The Perfect Little (Autistic) Baby

Sleeping baby seen from crib height, behind it...

Image via Wikipedia

My first son was frequently called a “perfect baby”. Within a couple of months, he’d sleep a good eight hours in a row at night. He had many long day naps as he got older, and wouldn’t wake easily. He was quite passive; he wouldn’t crawl around to explore his environment even though he’d learnt the skill. You could place him down somewhere and he’d pretty much stay there, though he preferred to stay in his car seat than be held or put on the floor – all the easier, right..? So easy to care for, so placid, so quiet. What a lucky mummy.

Well guess what; babies are meant to be hard work. They are meant to make your days and nights difficult, sleepless and noisy, with their desire to be up and experiencing everything and be a part of it all. I would have swapped that early “easy” stage for all the normal difficulties in a heart-beat. Because the ease of those early times were a sign that something was very wrong – that our lives would gradually turn into an incomprehensible nightmare .

Those who were praising me for being such a natural parent and cracking the sleeping routine so fast, should have been raising an eyebrow and raising some questions about my child’s behaviour (or lack of behaviour) instead. It was all the more confusing and cruel then as I moved from being called a wonderful natural mother, to a negligent sub-standard one, as my son’s developmental issues started to emerge. Those around us should have realised the possibility that the cause was inherent to my son, instead of variously blaming or praising my mothering skills for his unusual behaviours from such a young age. I relied on the expertise and experience of other people, letting it drown out that nagging motherly instinct that told me something simply wasn’t right here.

I love my autistic son without reservation, but autism is not something beautiful or wonderful, it is a cruel curse that can show signs from early in a baby’s life (some instances of autism do appear later in a child’s life, usually because of a known genetic condition which we don’t suffer from as a family, I’ll be discussing this in a future post). The differences from a “normal” baby, are astoundingly obvious now that I have had a second son. My husband and I have weekly, and sometimes daily, “eureka” moments as we watch our second son grow up (and he’s not even a year old yet); we frequently say to each other “so that’s what a baby is meant to do!”. We are often worn-out by what our second son puts us through, but we also get all the laughter and satisfaction and triumphs that we missed out on with our autistic son as a baby. Milestones that are natural and easy progressions for my second born, are hard-fought achievements that have taken years for my first-born – some things my eleven month old has mastered, are still difficulties for my five-year old.

So each night that I lose sleep to suit my baby’s needs, the days I spend running after his non-stop crawling and exploring antics, I remind myself to smile through my exhaustion; because this is the beautiful price I am paying for a child without autism.

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This entry was posted in Identifying Autism, Parenting an Autistic Child, Siblings of Autistic Children and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Perfect Little (Autistic) Baby

  1. Carters says:

    Hi Linda,

    Your posts are so interesting and informative to read. Having your first child is venturing into the completely unknown . It may be helpful for all new parents to be educated properly to be aware of potential signs of things “not right”…But who knows how? Almost every doctor/midwife/Plunket are simply far too busy getting though thier workload to really pay much attention to individuals. I remember in ante-natal classe being taught how to cope with the “difficult” & in a way “normal” newborn baby behaviours (the lack of sleep, the crying, colic etc), but the behaviour you described with your son is what is like an “ideal”, people are far to busy focusing on the “difficult” normal newborn behaviours than to think outside the box. This is the irony isn’t it?

    Your post is awesome, it helps us to look at a newborn baby’s behaviour in a completely different light. One should be thankful for the normal “difficult” times that a newborn brings. I never saw it in that light before.

    I am so happy for you that you were able to have a completely different experience with your second son.

    You are an inspiration!

    • Thanks Sherid 🙂

      I know you’ve been through your own hells too, and are taking on the awe-inspiring challenge of home-schooling your daughter. I consider you an inspiration! I suppose we all have our trials in our parenting, it’s how we step up to deal with them that defines us. I tend to think I just did what I had to – that there is nothing particularly heroic about it. It really does make me feel good to hear that other people find what I write to be eye-opening or helpful or inspiring – I always appreciate your comments ❤

  2. Stef says:

    I think your current post dovetails on two of your previous thoughts. Firstly that there is so much pressure to identify Autism early in order to stage interventions and more importantly that there is the pressure to be a super-mother that all mothers feel.

    Babies are tricky but wonderful creatures, it’s hard to know what’s normal and what’s just a phase and what needs help. Hell with older kids you don’t know what’s just phase and what needs help.

    But you are doing a wonderful job. The boys are lucky to have such an intelligent and thoughtful mama.

    • Part of what I’m trying to say in this post is perhaps hard to describe, and might require a further post at some point; that the differences between an autistic baby and a not-autistic baby, were so shockingly obvious to us with our second-born, that it made us quite angry and sad that no one with experience with babies had picked up on it with our first born. It’s not just with the benefit of hind-sight either – as first-time parents we felt very strongly that something just wasn’t right, but kept getting reassurances from well-meaning people that there was nothing wrong. (Autism may not always show such clear signs of course, since as a spectrum disorder its severity varies significantly from child to child). This post does, as you say, feed into the previous post about the ability to spot autism prior to the age of three, and the issues around picking it up as early as possible.

      Thanks for your comment, and your kind words 🙂

  3. Jess says:

    I can totally see my son in that post, he was my second born but i was going through a seperation so i couldnt concentrate my all on what was going on and what wasnt “right”, i just “assumed” it was normal coz i had brain overload, however looking back i can see it all. Even the wierd obsession when he was crawling where he would crawl around with something like a blanket over his head and purposefully go head first into walls :/ That was wierd, and when i questioned his head banging before the age of 1 i was told by parents its “normal” that was one thing i didnt believe at all, my daughter never did it.

    He slept ALOT and still does, hes 2 and half and did a 4 hour nap today!

    Thank you again for an insightful post.

    • And thank you for sharing your own experiences Jess, I find it very interesting to hear that you’ve been through a similar thing. This is part of why I think it’s so important to talk about and record these sorts of observations – noticing and trying to understand patterns is very useful and informative.

  4. Jess says:

    I have a photo of my son at 1 day old and he looks so knowing, he is staring straight at the camera and frowning, i still look at the photo and KNOW he is different. Always thought it 🙂

  5. My son has Asperger;s and just screamed screamed screamed as a baby and never slept. He woke 1 1/2 hourly at night and would only nap 35 minutes at a time during the day that only in the sling and only if I was walking and if I stopped walking he would wake up. Nobody was allowed to make any noise, we never flushed the toilet at night, it was extreme. I always though all ASD kids were like that…..? !?!?

    • Yes, they differ a lot, you can’t really generalise about temprements across the spectrum. Also, many ASD kids can and do have other issues going on – some of those issues with be just like other kids, like having colic, and some may be more extreme – that impact on how a baby behaves.

  6. Nicola says:

    Hi x
    I feel your being very hard on yourself in terms of not noticing early signs x
    My daughter was the same as a new born x she was the best baby ever! & she’s fine 🙂 x now my youngest son was the same so thought nothing of it but now he’s under specialists for autism x
    How can we ever tell x I had 2 children that were the same as babies, golden x
    I am indeed extremely lucky to have my beautiful children! No matter what life throws at us x we will always get through it & come out smiling x

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