Sunday, 27 April 2008

The first signs

The first signs of Euan's autism weren't confined to the nursery environment, but it was at nursery that they were most apparent. His interaction with adults and other children was minimal: he would play happily on his own with toys or books (the book corner was a favourite haunt) but it was almost impossible to engage him in group activity. When he was potty training he wouldn't tell anyone when he needed the toilet, so at first he wet himself like other children; but once he had mastered the mechanics of going to the cubicle, taking down his trousers and excreting, he would simply take himself off without announcement and return with just as little ceremony. The first anyone would know that he had been was when the next person went in and saw the evidence (unfortunately, washing his hands afterwards is still not an established part of the routine).
More seriously, when Euan was attacked by another child (a mercifully rare occurrence) he said nothing: he didn't even cry. It was only much later in the day that a member of staff spotted the large mark in his face – and, of course, Euan was unable to explain what had happened. The thought that your child is unable to defend themselves, either during or after the event, is a profoundly worrying one, particularly as they approach school age.
My wife, Magteld, and I denied the signs at home for a long time. The fiercely competitive sport that is bringing up small children does not easily admit the suggestion that your child might be in some way abnormal. I remember Euan at a birthday party at the age of two: while all the other children joined in a game of pass the parcel, Euan's interest was entirely taken up with watching the CD player that the music was playing on. On a visit to my parents a few months later, Euan became interested in watering cans: he took a can to the water butt in the courtyard, filled it up, then poured the water very carefully into an empty flower pot. He repeated this routine over and over again, seemingly absorbed in studying the flow of the water from the can into the pot.
Euan has taken an obsessive interest in numbers since he was very small. For his fourth birthday my parents bought him a blackboard. Once he had been shown how it worked, he picked up a chalk, handed it to me and said: “number one.” He showed no interest in watching people drawing or scribbling on the board, or doing it himself: the only thing he wanted was to see the numbers written in sequence, from 1 up to 99, which was as far as he could count. Or so I thought. The next time my parents were staying with us, Magteld and I got back from a shopping trip to find Euan effortlessly reading off three-digit numbers which his grandfather had written on the board.

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