I’ve found that when people question Sawyer’s diagnosis, it is usually down to one of many misconceptions surrounding autism, and my first post was titled ‘He Doesn’t Seem Autistic’ for exactly that reason. Now I come to think of it, common misconceptions were also to blame when I was told by a health professional that we probably wouldn’t get a diagnosis of anything because Sawyer had ‘Too Many Positives’. Wow. Yet again, I’ve sat down to write for this blog and before I’ve managed to reach the end of a paragraph I’ve started to acknowledge things that only become clear alongside a healthy dose of reconsideration.
As it turns out, misconception was a big part of why it took so long to get a diagnosis for Sawyer, and it is still a major issue today. I dare say misconception will be at the root of many other issues we will face alongside Sawyer as he grows up, and it hurts my soul to expect he will then face them alone when he finds himself a grown man. Not to say of course that he wont always have my support (you know me by now), but I simply acknowledge that one day he will be facing these misconceptions in places I wont be, with people who wont know him, in situations I will no longer be able to control. Autism or no autism, he will grow up.
Sawyer was daytime potty trained by two and a half years old. By today’s standards that is considered to be very young, and it was a question that came up time and again with health visitors and the early support team. It was as though Sawyer’s ability to control his bladder was a big red cross in the ‘could be autistic’ column and therefore nobody needed to worry about him. Interestingly, when we finally got as far as the child psychologist, she only asked about potty training after she had given her diagnosis of ASD. If you’re reading this and people are fobbing you off, don’t stop until you find a health professional who asks you questions you feel are relevant. Those people know what they’re doing, and they probably understand what you’re going through way more than you do. Keep moving until you find them. They’re out there somewhere.
I’m about to jump back in time ever so slightly, and I know it’s not the way we should do things, but it’s how my thought process is working today so please join me if you will. I have realised that there was a hindrance in our quest for diagnosis that dated back even further than potty training at his young, beautiful age. Walking. Aged one year and one week (exactly) Sawyer took his first steps in our favourite local pub garden, in the village we live. Like any parents, we were overjoyed, giddy even (!) at those first steps, but little did we know that two years later those fast steps would slow us down. It turns out many health professionals don’t like an autistic child to have walked early. Fast forward back to potty training and there we were with a two and a half year old boy who not only walked at the expected age, he was potty trained! How could I possibly think he was autistic when he was clearly so, so… normal?!
Walking and potty training are important milestones for most parents, with us included. It is only with hindsight that I realise those magical moments went on to inhibit a process that would turn out to be crucial for our son, and for our family. As you know, we got the diagnosis, but the misconceptions didn’t stop there. The one that sickens me most is ‘he’s such a lovely boy though’. He’s a lovely boy… though? Why the though? Autistic children, people, they can’t be lovely? He’s a lovely boy… despite his autism? Breaths, Nic, breaths. I do understand it to an extent. Sawyer is lovely. He is a lovely, loveable, excitable, happy and energetic kid. It might be cheesy to say that he brings colour to a black and white day, but that is honestly how I see him, because you simply cannot be upset when Sawyer is around. My family and friends are reading this and smiling – they get it. Now they’re smiling more.
So, to sum up, I’ve established that Sawyer is lovely. But he’s autistic, so he’s probably a bit violent? No. He’s crazy energetic, but he’s not violent. When he melts down he can be difficult to contain, but he’s not violent. Yet he’s still autistic. Once Sawyer goes to sleep at night (eventually, it’s 9.24pm and counting…) he sleeps like the dead and most of the time I have to wake him up for school in the morning. He’s still autistic. He has had a lot of help at school and he doesn’t under-achieve, in fact he does very well in some areas of his education…. But he’s still autistic. Sawyer doesn’t line up toys around the house, he doesn’t dislike being cuddled, he likes to tell jokes, and he isn’t particularly good at maths. He is still autistic. I will put in to another post a few of the characteristics Sawyer has that are typical of autism, but it was important to me to point out how not every autistic child is the same. No doubt there are many autistic children who don’t potty train until they’re 8, and those who are really, really good at maths. But my son is not one of them. He’s just Sawyer.
I don’t have any control over how other people misconceive autism. And I never will. But what I do have is the ability to bring up my son to accept that although other people might misunderstand him, their opinions will never change who he is. I can give Sawyer tools to help him acknowledge misconceptions of autism, and address them in a way that is helpful to both them and him. I don’t know how I’ll do it, or when. But I’ll do it.
And more than that: I’ll dedicate my life to it.