Back from the trip
As my no doubt avid readers are aware, I took my daughter on a long trip. I got back a few days ago but the jet lag and a cold I picked up in flight stopped me from thinking straight enough to post anything.
Anyhow, those of you experienced in long-haul flights (the +12 hours variety) will know just how tedious such a long time in the air can become. And for those of you who aren't, take my word for it. The movies you've often seen before; and if you haven't they're none the less dull. The newspaper kills an hour at the most. The in-flight magazine makes the movies look interesting. So all this means that there's a lot of time to do some thinking.
And of course, being with my daughter, I got around to thinking about her diagnosis for autism and how I discovered it was false. The last time we took a flight together it was to escape from the UK to the country we now live in. That was less than two years ago, and at that point my daughter was almost completely non-verbal and made very little eye contact. What a difference such a short space of time makes.
Here we are on the plane, and this little girl now talks non-stop, makes eye contact and has a very funny sense of humor. She also goes to the bathroom on the plane by herself, come back to her seat, fasten her seatbelt and gets back to her coloring book. The story of how I discovered her problem was not autism, but something else, is outlined in an earlier post. (This account is being constantly updated as this blog goes on. It's a complex story with only the basic details outlined at the moment)
But the long flight also got me thinking about something else, because having my daughter on the flight really made it hit home. You see, the man who finally got to the root of my daughter's problem told me about a year ago that my daughter's development was about to become very rapid.
At the time of joining his school, my daughter's development, at the age of four, had progressed to little more than that of a 1-year old. This, thankfully, had nothing to do with autism, but a simple lack of development, and the difference is hugely important. An autistic child can develop, but will always carry the traits of autism, since autism is incurable. Therefore an autistic child will always exhibit certain behaviors and in order to deal with the world has to use what have been called "coping strategies" such as following a routine to ensure the world always carries a strong element of stability.
But because my daughter's problem was due to a lack of parental bonding plus a heavy dose of stubborness (a problem which can appear so much appear like autism that it can fool the mainstream medics) she had the ability to develop normally, albeit late.
Her teacher's prediction was about the soon-to-come rapidity of development was spot on. What happened, once this stage was reached, was that my daughter went through all the normal developmental steps of a baby, but a few years late. In fact, her teacher predicted with an uncanny accuracy what would happen almost week-by-week. For instance he told us that in the next week or so we would see some interesting things begin to happen with our daughter's feeding habits. Sure enough, about two weeks later, my five-year-old daughter began to demand to be spoon-fed like a toddler.
This was the early stages of emotional development now taking place, her teacher told us. This lasted only for a few weeks, then she went onto the next stage. Over the next year her rate of development simply exploded. It was like watching a child grow in speeded-up time. She went through the two- three-year-old stage of writing on the wall. Imaginative play began in earnest. Dolls were laid out in tea-party fashion. But the funniest thing was when she suddenly became extremely competitive with her sister (you know, had to be the first to get on the toilet, get in the bath, get out of the house first) and the house became a battlefield. Thankfully this lasted for just a few months and now she's actually very kind to her sister and helps her to do things (she's even having a go at teaching her sister to read.)
This was wonderful, to see her develop so rapidly, and the best part came when her teacher told us that my daughter had now reached the emotional age of three. For an-almost six-year-old this might seem tragic. But once a child reaches the age of three, he told us, she will develop normally. And he's been right about that too, as my daughter has since come on in leaps and bounds and now shows practically no development lag whatsoever.
In effect, my daughter grew four years in 18 months. And what made this amazing "cure" really hit home was that flight I mentioned. She'd been on several long-haul flights before without problem. And that was the problem. Or a symptom of her real problem. Her teacher is fond of saying: "Children should be hard work and parents should be glad of it."
Well, that flight really brought home to me how much my daughter has changed and how much hard work a child can be. My daughter's development is now lagging by about 18-months, and so is about that of a five-year-old rather than the six-and-a-half she actually is. To be honest she did very well on the flight. She had a coloring book, and she had homework from her cram school to do (math and writing) and she had the meals to break up the monotony. But after eight hours she'd had enough.
"I want to get off." (She's bilingual in English and one other language, and the other language is her main one, which she uses even to speak to me, so this is a translation and so may seem fractured in English)
Realizing that she couldn't win, she eventually took a piece of paper from her notebook and wrote the passive of the verb "to get off". (In English this can be translated only as the weird-sounding "to have been got off", but in her first language this is a perfectly gramatically correct. The handwriting in a strong, cursive non-roman script was pretty good too...)
"To get off has been written!" (In English: somebody has written it's time to get off) she told me.
Thankfully the long flight got the best of her and she fell asleep soon after, leaving me in peace for the final hours of the haul. Yes, children should be hard work, and parents should be glad of it.
Yes she is, and I am glad of it.
Most of the time, at least...
Stone the crows...
I'll write more about our trip in future blogs. It brought up several points of interest, not least how quickly my daughter got the hang of English.
The last blog brought a comment from Wirter Anonymous, who pointed out, quite rightly, that "there are many, many conditions that affect communication skills aside from autism that can look just like autism. I am sure that if she [my daughter] is cured that she never had it to begin with. No matter how much some parents yell, discipline their child some autistic kids will never get better. Consider yourself blessed everyday that she is fine and communicative and love her with all your heart."
I agree wholeheartedly that there are many conditions which look like autism but aren't. And these problems may be increasing due to the way children are brought up. The problem is that autism has become such a buzzword nowadays that many pediatricians are looking for it when it isn't there and many children may be being misdiagnosed and then denied the help they really need. These children then may develop real problems because the underlying problem was never sorted out. This happened with my daughter, and it was only my persistence in looking for the real answer that brought the solution. Other children, with parents who blindly accept what the pediatricians tell them, may not be so lucky. To my mind that's nothing short of tragic.
And yes, I agree that yelling at an autistic child doesn't do any good, because autistic children have great trouble in deciphering spoken language. This was a point that the pediatricians hammered home to me again and again, telling me that I just had to speak to my daughter slowly and put the instruction in strict chronological order in order to make her understand.
In fact, one of the things that first made me contend my daughter's autism diagnosis was the fact that she had no problem in understanding most of what was said to her, and could follow three and even four- or five-part instructions with ease. In fact the woman assigned to teach me autism therapy, on hearing about my daughter's good receptive language skills, not to mention her lack of any problem with food (autistic children are often extremely fussy eaters), sleep (they often don't sleep much at all) and lack of repetitive stereotypical behavior or need for adherence to routine, eventually frowned at me as though I was playing some kind of joke and said: "Are you sure your daughter is autistic?"
To which I replied: "I don't think she's autistic at all. It's the pediatricians who are saying that..."
But when the problem isn't really autism, and simply looks like it to anything but the most expert of eyes, a bit of shouting (when hand-in-hand with love and affection and praise) can do a world of good.
As for considering myself blessed and loving my daughter with all my heart, I do both. I am blessed, because the chance of finding the man who really helped my daughter was a million to one. Whatever your belief system, some higher power smiled on us at that moment and directed us to that man, for which I am eternally grateful.
And I love my daughter to the core. I think that's shown by how long and hard I fought the medical establishment on her behalf, until finally I had to leave my country and give up everything, the house, my job, my life... And I would do it again. In fact, come to think of it, I actually gained, because this whole experience has revitalized my life.
All the best to all my readers!