A Child with Autism
The story below shows an insight of the development of a child with autism and perhaps a better overview and understanding of the condition.
Edward, an only child, was born after normal pregnancy and delivery. As an infant, he was easy to breast-feed, the transition to solid foods posed no difficulties, and he also slept well. At first, his mother and farther were delighted at how easy he was: he seemed happy and content to lie in his cot for hours. He sat unsupported at six months (this is with in the normal range), and soon after he crawled energetically.
His parents considered him to be independent and wilful. However, his grandmother was puzzled by his independence. To her mind, he showed an undue preference for his own company – it was as if he lacked interest in people.
Edward walked on his first birthday, much to the delight of his parents; yet during his second year he did not progress as well as expected.
Although he made sounds, he did not use words. Indeed his ability to communicate was so limited that even when he was three years old his mother still found her self trying to guess what he wanted. Often she tried giving him a drink or some food in the hope that she had guessed his needs correctly.
Occasionally he would grab hold of her wrist and drag her to the sink, yet he never said anything like drink, or he would just point to the tap.
This was obviously a source of concern in itself: but at about this time his parents became concerned about the extremity of his independence. For example, even if he fell down, he would not come to his parents to show them he had hurt him self. At times they even felt he was uninterested in them, because he never became upset when his mother had to go out and leave him with a friend or relative. In fact, he seemed to be more interested in playing with his bricks than spending time with people. He used to make long straight lines of bricks over and over again. He used to spend an extraordinary number of hours lining them up in exactly the same way and in precisely the same sequence of colours.
From time to time, his parents also worried about his hearing and wondered if he was deaf, particularly as he often showed no response when they called his name.
At other times, however, his hearing seemed to be very acute, he would turn his head to the slightest sound of a plane or a fire engine in the distance. In the weeks following his birthday they became increasingly concerned, despite reassurances from health professionals.
He was not using any words to express himself, and he showed no interest in playing with other children. For example, he did not wave bye bye or show any real joy when they tried to play peek-a-boo. His mother agonized about her relationship with Edward, because he always
wriggled away from her cuddles, and only seemed to like rough and tumble play with his father. She worried that she had done something wrong as a mother, and felt depressed, rejected and guilty.
When he was three and a half years old the family GP referred Edward to a specialist. The specialist, a child psychiatrist, told the parents that Edward had autism, but added that his psychological abilities in spatial tasks (such as jigsaws) suggested that his intellectual
abilities were normal in these areas. The specialist thought it was too early to give an accurate picture of the way he would progress, but said there were some indications to suggest he would do better than most children with autism. Edward was sent to a special playgroup, and received speech therapy. A psychologist visited the family at home and helped the parents plan ways of encouraging the development of communication and reducing the frequency of his temper tantrums.
In his fourth year, Edward suddenly began to speak in complete sentences. His parents were greatly relived, and for a time actually believed he had finally grown out of the problems. However, his speech was quite unusual. For example, he often repeated back word for word whatever his parents said, so if they asked him ‘ do you want a drink?’ he would say ‘ you want a drink’ in reply. At other times Edward made rather supervising remarks. For instance, he would say ‘ you really tickle me’ in a tone of voice similar to that of a family friend who had used the same expression a day ago. However, his use of this phrase, and most of his speech, was usually inappropriate to the setting, and it lacked any clear meaning.
The years from four to six were very difficult for the family. Despite speech therapy and special help at school, Edward only made slow progress. He developed a fascination with vacuum cleaners and lampposts and started to draw them over and over again. He became exceptionally excited whenever his mother took the vacuum out, jumping up and down and vigorously waving his arms and flicking his fingers near to his eyes (this is also known as flapping).
He also became preoccupied by lights, rushing around the house switching them off and on. Even family outings became an ordeal, Edward threw wild tantrums unless the family took exactly the same route and let him count the lampposts. He never seemed to tire of doing the same thing over and over again.
His behaviour was also unusual in other ways in that he never really seemed to look at any one directly. Rather, he would look at them only fleetingly or not at all. Despite this Edward seemed to notice everything in minute detail. He could ride his bike along the most crowed pavements without knocking anyone over, and he spotted car number plates with a figure four in them long before anyone else had noticed. He would also do things that his parents would find embarrassing, like grabbing and eating sandwiches from stranger’s plates in restaurants.
When Edward started school, he found it difficult to learn to read and write, although in other areas of work he was very quick, for example, he was very good with his number work, and took a great delight in learning multiplication tables. He was also still quick at jigsaws and could manage even difficult puzzles with ease, at six years old he did a 200-piece jigsaw on his own, and a 100- piece one upside-down!
Socially however he was unable to make any friends what so ever. He would attempt to join a game that he liked, but his approaches were so odd that other children tended to ignore him. Most of the time, Edward was to be found on his own, busying him self with one of his special interests, more absorbed in counting lampposts than playing with other children.
From the age of seven, Edward was sent to a special school for children with autism. At about this age his parents also noticed he seemed more interested in their company. He would show his mother that he hurt himself when he felt down, and he even seemed to derive some
comfort and pleasure from cuddles. Also he began to wait for his father to come home from work, and even started to look out for him. However, his parents where never sure whether Edward truly enjoyed seeing his father return, or whether he was simply waiting to see if his father came home at exactly six o’clock.
Fortunately, while at school he developed more and more. He is now nineteen years old and no longer simply repeats things that he has been told, but is able to make appropriate responses and hold a simple conversation. He is able to read simple books, although he has
difficulty in grasping the story line, although he has little interest in speaking or reading. Instead he prefers to pursue his current interest in collecting bottle tops and listing to music. He watches programmes on pop music, and seems to have an enormous pleasurefrom writing out or reciting a list of all the current hit records and their order in the charts. He has learnt this entire list by heart, and can tell what the top twenty records where on any particular date.
Although he has mastered simple social pleasantries, he still finds social gatherings very difficult, and always ends up on the periphery of any group. He has not established any close friendships, despite his desire to do so. Sadly this troubles him, recently he asked his parents how he could make friends and they find this hard to explain as to them it just come naturally.
Currently Edward has a place in sheltered employment, fitting components into radios, he is considered to be a reliable and careful worker buthis employers feel unable to give him any more responsibly because he is unable to master social skills required for dealing with colleagues and costumers. He has some awareness of these problems and talks about how difficult he finds it understanding people, ‘ I never know what to do next’ he says. Despite this he had expectations of the future the wants to marry and have a family, but seems to have no firm grasp of what this might entail.