Recently our son celebrated his 8th birthday. Fifteen children, his friends, came to the party. The entire time, my husband and I had to pinch ourselves that this is really happening. It made us think how our son's birthday parties used to be.
For the first ever 'party', when our son was four years old, we only invited three family friends with their children (only 3 children in total) and Tommy's one to one assistant. By that time we were already doing the Son-Rise Program for one year. But Tommy was still almost non-verbal. He didn’t like loud sounds and music - so no singing birthday songs. If he received a gift, he wouldn’t like to open it as he didn’t want to destroy the wrapping paper. So, the presents he was given back then had to come without wrapping paper. There was no birthday cake either as Tommy didn’t want to cut the cake in to the pieces back then as it would spoil how the cake looked - so I made cupcakes instead. We would do our best to let everyone who was attending the party know what were the issues.
Considering Tommy's conditions, his first party went well. I remember he was very happy receiving stuffed Mr. Men toys. He was always a big fan of Mr. Men characters :-)
It has been 'only' five years ago, since he was three years old and non-verbal. The only sounds he made were animal sounding noises. He had almost no eye contact with anyone and would turn around perhaps just 3% of the time that I called him.
He didn’t understand or react to any requests, questions or instructions, and neither did he understand any explanations or consequences. He didn’t seem to be aware of our presence or anybody else’s, and paid no attention to animals either. As if they simply weren’t there. It was as if he was blind – except he wasn’t.
He didn’t kiss or hug, and when I’d pick him up he wouldn’t put his arms and legs around me. They would hang down by his side as if he was a rag doll.
He would constantly run or walk quickly back and forth. He didn’t sleep much or very well, and two hours in one go was his maximum.
He wasn’t potty trained and when he came home the first thing he would do was strip-off. The feeling of cold was more bearable for him than the feeling of clothes on his body. He didn’t show any emotions and he more or less kept the same facial expression all the time. He rarely smiled.
If I would take him to a supermarket he would get very upset, so that in the end it wasn’t really possible to take him. And it was impossible to go for a pleasant walk, sit on the beach or sit down for lunch at a restaurant. He was a very picky eater and addicted to his yogurt drinks. He would get really upset if he wouldn’t be able to have one.
It seemed as if he never felt pain and he never cried when he had an accident. Even the occasional children’s’ accident resulting in some bleeding wouldn’t phase him. Physically he looked unhealthy. He was very pale, even though we live in sunny Spain. He had very dark rings under his eyes and a permanently bloated tummy. He suffered with constipation and only had bowel movements every 3 to 4 days.
He was very sound sensitive. Everything such as coughs, sneezes, crying, dogs barking, singing, TV, radio would upset him.
He didn’t draw or colour. But he would watch Thomas the Tank Engine for hours upon hours. The same episodes over and over and over. He was able to focus only on his repetitive activities, which for example, was spinning himself or spinning different objects. Tommy would spin round and round an awful lot and make other things spin. He would obsessively stare at anything that spun - from fans to windmills and washing machines.
He would flip through the books over and over and over without paying any attention to the words and pictures on the pages, and he would flap his hands in front of his eyes.
He never played with toys in a regular way, but instead he was obsessive about putting everything in a long line.
Over time, Tommy's improvements enabled us to make his birthday parties bigger and louder. As each year passed we invited a few more of his friends, particularly those who were very supportive of Tommy at school, and his one-to-one assistant would advise us on that.
Four years ago we couldn’t have dreamed that we would be throwing the party he had for his 8th birthday. Back then there were no cakes, piñata or music, and his parties wouldn’t go on for too long either.
For his 8th birthday party, Tommy chose to have Mr. Bump piñata. He wanted me to make a big Mr. Men cake and he wanted music :-) Fifteen of his friends from school attended the party. All the children were running and playing together on the bouncy castle, trampoline or the mini golf course. His friends sang Happy Birthday he blew a number eight candle out, then I cut the cake.
The Big Mr. Bump piñata was broken up and made all the children happy – including Tommy. At the end of the party, Tommy couldn’t wait to rip all the paper off his presents to see what his friends had given him. He was so excited to get so many lovely presents with lots of cards.
Our son was enjoying his birthday party just like any other child would.
So now he’s eight years old and in year two at a mainstream British international school in Spain. It’s the same school that provided his pre-nursery from the age of two and a half and we had tremendous support from the teachers.
He doesn’t need any special support now, and he’s treated just like any other pupil in his class. Tommy has lovely friends who he loves to talk about at home, and sometimes they come over to play or we go over to visit them.
He has found academics easy enough to deal with and after he is done with his work in his class, he can’t wait to go out and play with his classmates. This school year he started to have piano lessons and he joined a football club.
Most of the children from his class have been with him for the last four years and they were always nice and supportive children and become great friends. Now he’s able to express his emotions and needs very clearly, and he has a lot of empathy for others’ feelings. He loves to act, sing, ride his scooter or his bike without any stabilisers.
He is overall an extremely happy child.
He’s very inquisitive and interested in the world around him and he’s never bored. Tommy now loves playing with Lego, board games or cards and is great at following the rules, taking turns and he copes well with losing. But he does get cheeky and loves to cheat!
The change in our son might sound like a miracle. And in a way it is a miracle. But it took an immense amount of work and dedication which we as parents were happy to put in.
We adopted dietary changes which were beneficial for our son's health and we didn’t compromise. We adopted the Son-Rise Program and stuck with it for years. We used different kinds of holistic therapies, chelation, and we found supplements which helped him with his issues. All those changes didn’t happen from day to day - it took a lot of time and patience, and we learned a lot along the way. We never stopped doing one thing which was helping just because we found something else to help. We kept doing things which were working and we added to them whenever we could.
Nowadays I can see there are even more tools, therapies, and supplements, which parents can use for their children to help them fight autism. And I hope there will be more and more parents who will learn for themselves that help is possible – and that cure is possible. It was for us.
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