I remember the exact moment I first said to another adult that I thought my son had autism. I was standing in the doorway to our playroom and I was watching kiddo repeatedly smack his head on the floor. Absolutely no idea why. He still wasn’t using any verbal language at that point. And that was the moment my heart knew. No more denying it. We had a long journey ahead of us.
Over the following weeks my natural instinct was to seek the support of other adults. I wasn’t necessarily looking for anyone to confirm my suspicions, but I needed to confide in someone else. In many people. I needed to repeat my concerns over and over again so that they became embedded in my mind. So that I started to truly believe them and come to terms with what I was seeing as a mum. I needed to feel like I wasn’t alone.
But I wasn’t prepared for the responses I would receive. Not one bit. I was just expecting everyone to agree with me. But they didn’t. I was met with a variety of comebacks, all with the best of intentions I might add. I didn’t receive one malicious response the entire time. Everyone thought they were helping me. Problem was, they weren’t. And that’s why I write this blog today. To help people know what to say when a family member or friend comes to you with a concern about their child’s development. Because it’s really hard to know what to say, especially when you haven’t been there yourself.
So here’s an example of how the conversation would start:
Me: I’m worried about kiddo, something isn’t right.
Other adult: really? Why?
Me: he’s showing various signs of autism and I think he may have it.
I’m going to pause the conversation here because this is the critical point. What you say next means everything. Here’s some of the responses I received (all with the best of intention) and how they made me feel:
1. Oh don’t worry, all children develop at their own pace. He’ll be fine.
How I felt: I’m an over reactive mother who doesn’t know what a typical child’s behaviour is. I need to chill out. I shouldn’t follow this up.
2. All children are in their own world, don’t worry about it.
How I felt: No one believes me. I’m all on my own with this and I don’t know what to do.
3. My neighbours child didn’t talk until she was 2 and now she doesn’t stop!
How I felt: I’m being ridiculous and worrying for no reason. I don’t need to do anything about this.
4. He’s just a stubborn and head strong toddler. He will grow out of it.
How I felt: Im not sure he will but there’s no point in doing anything. I don’t want to seem like a hypochondriac.
5. All those articles you’re reading are just worrying you.
How I felt: yes they are worrying me. Because kiddo ticks every box. So I swallow that worry because everyone is telling me it’s fine.
6. That’s just a typical tantrum. He will grow out of it.
How I felt: I’ve worked with children for 15 years. I know this isn’t a typical tantrum. But what can I do? I’ll just leave it for now.
In the end I stopped having these conversations for a couple of months. And I waited until kiddo was almost two and a half before I did anything about it.
Now if you’re reading this and thinking that you were one of those people that said one of the statements above, please know that I don’t feel any upset towards you at all. You were only trying to make me feel better, trying to say the right thing. And that’s why it’s so important that I write this blog. Because the next time someone says to you that they’re worried about their child, you need to know the one and only response you should say.
“Do you want to talk about it? I’m here to listen and I will help you find support if you would like it”.
That’s it. In the early days that’s all you need to say. Allow that person the chance to talk it through. Because even if you don’t agree, it’s going to help them come to their own conclusion about what to do next.
Looking back I should have done something about kiddo nine months earlier than I did. Because I knew. I knew things weren’t right. The earlier you intervene, the more successful therapies and support are. The better the chance your child has at understanding the world. Encourage people to talk, to find help if necessary and to rule out any problems. Above all, allow them to follow their gut feeling, because nine times out of ten they’re right.
Thanks for reading,