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Redesigning the Dream with an Autistic Child

Updated: Mar 29

A couple is expecting their first baby. The pregnancy progresses without a problem. What an exciting time thinking about all the thoughts going through the parents' minds, some of which are, "Will the baby be okay? Will we have a boy/ girl? Will we be good parents?" and all the other hopes and dreams new parents find themselves pondering.

The baby arrives safely. Breastfeeding is not without its problems at first but eventually successful. The child cries and is not pacified with cuddles from Mam and Dad, which are the early signs of a problem with their baby. Milestones are slow to be reached, and Mum notices when chatting to other parents of v infants at preschool groups that their little girl is not demonstrating signs of reaching the sitting up, crawling, or interacting with other infants, instead remaining alone playing with available resources. Toilet training also was late to be achieved "thank goodness". Well, now for the terrible twos and tantrums. These tantrums were of the mega variety, occurring at any time or place, with no hope of placating the infant. Autism did seem to have the ability to curtail, change and hamper family plans, but all the behavioural issues with the young child were met as challenges and worked through with courage and fortitude. Mum and Dad welcomed another baby, a boy, into the family when Child A was three years old. The new baby settled well into family life. "Settled" was the word of importance in the last sentence. The first child identified as Child A, as seen above.

Child A was now due to start school in the village. By now, she had been assessed as needing some support due to inhibited verbal communication and social interaction and possibly exhibiting frequent repetitive behaviours. Child A is not able to process overstimulating environments, such as a noisy schoolyard, so she will avoid the area if possible before having a meltdown.

The parents read literature, talked with professionals, and worked tirelessly to understand the diagnosis of Autism, which had by this time resulted in the child being statemented while in education (a statement of the child's needs and the help they should have). The parents received this with relief and acknowledged that help and support would be there for their child while in the education journey. Wider family support throughout these early years was difficult as most of the family lived some distance away. Child A stayed at the village school, settled and happy with familiar faces and environment until she was 12.

Major changes are now addressed as Child A did not deal with change well - so planning, communication, and unrushed timing at the child's pace is essential as change is often confusing and discomforting. The first term at the new school proved difficult for the family and Child A. There followed a period of calm, settled behaviours as Child A was in an environment with other autistic young people. So she had space to develop emotionally, academically and socially. Just as things settled into an acceptable routine (routines are very important), she had to move again to a college setting at 18. This move was met with a more accepting response but only lasted for two years. So Child A found herself at another college - again using the experience to develop and learn. Clear boundaries help enable the autistic person to feel confident in the company of neurotypical people. Child A does find it challenging to request certain needs to help her process responses when in a large, noisy environment.

Child A may need time alone and exhibit socially inappropriate behaviours - all of which make it difficult to form friendships. Child A does exhibit behaviours including flapping of hands (stimming), which is self-stimulating behaviour to deal with stress/anxiety.) This behaviour is often helpful but needs observing that it does not impact others in the area. Overbreathing is another sign that Child A is feeling stressed and quiet, so de-stressing tools are useful for calming the young person. 

Child A is at the end of the educational journey. So what happens next is the dilemma facing Mum and Dad. A teacher who worked with learners with all types of abilities opened a door for Child A (now the young lady) to continue her development in social activities and academic subjects in a formal setting. Phew! That was another hurdle crossed.

While Child A has proved outstanding in several areas throughout her development, both as a very able member of group settings, which she now attends in the local area as well as her place in the family as a daughter and sister, she is also one of the vulnerable adults when in the outside world as her disabilities are not immediately obvious. Child A will not react when threatened or treated badly by others and is at risk of bullying and abuse. Child A struggles with herself if she fails to win the game when competing in board games or physical team games. She may then talk to herself for some time, not requiring or searching for a response from others, which is one way of de-stressing her frustration. So, Child A has developed her own strategies for coping with the neurotypical outside world.

Well done to Child A (Adult A) and the family.

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