Looking back, Jack’s parents remember what a challenging baby he was, their first-born who wasn’t too keen on sleeping. Jack liked to be on the move in the stroller or car and his tired Mum & Dad often resorted to long walks over very bumpy ground to get their wee boy to sleep. As a toddler he was dubbed “The Building Inspector” for his fascination with the lighting and fire safety equipment at the mall. He would stand for minutes at a time, arms behind his back like a little old man, peering at the fire hose or examining the valves. Many little boys adore “vrooming” around with cars but Jack preferred to line them up or turn them upside down and watch the wheels rotate. His favourite activity was to sit and watch the front loader washing machine on spin cycle.
Kindy was a big, bewildering place for Jack. He seemed happy to be there but teachers noted that he didn’t participate in group activities, preferring hammering at the woodwork table or cutting out pieces of paper. As she watched other children climbing, jumping and clambering over the playground, Jack’s mum wondered why Jack couldn’t manage to do this on his own. It wasn’t until Jack developed a strange “blink” that his family really started to wonder if there was something different about him. He was a happy, healthy, cheeky little boy who seemed to be reaching all of his milestones, albeit a little slower than most kids of the same age. Concern grew though when Jack’s speech hadn’t progressed beyond a few simple words, toilet training seemed impossible and it became difficult to move him on from one activity to the next.
Jack’s parents started asking for help, joined a waiting list for speech & language therapy and were referred to the Ministry of Education Early Intervention Service in preparation for school. “Autism” was something they had wondered about but Jack just didn’t seem to fit with all the signs that they read about online. Jack had no problem with making eye contact, he seemed completely oblivious to the yelling, giggling and popping of balloons at birthday parties, and he didn’t show any repetitive behaviours, flapping, spinning or jumping up & down.
School was looming but Jack’s GP, ECE teachers and the Ministry of Education Early Intervention Service all assured Jack’s parents that although he lacked some social skills, he was fine to start school on his 5th birthday. That’s when things got really tough for Jack. Why should he sit quietly on the mat with the other children when there was a big box of Lego to explore? Why wasn’t it OK to jump on top of the other children or poke them with a pencil? Swinging a school bag around in the cloakroom was a lot of fun but parents were phoned when a child took a heavy blow. An investigation of another child’s hand with a pair of scissors to “see where the blood comes from” ended up in cross words across the cloakroom with the injured child’s mum. Jack’s mum didn’t know where to turn and dreaded school pickups which either involved upsetting conversations with teachers or equally upsetting conversations with other parents. Her beautiful, intelligent, loving little boy just didn’t seem to be fitting in and something had to be done!
The answer came one day at a meeting with Jack’s teachers, teacher aide and SENCO. “You are all experienced teaching professionals, you must have have seen this before, you must have encountered this type of behaviour before, what is wrong with our boy?, pleaded Jack’s mum. The answer came hesitantly, “well, we have seen this before in some other children….”. It took some encouragement but finally it came…”we think that he is a little like “X” child, he has mild autism”. The teachers called it Asperger’s Syndrome.
That’s all that Jack’s parents needed to know. They embarked on a pathway to diagnosis, initially through the public system and then privately with a child development specialist highly experienced with autism. Jack was diagnosed immediately, with mild/moderate ASD and underlying ADD. His school immediately brought in a teacher’s aide (Jack’s parents describe her as an angel) to assist Jack through his school day and an Individual Education Plan (IEP) was put in place.
Somewhere along the way someone told Jack’s parents about Children’s Autism Foundation and, keen to learn more about what made their special boy “tick’, they signed up for CAF workshops. Hands On Autism, Strategies for Behaviour and Changes & Transition all helped them to make sense of Jack’s needs, behaviour and strange “quirks”. Input from CAF’s Family Consultants enabled the family to put in place strategies to better support Jack and help make daily transitions easier for the whole family. Jack is now in Year 8 at Intermediate School and as his mum says, “We are so grateful to Children’s Autism Foundation for all the knowledge they have shared and support they have given us over the years. Jack is doing better and achieving more than we ever thought possible. His future is looking so bright!”.
* name changed to protect privacy
* The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in these stories belong solely to the author, and do not represent the views and opinions of Children’s Autism Foundation as an organisation, our team or our Board.