Bringing up the Boy
It was the roundabout that I remember most. Every Saturday outside the shopping centre there was a man, sitting on a wooden chair and turning a handle. It looked effortless but it was joined to a series of cogs that drove a children’s roundabout.
There was a bus, a tractor, a car and a motorbike on the roundabout, all brightly painted and so easy for children to climb on to. Both my children loved it. We went every week and they had two rides.
One week we arrived as usual and there was a sign by the roundabout. Three rides for the price of two. So my daughter very happily climbed back on for another go.
But not Daniel. He was adamant that he would not be going on that roundabout again, not until next week when he would again have two rides. He climbed back into his pushchair and watched as his older sister went round and round, her face a picture of joy, ‘driving’ the bus while he sat and waited.
Daniel didn’t talk very much. I took him for a hearing test and was relieved to hear that when children have colds their hearing can be affected for up to six weeks. So that explained it.
He didn’t like listening either. But he seemed to be getting a bit better at it as I was learning how to get his attention. “He seems to be hearing better now,” I told the doctor a few weeks later.
“Hearing is not the same as listening,” she said, in a very patronising tone.
It took me a very long while to face up to the painful truth but in the end I was forced to do this by Daniel’s nursery school teachers.
And later, a description of Daniel’s difficulties by an Educational Psychologist confirmed my worst fears.
“Daniel presents as a child with severe learning difficulties.”
My greatest worry was for his future. What sort of life would he have? Would he ever be independent, have a job, have relationships?
This was all a long time ago. I didn’t know then that Daniel would become independent, find work and have friends. I wish I had known that then. Many children cannot control their behaviour – but some, including Daniel, could. Although it was very, very difficult we had to help him to develop his communication and social skills. And this is what we learned:
- Children with ASD need to be rewarded for the effort they make. Children with ASD may not be interested in being liked or be able to make friends so they need other rewards.
- Rewards need to be immediate to be effective. Children do not understand time the way adults do – a sticker for a sticker chart works better than a promised treat the next day.
- Opting out of social situations can be the easiest way to cope. Daniel would disappear off to his room when visitors arrived; we brought him downstairs and he was rewarded for trying.
- Specific roles and jobs can be easier in social settings. Daniel’s job was to hand the biscuits round to guests.
- Children’s feelings, reluctance and efforts need to be acknowledged. Daniel hated having to do speech therapy tasks. We called it his talking homework and it just had to be done.
Daniel still dislikes talking and finds it difficult to express himself. But he is a good listener. Over the years we have shown him how to pretend he is interested in what someone else is saying, even if he is not. Everyone likes a good listener.
He hasn’t perfected this skill by any means – who has? So every now and again I have to take him aside to remind him.
He’s still learning. And so are we.
Sarah Linsdale is a journalist who has had a successful teaching career as well as being a mother to Daniel and his sister. She worked for many years in secondary schools as a pastoral head where she taught adolescents with ASD. Her son, Daniel, is rarely at home because of his work and busy social life – a very different person to the little boy he once was.
This article was featured in Issue 57 – Conquering A New Year