Living with Autism

When I was ready to have my second child, we were quite excited when we discovered “it’s a boy” The first grandson for my parents. At his first visit to the Paediatrician at six weeks the doctor said that he hears a murmur but there is no need to be concerned because it might go away soon. However at seven months old an operation was done due to Coarctation (narrowing of the Aorta). When he was two years old I was very concerned because my son wasn’t speaking yet. He said single words with lots of encouragement and prompting only. Every year I used to find myself back at the doctor because he doesn’t speak yet. (this was always my biggest concern) In the meantime he had the energy that no one could really cope with. I searched for day moms’ and crèches like crazy. When they spot that he is Hyper-active as well as non-verbal they would decline admission to their facilities. I shed many tears in those days. He was so active that I could never leave home without a harness and in our communities people stare at you as it is seen as cruel.

At age four Peter was diagnosed at Red Cross Hospital with Autism. There is no cure for it and also no specific reason how and why it came about. Till date there is on-going research. Doctors acknowledge that it is only a miracle can change your child. I was directed by the hospital to Vera School for learners with Autism and applied. The answer came very quick that they would have to do a 30 day observation. It all went well as he fits the criteria to be there but they can only accept him if he is on medication – because he is so hyper active. Reluctantly, I had to agree in order to get him into this school. I knew nothing about these medicines. With the guidance of a Psychiatrist, we started to use Risperdal. After a year or two I switched him to a natural pill as I could not bear to see the affect that the prescribed pill had on my son. He would pull his t shirt over his face as if he didn’t want to see anyone. This was way too much for me, I couldn’t deal….Autism plus ADHD.

The adjustment for my family had lots of repercussions. Peter was so active that at age Eight he went missing a few times. Whether having a braai at your home or just a visit to the beach can become so intense as you need extra hands and eyes to help with my son. I remember saying to God one day, You have given me this child and I cannot take care of him alone, please protect him. I remember getting him at the Police Station, the lake in Muizenberg , just to mention a few. Amazingly He granted me wisdom, patience and lots of love for Peter.
Well I believe in miracles! One of the things I can never forget is our battle to do our monthly shopping because on entering a shopping mall, some times in the shop or even in the parking area, he would just start to flap and become uncontrollable, you are literally forced to drop everything and go back home. When he was about 11 or 12 years old while being in a mall I witnessed a miracle, he was pushing the trolley calmly. At this time he was off all medication.

He learnt so many things over the years. He has great understanding, so given an instruction he can execute it. I am so proud of him. Vera School did weekly workshop at Merrypak and I pursued them for employment for him. He is a neat, happy young man who looks forward to go to work. To date he is still not spontaneous in speech which results in not having friends to socialise with. I have learnt that when your special child is young, family and friends show lots of interest but as your child grows older that too fades which results in them being alone, therefore coming to work takes him to a happy place with so much purpose.

Charmaine Smith

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