I had to listen to a lot of theories about what was wrong with my son – both before and after his diagnosis of Autism. The first one, and a frequent one I came up against those first few years, was that I was a complacent mother: I wasn’t pushing him hard enough to hit his developmental milestones, wasn’t encouraging him to develop the skills that every other child his age had achieved.
One of the first people to voice this theory was his Plunket nurse – a free service provided for children under five, where they keep an eye on your kids height, weight and development. You’d think this would be the first person to help identify that something was wrong with my child because of the significant developmental delays – in sitting, speech, walking etc. The Plunket nurse did note the delays, but blamed me for them, as a complacent mother who wasn’t pushing her child hard enough. When I argued that I was and that it wasn’t working, I was met with scepticism – making me a liar too.
One day she decided to show me (as ignorant as I apparently was), how to encourage my son to develop properly. She showed me how my son must surely love slides as all other kids his age did, even though I’d told her he didn’t like climbing or sliding. She took him to the little play slide in her waiting room and forced him down the slide. He screamed, he cried, he was very distressed, and instead of picking up on those as signs that he might have some issues going on (which he did in regards to gravity and balance – sensory issues due to the Autism), she told us his reaction was because it was just new to him and keep pushing him to do it. So no matter what I said, or what my son did, she was always right and I was always wrong.
She told us to force him to sit up, when he wasn’t managing it by the time he should have been. I knew he didn’t look ready for it physically, and that he lacked the skills to manage it, but again that was apparently just me not trying hard enough and not encouraging my son enough. So we did what she insisted we must – we put him in sitting position over and over again. He’d fall forward straight onto his face, he’d double-over unable to hold himself up. He’d fall sideways. I was near tears watching my son being forced to do something he wasn’t ready for – would you take a newborn and force it to sit..? Again, she didn’t listen to our concerns, and treated me like a liar, and the signs were treated as symptoms of a complacent parent.
I still find it odd that she (and she was not the only one), thought that such simple developmental steps hadn’t occurred because I was doing something wrong. Abused and neglected children develop these skills, but mine – who was neither abused or neglected and with no evidence to ever suggest either – was apparently falling behind because of my parenting. The right thing to do would have been to take me as an honest parent, concerned for my son’s delays, and not a lying lazy mother. The smart thing to do would have been to refer us on to a specialist even if such people did think it was all my fault – let them eliminate the other options. But it’s easier to be all righteous and dismiss a new mother’s fears. If she, and other judgemental mothers and family members, had done those right and smart things, we’d have got the diagnosis and the help our son needed, much earlier than we did. Their attitudes also hurt me, as I started isolating myself to avoid the stares at my son and the criticisms I couldn’t reply to.
This was only the first though, of many theories to come…