Having your child flagged-up as potentially being on the Autism Spectrum is not something a parent wants to hear from the nursery or primary school they attend. The suggestion of a CAMHS referral (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) fills you with dread. What will they find? What label will your child have to carry throughout their life? And what are the consequences for their future?
In the UK there are approximately 700,000 people diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (National Autistic Society). The word Autistic on its own can raise a multitude of fears and emotions, especially if it’s the first time you’ve had to deal with it. For some parents it’s a relief because they suspect something isn’t right, especially if your child is showing extreme challenging behaviour and difficulty communicating with frequent meltdowns. Other parents go into denial, believing there’s been some mistake, your child is absolutely fine, he or she has a few quirks that are just part of growing up. You watch their every move and find viable explanations for any out of the ordinary behaviours. You may even question whether it’s necessary to put your child through a diagnosis.
Autism has a wide spectrum with some common difficulties and many differences. At the high functioning end, also known as Aspergers, people are of average or above average intelligence. They don’t experience the same learning challenges or speech difficulties as someone at the opposite end of the autistic spectrum. They do however, struggle with social interaction, in particular understanding non-verbal communication and sarcasm. They need routine in every aspect of their everyday life and battle with any form of change.
I met my now stepson, Callum, eleven years ago, when he was 5 years old. His nursery had flagged up signs of potential Autism and his primary school referred him to CAHMS. In the two years that followed prior to diagnosis we looked for signs and true enough they were there. Callum did the same puzzle everyday, ate only three evening meals in strict rota with no variations or changes to texture, colour or flavour; he had bananas Monday to Friday with school pack lunch but not at the weekend; he would only eat a specific brand of bread, butter and peanut butter.
Over the years we’ve adapted to his needs and also challenged him to help him expand his horizons and experience life to its fullest as best as possible.
Callum is now 16 and in his first year of A Levels having achieved remarkable grades for his GCSEs. He’s a member of a cycling club, Scout Explorers, plays badminton at competitive level, football when he has time and goes mountain biking whenever he gets the chance. He is a walking Wikipedia with a passion for international politics and sports. His ambition is to become a sports journalist and recently started writing articles for the Hereford Football Club magazine.
Callum has a blog page – The Pessimism and Occasional Optimism of Adolescence. After the loss of his 10 year old fish, Stripey, Callum published a blog about his experience growing up with Aspergers and the challenges change brings. It’s such an inspirational piece of writing with tremendous self-awareness for someone still so young, that I wanted to share it here: http://lowsandoccasionalhighs.blogspot.com/2018/12/organising-my-chaos.html.
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