A Father’s Perspective: Making a Difference for our Son
I am from Montreal but had been living and working in Singapore for many years and eventually got married there. Like all parents, my wife and I were so happy when our son was born. It was our second child following the birth of our daughter a few years earlier. We were looking forward to getting off to a wonderful start and enjoying all the great moments that parents expect to enjoy in raising a family.
For the first year of our son’s life, nothing seemed out of the ordinary and he was apparently reaching all of his developmental milestones. In addition, as this was our second child, we felt that we knew what we were doing and that it would in fact be easier this time around. While we did notice that our son was somewhat quieter than his sister was at his age, we just assumed that all kids were different, that we had to give him time and that he would eventually develop in his own way.
It was when our son was about 1 ½ years old that we started to sense that something was quite unusual about him, but we still couldn’t put our finger on it and just hoped he would grow out of it. Then, at what was supposed to be a routine check-up, his paediatrician mentioned that he had “autistic symptoms”. We were stunned and in disbelief. We were not sure what autism was but we knew it wasn’t good. As we left the doctor’s office that day, we had the feeling that our life was about to change forever.
It was a strange feeling. I had actually remembered being on a business trip a few years before and flipping through the channels on the TV in the hotel room and coming across CNN which was having a full day special report on something called “autism”. I distinctly recall thinking that this must be something important but then feeling that I was tired and that I didn’t need to watch as it didn’t really concern me personally. And now it was happening to me. It was hard to believe.
After the visit to the doctor, our heads still spinning, we slowly tried to feel our way through what seemed like unchartered territory. We were guided to have our son undergo various biological tests, to make adjustments to his diet and environment and to undergo some occupational therapy. While we did all this over the next year, we had no idea where it was all going. Although our son seemed to make some improvement, especially with the occupational therapy, things appeared to move very slowly with very limited prospects.
With the passage of time, it became increasingly clear that something was seriously wrong with our son. He had hardly any eye contact, very little response to people or things around him, repetitive behavior and very limited interests, a hard time adjusting to new places and no speech whatsoever. He was lost in his own world and seemed to be stuck there.
Throughout this period, I cannot express how alone my wife and I felt. Deep down, there were still feelings of denial and hopes that one morning we would wake up and find that this had all just been a bad dream. Of course it was not and as time went on, a sense of helplessness and resignation set in.
It was then during a visit from my parents to Singapore that my father reminded me that he was very concerned about my son’s condition and that we really needed to do something and right away. I recall becoming very upset with him, telling him that I knew, and that we were already doing all we could. He was not sure what more could be done either and could only suggest getting him out more, talking to him more and giving him more activity.
While this exchange left us both frustrated, it encouraged me to get moving again and to get a formal diagnosis, this time on my next visit to Montreal. With the help of various family friends, I was able to find a very helpful psychologist who confirmed what had been observed by the paediatrician, provided us with a formal diagnosis and pointed us toward a solid course of action in terms of starting applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapy as soon as possible.
From there, again with the help of family friends, we found a wonderful ABA therapist at the Gold Centre, supported by the Miriam Foundation, whose impact on our son was immediate and dramatic. Suddenly, we felt the clouds parting and the sun shining through. There was hope! Shortly thereafter, the decision was made to drop everything in Singapore and move back permanently to Montreal to continue ABA and we have been moving from strength to strength ever since. Today, 3 years after his diagnosis, my son is a cheerful, playful and curious little boy who loves to talk and make friends and who attends regular kindergarten class. While we still have many challenges ahead of us, we feel we are well on our way.
In the coming months, I look forward to sharing many other stories from my experience. Looking back though, we feel we dodged a bullet. Ultimately, many things came together to pull us through, to set the stage for all the great things that were to and continue to come and to save my son and our family. Paying attention, getting things checked out, talking to people, doing research, making informed decisions and taking action, all of these as early as possible, all played critical roles. All of these needed to be sustained by an underlying belief that we could do something about it and not giving up. Undeniably, luck played a big part as well but it was necessary that we approached the problem in the right way in order to enable luck to work.
As you can see, we were not always the most proactive parents ourselves, we did feel hopelessness and we did get lucky more than once but what we did do ended up making all the difference.
You can read this post on the Huffington Post