I write a lot about Tyger and less about Baby Bear. I have written in a previous blog post here about the fact I’m not a baby person. Generally toddlers/preschoolers are better sources of amusing anecdotes than babies, too. I may like to talk at length about how my baby has learned to clap or about explosive nappy incidents but I am aware of the fact these conversations are boring and/or disgusting for other people. An account of a conversation with Tyger about how outraged he is his hot cross bun isn’t hot will always be funnier than an account of how Baby Bear can give high fives. Plus, although I didn’t plan it as such, this blog is largely about ASD and Baby Bear isn’t autistic…is he?
Prepare to hear – or read, I guess – more about Baby Bear over the coming months/years/however long I carry on this whole blog thing. ‘Baby’ Bear is technically not a baby anymore and he can walk and climb and did I tell you he can clap and give high fives? And with his growing abilities is coming a growing suspicion of mine. Is my little bear cub actually more of a tiger cub? Does Baby Bear, in fact, have ASD?
With Tyger, it really wasn’t something I’d ever considered until after he’d turned two and I was actually talking to my mum about someone else’s suspicion their child had Asperger’s. My mum’s advice was to make a note of all traits he displayed because if they tried to get a diagnosis later on it would be incredibly useful to have this stuff written down (instead of trying to remember whether their child walked on tip-toes as a toddler or pointed to things to draw attention to them at a year old). I – half jokingly – said I should make a note of any traits Tyger had since ASD runs in the family just in case. I started writing them down – assuming I’d manage three or four bullet points – and several pages later I was still going.
This time is very different. I’ve been on the look out since around the time I suddenly realised Tyger has ASD. Baby Bear was probably about six months old. To start with I was pointing out all their differences and how he couldn’t be autistic. ‘Tyger used to look out the window when he was getting his nappy changed but Bear loves giving lots of eye contact.’ ‘Bear is always on the look-out for faces like a normal baby.’ ‘Bear is a much jollier baby than Tyger ever was – is this what it’s like to have a neurotypical child?’
Was it some sort of vain hope that he wouldn’t be autistic? Or was it simply that humans are good at noticing differences so the differences between the two boys stood out and overshadowed any similarities? Not that them being different even precludes them both having ASD. It is, after all, a spectrum and no two autistic people have the exact same traits or personalities.
It was Bear’s reaction to food that first kindled my suspicion. We started off doing ‘Baby Led Weaning’ with him, which basically means we shoved normal food on his highchair tray and let him get on with it rather than the purees and spoon feeding we did with Tyger. And that was fine. Messy but he seemed to do quite well with it. Sort of. The problem was Bear was really funny about certain textures. Every item of food placed on his tray had to pass the prod test. He bunched his fingers up together – kind of like if you pretend to hold a pencil so all the tips are together – and then he’d prod at the food. If the texture was wrong it was unceremoniously flung to the floor without ever going near his mouth. Anything even slightly slimy was discarded (banana, mushrooms, pasta). If it was in anyway rubbery (boiled egg, certain cheeses etc.) that was also entirely unacceptable. Foods with sauce were – literally – off the table. But, hey, part of weaning a baby onto food is getting them used to new textures, right? Except, it meant he didn’t even try a large percentage of the food we offered him because he couldn’t bear to touch it. So…after persevering for a while I gave up on the whole ‘Bably Led Weaning’ thing and started spoon feeding him any foods he wouldn’t touch. Ah well, parenting is all about figuring out what works for your child so that’s okay…isn’t it?
He also did the prodding thing with toys and anything he came across. Texture has always been very important to him. These days he prods things with one finger instead of his strange pencil grip.
Then there’s the sleep and stomach business. Sleep is often a huge issue for people with ASD and children all the more so. There are kids with ASD who only sleep for two hours a night (which is one of the many reasons you should be extra nice to parents of ASD kids – there’s a good chance they’ve had less sleep in the last month than you’ve had in the last week). I’m relatively lucky with Tyger. He has sleep issues. He especially hates the transition between sleep and being awake so will start kicking his legs and fidgeting around when he feels his eyes getting heavy to fend off the inevitable. Every time. As if, after hundreds of times of it not working, if he just tries hard enough this time he’ll manage never to fall asleep again. Then, at the other end, he also struggles because waking up is another transition. Tyger napping is a rare and mixed blessing because he cries and cries and cries upon waking.
Hang on, this post was supposed to be about Bear, not Tyger. Okay. So, I have written about Bear’s sleep issues before. It is finally getting better. I was assured by many people his sleep would likely settle down after those first few growth spurts as a baby…it didn’t. Then, I was told he’d almost certainly start sleeping through when he started on solids…he didn’t. So, everyone consoled me with the fact he’d be tired out once he was crawling…he wasn’t. But, those people who said he just might start actually sleeping more than a couple of hours at a time once he was walking…were thankfully right! He now tends to sleep 8pm-6am. And it’s fracking wonderful. But all those sleep issues…well, like I said, sleep is often a problem for those with ASD. And a lot of the sleep problems he had seemed to be linked to stomach problems and…yeah, you guessed it, stomach problems are also very common in people with ASD.
