The carefree days of a toddler are something remarkably special in a child’s life. To eat what you like, sleep when you like, laugh, play and run; each day a new adventure filled with sunshine and smiles. I enjoyed those magical months when I grew to understand the love that a mother can have for her child. Mitchell was mine and forever a part of me. He was special and together we spent our days visiting mother’s groups, playgrounds and enjoying a weekly music class. Slowly he found his independence and began to speak a few short words, “Mum”, “Dad”, “dog” while pushing along on his tricycle before dashing off down into the backyard to jump on his swing or dive into his sandpit. Great days…
Then, just after he turned 2.5 years old things changed forever. He was lost for words. They disappeared just like that! Gone were the attempts to chat with Dad, Mum or anyone. All we got was silence – and all I got from the hospital appointments was “he’s just a boy, they take longer to develop speech” and “stop worrying, you’re just being a neurotic first-time mother”. It wasn’t right and part of me knew that I should be worried but it wasn’t until a few months later when he became overly sensitive to EVERYTHING that I knew I was right to push more for answers. What was going on?
Our once happy boy left us and we were left with a child that now hated most foods, refused to bath or shower, couldn’t tolerate shoes, screamed like a wild animal when having his hair or teeth brushed, didn’t sleep…the list went on. It was an endless nightmare of tears and screaming from morning till night. Where had Mitchell gone?Why was this happening? Am I doing something wrong? Is he sick?
I made an appointment to take Mitchell to see a pediatrician; Anthony and I needed answers. How unprepared we were that day for what we were about to be told after a 40 minute consultation. “I think your child has Autism. I’ll refer him to the Child Development Unit for further assessment” she said so matter-of-factly. “I don’t believe in blood tests or those funny diets, just take him home and love him”…and that was it!
I still remember leaving the appointment and getting back into the car that day as if it happened 5 minutes ago. Mitchell strapped into his seat, oblivious as to why Mummy and Daddy were in a total state of shock and tears sitting in the front, unable to turn the key to drive home. We were numb with fear and pain and a future suddenly uncertain. What the hell did she mean, ‘take him home and love him’? We had a child that we couldn’t keep happy for longer than a few minutes, that was frightened and sensitive to everything in his day. What were we to do?
Autism? He can’t have that! He’s not sitting in the corner rocking. And he used to like being kissed and cuddled. I knew so little about what it was but had already decided it was something negative to be feared and demonized. How would we cope?