Sunday, 7 November 2010

Autism by Josie Barnshaw

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Blog time again!!  
This time Debs has given me an opportunity to get on my favourite soapbox and grab an opportunity to spread awareness about autism.
A little background;   my youngest son, Tom, was formally diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome when he was seven years old;  I say "formally" because I was 99.9% positive he was on the spectrum from an earlier age (round about 3 years).   My GP at that time refused to refer him for assessment despite several requests from myself to do so and eventually I registered with another GP practice and this was when he was referred in the first instance to a Paediatrician (the first waiting list) who then referred him to the Community Autism Team (a multi-disciplinary assessment unit) consisting of Speech and Language Therapists (SALT), Occupational Therapist (OT), Educational Psychologist (EP) and a team of three "specialist" doctors.  This whole process took just over three and a half years (mostly consisting of an enormous waiting list;  at one point he was number 273 on the list!!).   Tom has been educated in mainstream schools where his Primary School were excellent and did everything they could to engage him (not an easy task!).   The transition to High School has been fraught with difficulties;  the change from one teacher all day for a whole year to several different teachers a day, the movement between classes and the general size of the school population and the physical size of the building have only served to heighten his sensory issues and make life that bit more difficult for him, but he has survived thus far and is now in fourth year and about to sit his prelims before his GCSE's next year (he is now 15).
I think at this point I should perhaps give some basic information on autism and the triad of impairments that are most commonplace among those affected by autism;  these involve communication, social skills and imagination.   As far as communication goes it can range from being non verbal and unable to communicate at all to difficulties in intepreting language (including body language), literal interpretation of language.   Social skills are commonly non existent and difficult to teach.  I am constantly learning from my son and one of our recent conversation has enlightened me somewhat re social skills and a whole host of other tasks that neurotypical children do without question.  The reason for Tom's failure to exhibit any social skills is that he cannot see a logical reason, for instance, to say "please" and "thank you";  he sees this as surplus to requirements.   He wont do homework or study at home because he has already done this work in school and sees no good reason to repeat it, it is also "stuff" that belongs in school and not in the home.
There are so many other issues surrounding autism and of course not every person affected by autism is the same any more than the rest of us are the same.   For instance, Tom has a great imagination, he can also talk the hind legs off a donkey (but only about what he wants to talk about and he cant read the cues that tell the rest of us that we have said enough or that the other party is bored with our topic of conversation .... these things go right over Tom's head and even if you bluntly tell him he will still carry on talking).
I have only touched on the tip of the iceberg (so to speak) but despite the fact that there are a whole host of other issues that come along with autism, there is not one of them that cant be alleviated in one way or another with the right support.  If you are involved with someone on the spectrum, read all the books you can get your hands on, seek out others in the same position through websites, support groups, resource centres etc;  there is a wealth of information from other parents and carers, tips and strategies to try and most important of all other people in the same position willing to listen and offer a willing ear.
Here's some links that might prove helpful:
National Autism Society         Treehouse Community       
If you have any questions or particular concerns that you would like me to address please feel free to respond here or e-mail me at:  barnshaw.josie at
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