Hi, I am new here, looking for advice on how I can help my son please
My son is 7 and a few months back his teacher discussed with us her suspicion that he might be on the spectrum. We were sceptical at first, but as time has gone on, we are more and more convinced that he is. He’s always been very sensitive, emotionally, he’s socially a little awkward, a somewhat picky eater, and he’s keen on facts and collecting things. He has an obsession with lego, and other obsessions come and go. Recently, he seems to be changing and we’re not sure if it’s just that we’re looking for signs, or if his traits are genuinely becoming more pronounced. He knows we are working with his teacher to help him manage things he finds difficult, but not about any assessments, as we felt it might change his behaviour if he was aware.
Right now, I am feeling a little lost, and unsure how to help him. He doesn’t have a diagnosis, so we don’t really know what we’re dealing with, and we don’t have any real support, although school seem to be doing what they can and his teacher regularly talks to us about ways they and we are managing things for him. His sensory issues seem to be increasing - where before he was a picky eater, he is refusing more and more foods he used to like, always has to have the same brand of the things he will eat, and has said he is ‘scared’ of eating something he doesn’t like. He now only wants to wear jogging bottoms, as other trousers are uncomfortable and not flexible enough. The last time he wore a different type of trousers he started screaming and crying, saying that they were hurting him, took them off and wouldn’t put any trousers back on (we didn’t push him to, as it was tea time and we didn’t need to go out) I checked the trousers, there was nothing sharp or rough in them, but the place he said hurt was where the seam was, although I couldnt feel the seam. Since then he has only worn his school uniform and soft jogging bottoms. Labels don’t seem to bother him, but he won’t wear socks when they get a bit old and less stretchy. He’s very reluctant to go out anywhere, and sometimes this will trigger meltdowns - the other day he had a big one because we decided to go out for lunch and to soft play (he eventually calmed down, we went, and he had a fabulous time). He has developed an aversion to certain words (blood and death, and any words related to them). Kids at school have noticed and have started saying them to get a reaction.
I have a feeling I know the answer, but would like opinions on what to do. Do we go with it and accept that this is him, or should we try to help him stop things getting worse? He needs new trousers, as he has grown out of a lot of them - do we just get the soft jogging bottoms he favours or try to get him to wear other types sometimes? Do we let him decide what he will and won’t eat, or should we keep pushing him to try new things? My instinct is that we need to pick our battles - so long as he’ll still wear his school uniform the trousers don’t really matter, so I’m happy to go with it, food wise so long as he’s eating something that resembles a balanced diet it doesn’t really matter if he no longer eats peas or bananas. We do, however, have to go out, and as he has a little sister, he can’t always have his way. This is one of the hardest things as we are not having much success with managing his meltdowns - we have talked about ways for him to calm himself down, but he goes from nothing to meltdown so quickly, by the time we realise it’s happening it’s too late for anything to help and we just have to ride it out. With the word thing, we’ve made it clear he can’t avoid them and we will say the words if appropriate to the conversation, but he has come up with ways to deal with it - he spells the words instead of saying them himself, and if he hears them, he says our dog’s name to calm himself down.
does it sound like we are doing ok? Does anyone have any advice on how we can do better?
It sounds like you're doing a great job so far! You're caring, learning and working to understand.
I can only give you my own perspective, as an autistic adult.
Regarding the clothes, what damage is he doing asking for jogging bottoms? That's the perspective, I think. They're available to buy relatively easily and cheaply, and he's not harming anyone by wearing them, so there is really no need to feel like he should wear different types of trousers. It honestly makes no difference, at his age, whether he wears jogging bottoms or jeans in his free time. As an adult he may need to wear suits, or particular types of clothing, at certain times, but will still be able to wear jogging bottoms when he's not at work or a formal event. And as an adult, he'll naturally have developed coping mechanisms as well as a mature understanding of which textures he can't handle, and will have time to source his own suitable clothing.
As an adult, I can assure you that no amount of forcing me to try food/drink that I couldn't consume would actually encourage me to do so. I'm 30 and still haven't had a cup of water in my life, despite various times making myself very ill when there weren't alternatives. I would work on a balanced diet as best you can. Again, as he grows he may open up his own eating habits again.
He's around the age where autistic traits can begin to develop a lot more. Until I was 6 or 7 I was still relatively good at matching my peers in social settings, and coping with certain texture and foods, but after this age things quickly progressed. I found that this became progressively worse from then through the teenage years and into early adulthood, then improved.
You're right that some issues are bigger. He does need to go out, and be a part of family life, but I think it's important to balance this with his needs. When you go out, scout out the quiet places that he will be able to hide away. If it all becomes too much, lead him to one of these places for some time to calm down. I tend to look for seats in quiet and sheltered areas, or even corners of rooms that people don't tend to go in. Alternatively I've been known at a push to avoid meltdowns by locking myself in toilet cubicles or going into changing rooms and pretending to try on clothes.
At the moment, you say that he goes from nothing to meltdown before you can react. This isn't likely to be the case. It will probably have been building up for some time, but you're not psychic and he's not going to tell you - even if (and that's a big if) he can identify the build up himself. Over time you may learn to recognise his triggers and things that will be difficult for him. They're not always what you expect, but if you can stay attentive you may be able to give him time to calm down before he reaches a full meltdown. By 'not always what you expect', I'll give you a recent example of my own. I was going out with my husband and daughter. I got into the car. My neighbour came over to chat to us briefly, which I hadn't been expecting. I managed this without any outward sign of how upsetting this change was for me. We went out, did a few other things, and then I had a meltdown that seemed to come out of the blue. It wasn't. It had been building up since my neighbour spoke to me and caused a change in how I expected the morning to go, but nobody else would have known that. As an adult, I can express that. It's less likely that your son would be able to identify a trigger, especially one that took place hours ago. So, your job might be to be incredibly attentive to every moment and to learn what might cause issues, which is a very difficult task.
Thank you, your perspective is really valuable, and interesting to know things got worse for you around the same age. And encouraging that eventually they got better!
I’m inclined to agree on the trousers, my only concern is if it would make him more inclined to refuse his school trousers, or have issues in the future if he needs to wear a suit etc. I guess I should probably stop worrying about issues that haven’t even happened yet, and focus on the ones which have!
I was an extremely picky eater as a child, and actually remember feeling a similar ‘fear’ to what my son has described, and agree I couldn’t have been forced to eat anything, and have never tried to force my children either. But my parents simply gave up and didn’t even offer or encourage different foods, and I wonder if my eating (which eventually improved as an adult) would have been better sooner if they had. For now he is happy to just leave the stuff he won’t eat on his plate, so I just put a small amount on there and don’t make a big deal of it.
I expect you’re right about the build up to a melt down, as the apparent trigger is ofen something which, on a different day, caused no problem at all. We just can’t seem to recognise it’s happening until it’s too late. Perhaps a diary of his days might help.
thank you again for your reply x