name to his delay. I dusted myself off and started researching autism and joined a support group for parents with autistic kids.
Through my research, I found a place that helped kids with autism. Off we went for a consultation. They had a program, which significantly could improve their development and quality of life! But it was quite expensive, which we couldn’t afford. An alternative was to train me on how to do it at home. He needed daily 4-hour tuition. Problem was that I was studying at university full time. I didn’t hesitate and left my studies. After a few weeks, I was trained and home-based “therapy” started!
Every day, without fail, “classes” commenced. Nearly a month later, he had a vocabulary of more than 100 words! I cried when he called me “Mommy”!
He could do maths, puzzles, and much more! The developmental psychologist was astounded! The boy, who they predicted will never catch up to his peers, actually surpassed them! But because of his autistic traits, like not understanding verbal instructions, not functioning well in groups, disliked touching, I was still advised to place him in a special needs school. Unfortunately, there was a long waiting list for those schools and he needed to start Grade R.
I took a gamble and placed him in a “normal” school. I observed him like a hawk for any meltdowns, distress, or regression, which I would immediately take him out. I spoke to his teacher who was thankfully very sympathetic and understanding.
In the second term, the teacher requested to see me. I feared the worst! Nervous and quite dejected I went to see her. But what happened next, totally floored me! The teacher suggested that he should be transferred to Grade 2, as he excelled in all his subjects and she felt there was nothing more she could teach him in Grade 1.
Teary-eyed I profusely thanked her but insisted he stayed in his grade, as autistic children dislike change. Grade 2, the same thing! They wanted to promote him to Grade 3, but I declined.
With tons of love, compassion, and care, my son came into his own. Yes, there is no cure for autism, but their quality of life can be improved! Fast forward the years, he passed his matric with bachelors! Currently studying at university.