It’s a classic case, the psychologist says. Straight down the middle. No doubt.
Between juggling work, joint custody and the ordinary demands of motherhood, Jo Case tries to work out why her son Leo is finding it hard to fit in at school. Is it because he’s an only child? Could he be gifted? In this extract from her memoir Boomer & Me, Jo writes about the moment she received her son’s diagnosis.
It’s taken almost four months for us to get to this stage: an official diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (or not) by a specialist. Mark has done the work of finding the professional: a clinical psychologist who specialises in autism spectrum disorders. Her clinic is in a little weatherboard house opposite a pub. She’s been referred by the Children’s Hospital as one of the best in the field.
There are three parts to the diagnosis. First, the psychologist talks to Mark and me about Leo while he sits in the waiting room with Dad, who is sleeping on our couch for the week. Then, Leo talks to the psychologist alone. We’ve told him – deliberately nonchalant – that we’re here for some standard tests; we don’t elaborate and he doesn’t ask any questions. He is diverted by the novelty of a day off school. Lastly, Dad takes Leo home while Mark and I hear the diagnosis.
The psychologist shares an office with an ear, nose and throat doctor. The waiting room is full of his patients, an assembly of winter coughs and crumpled tissues. There are a few toys and a chalkboard in a corner, glossy magazines on the windowsill.
We talk brightly—over-brightly—while we wait, talking around the subject for Leo’s benefit.
The psychologist, Naomi, seems youngish for an expert. She wears thick rectangular-framed glasses and a long tapered cardigan. She is both warm and brisk, her manner reflecting the fact that her time is costing us a great deal of money.
She asks a series of questions about Leo. Why is he here? What are our concerns? What was he like as a baby? When did he start to talk? Did he go to childcare at all? From what age? What was he like playing with other children?
We fill in the gaps as best we can. Sometimes Mark makes observations I’ve never noticed. Is he impervious to pain? No, I say. Yes, says Mark. He’s very stoic. He often doesn’t realise he’s hurt himself until I comment on it. I’ve always thought he’s just being well behaved. At other times he’s very sensitive to pain, I say. Once he notices he’s hurt, he makes a huge fuss.
Both these things are true. Naomi notes it all down.
Does he have any sensory issues? He doesn’t like scratchy clothes, I say. He won’t wear knitted jumpers, for instance. He doesn’t like how they feel on his skin. But this seems pretty normal to me. Most kids don’t like scratchy clothes.
He doesn’t like having his hair washed, says Mark. He doesn’t like the feel of the water on his scalp. I am sceptical. I’ve never noticed such a thing. He doesn’t seem to feel the cold, I venture. I’m always having to tell him to wear jumpers or jackets, or put warm pants on. He’s always arriving underdressed at my house. Mark tells me Leo says he’s not cold, even if it’s freezing outside. Mark laughs and says I’m obsessed with Leo being cold. I laugh too. Because he’s English and went to boarding school in Scotland, Mark doesn’t feel the cold, I say. He doesn’t realise what’s appropriate for Leo.