In what feels like the blink of an eye, a decade has passed and today you’re 10 years old. I know all parents say it, but really, where does the time go?
It seems like only yesterday that you came into our world, 7 weeks earlier than you were supposed to. You’d already given us a scare for the few months before that, we knew you would be coming early. For the first few days you were alive you scared us even more by going into intensive care, but you soon recovered, and at 10 days old you were coming home.
Last night I sat up looking at old photos of you. It took a while, there was 10 years worth to get through! So many memories, so many happy and sad times came flooding back into my mind. So much has changed, and yet so much is exactly the same.
When I look back at the early photos I remember the hopes and dreams I had for you, just like any father does. The fun we were going to have learning to play football, tennis, riding a bike. The fun times at the park, the holidays, the days out touring the sights of London. The family parties we’d go to, the friends you’d make, the books we’d read, and the films we’d see at the cinema. The endless possibilities that lay ahead of you, and how determined I was to help you achieve whatever you wanted.
But, life had other plans for you, and when you were 18 months old you received your autism diagnosis. It wasn’t a surprise to us, not that we really understood what that word meant. We just knew that you weren’t keeping up with the other children your age, and you seemed to get upset a lot and we didn’t know why.
For the next few years we tried to learn more about what this new 6-letter word that had come into our lives actually meant. Learn more about how we could help you develop, just like any other kid.
The photos I looked at made the memories come flooding back. There’s lot’s of pictures of you smiling, so there were definitely happy times. That smile captivated everyone you met, and it still does. It can make people want to do anything and everything for you. I wish I had that smile
We tried different therapies with you to try and help you develop. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, Audio Integration Therapy, Son-Rise, and different diets. A lot of the time you seemed distant, off in your own world. We wanted to find ways to help you communicate, and feel comfortable in the company of others.
You managed 18 months at nursery, going a few times a week, and whilst you were happy most of the time, you didn’t really enjoy being around the other children.
Soon it was time to go to school, and we tried so hard to find the right place for you. One that would help you grow, but at the same time be focused on giving you the care that you need. It’s scary sending your child off to school when they’re unable to tell you about their day, or how they’re feeling. But I know we made the right choice. They love you just as much as we do, and are just as proud.
When I got to the photos of that time, from around 5-8 years old, I noticed there’s a lot less of them. I think those years were when you were the most unhappy. There wasn’t as many opportunities to take photos of happy memories back then.
To be honest I can’t remember much of it either. Maybe I’ve tried to block it out. We were surviving on 3-4 hours sleep every night, and huge chunks of your day were made up of you self-harming. Those were the heart-breaking years.
Watching you drop to and bounce on your knees, regardless of the floor surface. Seeing you slam your toes into the floor. Trying to reason with you as you slapped and punched yourself in the face. Desperately try to prevent you from jumping off the sofa knees first. Those years tore me apart.
My job as a dad was to look after you, protect you from harm, yet every day you were doing this to yourself, over and over and over. I felt like a complete failure, why couldn’t I fix whatever was wrong? Seeing you so unhappy every day was like torture
I cried a lot back then. So did your mum, and unfortunately so did you. It felt like groundhog day, with no way out. Don’t get me wrong, you had some happy moments, of course you did. But none of them could make up for seeing you so upset, so often.
Then, as I keep scrolling through the photos, the quantity of them starts to increase again. From about 2 years ago, from when you was 8. That summer there was a lot of changes that took place, at school and at home, and the combination of which started to make a difference.
One of my happiest memories is when I took you on holiday to Suffolk for a week. Things were as challenging for you as they had ever been, and those first few days you had some epic, violent meltdowns. But gradually, day by day, there were more smiles. More happy times. Less outbursts. There’s some lovely photos from that trip.
When we came back you started to spend half of your week with your mum, and half of your week with me. It meant you were no longer living with your brother, and I know that’s made things easier for you. As much as I’d love you two to be together, I know how anxious he makes you, and how you both really need 1-1 care.
You changed class at school too, being around different children seemed to help. Being less anxious also meant you started to sleep better too. You’ve gone from falling asleep past midnight and up all night, to asleep by 10. Now I have to drag you out of bed in the morning. Sleep helps you. It helps everyone else too.
The photos of the last 2 years are full of smiles. There’s so many happy memories within them. Our trips to the sensory room. The countless hours we’ve spent on the trampoline. Dancing to your favourite songs together, flapping whilst on your iPad. Playing football in the park, swimming, being able to walk along the street together, happy. The numerous McDonald’s trips, going out on a boat, or lazing in bed together taking selfies.
Then there’s the photos and videos I see of you at school, completing simple, independent tasks, smiling all the time. Carrying your lunch back from the service hatch to your table and chair. Requesting things from your teachers. Sitting in the lunch hall, not bothered by the sounds that used to cause so many meltdowns. Sitting at a desk working with other children, not having to sit alone all of the time. And most of all, just seeing you interact with your classmates, playing, in your own way, but playing all the same.
There’s still a lot to work on, but there always is. There may be no words yet, maybe there never will be, but we understand each other. We find ways to communicate, your eyes tell me just as much as any words ever could. Love needs no words.
Each day your world opens up a tiny bit more. You’re a little less anxious, a little more open to others, a little more adventurous in what you do. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you.
You’ve taught me so much over the last 10 years. How to be more understanding, more accepting of others, and the true meaning of unconditional love. You’ve made me really stop and appreciate the simple things in life. Opened my eyes to so much. You have made me a better person.
Ten years ago I would never have imagined our lives would be how they are today. But that’s ok. The hard times we’ve been through simply make the good times even better. When I think about the transformation you’ve made, the journey you’ve been on, I truly couldn’t be any prouder.
I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years hold for you, and I’ll make sure there’ll be plenty more photographs to capture the memories. Happy Birthday x