My boy has now turned 8 and I wanted to mark the occasion by thinking about just how far he’s come in his 8 years on this planet. As well as how much of a challenge it has been for him along the way. He’s a remarkable boy in lots of ways. But hey, I’m sure every child is. J is remarkable because of everything he has achieved in spite of his disability, everything he tries even when it’s so much harder for him and for trying and succeeding despite some people writing him off from the outset.
J is mostly happy; he’s fun-loving, adventurous and full of mischief. He is very determined and he perseveres with things, when even the best of us would have long-since given up. Until recently J would have been classed as ‘non-verbal’ as he could not speak. This didn’t stop him showing us what he wanted though. Yes at times it was difficult to figure out but if he could see we didn’t know, he would simply choose another way to show us and keep on going until we worked it out. It must have been really frustrating for him to have to put up with us, the stupid verbal people who had no real idea about proper communication!
When he was younger we really struggled to make sure everything was right for him. We were finding our feet ourselves and having to engage in fight after fight with various people to get him what he needed or deserved. It was, and still is, exhausting at times.
We knew from fairly early on that J was not meeting his milestones. He didn’t sit up, crawl or copy facial gestures as he should. He didn’t goo or gaa, struggled with rolling over and was sick a lot! The doctors eventually put this down to low muscle tone in his core, amongst other issues. He walked without crawling and kept his little hands balled up into the tightest fists most of the time. When he was around 18 months he was referred to a joint assessment team with a physio, occupational therapist and a speech & language therapist. After a few months a programme was put in place to support his movement and he had visits from the OT and physio to support him.
When he was two I took him to a group for children with disabilities and we focused on movement, stories, songs and other fun ways to get the kids engaged. He attended a pre-three nursery placement to support his needs and it was wonderful, the ladies there just ‘got’ him and he was really loved and cared for.
J used to fall a lot and visited the doctor and hospital many times, once needing surgery under general anaesthetic to fix his torn lip 😢 He’s a resilient little boy though and he always bounced back, it never put him off. His awareness of danger is still not fully developed and we have to constantly on guard to keep him safe.
When it came time for him to go to proper nursery we had a big meeting in his pre-three place. I knew he had issues, but working in education and having seen how nursery provision was set up I was sure he would cope fine with the right support. The nursery he was set to go to, who had never even laid eyes on him, were determined this was not the case. They made it clear that they didn’t want him and the message I got consistently from them was that they were unwilling, rather than unable, to meet his needs. They assumed that because he couldn’t speak he could not do anything. His end of year report reflected how little they knew him or had even tried to understand him. His major achievement for the year being that he could ‘bang a drum with support’! I didn’t even bother to ask them what kind of support you need to give someone to bang a drum.
During that year he was diagnosed with Autism, though we already knew this was the case before we got the official confirmation. After this we applied to send him to a specialist nursery who were more able to meet his needs, not least because they were more willing to try. It was a great year for him and he flourished.
After a fight to get him the most suitable placement he moved on to school. I’m so glad I had that fight. His school is a wonderful place, so positive and full of energy. The children are given so many opportunities and they celebrate success loudly and proudly. It’s a unique place, I have never seen anywhere quite like it. You can feel the energy when you walk in the door. J is happy there and he has come on in leaps and bounds. To begin with he used non-verbal communication; pointing, showing, etc. Then he started using PECS which uses a set of pictures in an exchange process to communicate needs and wants. He has also learned Makaton and can show us many signs (though my own ability limits how much of this I can understand – mostly only what I’ve watched on Mr Tumble!)
As a result of all of these opportunities and down to his own hard work and determination, J can also now use many words in context. Some of these are repeated phrases from his tv programmes or the you tube cartoons he watches (known as echolalia). Others are words he has heard from other people. A lot of what he says is down to his own interests and he often won’t repeat something if you don’t hear it or ask him to tell someone else. Not everything he says is clear, sometimes we still don’t understand, but it’s amazing how far he has come!
His development and all he has achieved are testament to his resilience and capability. He rarely gives up. J is very clever, he knows so much about many things. Since before he went to school he knew numbers beyond 20 and could show you every letter of the alphabet when you asked him to point them out. He knew all of his colours and shapes too. Saying them out loud was not something he was able to do but he knew them and it was really just about finding out how we could help him to show us what he knew.
So to you; my beautiful, clever, funny, loving, adventurous, mischievous, amazing eight year old; happy birthday! Enjoy celebrating and being the centre of attention. Be sure to get everyone to sing the song over and over again and keep getting the candle re-lit to blow it out. Make everyone clap and cheer, enjoying the big smile it puts on your face and the joy that shines out in your eyes and your flapping hands from the excitement. It’s your day and you’ve earned that right. You’ve come so far and learned so much. You’ve grown into a wonderful boy who brings lots of happiness to us and you have taught us so much in your life. You’ve taught me to be grateful, to celebrate the little things, to keep going when things are hard and to never underestimate people. Most of all you have shown me that I can also be a strong and determined person when I need to be, that I do have that little bit more fight in me even when I think I’ve used it all up and that I can achieve things others might doubt of me if I just go ahead and do it anyway!
I have so much to thank you for and all of this is only the tip of the iceberg. You have helped me to become the person I am, the mum I am, the teacher I am and to keep on pushing through the hard times. For someone so young, you have shown so many people so many things. I often worry about your future and who will be around to take care of you when we are not. It keeps me awake at times. Then I see how far you’ve come already and it renews my hope. I hope you will continue to flourish, you will continue to find that joy in the little things, you will be able to keep that happy innocence and that one day you will show the world just how much you can do!