I wanted to wait until the blog was well established before I dove into the world of my son, Patrick’s Autism in any great level of detail. As next Tuesday, December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities, my daughter Saoirse suggested that now would be a good time to tell the story of that part of our life.
Our story has been long and winding, but for now I will publish 3 chapters over the next week, that cover much of the last 7 years of our lives, when we really started to pay attention to the fact that something was different for our little boy. There is more detail in my book, Bedtime Stories for Mothers and Others.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…………..
Patrick said his first word at 13 months old. He was at his Granny’s house in Dublin looking at a picture of our dog and shouted out ”gog”. He didn’t say much more for many months after that. He’d had a runny nose since the day he was born and the mucous river that continued to flow, had caused him to get glue ear. He had grommets inserted when he was 21 months old, within four days he had twelve new words. Including rugby and football – his Daddy was so proud! My favourite toddler word of Patrick’s was “lella” it took us a while to figure out that it meant – banana (because they are yellow).
Patrick’s first smile had appeared at seven weeks old, and continued to grow. His smile lit up a room, always brightening my day. Although ironically my favourite picture of him is with a super serious head on him, looking like he might punch someone – sadly that was to become a look we would see a lot.
During his first two years on this earth, Patrick showed none of the more well-known signs of Autism. But by the time he was two and a half I just knew something was different. I had no idea what exactly, but I just knew.
Patrick was always a very ‘busy’ child, he definitely puts the boy in boisterous and as an only child myself I thought initially this was just part of life with a boy child. His behaviour always made me question my abilities as a parent. Saoirse has been a text book child and I thought I had good control on her development and behaviour, but to me Patrick was a puzzle that often had me tearing my hair out.
As you’ve read in my blog earlier (A Special Package), he destroyed, plants, car windscreens and oven doors as a toddler. He was often destructive, loud and wild and had would have some fierce temper tantrums. He would never sit for very long, particularly at the dinner table, and we regularly had to chase after him to get to him into his seat or lift him down off the table. I became increasingly worried that he had ADHD.
My husband didn’t see any major issue and being from a large family, he was used to the chaos boys often bring. He is the second boy of five, who were then followed by three girls. After my sedate upbringing as an only child, Mick’s large, busy family seemed quite wild in comparison. Stories of throwing his youngest brother Shay out of a second- floor bedroom window into the heavy snow of the early-eighties and full on fights with his older brother Pat using pitch forks and horse whips, made my eyebrows raise. When I struggled with Patrick’s behaviour my mother-in-law would regularly tell me “he’ll grow out of it, he’s just a boy!”
When Patrick was being challenging, other Mum’s would look at me with mild pity, glad it wasn’t their turn to deal with a toddler tantrum. But something was different than a typical tantrum, I just knew!
In January 2013 we gave Saoirse and Patrick a beautiful book called “There’s a House in Mummy’s Tummy” at the back of it was taped a scan picture of their baby sister. I was 20 weeks pregnant. From the very next day, I began to notice a marked change in Patrick’s behaviour and he became a lot more challenging. So much so I went to discuss it with my GP who said we should monitor the situation but, he was probably just unsettled at the thought of a new baby.
Erin arrived in June 2013. Both Patrick and Saoirse were thrilled and Patrick got so excited he almost sat on his new baby sister at the hospital. Things progressed reasonably well for the first few months but when Patrick started school that September, we could see he was really struggling. He made it through to the mid-term break relatively unscathed, but when he went back in November all hell broke loose.
He would cope reasonably well at school, but going to the toilet 15-20 times a day to avoid sitting in his seat. At home in the evenings his distress would erupt into hysterical tantrums, that would often last for upwards of three hours. He would punch, kick, bite, throw things and just generally be impossible to deal with.
Every night felt like audition for ‘Super Nanny’ – the certificate 18 version. Dealing with this and a teething five-month old was something of a challenge. I don’t think Saoirse got a bedtime story for that whole month. Not a huge issue I know, but it makes me sad to think that she had to learn at the tender age of seven, that her needs would often not be Mum and Dad’s top priority.
After Patrick’s behaviour escalated nightly for six long weeks, we finally decided to go to our GP. She referred us to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for those of you lucky enough to not have heard of it – I genuinely hope you never have to), and so began our tumultuous relationship with ‘the system.’ But no matter how much they would fob us off, and tell us he was fine, I just knew.