The once ordered life that me and my husband shared with our 3 year old daughter changed forever when we brought our baby son home from hospital. By any account, he was an incredibly hungry baby who did not do very well on either breast or formula milk. His feeds were incredibly long and even when he was full to capacity, he still demanded more. He also experienced evening bouts of colic which was tiresome for all of us and only relieved by my husband using ‘movement’ to ease his pain. Reassured by family recollections that my husband too was a voracious feeder and required early weaning, I introduced baby rice sooner than recommended. This did the trick and satisfied him a bit more (and eased the colic too) until the point when I would follow the recommended weaning route and introduce the usual mix of pureed foodstuffs. As with any other parent, these early difficulties were part of the norm of adapting to a newborn in the household yet I had also started to become aware of other peculiarities.
I had noticed that during feeds my son would not look me in the eye (he would look everywhere else but not at me); that wonderful mother-baby connection that I had enjoyed with my first baby was missing. At the same time, my sons ‘loudness’ was really noticeable. I recall how, when he was six weeks old, I ventured to the local branch library with him and his elder sister. I parked the pram in a quiet corner and no sooner had I and his sister settled down to read a book together, than he let off. This wasn’t just any old baby howl but an enourmous bellow that filled the single room of the small library and which upset the elderly users who baulked at the sound erupting from the pram. Even I was amazed, and embarrassed, at the din coming from my new baby and tried hard to soothe him. However, he could not be comforted and, aware of some of the unsympathetic comments coming from some of the people in the library, I returned to the confines of my home. I can understand their disquiet though for the library is supposed to be a quiet and studious place, something which both me and my son would appreciate very much in years to come.
An interesting dimension of my sons loudness was when he was about 9 months old when he would make tunes as I trolleyed my way around the supermarket. There he would lie in his baby seat making these sounds which attracted attention from fellow shoppers. I enjoyed the public adoration of my son even though it took me ages to get round the supermarket! Looking back, these shopping trips were some of the very few occasions where I received anything in the way of positive feedback or nice comments from the stand and stare public. Trips out with my son in later years would become at the very least difficult, at their worst traumatic.
It was at about this time when I decided to join a mother and baby activity. I had by now left my Personal Assistant job with the council as the complexities of finding childcare for both my elder daughter and baby son were too complex and costly to justify my return. This was 1999 when childcare was perhaps not as accessible or flexible as it is now. It was also a good time, I thought, to spend more time caring for my two young children. So with my elder daughter settled and happy at the local school nursery, I decided to take my son to a Music with Mummy class, the idea being to sing and play instruments together with other mums and babies. So I arrived at the house of the lady who was running these sessions and my son and I settled into the cosy living room, filled with cushions, playmats and musical instruments. I thought it was great (I had always enjoyed singing and musical activities with my elder daughter and wanted to replicate that experience for my son). But no sooner had we positoned ourselves on the carpeted floor, than he was off crawling into the adjoining kitchen. I brought him back. He was off again. I brought him back again. He was off yet again. And so it went on. Needless to say, I abandoned those classes – I couldn’t see the point of paying for the use of someone elses kitchen to occupy my very energetic son.
During his first year, the progression to lumpier and finger foods became problematic. He would not chew his food and would just store it in his mouth. This would often require me to put a finger into his mouth and scoop the contents out. At worst he would gag and I would often have to pat his back. On its own, I did not find this issue particularly worrisome. As a second time mother I felt confident enougth to adapt to my childs needs and so I ignored the weaning advice at the time. I had already moved my son from bottle to cup so I knew that bottle feeding was not the problem behind my son’s lack of chew. I therefore decided to slow down the introduction of different foods which enabled my son to very gradually adjust to eating different consistencies and ultimately enjoy a mixed diet. This did take time and even then he would still require prompts and encouragement about how to eat, as he does now.
Looking back, I think his eating problems were an early sign of his autism and the sensory problems he has in his mouth. But at that time, this difficulty and the other oddities that appeared during his infancy were seen by me and his family as just being part of my son’s unique personality. At that stage I was not able to bring these oddities together for I knew nothing of autism, relying instead on my stereotyped belief that an autistic individual was the more savant type who exhibited great skill in particular areas. However, it would not be long before I started to become seriously concerned about my son’s development.