Jim is seven today so I thought I would share some thoughts about my life with him here.
Things didn’t go to plan right from the start with Jim. I had antenatal depression (a condition which is very rarely discussed which makes the sufferer feel even worse as they feel they are totally alone and a bad Mother even before they become one). Then there was the horrible birth, c-section under general anaesthetic after a 48 hour failed induction. After that came a failure to breast feed, being tied to a breast pump for 3 hours or more a day for 5 months (the 6th month he had the excess I’d frozen) and a baby that was incredibly quiet, he ate and slept and often would sleep in the middle of eating which meant he usually took an hour for each feed and which left me wondering if I was doing something wrong. I actually set up my business sewing cloth nappies when Jim was tiny as he required so little from me for almost the first year of his life.
And just to top it off, in case I hadn’t quite had enough, came the post natal depression to join the party. I can clearly recall sitting on my living room floor holding Jim crying my eyes out. I didn’t have a lot of support and very little help but I also felt why should I need help when I had a baby who just slept and ate?
Jim was a year and three months old when I started this blog. The title of the blog comes from an Ani DiFranco song and the lines containing the title go ‘and I’m becoming transfixed with nature and my part in it which I believe just signifies I’m finally waking up’. At the time I was starting to flirt with veganism so the words rang really true to me, however the truer meaning for me was that I was finally coming out of the pnd and it actually felt like I was waking up, things were getting easier and my life was getting better.
Jim continued to act a bit differently from other children, he never crawled but instead rolled everywhere and he would never do anything until he could do it perfectly so he didn’t babble but instead waited until he could say full words to talk and he finally sat up and then walked within a week of each other, but I have always been happy for him to be who he is. I call my style of parenting ‘free range’ which means that I provide a lot of things for my kids to do, look at and play with and let them pick and choose whatever they want. When they find an interest we go with it until they’re done and then we go with the next one. I’m not a sit on the floor and play with my kids kind of parent, I’ve tried to do it and it just doesn’t work for me, I don’t have the patience. I do, however, constantly interact with them, encouraging, answering questions, giving help etc and there is plenty of reading to them and board or card games with Jim when he wants to play them so they’re in no way lacking in parental love and attention and we’re all happy.
It wasn’t until he started school, however, that his real differences became apparent, and unfortunately the first school he attended just dismissed him as being naughty rather than looking into what might cause him to be as disruptive as he was. The first year in the second school he went to was fine as he had a wonderful teacher who figured out what Jim needed and went with it so it wasn’t until the next year, when the kids were expected to sit at tables and do proper lessons that his issues once again raised their head. The school got right to it though working with him and helping him, even though we had to change the class he was in as the first teacher once again couldn’t see his behaviour as anything but naughty. I remember the first time I saw him sit down on the carpet after he’d gone into class and talk and play with other children, I cried in the doorway.
I realised even without a diagnosis that it was most likely that Jim had Aspergers Syndrome as it is in my ex-husbands family and suspected to be in mine (ie no diagnosis has been made but symptoms are there). Once we’d moved here he finally got a diagnosis of mild Aspergers Syndrome and I began to fight for the support he needs to be able to deal with school finally getting him full time help (provided by 2 helpers who split the week) near the end of last school year. I don’t use the word fight lightly, it can be almost a constant struggle to remind people that Jim is autistic and not just naughty. Yes, he may misbehave, all kids do from time to time, but the vast majority of his bad behaviour is prompted by the autism. The last meeting I attended at the school to discuss Jim’s behaviour and to come up with yet another plan of how to deal with it had 10 people in attendance and lasted 2 hours. For someone like me who isn’t that good at social interaction herself and who bursts into tears when angry these meetings can be horrible.
One thing that is hard for both Jim and me is that he looks ‘normal’, there are no outward signs that Jim is autistic beyond him being slightly less coordinated than most children his age and not being willing to look anyone directly in the eye. Thus when he behaves in a way that is out of the ‘norm’ people are very fast to pass judgement (all Mother’s suffer from ‘those looks’ from people every now and again I know!). If I can teach you anything about autistic families I would like that to be for you please not to judge a Mother on her parenting skills or lack thereof by the way her child is behaving at a certain time, give them the benefit of the doubt that this behaviour is out of the ordinary for their child or that there is an underlying reason for the child to behave the way they are. I take Jim to the supermarket as rarely as I can and 6 out of 10 times he’s fine but the other 4 times either the lights, the noise, the bright packaging or any other small thing that neuro-typical people take forgranted will set him off. Please believe that not everyone takes their kids to the supermarket to scream at them and that we’re doing the best we can to get around as fast and with the least amount of disruption we can not only so that you don’t have to put up with him but so that he can feel less stressed and calmer, autistic children live under a constant huge level of stress and it doesn’t take much for that stress to suddenly become too much for them. People making comments or glaring at me does not make it any easier for me to deal with the situation and my being stressed will in turn stress him out more and make it worse, just ignore us and we’ll go away as fast as we can!
However, I refuse to let autism define Jim, he is so much more than that and I fully believe and am determined that he will be able to live a normal life once he has learned how social behaviour works and how he is expected to behave in different situations.
Something Jim isn’t without, and which I am very grateful for, is the ability to express affection. He is big on hugs and telling people that he loves that he loves them (and equally as quick to tell them that they’ve upset him or that he’s angry with them!). He and Piggle adore each other and although they do bicker and argue as all siblings do they are firm friends already and having a brother has helped Jim no end in learning how to be with other people.
Jim has an amazing mind and a memory that puts mine to shame. When he gets the support he needs at school he learns at an astonishing rate and loves to go further into the subjects he’s studying than the lessons do if it’s something that intrigues him (on the other hand if it’s too easy or he’s not interested he won’t bother at all…). We’re forever looking stuff up online, reading books, checking the world map on the dining room wall and asking whether the school has a book that explains whatever he is asking about.
Like all kids he goes through different obsessions, although his tend to last longer and he’s more actively involved in them. We’ve had Thomas the Tank Engine, volcanoes, sharks and we’re currently on endangered animals and what he can do to help them. His current career choice is to be an architect and he sketches buildings and looks through my 70’s copy of Conran’s ‘House Book’ all the time, his favourite pages being the ones that give you the dimensions of different door fixtures and fittings. His only worry about his career choice is how he will be able to save the animals and be an architect at the same time!
I knew that having children would change my life but what I didn’t realise was how much it would change me. It hasn’t always been a smooth change and I’ve not always done it with the most grace but I hope that I have always managed to do it with love. I wasn’t someone who fell in love with their baby the moment they saw them (I was still full of general anaesthetic and pethedine for one thing), it took a bit of time and I’m not ashamed to say that. The responsibility floored me and I was so caught up in making sure I did everything that he needed as well as I could that the emotion took a little longer to surface. Once it did though it’s never lessened, I love my children fiercely and believe, as I’m sure most Mothers do, that they’re the most gorgeous wonderful people ever to grace this world.
There is frustration, long dull work, many many loads of washing, much food to prepare, rules to repeat over and over again and times when I don’t think I can go on for another minute without going totally insane. Then Jim will smile at me, or hug me, or tell me a joke that actually isn’t funny and doesn’t make any sense at all or simply just be there sitting quietly for a moment and everything is ok again, I can go on and I do so willingly and full of love. There is also a huge amount of laughter and fun in our home, something we were lacking before we moved here, we are silly, we dance, we sing and we enjoy life together.
Jim is an amazing child and I can’t believe that 7 years of his life have gone by already, please let the rest of them go slower so I can spend as much time as possible with him.