But lots of babies have sleep issues. Just go onto any parenting forum and look at how active the sub-forum for sleep is (and there will be one) to confirm that. Or check Facebook to see how many parents write updates along the lines of, ‘Whoever came up with the phrase ‘sleeps like a baby’ obviously didn’t have a baby!’ (Or some ‘real world’ example. Perhaps I spend too much time on the internet.) So, poor sleeping habits doesn’t necessarily point to autism…
Then, there’s the shoes. I went to get Baby Bear his first pair of shoes at the beginning of the week. He’s walking confidently now so it seemed the time. I also needed to get Tyger some canvas shoes because he has taken against his sandals and thick leather shoes seem a little inappropriate for the hot weather we’ve had (though, since he likes to put on his wellies in any weather and run outside in them – and only them because he doesn’t do clothes when we’re at home – clothes and leather shoes are an improvement, I suppose). I must say, we were very lucky to be served by a lovely sales assistant who managed to find me shoes on sale for Bear (£10 instead of the usual £30-something) and was very patient and nice with Tyger even when he was running riot taking shoes several sizes too big for him off the pegs and trying them on. The fact Shoe Shop Guy was approving of Tyger having long hair, wearing nail varnish and showing an interest in shoes with hearts on despite the shocking fact he’s a boy and that the guy enthusiastically told me how nice it was to spend time with such a bright little boy made him my favourite person of the day. If we hadn’t been in such a rush to wolf down some lunch before a hospital appointment I would have found the store manager and praised Shoe Shop Guy to them. (Maybe I should phone the store and do it anyway. Except it’s been like a week now and I’m crap at remembering what people look like and didn’t take a note of the guy’s name so the call would consist of me saying, ‘So, there was this young man working in the children’s department of your shop on Monday and I just wanted to let you know how helpful and nice he was. I don’t really remember much about him except he was very friendly and complimented my children so if there’s someone in the store who fits that description…it’s probably him.’ Hmm…it might be a little weird and awkward and I hate speaking to people on the phone anyway…)
Anyway, Baby Bear did not like having his feet measured at all. I don’t know if it was the stranger touching him thing or the sensation on his feet or both but he was unimpressed. That was nothing compared to actually trying to get shoes on his feet, though. Unfortunately for Bear, he takes after me in that he has very wide feet with a very high instep. Couple this with the fact he’s a pretty chubby little guy and his feet are practically the same width, height and length. This makes finding shoes to fit difficult and once poor Shoe Shop Guy found shoes in the right size Bear was not about to make things easy for him. He scrunched his toes up so his feet were like two balls and pulled his leg away every time it looked like Shoe Shop Guy might actually have managed to squish Bear’s feet into the shoes. Once the shoes were finally on, Bear refused to stand in them, let alone walk. In fact, it took a couple of days before he started walking in them and he still often sits down and pulls at them in a disgruntled way.
But it’s pretty common for babies and toddlers to dislike shoes. All of these things are normal in toddlers and – as I pointed out at length in this blog – everyone has some autistic traits. Then again, it’s the very fact everyone has some traits that can make figuring out whether a kid has autism so hard.
And there’s more. Bear likes banging the back of his head off doors/walls/his highchair, shaking his head vigorously, pouring water all over the place. He gets really angry and throws huge tantrums when he doesn’t get his way (like little-rage-monster angry not a-bit-of-screaming-and-crying angry). He echoes things – the general tone and sound of things people say – even though he can barely say any words. He is sensitive to noise. The list goes on.
He also has a cuddly toy dog we call Fergus, which he has to have when he goes to sleep, grabs when you take him out of the cot, clings to in the car and generally seems pretty taken with. They’ve stopped selling the dogs in the shop it’s from but I bought one off eBay this week so we have a replacement just in case. I know, I know, loads of kids have a favourite toy. But the only one I’ve actually known who’s had one to this extent this young is my sister. Yeah, the sister with Asperger’s. So, it’s just another little tiny possible trait…plus it gives me the chance to post this photo:
Can you tell which is the manky old one well-loved one?
There’s nothing definitive and nothing I’d have picked up on at all if it wasn’t for Tyger so maybe I’m being paranoid. Or maybe not. I don’t know. My gut says I have two little aspies but I’m by no means sure. I know Tyger has ASD. Regardless of how long it might take to get an official diagnosis I’m as sure of it as I am sure he’s my son. I am not so sure with Bear. I accept I may be seeing autism where there isn’t any, like people who see Jesus’ face in food, but I’ll keep an eye on it. Maybe my list of a few bullet points will grow to six or seven pages like Tyger’s…or maybe not. Watch this space.