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When you realise your child is different

I first shared this story on LinkedIn during Autism Acceptance Month in April 2024.

When did I begin suspecting that my son may be different?

He wasn’t very fussy as an infant – certainly nothing that worried me. He didn’t mind being held or cuddled; didn’t fuss over clothing items.

At one year of age, he hadn’t spoken nor taken his first step on his own. Doctors and well meaning relatives and friends said “Boys take more time to develop.”

By the time he was 2, it was extremely clear to me that he wasn’t a typical kid. He could walk by then but wasn’t confident – still wanted to hold my hand. He was making sounds but was not speaking. By then, we got a referral to KKWCH – the specialist children’s hospital in Singapore. When he was shy of 3 years, we got the official diagnosis. Yep, Lucas is autistic.

Oh by the way, it’s genetic and there’s no cure for it. OK … not very helpful information. So, we treat the ‘symptoms’? Is that what you call speech deficiency and poor motoring skills and behaviourial issues? And that’s when it began, the speech therapy, the occupational therapy, the music therapy, the art therapy (he hated this the most), the sound therapy, the dance therapy etc. The hunt for a special school because he’d never be accepted into mainstream. And … dentists! Do you know how many dentists there are that can attend to people with special needs??? Then … I only found ONE!

I was fortunate to be running my own ad agency then. I managed my own time and took what was needed to rush from one appointment to the next. My dad was (still is) a God-send. Grandpa picked up where Lucas’ parents couldn’t. Today, as he’s still not independent, we still find ourselves rushing on many occasions.

Were there other signs? He didn’t and still doesn’t play like kids would. No imaginative play for him. He likes toys that make noise – because he likes the sounds it makes, not how the toy is meant to be played. On the ipad, he’d play the opening bars of a rock song over and over again … until he gets bored with that song and play the opening bars of another song over and over again.

Some of these behaviours are harder to discern when he was a kid. As an adult, it’s a lot less appropriate and he/we often get looks from others. It doesn’t bother Lucas at all, but I confess it does bother me sometimes, and I feel the need to explain his behaviour. This is where I need to take a lesson from Lucas. I have a lot to learn from him.

Could we have intervened sooner or more aggressively? Did we give up on some of the therapies too early? Perhaps.

I can’t look back and dissect all the could-haves, should-haves. All I remember was asking myself – Is he happy? Does he like this? Does this distress him? Do I seriously believe this is good for him?

As parents, do we decide based on what we think is good for our kids? Or what they’d enjoy? How do you decide?

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