Do you ever wish you could ‘switch off’ your child’s autism?

Sometimes I do.

When I just need to get bread and milk from the local supermarket and I’m tired, in a hurry and just want ‘in and out,’ I wish I could ‘switch off’ my child’s difficulties with the music, crowds, smells, his absolute NEED to see the lift and his inability to stay beside me safely. Just ten minutes without autism would make that task easier…for us both.

When he’s crying in pain and unable to communicate why or where it hurts. How frustrating and distressing that is for us both. I wish I could ‘switch off’ his communication difficulties just long enough for me to be able to understand and help him.

When I am attempting to make a packed lunch for a school trip and I’m in tears because ‘lunch’ to him means a hot meal and I know everything I make will be refused. Just a half hour meal with autism ‘switched off’ would be a blessing for me, but more so for him. I know he doesn’t want to be so rigid but he just can’t prevent it.

When there’s roadworks and I need to drive a different route. To watch his face screw up in disgust and confusion followed by the onset of tears and challenging behaviour is torture for us both. I wish we could ‘switch off’ autism, just during the journey, not forever.

When I need to get medication into him. Just one minute of autism ‘turned off’ would allow vital epilepsy medication to be swallowed so much easier. While things are improving it is often very challenging and distressing for everyone. Antibiotics leave us both traumatised.

Right now though more than anything I wish I could ‘switch off’ severe autism as we face a period of very challenging medical difficulties. My non verbal son has recently been diagnosed with a growing brain tumour. He needs multiple anaesthetic’s and a brain tumour biopsy followed by possible treatment that will be invasive, challenging and intensive. I want him better; he needs to get better. The alternative isn’t something anyone wants to think about. . The presence of autism complicates even the simplest of procedures and we don’t have the time to ‘mess about’ right now.

Time is not on our side so having three months of acclimatising to new surroundings isn’t an option. Printing visuals of all the doctors we need to see, making timetables of when they will be seen and watching videos of procedures before hand to prepare my son just aren’t options any longer. I can’t just say ‘I couldn’t get him out the car’ to his neurosurgeon when they have theatre all prepared and scheduled for a brain biopsy. When appointments suddenly need changed due to things progressing fast I can’t say to specialists ‘well it’s not on his timetable so he won’t cope.’ ‘Sorry he stayed awake all night again as usual last night so we need to sleep today’ just isn’t an option when there’s an MRI machine booked for yet another scan, or nurses waiting to run more tests. There’s no option to say ‘don’t worry about his meltdown. I’ll just sent out another appointment in six months and we’ll try again then’.

We haven’t got time to put any communication device in place for my non verbal child any more, not that he has taken to any in the last ten years anyway.

Medically we are facing a crisis and severe autism doesn’t ‘do’ crisis. My son doesn’t do ‘sudden change’ or even just ‘change’. He doesn’t cope with new people, new places, being touched, sitting still while people talk, having needles put in, waiting around in clinics, or even having a simple plaster on!

I fully accept and love my son, autism included. I’ve never had an issue with flapping, watching the same thing lots, communicating in his own unique way or even needing routine. In fact I’ve developed strategies, patience, and understanding and I really wouldn’t want him any other way.

But I would be lying if I didn’t say that right now, in the middle of medical difficulties that can not be ignored or delayed, I would not love to ‘turn off’ autism just for short periods of time to make things easier for him, and also for me.

Autism can be a blessing and it isn’t something I hate but it can also make life challenging and right now we have enough challenges to face treating his brain tumour and we could do without the struggle just to get him inside a new hospital or the inability to wait for his name to be called and the terrifying fact his autism means he can’t communicate when or where something even hurts.

I thought in the past I’d like little moments of being able to switch autism off but right now I’ve never wanted that ability more. Autism is making an already challenging situation so much harder, not just for me but for my son. I’m not wanting my son to be non autistic just less rigid, less anxious, less ‘stuck’ during a time when co-operation, flexibility and communication are vital.

99% of the time I have time to do what he needs to help him. Unfortunately right now we are living in that 1% and I can not even adequately express how much simpler things would be right now without the added issue of severe non verbal autism.

Have I ever wanted to switch autism off? Right now for my son’s sake…yes! Most of the medical staff treating him would probably agree with me too.

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What if no-one ever understands him?

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I am a parent. So by nature of the job description I worry for the future of my children. I worry about wars and disasters and car crashes and bullying and wether or not my children will be messed up by my parenting. But mostly I worry if anyone will understand my son.

