My name is Gordon Darroch. I am the father of two children.
About a year ago we began having our elder son, Euan, then approaching the age of four, assessed for difficulties in his social development. He has always been a quiet, self-contained boy, rarely aggressive or anxious, happy to play by himself but equally content in the company of other children. His intelligence was normal and he seemed to be thriving at the nursery he had been attending since he was 10 months old.
But now the manager was telling us he showed little interest in the other children: he would play alongside them, rather than with them; if the nurses managed to persuade him to join in a group activity, he would quickly drift away back into his own world. And he rarely spoke. It was as if he was enclosed in a bubble: he could look out, and others could see in, but actual contact was all but impossible.
“Are you worried about him?” I asked the manager.
“A wee bit,” she said. It was the fairest answer she could give.
So began the long, exhausting and still unfinished process of having Euan assessed for autism. Even now I hesitate to use the words “Euan is autistic” to people because an actual diagnosis is still some way off. But the odds are shortening. Every specialist who has seen him so far has observed autistic traits in his behaviour, but the difference between suspecting your child has autism and having it diagnosed are as wide as the autistic spectrum itself.
This is intended to be a blog about living with autism in the family. Unlike some, I am not particularly interested in trying to work out who or what might be to blame for my son’s condition or whether it could have been avoided. The irrevocable fact is, it exists, and my prime concern is to learn how to deal with it.
There is a danger, too, of becoming so consumed with Euan’s condition that we end up seeing the condition and not the child. It’s true, as people often say, that there are worse things that can happen: he is not terminally ill or severely handicapped; his intelligence seems to be unaffected; he does not have a shortened lifespan, which I think must be the hardest thing for a parent to face. But at the same time, there are a lot of popular misconceptions of autism that lead people to dismiss it as just a mild hindrance, like walking with a limp or learning with dyslexia.
Perhaps dyslexia offers the most meaningful parallel: a generation ago, whole swathes of children were labelled as stupid, lazy or ill-disciplined when a little understanding and assistance could have saved them from a lifetime of under-achievement. I hope that with the right intervention and support Euan will be able to enjoy an independent and fulfilling life, rather than being written off as weak-willed and socially inept, as such children once were.