When I talk to people about my daughter they usually have two questions that they ask, number 1 ) How did you know she had autism ? and number 2) How did you get her diagnosed? The order of these questions changes depending on who I am talking to. For most people it is question 1 first, but for those who feel that they too potentially have a child on the spectrum it is normally question 2 that comes first.
You see getting a diagnosis is extremely hard, especially for girls with Asperger’s and waiting times to see professionals vary depending upon where you live. I was recently advised that in the Bristol region wait times are approx 18 months for the initial consultation. Some people may feel that 18 months is not too long, but for someone going through the process it is a long long time. Especially if your child is at school and they have not recognised your concerns, meaning that until your child has a full diagnosis the school will only provide you with a limited amount of support. The other issue is that 18 months is the time until you get to see the paediatrician not the actual diagnosis. The paediatrician will normally require reports from Speech and Language, Occupational therapy, School, GP etc. By the time you go through the process from start to finish you are talking years! Yep years.
In our case I visited my GP armed with a stack of research and information that I had carefully digested. I had notes of her routine, behaviour, mental state, physical state. You name it I had it. I even made her take online assessments. I walked in armed with books and print outs so my GP could see that I was very serious about the situation. She referred us and our referral date was set 6 months later.
My daughter and I attended the appointment, which was an hour’s drive away, great start for a kid with sensory issues, followed by the usual from the receptionist “he’s running late.” Great for kids that need routine! I am an adult without autism and so I understand that these things happen but the anxiety that was building up within my daughter was not acceptable. I sat there thinking these are places and people that are handling these situations all day everyday, advising on them so why put their patients through this. If they can’t get it right how will I ever be able to support her. The other part of my brain thought, well she is going to have to deal with these situations for the rest of her life so lets start preparing her. Come on mum get supportive. Uhh! Caring, emotional parent versus practical tough parent, whilst being supportive at all times.
The paediatrician spent 20 minutes with my daughter talking to her and talking to me. He didn’t probe her for information he just asked general things about her well being etc and he was very good at making her feel at ease. He asked her about her likes and my daughter explained her obsession with animals in particular dogs and horses. At the end of the discussion he said, “Well this is one of the clearest cases of Asperger’s but I need Speech and Language and Occupational Therapy to back me up before I can give her an official diagnosis”. ” I suggest you read books by Tony Attwood as they are really helpful, especially anything that you can find on girls with Asperger’s”. “I’ll see you again once we have that information”
Here we go again.! How long will it be to get an appointment with these departments, and the answer was 6 months. Another 6 months. All through that time I felt a little bit of contentment that I was perusing the right path for her but at the same time a lot of anger that she was not getting support right away. Where were all the miracle workers who were going to support me, get banners out and fight for my daughters rights… at this point I am in hysterical laughter writing this blog. I’ll come back to this later on, bear with me.
Speech and Language allowed themselves an hour to spend with my daughter, with me in the room. The whole process was not too difficult but because my daughter was aged 10 I suppose it was a little more challenging than just observing her play, she was too old for that. They ran through a series of scenarios with her for example, they would show her emotion cards, one I distinctly remember was a man sat in his car with the window down, he had is hand clenched in a fist with a very aggressive look. My daughter had no clue that anything was wrong with this man. These were emotion cards that preschoolers would understand. She also talked, classically she talked too much, about her obsession with dogs and horses. I left the meeting feeling that it was very obvious and the report would back up what I thought. The report however that was provided 4 weeks later left me wondering if the Speech and Language therapist agreed with me or not. I am not an unintelligent person but the report was not easy to digest. It was not a magical report that once opened sang out the words “Yes,Yes you are right, you were right all along, of course she has Asperger’s”. It was a very clinical report full of technical jargon. My heart was telling me though that what I had witnessed in the session was clear for all to see.
Occupational therapy on the other hand were amazing. They talked to my daughter about the sensory issues, which I suppose at the time was one of the biggest problems. Hair cutting, hair washing, bathing, even cleaning teeth, the basic hygiene problems that were so challenging for my daughter on a daily basis. For me it was also the confirmation that these things which most of us take for granted can cause so much distress for others. I felt like another fist bump in the air, followed by a big sigh. It’s a double edged sword, you make progress and get confirmation of what you thought but you cannot loose sight that this is all so hard for my daughter. She explained about how sitting still for too long a period of time was not good for my daughter because it was sending her body into a sleep time state and that horse riding was great because it did the opposite. She provided a report for every sensory issue that had been raised and she provided options of things available to try to relieve the pressure and stress for my daughter. For example exercise balls to sit on to keep the core muscles moving rather than sitting on a chair, sensory toys to chew so that before my daughter brushed her teeth, her teeth would have a chance to become less sensitive, special toothbrushes for her to use that meant she could do the top and the bottom at the same time. Even explaining to me that for my daughter when she has a shower it can be painful as even though it may be the softest spray, the spray hitting her body could cause physical pain. I realised how oblivious I was to so many things that she was going through on a daily basis.
The second date came through to see the paediatrician for April. At the end of our last meeting he explained that he held a clinic a bit closer to our home so that made our journey slighter easier. We walked into the room and within 10 minutes we were out. During the 10 minutes he asked my daughter how she had been, he said that he had reviewed the information from the other departments and that she did have Asperger’s. He said it was one the quickest cases ever. 12 months from his initial meeting with her until now did not seem quick to me but when listening to the process that other people have gone through I realise how quick it was.
“So I said to him, what happens now” ? “Well she has a diagnosis, you put that down on anything that ever requires her medical history” he said . I replied “What do you not want to see her again? Ever? Even when she is 16?”. “No, that’s it she has her diagnosis” he says.
Now you see where the hysterical laughter comes from. Where was the support group, the network of people that were going to provide us with help and assistance and prop us up. Who was going to help me ensure that my daughter received all the support she ever needed. I know that there are groups you can join but they are not specifically tailored for the individual. Every person with Asperger’s is different they all have different levels and different needs and for every 100 conversations you have 95 can be disregarded as their child will be different to yours. From the other 5 you can take away snippets of information. It’s frustrating, it’s a minefield. I hear reports of special schools that fail kids with Asperger’s, I hear reports of health departments that fail them and my hysterical laughter turns to a desire and a passion to continue to fight and support my child and I will have days where I cannot be the best but I wont give up because at the end of the day you need more than a diagnosis on paper and hysterical laughter.
I recently found this photo on my daughter’s Ipad that she had taken whilst going through the diagnosis process and do you know what she’s right it’s going to be OK.