Because at six years and nine months old I still struggle to understand him myself.

My child is so unlike me. I try to imagine what life is like for him but in all honestly I just can’t.

I talk to him all the time. But he never talks back. I read to him every day but he never asks anything about the story or attempts to learn to read it himself. I make him food and although he eats it I have no idea if he is just tolerating it out of hunger or if he actually enjoys it. I sing nursery rhymes to him but I have no idea if he understands a word I am saying.

When he imageis sick I have no idea if he is in pain and if so where.

I know he loves lifts, hand dryers and mash potato. But I have no idea why.

For over 600 days all he would wear was the same jumper. Lots of people have had guesses as to why but only my son really knows. And he can’t tell us.

I took him to a sensory room recently where there was something called a musical wall. He touched that wall in the same place over and over again to hear the same song. I was so desperate to ask him what is was about that wall he so loved. I would have loved to hear his little voice join in as that wall sang ‘you are my sunshine’ for the hundredth time.

What was he feeling? Has he enjoyed the other places I have taken him this summer? Does he like school? What would he like for his birthday?

There is just so many unknowns.

I have read books. I have spoken to therapists who apparently have trained for years in his conditions. I have attended so many courses. I have even spoken to many adults who have the same conditions as my son. I have spent six years and nine months living with my son.

And still so much about him is a mystery. We are all guessing. And we could all be wrong.image

Why can’t he speak? Why does he flap? What is it exactly about lifts and hand dryers that he likes so much? Why is it so traumatic when I cut his nails, or wash his hair, or use a different plate for his dinner? Does he miss me when he isn’t with me?

I want to know. Because if I don’t know who else ever will?

So yes, I worry about the future of my non verbal, severely autistic son with neurofibromatosis and learning difficulties.

I worry that people will take advantage of him. Or hurt him. Or never allow him to be himself. I worry about whether he will ever learn to communicate or whether anyone else will be able to communicate with him.

There were moments today as he pulled my glasses off my face yet again and climbed all over me that I wondered how much longer I would be able to care for him full-time. And that scared me.

He is my son. I adore him. But I don’t always understand him.

And not for the first time I wonder…

What if no-one ever understands him?

If he was your baby would you not worry about that too?

How do you explain they won’t ‘get better’?

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If I had a pound for every time someone told me my children will ‘grow out it’, or ‘be fine when they are older’, I would be a rich woman. People expect you get ill or have difficulties for a short time, you have a period of struggling, and then you ‘get better’. You ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’, or you have an operation or take medication, and then you become ‘normal’ again and function like everyone else.

But what if the difficulties and struggles are life long? What if you won’t get ‘any better’ even if you improve?

It is three years this month since we received my sons first major diagnosis. Though the initial shock and pain has eased I still get sad some days. Because three years on we are still in that same place.

He still has the exact same diagnosis. He hasn’t been cured. He hasn’t went into remission or stopped having his difficulties. I can’t read his diagnosis report and think they are talking about an altogether different child than the one sitting on my knee.

Yes he is making progress. But it is slow. And in spurts. And sometimes we still get regression. Oh are we allowed to mention that? The dreaded ‘regression’ word? Am I allowed to admit that sometimes my children struggle more than they did before? Or lose a skill they previously mastered?

How do you explain they won’t ‘get better’?

It sure looks like my son is getting better. After all for 678 days all he wore was the same red school jumper yet all of a sudden now he will wear other tops? That sounds like improvement. And it is! My daughter has started to master reading and writing. Surely that is her ‘getting better’ you suggest? And yes it seems so.

On the surface my children are both coming on well. We have had a recent successful play date, we have had them taking part in school activities I never dreamt they would ever manage, and two weeks into the summer holidays we have managed some days out and visits to parks. It seems like everything is ‘getting better’. It seems like to some that all is well.

Because people find the life-long bit so hard to understand. People see what they want to see. And after a while they get bored with seeing the same struggles, the same excuses and the same problems. People want to help and get upset when they do help but the problems still exists even when they have done everything they can to support. We look for quick fixes and short-term solutions and life long conditions need on-going, energy draining, never-ending support. It requires a commitment few are willing to make.

It is hard for people to understand why three years down the journey I still get sad some days. Why? Well because some days it feels like I am still where I was three years ago. It hasn’t gone away. And it never will.

There is no cure.

