Back in 2017 we were without a care in the world.
Or so we thought. One of us, our son, had needs that were not being met.
He was distressed. We were blinkered.
We assumed that this was part of his growing up. Something that some – but not all – children went though. Anger and tantrums, yes – but that is not uncommon, is it? Opposition to what his parents asked him to do – but that is par for the course surely? Trashing his room and breaking windows with his fists – but that is … okay, that’s not common behaviour.
He was not coping and, consequently, nor were we. But still blind to what we had to do. The breaker came when he was suspended from school. From the only school suitable for him. We finally had him assessed and were told that we had to move to somewhere which could help him – and us – with his path through life. Our son had been diagnosed with autism.
Autistic people – a term preferred by some in the community – can have different support needs but still have things in common. We now know that there is a wide range of symptoms and intensity. It shouldn’t need to be said, but autistic people are all unique, requiring different support, accommodations and understanding for their disabilities and need help to bring out their many strengths. What works for one autistic person may well not work for another.
So here we are in Hamilton, New Zealand. Everything has changed for us all – including our son. There are some things he misses of course, like the friends he grew up with. But now he has better support. He now has friends who have the same interests as him. Friends with the same focus. Friends who, if not fully understanding, then at least fully accept him for who he is. It is good to see him being enthusiastic about catching up with friends. He now has activities organised through support organisations and he is also doing it himself through his own social life.
And we have met some great people. Our support group. People who understand and accept without question. People we can talk to who just know. Understand what you are going through. Do not question when you must leave immediately. Or when you have to cancel at the last minute.
Yes, life has changed. Yes, things are altered. But we (and this applies to the whole family) know a lot more than we did before.
Our empathy with others, in all sorts of difficult circumstances, has grown.It is not all fun for any of us. Our son is frequently in meltdown, resulting in verbal and physical abuse towards us as he struggles to cope. We want to continue to make things much better for him — and for our family — but we’re not sure how. The police have helped us out. A lot. Often they have been unsure of how to deal with things but have always tried to calm things down. There is a limit to what they can do though. We do get help from the authorities but are aware that other parents are struggling – no help available in their local area; no local groups for their children to attend; no funding; no targeted help in the local school.
We know our son’s behaviour changes depending on his mood – as it does for all of us. However, he doesn’t always have a way of communicating his feelings. Struggles with describing or discussing.
We are still figuring out the language.