It’s that awful time of the year for our children. Exam time. How can you take exams when you cannot read or write or communicate at the same level as those who do not have autism ?
My boys at diagnosis were non verbal. They did not understand (receptive) or speak (expressive) language. In fact, as with most children with severe autism, they did not and still do not understand the subtleties of non verbal language either. Basically, they had no method of communication.
ABA changed all that. Hurrah for ABA and I will never stop saying it. Within a few weeks of starting full time (35hrs) of ABA, Benjamin at three and a half made his first sound, a request for water, just ‘w,w,w’. But, it was a start and from then onwards, he learnt to talk, slowly and painstakingly.
It was the same for all my boys. Years and years of intensive therapy and round the clock input from me too and they learnt to use language.
For the older boys, it’s still not language in the way that you or I use it. It is very functional but they get away quite well socially using the language they do have creatively. It is not enough to pass exams and to write essays. It is not enough to ever be able to read a novel or even a story book. But, it is enough to read facts and learn huge amounts of information on chosen subjects. Thomas can talk athletics at great length, whether or not you actually want to hear the feats of his sporting heroes is another matter.
The older boys have taken a few exams and have a few qualifications which is great. Everything they achieve is so much more than we ever hoped for and they try so hard. One of their most astounding qualities is to try and to keep trying and to strive to achieve. It is very evident in Benjamin’s music abilities, he practises for hours and hours. Thomas does running training six days a week and is equally determined to succeed. These successes for them are more important than passing exams will be.
Hector, 16, is mid exams now. He is the one I feel for. At age five, he was assessed as having two year old language, single words. It had taken three years of hard work to get him to speak and understand two year old language. He was three years behind his peer group. At least three years. He has struggled with language but he has overcome so much and now holds normal conversations, a huge achievement. Huge. However, he still struggles to comprehend written language. Like his brothers , he has never read a book for pleasure.
The exam system in this country means he is having to take exams at the same time as his peer group. Not only has he had to catch up on years he missed when young, he is also expected to catch up and then keep up year on year.
He is stressed. He feels he has to achieve what everyone else does or he will be labelled as ‘thick’ and ‘autistic’. How he hates that word still. Most people do not understand how it feels to be a young person struggling to learn to speak, to read, to achieve academically what your brain is capable of but your severe language disorder hampers you from doing. He does not celebrate his autism. To him, it is something which prevents him achieving what he feels he should be able to.
We are so proud of him. Of how well he has done and who he is today. He doesn’t appreciate where he has come from. He cannot remember much of his early childhood. We remember and will never forget the lost little boy, who regressed at just two and lost all his language. The exams he passes are a monument to him, to his ABA tutors in the early days, to the wonderful More House school where he has been for the past eight years and to us, his family.
We will be proud of all that he achieves. But I want him to be proud of himself too and sometimes that is the hard part. I hope he passes his exams. He deserves to pass as he has worked so hard to overcome what most children take for granted, language.