Quirky or High Functioning Autism?
My son was born a perfectly healthy baby, 8 years ago. He was my very first child, and I was quite young myself, having just turned 20 when he was born.
Sean has always been a bit "quirky," but his symptoms crept up on us and only really started showing when he was around 6 years old. Looking back now I can see some of the symptoms in his early years, but at the time it wasn't something I was particularly worried about.
I'd like to say at this point that every child's journey and symptoms are unique, and they are part of the wonderful spectrum of their own personality—and of course the autism spectrum itself.
As a Young Child
Looking back the first things I can recall are his love and obsession with patterns.
When he was a baby, only months old, he used to make little finger tapping patterns, tapping different fingers together or bumping fists, clapping hands, etc., to make a pattern. I used to copy the patterns and he would then repeat them back to me again. It was actually a very sweet form of communication we had and it was also quite entertaining!
As he grew older, at around two years of age he really grasped an impressive amount of numbers, letters and shapes. He was counting well past 30 when he started nursery at two and was a fluent reader before starting school at 4 years old.
The other thing that cropped up at around the age of two was his temper. If Sean got frustrated about something he would bash his head on the floor or the walls. It was very frightening to watch as he wasn't holding back! Ive since been told by the pediatrician that this is actually pretty normal and not necessarily a symptom of autism but I thought it was worth mentioning as another part of his quirky personality.
Early School Years
In the first school we attended in our town, he started with a lot of enthusiasm and a love of learning, so he passed the first year ("Reception," as we call it in the UK) smoothly and without incident. They had a good and a naughty board, and Sean was always on the good board. (I do not approve of this method!)
But moving into his second year at this school, he started struggling. I had started a job at the school as a kitchen assistant so I used to spy on him, as you do, on his lunch break. Although he had two good friends, I always noticed he was on his own, by choice.
When Sean plays, he does so in quite an unusual manner. He will run up and down, often around something in a sequence, with his hands close to his face doing a lot of peculiar movements and often some unusual noises too! When you watch him, you can see he is replaying some immense battle in his head, but on a very small scale. It became apparent, a few years down the line, that Sean does this when he is feeling stressed or just for some stimulation. A lot of children on the autistic spectrum do similar to this, all in their own fashion. Its often called "Stimming" so if your child does something similar you can watch some videos on YouTube of children displaying similar behavior.
The other thing to note at this age (5-6 years) was he started to get completely obsessed with computer games. Now I know I may get a lot of comments about "screen time," etc., and I do try to manage it. In hindsight, had I known of Sean's obsessive personality traits that come along with the autism spectrum I would of course had been much more careful with his access to screens. It is not all negative though. His obsession doesn't end with the actual playing of whatever game is in his sights at the time, its everything, I get some beautiful drawings, story's, Lego creations, Minecraft creations to enjoy, although I do have to listen to non-stop chatter about the next generation of Pokemon. If we fast forward to the present quickly, In his current school he is learning to sew and has been making felt angry birds and Pokemon toys for all the members of his class.
Okay, so apart from the quirky playing, in his second year at school he also started to have a few anger management issues. I'd like to say that Sean is not a "naughty boy" or a "rule breaker" by any means, but if he feels strongly about something, he will say it and will be very blunt about it! There was a hitting incident that happened, which is not in his nature at all, and it worried me a fair bit as he is a rather small boy and not into boisterous play.
Sports day... Let's not even talk about that, MAJOR MELTDOWN!
So, I raised my concerns with his teacher about Sean's anger issues at home. It was only then that I was told about him hitting out at school! But I'm not here to slate the school, so I'll move on. We were put in touch with a family councilor type person who was very nice and gave us some anger traffic-light-type diagrams.
Sean started to hate school. He refused to go, and every morning was a nightmare. He doesn't really sleep until late either, that's another thing I've since discovered is common with Asperger's children.
We would fight every morning before he left and then fight when he got home. he had homework and all sorts I had to enforce on him. It ruined our relationship.
It was then that I was introduced to Home Education. Forget about all the stereotypes; if you don't know much about it I can assure you it's not what you think!
My friend had started home educating her children and I thought she was mad, but I did then go on to research it myself and discovered that she wasn't mad in the slightest. I made the scary decision to give it a try.
I de-registered Sean from the school register and the family councilor offered to see us at home, which was very kind.
Sean really liked him because he would come and play cards with him and Sean really enjoys adults and therefore wasn't displaying any worrying behaviors to him at all. His response was actually "all the other kids I see are climbing the walls, Sean is fine."
So I let my concerns about Sean slide a little and we relaxed into our home education journey, It wasn't easy. I had to be very child led with Sean and explore the different subjects within his interests. (e.g Minecraft maths). He also has a little brother so it was a tiring, time consuming job! I was never worried about Sean educationally as he was always above his peers so we remained relaxed, exploring the different subjects at his pace. My aim was to renew his love of learning that he had lost at school. The problems we had were in the Home ed group. His social anxieties really started to show here and also some of his sensory issues to noise. The group was in a hall so if it was a busy day and the children were excited and making lots of noise Sean would simply walk out. He also becomes very agitated if there are big group participation activities like singing, listening to a story with a group or drama activities. These types of things cause him to shut down completely.
Two Years Later
Two years of home ed later...
I actually first looked into the Steiner school for Sean's younger brother, as he was really enjoying his nursery and I didn't want to completely take that structure away from him, so I researched the Steiner school because they have a kindergarten that continues until the child reaches 6 years old that is play-based. Lots of playing outside in nature, etc.
We attended the open day and looked around. It really took me by surprise when Sean said he wanted to give it a try.
So we did, and we've never looked back, I have never seen him so happy, it really shows what a difference your choice of school can make to your child. I believe the you have to try and find a school that fits your child not force a child to fit in somewhere they don't belong. The other thing is the school immediately recognized Sean's differences were not naughtiness but something else, and the school psychologist recognized his symptoms being akin to those on the autistic spectrum. This led to us going to a pediatrician with the school's recommendation and working towards our diagnosis.
A lot of people debate whether a diagnosis is necessary, but this does ensure Sean will get the support he needs during his time in school and helps me to explain to others why he's a little different.
Sean's sense of humor is very sarcastic, he likes to make up jokes. The term "little professor is often used to describe Asperger's children and it certainly fits Sean. He is making lots of friends now at his new school although he did recently say, "I've been thinking a lot about making friends but I don't think I really need them." To be honest I found this quite amusing. The way his mind works has always been a fascinating mystery to me, and I am happy he is so independent. Like I said, though, he is enjoying some wonderful friendships now and going on play dates and all sorts!
The communication I have with his teacher is also incredible. It's such a refreshing change.
I believe the time Sean spent in home education really helped build his self worth and confidence, and I think it also makes him appreciate the school he is in now. He has experienced a school he didn't like, and he has experienced what it is like to stay at home, and has now made his own choice.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and that you have found it helpful (especially if you are a parent in a similar situation). I am by no means an expert, but if you have any questions, feel free to ask!