Sunday, 13 January 2013

The ups & downs of having an autistic toddler.

We've had a lovely weekend, and River has achieved so much! There have certainly been lots of highs. Here are some:
-River ate jelly with his hands!!! This is a massive deal. River is tactile defensive, meaning that he won't touch any food or play that is remotely sticky, slimy, soft or wet. He likes everything to be dry. So we try to expose him to as much sensory input as possible so that he will hopefully become a bit desensitised to it. Some days it will be giving him a yoghurt or mousse (which used to take a good few hours before he'd even dip his finger in it, but he's much more brave now!) and other times it will be through play-doh (which he still won't often touch) or moon dough, sand, shaving foam, multicoloured spaghetti, washing up bubbles- the list is endless!
So anyway, on Saturday I decided to be a bit radical and attempt jelly. I put it in his messy play table alongside some moon dough (a 'safer' option in River's mind!) and sprinkled raisins on the top as an incentive for him (he loves raisins!) However, not even raisins were going to persuade him to him to touch THAT disgusting stuff. He got quite cross when he tried to use my hand to retrieve the raisins for him and I wouldn't, as this video shows:

I left it for a few hours, then decided drastic measures were needed- chocolate buttons. I sprinkled buttons on the jelly, poking some half in and others completely covered in jelly, then gave one to River to remind him how yummy they are. I could tell see the predicament in his face, but eventually- four hours after initially showing him the jelly-he tentatively reached in and pulled out a button! Half an hour or so later, he'd discovered that jelly was pretty scrummy and was eating it by the handfuls! He also ate some off a spoon (another challenge)

-We went to a public place without the buggy- River walked! We visited a garden centre this morning- it has a pet shop inside & River quite likes the guinea pigs, so the goal was for River to walk from the car to the pet shop & back without getting overwhelmed and panicking. It went better than expected- after the pet store we went to see the fish, then he happily walked around outside whilst holding my hand the whole time. We then thought we'd see if he'd step into the cafe- didn't have much optimism- and he walked in happily, then sat on a grown-up chair and ate his pot of raisins very happily whilst Tim & I had a coffee!!
It felt so 'normal' and relaxed. It was very noisy and busy but he wasn't at all fazed. He then walked back through the shop (we soon realised he's fine as long as he keeps moving, he doesn't understand the need to stand still to look at something!) and all the way back to the car. FAB!!!

-He walked to the shop!! River has been so brilliant at walking to and from nursery (most of the time) but to get anywhere else in the village (the shop, park etc) you have to walk past nursery. I've been really nervous about walking anywhere other than nursery with him in case he associates walking with nursery and has a meltdown when we attempt to walk past it, as it's not his usual routine! However, today, he walked past it to go to the shop and it was fine. Such a relief!

This is the stuff we have to focus on. This is the stuff that fills us with hope and makes us LOVE our little family and our family weekends. But for all the ups, there are lots of downs too. The simplest of tasks can be so difficult with a child like River in tow.

One morning this week, we left the house to walk to preschool. He had his shoes & coat on and I'd shown him his preschool PECS card, so he knew what we were doing. But as soon as we left, he spotted the neighbour's car. I think he must have thought it was our car, and wanted to go somewhere in it. To the average toddler, you'd tell them that it wasn't our car, and we had to walk to nursery. But River doesn't have enough understanding for this. He just completely melted down. He screamed & screamed and refused to move. Luckily, the neighbour then came out and went to work in his car, so I could say to River "car gone" and he could see it wasn't an option any more. It took about 20 minutes to calm him down. Another neighbour was leaving his house and said, "Don't worry, that phase only last a few months!" I smiled politely but wanted to say, "Actually no, it may not. It may last for years. You may see us doing this when he's fifteen. I can't just think 'It's only a phase' like most parents, because it may not be." Eventually I persuaded him to look at the birds on the field with me. He then cuddled into me for ages and didn't want me to move, which was a really emotional moment for me as River feeling comforted from our cuddles isn't something we take for granted.
Then there's his reaction to other children. He cannot stand them. Whether it's a newborn baby or a six year old, whether it's at our house or at the park or at a pub lunch, he just wants to hurt them. It all boils down to fear and anxiety- he can't control their noises and movements, which he sees as unpredictable, so he wants to stop them. He tried to get to a newborn baby in a pram the other day, and the mother looked at my like I was the worst parent- although I'm getting a little more thick-skinned when things like that happen now. Preschool tell me he's fine with the children there- I guess he's had a long time to get used to them and their noise and is good at shutting them out. But at home and everywhere else, it's getting worse. It leaves you feeling very torn- I know I need to just keep inviting friends with children round to try & build up his tolerance to it and build up his social skills, but it's very easy for 'autism mums' to become isolated- not wanting to invite friends round because a) you hate to see your child in such a highly anxious state, especially when they are becoming so lovely & affectionate towards you the rest of the time, b) you hate to see other children being scared of your child and thinking badly of them, c) you worry you won't be able to grab hold of him in time & he'll hurt the child badly and d) you worry that your friends will think you're not doing a good job, are dealing with it the wrong way.

