I can remember the day well – July 17th 2008. Our boy was three and a half years old. Finally all the months of observations and assessments had come to an end. The wonderful paediatrician to which he had been allocated had enough evidence to give him a formal diagnosis. By this point I knew in my heart that he had autism. At first I was adamant that it was verbal dyspraxia, as he ticked all the boxes for that (actually he has only just received a diagnosis for this condition too, some eight years later) but as time progressed it was quite clear that he was autistic.
To be perfectly honest, it was a relief. It was actually ‘nice’ to have a word to explain why my boy didn’t talk. Why he flapped. Why he threw tantrums and did all his other bizarre things. Something to say to the random strangers staring at him in the supermarket.
Now I was in the club. I could join the groups, meet the mums, the Specialist Teachers and all the other children just like my son. And that truthfully felt good. The more I threw myself into it, the more comfortable I felt with having a disabled child. There was a whole world out there for him, for me as a mother and for our whole family. And I was off to find it.
Shortly after his diagnosis, I took him along to a group for autistic children and their families. They were showing a film from a visiting mobile cinema. I walked into the hall and there were around fifteen children watching the film, lounging around on bean bags. Then all of a sudden one of them would jump up and flap with excitement. Just like my boy did. Then another would run up and try to touch the screen…..and nobody batted an eyelid, not even the siblings. Because it was what they were used to. What they lived with. What they had grown up to accept. I was so happy I could’ve cried.
For years I had watched my boy do his quirky little things, make his noises and dip in and out of his own world. I had really struggled to send him to mainstream nursery with children who were speaking fluently and maturely and joining in socially with their peers. Despite the best efforts of the staff, he stuck out like a sore thumb and that really did hurt. It clearly wasn’t the right environment for him. But now he had the diagnosis, it was the passport to special school and so much more help and therapy. It was the start of his journey.