lifestyle

'I always knew there was something different about my middle son.'

I didn’t want to face what it was.

It’s so easy to talk yourself out of something you don’t want to be true.

I have talked myself out of the belief that my son is autistic for three years, and maybe longer. I’ve always known there was something different about him. Giovanni, 7, is my middle child, and it was becoming harder to write off his behaviour as ‘middle child syndrome’.

“I didn’t spend enough time with him when he was little,” I’d tell his teachers, to explain why he was a little isolated from others and hard to teach. 

Read more: Cage used for autistic child was not an isolated case.

“I fell pregnant when he was seven-months-old and put him in front of the TV too often,” I told friends, to explain his American accent and strange inflection when he spoke.

I used to talk about it with friends and work colleagues and constantly ask his carers and teachers if they thought he ‘was on the spectrum’. I filled in endless online quizzes all suggesting he probably was autistic. I would watch him carefully, how he would only eat certain foods in a particular way. At our favourite restaurant, we’d all dig into elaborate meals and he’d ask for 10 chicken nuggets which he would painstakingly cut into quarters before taking his first bite.

Giovann and mummy on a ride
Jo with her son Giovanni on a ride. Image: Supplied.
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He’s just quirky…

He’s just unusual…

He’s just special… 

Giovanni doesn’t seem to comprehend things like other kids his age. He is unable to make and maintain friendships. He can’t stand sudden loud noises.

He sits alone on a silver seat at school each day, eating and playing with his shoe laces, overwhelmed by the idea of making and maintaining friendships. He can never tell me how he feels, except to tell me, “I love you so much Mum.”

He can never say he is happy, sad, frustrated or confused. Just, “I love you so much Mum, and you love me so much too.”

It took a visit to his classroom during a parent-volunteer session to shake me awake from my delusion that he was ‘normal’. Struggling to get him to focus, to stop mindlessly destroying the work and belongings of others, to prevent him from becoming overwhelmed by his surroundings and lose concentration, his teachers had set up a special desk for him, pushed right up against their desk at the front of the class, with one, lone seat, just for him. When he showed me his new place in class my heart just broke. It was time to find out once and for all what is going on with my son.

Read more: “Would I have had my son if I had known he would be autistic?”

I made some enquiries and found a child behavioural psychologist who was able to diagnose him with Autism Spectrum Disorder, just as I had suspected all along but was too afraid to confirm.

Now, with his formal diagnosis in hand I can stop burying my head in the sand. I’ll admit it. I was avoiding a diagnosis and hoping it would sort itself out, hoping it would just go away. It was too much. My oldest has life-threatening food allergies. I can’t have an autistic son too.

Kids facing backwards
Jo’s three children playing. Image: Supplied.
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Except that I do. I have a son who has Autism Spectrum Disorder and who will need a helping hand in some of the basics like understanding written instructions, making friends, keeping friends, understanding that not all loud noises signal danger.

Should I have organised his assessment years ago? Yes, I should have. I just didn’t want it to be true. I dreaded it, like it would make him worse or something. Silly, I know.

He is who he is and it is my job to make sure he gets everything he needs to have the best life possible. Now that I have his diagnosis, I know how to do that and can stop guessing.

To learn more about how autism is diagnosed, watch the video below:

Video by Rethink Autism

If you suspect your child may be on the autism spectrum, contact ASPECT by visiting their website at https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/.

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