The majority of autism cases I have read by parents of children with autism seem to be mainly about boys so I thought id share my experiences regarding my daughter Nieve who is Four. Nieve's birth was very natural and for all tense and purposes was going very well. We were at home when the contractions started getting more and more frequent so we called the mid wife who turned up quite promptly. Because everything was going so well the mid wife was encouraging us to have a natural home birth but because my wife was in a lot of pain and the TENS machine wasn't doing anything to relieve her pain, we pressed ahead to go to the hospital instead, a decision that we would be forever grateful for. The mid wife left before us, making her way to the hospital in her own car, we took a slightly different route as we knew a quicker way. We turned up at the hospital expecting the mid wife to be either already there or slightly behind us. We waited for about ten minutes in the car park but she still hadn't turned up so we decided to go inside and get help. A nurse escorted us to the maternity unit where we patiently waited for our mid wife in one of the natural delivery suites, a beautifully decorated room to help relax mother and baby during child birth. We waited in there for at least an hour but still no sign of the mid wife, Laura was now very close to going into the final stages of labour so we were quite anxious and worried for the missing mid wife. After about an hour she turned up, panicked and very sorry. Her car had broken down due to a flat tyre, She had to call her out husband on foot to fix it up. Looking back I believe it may have been the rose bush on our front drive that had caused the puncture. Anyway, with the mid wife now safely in the room and 3 hours further down the line Nieve was starting to push her way into the world. Everything was going really well, Nieve finally popped into the world and into the hands of the mid wife just after 3am in the morning. But as she came out a flood of Meconium came out after her, and worse still she wasn't breathing. Nieve was rushed outside to be given oxygen, at that point we thought it was a routine measure. It wasn't until I was invited to visit the special care baby unit and seeing Nieve in an incubator with all these machines connected to her that the enormity of the situation set in. Basically due to reasons not quite clear at the time she had passed her first stools inside which is a thick tar like substance known as Meconium, as she was born she breathed in a large amount of this substance which filled up her lungs, so as the cord was cut she had no way of breathing in oxygen. Nieve was apparently without oxygen for over 3 minutes. She spent the next 7 days in intensive care where the doctors were clearing out her lungs, a machine was also connected to her to help aid her breathing.
With all this going on we also learnt that she was also fighting an infection called group B streptococcus that had just been spotted. It's sound likely that this infection may have caused the stress during her birth necessary for her passing her first stools inside the womb. She was also given a plalett transfusion to help fight the bacteria. On day seven she started to make big improvements in her health, finally coming off the c-pap machine and then being moved into the high dependency unit which was a sure sign that things were getting better. She remained in there for a further week, the peditriation on her rounds did make clear to us that because of the lack of oxygen Nieve may have learning difficulties for the rest of her life. At this point we were just grateful that she was still alive, if we had been confronted with the same situation via a home birth, Nieve definitely would not be here today. Whilst Nieve was going through all this in the hospital she looked like a perfectly healthy baby, 7lb 14 ounces and quite tall, not the usual look of the other baby's in the special care ward. One of the things that I noticed from very early on was she didn't really make a fuss or want any of our attention, she didn't make any eye contact or take much notice of the people around her. I put these fears to back of my mind and just concentrated getting her fit so we could take her home. We had to get her body weight and other factors above a certain threshold before being allowed to take her home. We finally achieved this after 2 weeks in special care.
After going through such a stressful birth and knowing what the mid wife had said about Nieve's development, we became extremely focused on her milestones. Coincidencely my wife's best friend delivered her daughter successfully the day before in the same hospital so we were able to visit each other for support. This also meant that we had some very good benchmarks to
compare Nieve's development to.
Nieve also has a cousin who is 10 months older than her so we knew roughly what to look out for to see if her development was on track.
Nieve was now settled at home and things seemed to be ok, she still didn't make much eye contact but it was very early days, we just assumed she was a brave little girl who wasn't very needy. In some ways she was a dream baby, always slept through the night, never really moaned or had tantrums, just very easy. As she got a little bit older and was nearing one, she still didn't make much eye contact or make any attempt at speech, this carried on until she was almost two an half with still extremely limited speech, mainly saying mummy or daddy but not always using them in the correct context. At around this age Nieve was given a formal diagnosis of autism, in the middle of the spectrum. From Christmas 2008 she finally started to make quite big leaps in her development, her speech started to improve albeit mainly based on nouns as these are concrete words, things like, house, car, water, names for all her favourite toys, mummy, daddy. In between words like "to, going, under" are very abstract and her brain doesn't recognise them or understand them. She has now started to put two words together for some scenarios such as, "hello car", "hello sky". If I say come on Nieve lets get you dressed and put your trousers on she wouldn't necessarily understand that so I would say, come on "feet in" , and she would say "Hello, feet in". Everything becomes a tangible object even if it's not.
She is an extremely happy little girl and can be quite cheeky, even though we can't have a proper conversation with her as she simply doesn't understand complex sentences she can communicate with the nouns that she knows and by moving us or pushing us to objects that she wants. One of the funniest things she did recently (Aged 4) whilst we were out at the park, a little girl was riding her new push bike a little too fast and Subsequently fell off. Nieve walked over and and pulled a really sad face and said "ooohhh, poor bike" ignoring the cries of the little girl who was being pacified by her mother. The little girl was fine but to Nieve the bike was a far more important object than the little girl. She was routinely saying hello to cars, grass on people's drives, even notice when somebody's car was not there and say "Poor car". Despite all this I find her condition absolutely fascinating, she just seems to appreciate things and objects that I would never have noticed before. As we walk her home in her buggy from nursery she points to any house with a triangle feature of some description and shouts "Triangle, Triangle", "Triangle". Other people think we're nuts but she is having a wonderful time pointing them out. Since the age of 3-4 years her eye contact has become extremely good, she will now even seek me out to play and include me in games, when I come home from work she will say "Hello, Daddy" and then walk off, where before I didn't exist. So even though there is no abstract communication other than concrete nouns we are now understanding each other, although only limited and I feel a deep connection and friendship that wasn't possible before. Some people find it hard to believe that Nieve is autistic because she looks so normal and in isolation you wouldn't really notice it but when you put her side to side with her peers she is still extremely different. Where other children are talking and discussing characters on the telly, Nieve is happy spinning round in circles or repeatedly playing with a puzzle or sitting playing with water, something she could do forever if you didn't stop her. Anyway she starts infant school this year, she has a dedicated helper so it will be interesting how she develops further in a her new environment. Nieve has been attending a main stream nursery where all the children have been absolutely wonderful to her with some taking a special shine to her, the nursery has really learnt through her condition which has been extremely uplifting being that Nieve is their first autistic child. They have all built a very special bond with her and told us how extremely grateful they are having had the opportunity to work with her, they are truly sad to let her go. In summing up, although Nieve had the traumatic birth and this quite possibly could have caused her condition, I wouldn't change her for the world now, she is such a happy amazing little girl and the way she see's the world and appreciates nature has taught me to see things in a completely different way. Autism may be a disability but also it just might be a different way of being and from what I have seen in Nieve and other children with autism is that the world would be a far better place if we were all like them.
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