The first time – Achievements of a child with autism from a parent’s perspective

All children have firsts. The first time they sit up, crawl, eat solid food, walk, talk, ride a bike, etc. For some children these things happen naturally, as they are supposed to. They reach these important developmental milestones within the ‘normal’ timescales and all of this is wonderful, all is well with the world. For others these things are a bit more difficult, take a bit more time and for some may never happen at all. The non-achievement of some of these early milestones, combined with the difficult time around and after J’s birth, helped us to identify his issues and realise that all was not well with his wee world. He didn’t sit up when he was supposed to, he walked before he crawled, he didn’t say those first words everyone longs to hear and it’s likely he might not ever be able to ride a bike.


These basic things are the things that are painful for a parent to bear. Initially you tell yourself that he will get there, it’s just taking him a little longer than it took his cousins. Then you make other excuses, like he preferred walking and was so keen to do this that he didn’t have the patience to crawl first. You ignore the fact that crawling is an important developmental stage and the fact that you know a child missing this out can be a sign that something is wrong. You keep hoping that you’re wrong, that one day it will just all suddenly fall into place and he will do it all at once.

Once B came along it all became a bit more real, something we could no longer hide from or tiptoe around. It was more noticeable, more apparent. J was only 16 months old when we had B and B very quickly caught him up and overtook him developmentally in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of things J could do when B couldn’t. For example, he recognises every letter of the alphabet and numbers up towards 100 – even if he can’t verbalise them, he can point them out. He has his strengths and they are many. They’re just not the standard things other children do. He doesn’t draw, write, speak or play imaginatively. He has difficulty sitting for periods of time, settling down and issues with sleeping. He doesn’t understand rules, boundaries or safety. However, he is still a little sponge; soaking up the world around him. He just processes it all in a slightly different way from us.

It can be hard for us to understand what he’s thinking, how he feels or what he wants. He can’t always verbalise it the way B does. It doesn’t stop him trying to show us and he really perseveres in making us understand. He’s started using PECS to communicate when he started school, but it’s limited by what he’s learned about it so far and there are some things it will likely never cover.

He has said mummy for a good while now and I still remember being blown away the first time he said it fairly audibly. It took him a good while longer to say daddy. I remember thinking that this must be hard for my husband. He dealt with it well and tries not to let it bother him too much but I know he feels it. Who wouldn’t? He was our first born and we had to wait for our second child for him to hear that beautiful word for the first time. J says it now and it’s so lovely to hear. For all parents with non-verbal children, we feel your pain. If you haven’t heard those words already please don’t give up hope. Persevere and say it to them every day, you never know if one of those days it will sink in and you will hear it come back to you. Believe me, when it does, it is so worth it.

I will always remember the first time J said ‘I love you mummy.’ By said, I mean in his own way, using his own approximations of words but it was definitely what he said. He was lying in his bed, we had just read his favourite story, I was kissing him and tucking him in. As I do every night, as I kissed him on the cheek, I whispered ‘I love you J.’ It brought tears to my eyes when he whispered back ‘I wuv woo mummee.’ 😪 He has said those words many times since and every time he does I remember that first time and how happy I felt. It helps me remember to persevere, to keep trying, to never give up hope. After all, we all need a little hope, don’t we?

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