I also feel guilty for not being brimming with optimism every time River makes progress. I feel like I'm going to burst with pride every time he achieves something and want to scream about it from the rooftops, but there are professionals that seem to see it as a sign that he is going to be fine as he gets older- that he'll definitely be able to cope with mainstream schools, that he has a bright future. I feel guilty that I don't have the same level of positivity. Surely as his mum, I should be able to see what they see? Or maybe it's actually that it's my job to make them see what I see?
The thing is, even if River is a very bright child and very intelligent, he will always be autistic. He will always struggle with social and communication skills, as that is what autism is. As far as mainstream schools go, it doesn't matter how clever or not you are, how intelligent or not you are- as long as you have social and communication skills, you'll get on ok. So where does that leave River?
Which is the right option- do we send him to a mainstream school, and run the risk of him struggling with anxiety every day, having an unhappy child, having teachers that don't understand him & his needs, but he gets used to being around people, learns to communicate and socialise and goes on to lead a perfectly 'normal' life?
Or do we send him to a special school that has teachers who are passionate about children with special needs, getting specialist help, he'd be in a smaller class, he could learn at his own pace, have access to so many special needs resources, sensory rooms/toys, but run the risk of him always seeing himself as 'different' and always seeing himself as separate from mainstream society, and not knowing how to get back into it?
He's currently in a mainstream preschool for 3 mornings a week- should I be pushing for him to be allowed to attend a special needs preschool for 1 or 2 half days a week? I think they'd probably say he's progressing just fine where he is so they wouldn't want to give him funding for the special preschool.

And as I said to Tim earlier- he certainly is progressing so much lately, it's absolutely fabulous and we're so happy- BUT it's still a million miles away from his peers. He has just started making a "chg-chg-chg" noise when we ask him what trains do, which we're ecstatic about. But he's 2.5- he's about 12-18 months behind on that. Yes, he's finally started scribbling- and now won't stop!- but he's about 12 months behind on that too.
I don't normally ever compare him to his peers- it's pointless really- but when people imply he should go to a mainstream school, with his peers, it does draw a direct comparison. And I just can't picture it just now.

So that's the latest from us- lots of really positive things, lots of progress, but when parenting an autistic toddler you can't ever really sit back and relax, because for every up, there's also a down.


  1. Loved reading this update - some huge leaps ahead - huge love to you all - Martyn

    1. Thanks Martyn, lots of love to you all too X

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  3. He's doing really well isn't he. He sounds like the opposite of our son - who is currently being assessed. He loves touching people, and seeking sensations.

    As far as mainstream school goes - my oldest has trouble socially (aspergers)and has always been fine, but I'm not so sure about our youngest because he is also so developmentally behind his peers. We are just waiting to see if he gets a statement of special needs and see how he goes from there.

  4. Hi Rivers mum, I am a teaching assistant in Wales and I work in a reception class in a mainstream Primary school,I was very interested to read your blog.Last year we had 2 little boys who both had Autism start our school (who had very different needs) .Our Headteacher put me on an Early Bird course (a course for parents and teacher or teaching assistant on Autism) which helped me to understand Autism more, which has helped me enormously.I think only you can make the necessary decision where best to send River in the future because each school is different and may not be suitable, I know in our school we all really try to make our children with Autism feel safe which in turn makes them feel happy hopefully.Just be proud of yourself and proud of Rivers achievements and stay positive which by the sound of it you are.