The second year: signs emerging

The second year of Bright Eyes' life was where we started to notice that he was not developing normally.

He had an absolute obsession with pressing buttons. When we arrived at my parents house, he would run straight through the door, ignoring the grandparents, heading for the video, TV, remotes, light switches, phones, computer, fan, oven (!!) and any other switches he could find.

For a long time I tried the tactics that had worked with my daughter from the age of 8 months: Say "Bright Eyes, No" in a deep growl. Walk up, remove his hand, take him away from the situation and distract with something else.

Ha! It didn't work the first time, and it never ever worked after that. If he was removed happily, he'd head straight back for the switch and keep presing. If he wasn't removed happily he would throw an enormous tantrum for 1/2 hour and then head straight back for the switch and keep pressing.

After a lot of trial, I realised it was hopeless and didn't worry about the switches in our house. For a while I made a half-hearted effort in other people's places to show that I was a respectable mother, but most of the time I just picked things up out of his reach or tried to ignore it.

He looked past people and avoided their gaze. In fact, he got very upset if most people looked at him, spoke to him or in any way acknowledged him. Again, I made efforts to get him to look at family and friends to say hello and goodbye, but after months of failure my efforts were mostly token and for show so that others wouldn't think I was a hopeless or irresponsible parent.

He didn't talk. Not only that, he didn't seem to be understanding things either. Other children about the same age seemed to be able to 'get' concepts like 'Mummy's got a baby in her tummy', or 'we're going to church now' or 'this is a birthday party and we're having cake'. Bright Eyes seemed oblivious to most things around him. He lived only for the immediate moment.

He couldn't make transitions. Every day is made up of transitions from one activity to another. "Now we're eating breakfast. It's finished, so we now go and get dressed. Now it's play time outside, now we have to go inside..." Every transition Bright Eyes made, he got hysterical. Moving from simple activity to simple activity was distressing and difficult for him, even though he had done each thing over and over again every day.

He ran away. All the time, wherever we went, as far as he could go and extremely quickly. From being a baby who hardly moved, he suddenly found some speed once he began to walk and my days of carrying on involved adult conversations in unfenced areas were over. We lost him onto main roads twice and spent two 15 minute periods looking for him when he disappeared on the communal property where we lived. (He was behind the bushes next to the fence, and in another family's unlocked upstairs apartment.)

He hardly felt any pain. I was proud of my tough little fella. Unlike his big sister who was always 'more sensitive' (nice words for being a complete sook), if Bright Eyes fell over, he just got up and kept on going. Most other children would have been screaming with some of the knocks he took, but he hardly seemed to notice. "He should be a football player" I said proudly. Little did i know that feeling no pain is a common feature of autistic children.

All of these things made me start asking questions. I just didn't feel right about his development. But at the same time there seemed to be lots of normal things too. He was affectionate with us. He adored his big sister and would play with her as much as he could. He seemed to eat well enough (although he was incredibly picky - more on this in later posts) and he was growing. Also, he was hardly ever sick and I breast-fed him until he was nearly 2.