When I first started writing my blog, some of my first adoption related blog posts were about my youngest son, Tink (chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3,). We were going through him being assessed for ASD, and the posts were very much about my concerns for how accurate the diagnosis was, considering the many similar behaviour traits Autism and Developmental Trauma share (see this matrix). A year and a half on I am constantly being reminded of the progress he is making and how far from static his behavioural development is. Showing again, as I polish my “best mummy badge”, how well we often know our children, above and beyond some of the supposed experts.
I don’t mean for this to sound smug or cocky, it’s just that in the last year I’ve really doubted my judgment at times, especially in the face of some of the professional advice we’ve received. Looking back at how Tink is progressing and how I was right to be sceptical about his diagnosis is just helping me to regain my parenting confidence. Anyway less about me, let me tell you more about Tink.
Tink jumped his bottom on to the edge of the kitchen table, in an attempt to remove his feet from the kitchen floor. A tiny brown mouse was scuttling anxiously from one corner to another with an amused fluffy, white cat and a determined little boy in tow. Stig was trying really hard to catch the mouse, in his cupped palms, to heroically save it from the jaws of Holly the cat. I looked on, calling out instructions “head it off at the cooker”, whilst performing jittery skips and yelping occasionally. I glanced at Tink wiggling his legs to and fro from the table top; his face a little unreadable, he had a twinkle of glee about him but a modicum of worry was also evident. Moments later, the mouse disappeared behind something, never to be seen again, we retreated from the kitchen and Tink said “That was funny but I didn’t like that mouse”.
Later I thought about this, as us mothers do, and realised how different Tink had behaved compared to other mouse incidents we’d had in our home. No, we are not infested, just live in the countryside and the cats bring them in to toy with them in the warmth. And I’m not really scared of the little creatures, but when they scurry about, it does evoke a bit of pathetic woman in me, not unlike the mistress from Tom and Jerry, and I become a bit screechy and a lot jumpy. Stig is always the brave boy who steps in to save me and the mouse, and Tink usually stand on and watches, unsure of his role. But on that day he had taken a role, displayed a reaction and allowed what he was feeling to just be. I think it was a little mixture of vulnerability, excitement and coping mummy, but the point is he didn’t stand there like a startled rabbit in the head light, he acted on his emotions and then passed commented on how it had all been for him.
These changes are so subtle to the untrained eye, but for a very vigilant mum, I spot them all and our days can sometimes be full of them. There are little expressions of emotion, small glimpses of his worries, a tiny peek at his vulnerability and handful of hopeful responses.
The smallest of statements can mean so much,
“My tummy hurts”
“I don’t like this pasta”
“I won’t go to the dentist, I don’t like it”
“I don’t like it when you say that”
“I don’t like it when you go out”
“Yes mummy, I took Stig’s sweets”
Lets be clear they are statements and not tantrums, they are words, an opinion that often lead to discussion, not a closed door of dug in heals and unregulated emotion. All these declarations mean he is bravely expressing himself, giving himself a voice in the world and trusting that this is a good thing for him to do.
I can’t articulate what a huge step this tiny collection of phrases is, and how they delight me every time I hear them. I must be the only mum I know who felt happiness in her heart to the announcement of “I won’t go to the dentist, I don’t like it”. I mean, how many times must we have been to the dentist? Twice a year, or there about, for seven years. Not once has he complained. With this little phrase he wedged ajar a door to his world, let me in a little, so I could delicately sympathise, probe, and placate his worries.
The grandest, and most often heard, of statements is how much he dislikes school. I know it’s because he finds it really hard to deal with all the social interaction, having to conform to so many rules and instructions and confront his fragile self belief with every piece of work. However, I believe that it is his ever growing attachment to home and me that is making it all increasingly hard. Home is where he now feels safe, relaxed, welcome and understood and school, in his eyes, holds none of these attributes for him. It doesn’t solve the problem of school, but the fact that he says it, it is still progress.
Of course by expressing his likes and, mostly, dislikes for things, life does become a little bit harder. I have to listen and show that I have heard and value the statement he’s made. So, on the recent trip to the dentist I said that he didn’t need to open his mouth for the dentist, or get on the chair, if he didn’t want to, but he had to come with us. He did actually open it slightly, as he stood in the doorway, ready to walk at any second if he should so choose.
And the school statements are the hardest because, as helpful, understanding and supportive as school is, he would just much rather be at home and with me. I think it’s worth persevering though, because his struggles are not preventing him from learning. In fact despite his feelings, he’s already reached his reading target for the whole school year and has moved to the top group for maths. I know his social skills are still, at times, clunky and inappropriate but as long as those around him can understand why this occurs, then he’s in the best place to develop and improve.
So as I said at the beginning, so much progress is being made and it really doesn’t feel like he’s about to plateau and stop just yet. I’m not dismissing the whole ASD diagnosis, as I’ve also said before, that would be foolish. However, whilst we’re on the up, we shall keep looking forward; right now, there is no stand still in this family.