In early 2008, my son was assessed by a multidisciplinary team which consisted of a consultant paediatrician, child psychologist, occupational therapist and speech and language therapist. The assessment took place over a number of sessions and looked at communication, physical and handwriting skills, cognitive skills, educational skills and behaviour. It also drew on information from school and from ourselves. In all, it was a comprehensive, though tiring, assessment particularly for our son, who I have to say, coped brilliantly.
After all this we were then invited to a summary meeting with the team and also the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) from my son’s school who asked to come along. I was quite taken aback by her wish to be involved, but was pleased that she was now taking an interest in our son so was happy to include her. So there we were, me, husband, multidisciplinary team and SENCO, squashed into a smallish meeting room. From the outset, however, I could sense a nervousness from the child psychologist and I kept wondering what on earth was the problem? Its amazing how we remember such things isn’t it? Anyway, after each practitioner discussed their findings, the Child Psychologist then summed up that our son had an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) which might (note the word might) be described as Aspergers Syndrome.
I was not expecting anything like this. I was half expecting a diagnosis of ADHD and/or dyspraxia so to be told it was an autistic disorder was a shock, so much so that I just burst into tears. It wasn’t just the shock of the diagnosis that made me upset but a sense of immediate relief that I was not to blame for my son’s behaviour. I remember blurting through my sobs that I wasn’t to blame, with everybody looking at me rather strangely. For a number of years I had had to tolerate suggestions from many people (including the teachers at the school) that my son’s behaviour was because I was a crap parent. Now I had evidence that this wasn’t the case, that the root cause of my son’s difficulties was due to a developmental problem. It was a very emotional, but liberating, moment. Knowing straightaway that my son had an identifiable condition (even though I did not fully understand autism at that stage) meant that I felt comfortable in confiding the true extent of my son’s challenging behaviour. Up to that point, I did not trust state services enough to be able to tell them the exact nature of his behaviours, mainly because I thought (perhaps irrationally, you might say) that social services would become involved. I think it is probably true to say that my motherly confidence was at an all time low.
After further discussion, and a decision to refer us to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, part of the NHS), we left. It was as we left that the child psychologist turned round to me and said “Be grateful, he can talk.” I didn’t reply, my husband didn’t reply; we just looked at her and then walked away.
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