A mother’s intuition is rarely wrong and never more so than when it comes to their babies. Over the past few years I’ve had many discussions with parents, especially mum’s, children with autism and they all seem to have had an ‘aha’ moment. That moment long before the diagnosis when you know deep in your core, your soul, that something is just not quite right with your child.
My ‘aha’ moment came on a normal Saturday night at home in mid-2011. Our beautiful chubby faced two-year old boy had just been sung to sleep by his dad. The same very country Garth Brooks song that Kerry had sung to him since we brought him home from hospital. Kerry and I were flicking through the TV channels trying to find something to watch. We stumbled across a documentary about a young family, the Isaacsons. This family making a pilgrimage to Mongolia with their five-year-old son Rowan, in hopes of treating his autism through shamanic (spiritual) healing. The film explored their extremely intimate story of living with autism and trying by any means to connect with their beautiful son.
At that point in my life I had never been exposed to autism but had recently started to have moments of concern in relation to my own son Jesse, and his lack of development. Being only two, it was only language development that we identified Jesse was behind in. He was communicating with us but in his own little ways. He knew many individual words but was not combining any of them and there was a level of frustration when he tried to do so, that worried me. There were other little things too. Jesse never made heaps of eye contact, he hated to go out in public and seemed anxious around crowds and loud noises. Jesse also really disliked being restrained in a car seat or pram and would never allow himself to fall asleep in either. I never confessed these moments of unease to Kerry as it seemed silly. My mum has always told me that from an early age I had been a worry wart, so I pushed the concerns from my head until this one Saturday night.
The name of the documentary was “The Horse Boy”, and it explored not only shamanic healing but the healing effects of animals, horses in particular. The family discovered the amazing calming effect their quarter horse mare, Betsy, had on two-year-old Rowan and so fostered a relationship between the animal and boy. Three years later the family made a brave decision to visit Mongolia and travel by horseback from Sharman healer to Sharman healer witnessing unbelievable results from their son. It was not too far into the Isaacsons’ story that I began to feel anxious and as we continued to watch, my heart really began to pound. Some of the behaviours that Rowan was exhibiting were both confronting and strangely familiar. Things I had seen in Jesse, I was now seeing on our TV screen, although not to the same extreme. Both Kerry and I were so absorbed, almost entranced in this heart breaking documentary and I wondered if he was recognising the same things as me. I kept glancing over at Kerry to see if he was picking up on my crazy nervous energy, he didn’t seem to be. I couldn’t contain my feelings for a second longer and I burst out crying, blurting out to Kerry that Jesse was autistic. I saw the shock on Kerry’s face when I started making correlations between Jesse and the horse-boy and although Kerry noticed that I was obviously very distraught, he didn’t see what I was seeing. I remember thinking “how can you not, it’s right there in front of you!”. Kerry tried to calm me down, reminding me that Jesse was only very little and every child developed at different speeds but deep down I knew. I remember not being able to sleep that night but decided to trust my partner, swallow my worry and concentrate on helping Jesse hit those milestones that seemed to be eluding him. Weeks after the documentary I often thought of the horse-boy and the panic I felt when watching it. I also felt extremely guilty for thinking that because my son was different he had to be diagnosed with something or given a label, so I didn’t pursue my thoughts any further.
Now four years on and many hurdles later, I think back to those moments of panic, fear and awakening and I realise the power of a parent’s intuition and instinct. I used to have so much regret, wishing I had pursued my concerns in that ‘aha’ moment and I worried that if I had done so at that particular stage in Jesse’s life, it may have helped him a little more now. But regret is a waste of time and energy ……… two things a parent needs an awful lot of to support a child living with autism.