When we told our friends and family that we believe Olive has autism, the responses were varied. We faced questions such as, “Are you sure?” or, “But she seems fine though.” (what even is fine?)
But those that know us best, they trusted that we wouldn’t just throw ourselves head first into the diagnosis process (which can take YEARS) without being absolutely sure of it ourselves.
1. Her emotional response does not match the situation
Olive really struggles with her emotions. There are times when she just bursts into tears for what is seemingly the slightest thing. There was a moment when I didn’t ask the takeaway for curry sauce when ringing up and she burst into hysteric tears. Other times she might laugh maniacally at something that does not call for it, such as somebody getting upset. Often her emotions do not match the situation that she is in, leading to an inappropriate response.
2. She does not react well to lots of visual or auditory stimulus
If we go to a busy supermarket or a crowded train station, Olive kind of shuts down. If a motorbike goes flying past, she covers her ears with her hands and looks noticeably distressed. We went to a caravan site recently and Olive thoroughly enjoyed going to the disco. After about 10 minutes of the flashing lights and loud music I went and asked if she was okay. She just stared into the distance like she couldn’t hear me or didn’t know I was there. It was the most freaky thing.
3. Social situations confuse and freak her out
Olive has always been reserved around people she either doesn’t know, or doesn’t see regularly. Even our closest friends who she sees quite often barely get more than a few words out of her unless she’s with them for a few hours. She just stares at them or babbles a little bit, maybe muttering the odd word or two.
When we go to clubs or activities such as multi-skills or football she likes to hover on the outskirts of things, not really throwing herself into it but weighing up what is going on. What is quite lovely is seeing how she has grown in confidence lately, largely due to her little sister’s complete reckless abandon in these situations.
In truth, though, it is never a confidence issue. Olive is brimming full of confidence. She just doesn’t need other people’s company, yet we are often expected to force our children into these situations. When she is left to do things at her own pace, you will see the absolute best of her. Force her to do it and she will just shut down.
4. She is often “stimming”
“Stimming” or self-stimulatory behaviour, is repetitive movement or behaviour that some people with autism might do to keep themselves calm or attempt to regulate their emotions. For Olive, this is often clapping her hands over her ears or flapping her arms and generally seems to happen when she is emotional in some way. Sometimes it happens when she is in a busy, noisy environment or it could be she’s upset about something.
5. I also have autism
A lot of the research into autism points towards there being a hereditary link. Even just listing these few points, I can easily put myself into each category. The difference is, I am an adult who has reached 30 years of life in a society that has only recently begun to understand autism and not just think of it as Rain Man or that kid from Mercury Rising (pretty sure that’s what my dad thinks anyway). I am married, I can make eye contact and small talk and I can completely function as a ‘neuro-typical’ member of society.
But it does not come naturally. It has taken a lot of work, a lot of coping strategies to get to this point.
Yet the NHS diagnosis process still values social ability as the key component towards determining if an adult has autism or not.
Liam is a working class dad from a large town a bit to the east of Newcastle. He is a father to two beautiful girls called Olive (4) and Luna (2), who are simultaneously the loves and banes of his life. As a home educator, Liam is essentially the main care-giver to his children as his wife is studying to become a Children’s Nurse. This means that a lot of his time is spent in the great outdoors looking for adventures with his kids, or otherwise sitting at home watching with distraught horror as said kids smash the place up.
He is a qualified primary teacher and has a Masters in Education. Liam works part-time assisting students with additional needs in a college and (very) occasionally teaches English and Maths. His hobbies include camping, watching and analysing WWE and finding things to gross his kids out with (like bugs and slime and stuff). He is a raging lefty feminist.