That’s odd (Diagnosis Part 1)
L was a very happy baby and developed very quickly. I remember being very proud when a week after his first birthday he took his first steps and started using words very quickly. Within a few months he was constructing sentences and talking very proficiently. As we began mixing with other parents and other children we were struck by how well L was doing developmentally, that his verbal skills were better than other children his age. We had a genius on our hands!
When he reached about 2 years old, he was regularly going to parent and toddler groups. From what I can tell, these are akin to safari parks, where the mom’s (and it is invariably mom in my experience, apologies working dads, but that’s the way it was) sit in a circle chatting with the babies in between them on a soft rug whilst the toddling children run wild around the perimeter. This is where the reports started. It became quite a regular occurrence for L to bite or scratch another child. Given his super-intelligent abilities, it seemed odd that he would react this way with other children. We hadn’t seen any evidence of this at home, he certainly wasn’t a naughty child in the slightest (unless my mind has erased those memories in a rose-tinted format of my brain cells) and this was quite surprising.
We surmised that this was just an immaturity thing, that he would develop soon to learn how to play properly and how to control his temper. He certainly wasn’t the only child to have these issues, though I think that the others were definitely plain naughty rather than confused as they were with my angelic L. Hmmm, maybe there is definitely some proud father rose-tinting going on here, but I digress.
Soon he began nursery which, at the Primary school in the village is held in the school 5 mornings a week. In his nursery class he was amongst the youngest, and the youngest boy. Being born in July and going to school where he had lived only 3 quarters the time of some of the other children, again it was easy to lay the blame of his troubles at immaturity. He would get on very well with the children and with the tasks given to him most of the time, but then there were occasions when we received reports of belligerence, of violence to other children and of plain wanton ignorance. He would struggle to sit on the mat at reading time, preferring to finish whatever he was doing. He would struggle to control himself if someone else was playing with the toy he wanted to play with. The school had a process they called ‘planning time’ and this was heavily adopted in order to help L control his expectations as to what he would be doing. This really seemed to help him – structure, timing, organisation.
It was during this time when the school also identified he had some problems particularly with mixing with other children. No word on any reasons for this at the moment but they did find an additional resource to provide L with supported play time, with taking him and a group of friends he could select to play in their own space. This seemed to really help L with developing his social skills and he enjoyed the attention as I’m sure every child would, but our concerns were starting to develop.
In Reception class L continued to show good development of his academic skills but continued to struggle with the unstructured elements of school life – play time, free play in the classroom and particularly when someone didn’t want to play with him, or he wanted to play with something someone else was using. His reactions were often physical, the biting had subsided but he continued to scratch and push other children.
Throughout this period L demonstrated a really good understanding of what he had done and why it was wrong, and he was always incredibly honest, explaining what he had done and why, but still he couldn’t control himself.
It was in the first year proper of school when he scratched another child quite severely that he was excluded from school for a week. This was something we were extremely upset by. It was his first formal offence and to be suspended for a whole week seemed draconian and we wrote to the school governors to such effect. We didn’t get a reply. However what did start at this stage was the formal referral to a child behaviour specialist. We were happy to go through this process to see if there was any explanation for his behaviour. It was around this time when Autistic Spectrum Disorder was mentioned and to their credit the school immediately put in place a few strategies to help L cope, assuming that the strategies usually put in place for a child with ASD would help. These included a visual timetable, enhanced planning sessions and various tools to help L control his temper, from giving him a place in the line at the end of playtime which was his to tolerating his outbursts and unwillingness to participate rather than arguing or forcing him to do things he didn’t want to do.
It was at this stage when we thought the end was in sight, but this was just the beginning.