When my eldest daughter Lou was 18 months old, I first noticed that she had some sensory processing difficulties. She was a huge ‘Sensory Seeker,’ and loved the feel of a running tap on her hand and the pressure of holding her hand right under a running tap. She first started having tantrums of epic proportions, but as I worked with 2 and 3-year olds I hoped that it was just one of those age-related things and it was reinforced by other people that it was “normal behaviour for her age.” Deep down I knew there was something more, especially when the behavioural difficulties carried on and got worse through the ages of 3, 4 then 5. It was difficult for people to see the things we were dealing with at home as Lou ‘masked’ her difficulties at her pre-school setting, and as soon as I picked her up, or as soon as we reached our front door, exploded like a fizzy bottle that had been shaken all day.
After continually asking for help with Lou’s behaviours, which spiralled after my 2nd child, Moo, was born. I was sent on parenting courses, every time I mentioned her difficult behaviours my parenting was mentioned, especially as she appeared ‘fine’ in places away from me. People told me that I wasn’t firm enough with Lou, but being firmer just meant that Lou’s anger and frustration doubled. I started to research into Sensory Processing and I realised that this is a significant part of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD,) I leant about ‘masking’ and children who offloaded to a special person, who they feel most comfortable with, I realised that I was Lou’s ‘safe person.’ I learnt about ‘sensory seeking’ and ‘sensory avoiding,’ and that some children can have both.
It was Lou’s health visitor that first said to me “I believe you” as she witnessed Lou’s behaviours on a visit to our house, and then made referrals to a Paediatrician and Occupational Therapist. Unfortunately, Lou was discharged from OT after only one appointment and 1 observation in school. I was hopeful for more strategies or support in helping with her sensory seeking behaviours and felt deflated after this. Lou’s hyperactivity and impulsive behaviours were witnessed by her paediatrician, who found that Lou had ‘Sensory Processing Difficulties, and Hypermobility (where the joints bend further than normal.)
After several appointments, it was agreed that Lou should be referred to the Umbrella Pathway Team (Worcestershire,) for an assessment to investigate if she is on the Autistic Spectrum. From the referral to the final diagnostic meeting (where members of the Umbrella Pathway team discussed whether they felt from the assessments and reports from Lou’s Paediatrician, OT and a member of the Complex Communication Needs (CCN) team, as well as discussing with Lou’s old school and current one, (where she has almost attended for a whole term now,) this process took approximately 9 months. I have heard that some parents have waited longer than this for a decision regarding their child, but after I heard that Lou’s diagnostic meeting would be in November 2017, I pretty much convinced myself that it would come back as an ‘inconclusive’ result. This was mainly down to my worries that Lou presented very differently to school than she does at home, and even though our family and friends have seen snippets of Lou’s behaviours and traits, the only ones who have witnessed her as 100% herself without any ‘masking,’ are myself and Lou’s father. The only hope I did hold onto was that the Autism specialist who completed the CCN assessment on Lou seemed to be very understanding of how girls on the autistic spectrum can present differently to boys.
As I started my 3rd parenting course to support with both of my children’s behaviours at home, I got a call from Lou’s Paediatrician, I was so nervous to answer the call, but the Paediatrician confirmed that Lou had been found to have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD.) I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that I wasn’t making all of it up, as my low self-esteem lead me to believe, for all the times where I doubted myself and my parenting skills, there was a huge reason and I saw this from when was 18 months old. I also had mixed feelings of guilt as I am also going through an assessment of Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) myself and that I have a child with the same issues as I do, (also many different ones.) It hit me that this is a life-long and life-changing thing that will affect my child but also glad at the same time, that she has been diagnosed as a child and I do hope that she receives so much more support than I did through school, where I was labelled as ‘painfully shy,’ and because I just got on with things, teachers believed that I was ‘just getting on with it.’ I am pleased that my daughter is more vocal and outspoken as I was as a child, I hope that she has this ‘spark’ to speak out if she doesn’t understand something and not just sit in class pretending that she understands when deep down she really doesn’t. I hold onto the hope that it may have just changed since I attended school and my daughter will be included and feel expected and comfortable in her own skin.
I didn’t really ‘believe’ this ‘verbal diagnosis’ of ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’ (ASD) until I set eyes on the actual summary report from the Worcestershire Umbrella Pathway team. This arrived the weekend of the 25th November 2017, it was then there, in black and white and then I actually said to myself: “It’s not me, it’s not my parenting, it never has been, and there’s a huge reason why. There is a part of me that wants to wave this report in front of certain faces, but I think the best thing I can do is just keep educating other people on how girls on the autistic spectrum present, and continue to help and offer advice to other parents who are going through the same thing.
One element of the diagnostic report states: “we acknowledge that she does not respond to direct demands, however, she is very young and there is insufficient evidence to specify that she has clear features of Demand Avoidance at this time.” Which I can understand. However, it is so frustrating for not only myself but other parents in the county of Worcestershire whose children display clear traits of Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) as part of the Autistic Spectrum. I have researched PDA for the last year and also use demand avoidant strategies at home, which have worked better than any other strategies we’ve been told to use. If I read any blog posts or articles about PDA I usually nod the whole way through, it just explains a lot. If PDA isn’t recognised in the county where we live, I have already decided that I would take Lou to see practitioners such as Dr Judy Eaton (consultant clinical Psychologist,) who specialises in ASD, ADHD and PDA, in a private practice.
As for the rest of the report, the ‘needs’ are double the amount of strengths, which is clear to see why extra support is required, there are also recommendations of what to do next, which I hope will be addressed at the ‘Team Around the Child’ meeting we have this week.
On 29th November 2017, Lou had an appointment with her paediatrician, we discussed that it is a shame that there are no specific ‘post diagnosis’ appointments to help parents after their child has been diagnosed with ASD, as this can be an extremely emotional and confusing time for parents. There are still questions regarding Lou’s hyperactivity and therefore it was decided to assess her for ADHD around March/April 2018, as she will be 6 in March ’18.
For now I’m trying not to think too far into the future, we are having to take each day as it comes. I want my daughter to celebrate who she is and never be afraid of being herself.
I will continue to find support in parents who also have children with additional needs, via online groups and also the parent’s support group I help to run, some parents have been through the same and their children are older, and some have only just begun the journey to diagnosis, I hope to support them in the best way I can.