My daughter may ‘get better’ at social situations but it will never quite come naturally to her.
She may ‘get better’ at understanding that not all language is literal in meaning. But idioms and sarcasm will always need explaining to her with patience and understanding.
My son may ‘get better’ at being understood without any speech. He may one day learn to communicate via a device or language or pictures. But he will always have severe communication difficulties to some degree.
My son will never ‘catch up’ with his peers. He is not suddenly going to run a race, or write a story or learn to swim. He may never speak.
I have no idea when they might master potty training.

We are in this for the long haul. When others get ‘bored’ and move on we will still be here. We will still be struggling on.

Doctor’s can’t ‘cure’ my children. They won’t ‘get well soon’ or ‘grow out of it’. It won’t ‘magically disappear’ when they get older or become teenagers. In fact it may magnify.

You may not see them struggle but they do. It may seem ‘cute’ to flap and suck on your clothes at six but whimageat about sixteen? It may seem ok to have your tongue out all the time at six but what about ten? Or thirty?

My children have autism. My son has neurofibromatosis. They will become adults with autism one day and my son will become an adult with NF. His tumours will grow with him and his skin will grow fibromas and patches throughout his life. He will become an adult with social and communication difficulties and a learning disability.

They will ‘get better’ at developing a thick skin and coping with ridicule. They will ‘get better’ at devising coping strategies and becoming a part of society in some way or other.

But they won’t ever ‘get better’ from their life long conditions. And I may never ‘get better’ at coping either.

I may have more good days now than bad. But some days I am right back where I started three years ago. Life long condition means a life long journey. I know some people find that hard to deal with. But you know what? So do I.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know?

imageSometimes you already know something. Your mind has already gathered all the facts and knowledge and came to its own conclusion. Circumstances have been leading up to things and you *think* you have it all worked out.

That is until someone else says what you have been thinking out loud. Then suddenly your world crumbles and you go to pieces, even though you kind of knew it anyway!

In one of our many meetings this last week a professional who has seen my children regularly for over six years voiced out loud my inner thoughts on the subject of my sons inability to speak. Isaac is now six and a half. And he still has no speech. He makes noises, he screams, he takes me by the hand to things he wants, and now he is older he sometimes just helps himself. He has only been pointing for around a year.

I swallowed hard and asked her for her honest opinion. “Will Isaac ever speak?” I *thought* I was ready for what she would say. I already know deep down that the older he gets the more unlikely it is he will talk. I live with his frustrations and anger everyday and hold him while he cries every night. I celebrate all his efforts at communication in every form yet still long to one day hear his voice. But the realist in me knows that time is passing and he still has yet to master the tiniest of words that babies less than a year say with ease. We haven’t had the ‘ta’ or ‘hiya’ or even the basic ‘goo’ and ‘gaaa’. We have no waving goodbye or clapping in glee. Eye contact and joint attention that comes naturally to the youngest of children is still a mystery to my six-year-old. I am not in denial.

Yet when she told me my boy is unlikely to ever speak to me it still broke me.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know?

Next month marks the three-year anniversary of his first major diagnosis: Classic autism with global developmental delay and severe learning difficulties. He had only recently mastered walking at that point, had no language and was very much locked in his own world. We had been told he had autism since he was 21 months and had yet to meet any professionals who disagreed with this in any way.

Yet on the day we took him to that clinic assessment there was still a tiny part of me hoping everyone was wrong. My world fell apart when I left that appointment hearing what I already knew spoken back to me by someone else.

Isn’t it strange how hard it is to hear someone else say what you already know?

Maybe when no-one else confirms it we just try to somehow forget about it? Maybe we don’t really face our own worst thoughts? Maybe the reality of someone else saying it just makes us realise it is true after all. But then they add to the pain and harsh reality by sending it to you in writing. And we find ourselves mourning in our darkest moments all over again.

I sort of knew deep down there was more going on. He had other ‘symptoms’ children with autism didn’t really have. But I never wanted to hear someone mention that out loud. At least not to my face. Yet one day five months later we heard the doctor tell us our baby also had neurofibromatosis type 1. Combined with his other conditions (and we may yet hear more as we wait for full genetic blood results to come back) the future is not the brightest for my son.

I know he will need care throughout his life. I know it is unlikely he will ever drive, own a house, have a successful career or go to university. But am I still not quite ready for someone to voice those things to me.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know? Because it means you have to finally face up to it. It means others know your worst fears and concerns. It makes you vulnerable. It brings emotions to the forefront you would rather others never got to see. It is like stealing away that tiny shred of hope you held on to for dear life.

Someone asked me how the meeting went. I told them we were just told some stuff we already knew. They looked at me in wonder as the tears ran down my face.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know?