Although B has attended speech and language therapy (SALT) for some time, this week was the first time I had taken him. Following the first initial concerns about his development, SALT were the first agency to be involved. They were also the first to mention autism and ASD. They have written a few reports now, one of which was a significant factor in helping the doctor reach her diagnosis. I expect their evidence will be a significant factor when the statementing panel meet in a couple of weeks too. The session involved a series of activities, outlined by a visual timetable. They included greeting each other, interacting by passing a ball, hide and seek with various objects, story-time with toys and snack time, amongst other things. There were two other children present and two members of the SALT team running the session. I sat in the room next door, watching through a one way window, with the sound piped in.
B is quite happy to attend these sessions but for me it was difficult to watch. It made me think of a phrase I have heard a couple of times recently: ‘I can’t see anything wrong with him.’ This usually comes from a member of my family and winds me up no end. I think it’s usually said because he is demonstrating a skill such as reading. It seems that, to them, skills such as reading are a sign of intelligence and therefore don’t fit their idea of what autism is. This, of course, is because they have no idea what autism is (despite my efforts to help them understand). I find it a difficult phrase to hear because it implies (though I’m sure not intentionally) that he’s ‘normal’ and that what we’ve been through is normal too. So, he’s not got a disability, we’re just crap parents, right? It also shows a profound ignorance of what to me is a very obvious developmental difficulty. How can they not see this? B is diagnosed as High Functioning Autistic/ Aspergers. He doesn’t ‘look’ different and is not severely or, I guess, moderately impaired. But spend five minutes with him, and his difficulties are obvious. Why can’t my family see this?
If they had been with me at the SALT session, they would have seen this. Perhaps it is the context in which they see B that stops them from seeing. He is the baby of the family and they have no other point of reference, apart from his brother who’s older. Today, I watched B fail to interact with the two other children in the room, struggle to stay still, be completely uninvolved in the story and, at one point, walk in small circles in the corner of the room stimming loudly. Ironically, I could see nothing wrong with the other two children. By that, I mean I don’t believe they were asd. I couldn’t really identify any speech delay either, but I realise this makes me sound as bad as the people I’m complaining about! In comparison to them, B’s needs and difficulties were obvious and undeniable. Perhaps if relatives sat through a session like this they would change their opinion.
What worries me is that an acceptance of B’s condition will only come when he is older and the differences with his peer group are more obvious. Really, we need them fully on board now. The sooner they accept his condition, the sooner they can offer the support I know they want to offer. Telling me they can’t see anything wrong with him is not helpful, even if it’s meant to be.