The first real relationship Jay made beyond his family was with his toy rabbit Raggerty.
Jay at one year old with Raggerty.
Now, obviously all children make relationships with their toys so this was not anything strange to us or to be wondered about, until at 8 years of age when Jay was still making better relationships with his toys, than with people!
Jay at 8 with Crawley the Spider.
Many children with Autism have special friendships which are imaginary but in Jay’s case they are instead of human friends. I can honestly say that this is the first year Jay has began to make new friends at school and it is so lovely to see!
At pre-school Jay would not interact at all with peers unless he was allowed to hold their hands and take them around and around in a circle and believe me this happened a lot! However this was for his own agenda not theirs and the same continued at school. In mainstream, the girls in his year would almost “mother” him and look after him and he was aware of all the children in his class by this point but would not socially engage as he should at the age he was. One of the things I am most thankful for, is his attachment to his family which he has always had. I am so happy that he asks us for hugs and is in fact very affectionate towards those he knows as his family. Jay at eight continues to connect with his toys and seems to prefer being with his Thomas trains and his teddies than with peers -maybe it is because it is easier for him to talk to them, than to engage with peers.
Another challenging subject in children with Autism is sleep!
Our experience with sleep issues began as soon as Jay became a toddler from aged 1. He just did not sleep! All night he would sing tunes, chatter in his baby language, laugh and “Stim!” In actual fact, all of the above is “Stimming.” Any repetitive noise or movement is a Stim and Jay would spend all night wide awake doing these movements and making sounds and repeating phrases. We quite literally were awake all night with him because even if we tried to sleep his noise would wake us all. As a family we were all working or at school in the day so these wakeful nights were exhausting. At this time we had no idea why he was not sleeping we just thought maybe it would solve itself in time.
However, by the time Jay was 4 and Autism had been mentioned and we were on the road to diagnosis, we mentioned the lack of need to sleep in Jay and the doctor told us it is common in children on the spectrum. At this time we had had no sleep for 3 years so we asked if anything could help and the doctor told us about the hormone Melatonin.
He explained that we all make Melatonin naturally but that children with Autism don’t seem to make as much. He said by prescribing the hormone it would help Jay to sleep. Not everyone agrees with using Melatonin and I respect that, but for us it was a god-send. From then on Jay slept through the night and in the day he was fresher and happier where as when he didn’t sleep he would be constantly tired and upset in the daytime. As an eight year old now, Jay has issues with early waking. The melatonin helps him fall asleep, along with a good bedtime routine, however it does not keep him asleep if he wakes. I would recommend Melatonin as it is a naturally made hormone just like Thyroxine is, but it should never replace a steady night time routine, it works best alongside a routine and a calming approach to bedtime. It is personal choice as a parent whether to use this hormone. My advice would be to research it but also to bear in mind that lack of proper sleep itself can be a dangerous thing. Fatal mistakes can happen when a person is exhausted to the point of not being able to function and sleep is essential for us all! I believe we are putting back something Jay doesn’t have and helping him to feel more well in the daytime as sleep is a healthy part of childhood.
Remember, a happy child makes for a happy mum and that is why I chose to use Melatonin to help Jay to sleep!
Next time : Obsessional Interests and Routines.