"He's perfect," said the consultant with relief as our baby son was born in 2001. This had been a 'high-risk' pregnancy, because my second child - Smiley - was born in 1996 at 26 weeks. But CDs birth had not been easy, and I didn't care about anything for a few days, with the result that he only got two names - his sisters got three each - and I just hope that didn't add to his problems! Very quickly though I fell in madly in love.
By the time of his christening, I looked like the cat who got the cream, according to his godfather. But even then, there were signs that he was not going to be an easy baby. He cried. A lot. And he wasn't great at eye contact. At 6 weeks he fell very ill with a roastingly high temperature, that no amount of Calpol and wet sponging would bring down. Finally, I dashed into the Children's Hospital with him, and he was diagnosed with severe tonsillitis. This was a pattern that was to be repeated over and over again, during the next couple of years. I also noticed that he didn't point, and that he seemed to have no sense of balance. As soon as he started to toddle, he started to fall. And he had no idea of how to save himself. I called it tree falling. If you have ever seen a tree being cut down, you will know what I mean.
He just went straight down without putting his hands out, and even though I literally ran around after him, I couldn't always save him - I was terrified of head injuries and brain damage and spent long hours waiting for X-rays at local hospitals. He wasn't talking either. I started to worry after his first birthday, even though everyone said, "Oh he'll talk when he's ready," I just knew that something wasn't right, and began the long round of consultations. His paediatrician suggested that CD might have hearing issues, so I was sent to the local audiology clinic. There he was identified with speech and understanding delay. I remember this whirring noise in my head - the La La La thing, I'm not hearing this, I do not have two children with developmental delay, it is NOT POSSIBLE! But anyway I went home and worked hard to bring on his speech, and went back to work part-time. He started in a creche and that went fine. The staff said he was intelligent and friendly, but perhaps a little volatile.
Meanwhile the tonsillitis was becoming a real worry. At about 18 months he was referred to an ENT consultant, who took one look at his tonsils and put him on the urgent list for surgery. They were removed in 2003, and I was made up when almost immediately he gave me a big smile, opened his mouth and said "Mammy?", and once he started to talk there was no stopping him! Sadly, two weeks later I got one of the frights of my life when I heard a disturbance in his room at about midnight, and ran in to find him covered in blood - he'd had a bleed, one of possible complications of a tonsillectomy. I bundled him into the car and drove at what felt like 90 miles an hour to the hospital and literally ran in scattering people in my wake, all wild eyed and drenched in blood with this white-faced toddler in my arms. But after a couple of days, we came home and all seemed to be well once more.
There were other strange things happening though: I tried to start him at the local GAA club with his friends, but he hated it, and said he didn't like football. I enrolled him in swimming lessons as the rest of the family are very strong swimmers, but he just messed around and can still only swim a little and I didn't manage to teach him to ride his bike until he was seven!
Conversations with him were and are very one-sided, he talks and you listen. He was difficult about everything unless it was something that he wanted to do, but again I was told by friends and family - with the best of intentions - that he was "just being a boy". Punishments such as the naughty step made no difference, the only thing that helped was giving him an exact schedule with times and dates as to what was going to happen. I also used a timer to let him know how long he had before the next activity was due to start. When other kids wound him up he would overreact, completely lose control and get quite violent, so some children were banned from playing with him, which really broke my heart. He got fussy about his clothes: all labels had to be cut out and only certain fabrics passed the 'comfort' test.
He started school in September 2005 and all seemed to be going fabulously at first! He loved his teacher and found the school work easy. But in the meantime my marriage was falling apart, and it was beginning to have a really bad effect on the children. Following one event, CD started to behave extremely badly in school and suspension was mentioned. Angel also could not cope. It was time to act. On August 27th 2006, I moved out of the family home with the kids. Of course this was very traumatic, and we all thought that this was why CD continued to act up at school. He was given time out of the class to deal with his social and emotional issues, and put on the Rainbows Programme.
Still his behaviour did not improve in school. He would not follow instructions, hated handwriting, constantly messed, could be violent towards the other children when he got angry, and was not afraid of anyone, including the Principal. I was called in over and over again, even while I was desperately trying to hang onto my job. I started to google his behaviour and post on the rollercoaster parenting site. Initially, I thought it was ADHD. Then early in 2009, on yet another visit to the school, his class teacher said she thought he fitted a diagnosis of Aspergers syndrome, and that the school wanted to get the NEPS psychologist to review him. This happened in May and I had a firm diagnosis by July. I was actually more upset before the diagnosis, because I didn't know how I would cope - in the end it came almost as a relief, cos otherwise his behaviour might have been caused by crap parenting skills.
Now some supports have been put in place (no thanks to the Health Service tho'!) and, since Christmas, his behaviour at home and school has become more acceptable. I still find him very difficult to manage in all sorts of ways, but I now have the space to look back and see how far he has come. CD is funny, charming, affectionate and clever, and now I have an explanation for the things he says and does that are strange and sometimes scary. He was a perfect baby. He is now an amazing boy who has his own special take on the world: he has Aspergers.