Last week my son started complaining that he couldn’t see to do his work in the classroom. To be honest my first thought was that this was his new excuse for getting out of work or at best, a symptom of anxiety. In the past we have had exacerbation of his asthma and gastric symptoms which have been a result of anxiety, a common ailment linked with autism.
But despite my reservations, I made an appointment for him to see an optician. Lo an behold, my son needed glasses for ‘concentration work’. Boy, did I feel guilty!
My husband’s immediate reaction to this news was “can’t that boy catch a break?”
Luckily my son loves his new glasses and even though I am a little biased, he looks very handsome in them. But I do know what my husband means, it does at times feel that our son has so much going against him.
As well as autism, my son has a diagnosis of dyspraxia and sensory processing “difficulties”. The paediatrician did not want to diagnose sensory processing disorder purely to minimise how many conditions my son was diagnosed with. I am not sure I agree with her thought process. While I would not want my son to have unnecessary and incorrect diagnoses, I do want the correct diagnosis to ensure he has the support that he needs.
“Dyspraxia often affects people with ASD, however it can also stand alone. It can sometimes be difficult to separate the signs and symptoms of each condition because there is an overlap.”
Likewise with the sensory processing difficulties, for my son, this is a myriad of over and under sensitivity to a wide range of stimuli.
The saying “If you have met one child with autism.. you have met one child with autism” certainly rings true because while my son does not cope well with a mixture of background noise, for example hearing different ‘chatter’, babies crying, music playing, he has no problems watching movies at full volume or shouting instructions down his mic piece while playing online with friends.
And while he simply cannot drink from a certain glass that has a pattern printed on because he cannot tolerate holding it, he can happily be dirty.
As I have already mentioned, my son has suffered from anxiety. Alongside this, he struggles with low self-esteem. This is very difficult for me to witness, I have struggled with anxiety and depression for many years and to imagine my baby boy may go through his life with the same struggles honestly breaks my heart. I wish I could protect him from this but I fear for him. My hope is that he will always be the over-sharer that he is now and therefore won’t bottle up his feelings which of course can be catastrophic.
My son has always struggled to concentrate for long periods of time, this is something I first noticed when he was a baby. He would often flit from toy to toy. I didn’t really appreciate its significance and of course in isolation it does not create red flags. I did notice the comparison when his little sister was born, she would concentrate on the toys on her bouncer as a newborn. I simply put it down to being a gender difference.
This can lead to frustration at school where, of course he is expected to concentrate and participate in class. Teachers who understand his conditions and co-morbidities are essential. And of course this isn’t always the case.
Alongside this, my son struggles to regulate his emotions and is prone to outbursts of distress and sometimes aggression, now combine this with pre-pubescent hormones!
Sadly, another co-morbidity that affects my son is obesity. He struggles to regulate his eating and while I feel lucky that he does not have any restrictive eating habits, in fact he has quite a sophisticated palate, he will turn to food for comfort, as a reward and out of habit. Couple this with dyspraxia and a reluctance to engage in anything sporty or active and he could be facing a future of being bullied, health concerns and low self-esteem and poor body image to name but a few.
Can you see how all of this is intertwined? I guess it was understandable for my husband to express his angst about also needing glasses on top of everything else.
“These co-morbidities however are not necessarily here for life. With support, education and love we can hopefully overcome some of his difficulties. Co-morbidities related to his conditions can change over his lifetime, we will need to help him manage these.”
The good news for my son is that it could be so much worse and I am trying to count my blessings instead of focussing on his struggles. The mainstream school that he attends has an excellent SEN department and they are putting interventions in place to support him. We will continue to support our little boy and I will continue to tell him every day that he is amazing and he can and will achieve so much. In the meantime, let’s see how long it takes before he either breaks or loses his glasses..
Sharon blogs about the ins and outs of living with anxiety and depression; plus, the tales of motherhood to her 11-year-old autistic son and her 7-year-old daughter.