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The doctor’s question about my son’s autism that changed everything

Doctor working in the office and listening to the patient

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 04/02/23

On World Autism Day, discover more about what benefits an autism diagnosis can bring.

I’m looking at my 15-year-old son and my heart is bursting with love. He’s just spent the last month waking up at 5 a.m., packing his uniform and getting himself off to “work.” As an apprentice baker, he’s been doing an internship to help hone his skills and prepare him for the working world.

The decision to pull him out of mainstream education and enroll him in a baking school at such a young age was difficult. After all, we’d be drastically reducing his future career options. But sometimes we need to be realistic about what our children can achieve, and listen to what they actually want to do.

My son’s experience is the perfect example: many years ago he was diagnosed with severe dyspraxia that affected his hand-eye coordination. Then a few years later, he was diagnosed with autism, as well as hyper-anxiety.

He was functioning at a high level, but was unable to process certain information and became overwhelmed very easily. If he had to do something out of his routine then he needed to be prepared for what was going to happen, and how he might feel about it. Adding dyspraxia into the mix meant that he’d come home from school absolutely exhausted. Despite his intelligence, there was no way he’d be able to cope with a classic education.

Some parents of those who are neurodivergent understandably find it very hard to make such a big decision. However, thanks to a conversation with my son’s psychiatrist, I found it pretty easy to make such a choice.

Part of my son’s autism diagnosis involved an in-depth test in which I responded to endless questions about his early childhood, and had to scale some of his behaviors. It took three sessions to complete and after each session I felt completely washed out. The evaluation made me realize just how different my little man was.

A far-reaching question

At the end of the final session the doctor asked me: “How do you feel seeing your son’s difficulties in black and white?”

Strangely enough this one simple question made me feel heard. For years I’d known my son was different from his siblings, although not necessarily in a bad way. He needed to be handled differently and luckily, I instinctively knew what to do. But it was exhausting.

Now, with the diagnosis in hand I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. Gone were the concerns that I had that I should be doing things in another way. Thanks to this evaluation it was normal that my son had difficulties, and he saw the world through a different lens. I no longer felt that he had to adapt to a world he’d never really understand; he just had to learn how to cope with tricky situations.

But most importantly, that one question made me focus not on my feelings, but those of my son. How was he going to feel about being officially labelled as autistic?

As it turns out it helped give him a voice and an understanding as to why he finds life overwhelming, and why he so often breaks down in tears (although these breakdowns are substantially less frequent since he no longer feels frustrated).

It also allowed him to express the fact that he feels happiest when he’s baking. He feels calm, needed, and able to achieve something concrete that he understands. With a sensitivity to odors, he basks in the smells of that freshly baked breads — as so many of us do!

So as he ends his first internship as a baker in the making, we know we have made the right decision for him. And if the doctor were to ask me that same question again, I’d say I feel grateful to have the knowledge that my son needs extra support, and that my own feelings revolve around the feelings of my son, and making him realize how much he can achieve because of the gifts his autism brings him.

AutismChildrenMental Health
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