A mother from Glen Vine is hoping to promote greater understanding of autism ready for World Autism Awareness Day.
Louise Jacob Armstrong, whose five-year-old son, Samuel, suffers from the condition, said she was moved to speak to iomtoday because many onlookers can assume he is simply badly behaved.
‘People can react disapprovingly and it’s hard to be angry with people because when Samuel was diagnosed, I didn’t know what autism was, so I can understand that reaction.
‘It’s hard for people to realise he’s not just a naughty child,’ she said.
Mrs Jacob Armstrong said she and her husband Mark first thought something may be wrong when Samuel was two and a half.
‘I don’t have other children to compare him with and everyone said to us that children all develop differently, but he wasn’t really speaking and speech and communication was hard for him,’ she said.
Aged three, on the suggestion of staff from Marown play group, Samuel was assessed and a few months later a diagnosis of autism was made.
‘It was a big shock,’ said Mrs Jacob Armstrong.
‘For the next 12 months it was a very steep learning curve. But he’s had a lot of help and support from the pre-assessment centre who helped us find the unit at Peel Clothworkers’ School, which has been fantastic.’
Since then, Mrs Jacob Armstrong said their son’s speech had greatly improved but his main problem was now social communication.
‘He can’t cope with a room full of strangers and things like big doors frighten him. He behaves like an angel at home - but he can’t be kept at home all the time.’
Contact with people can be a problem - particularly appointments with doctors, dentists and barbers, for example as well as bright noisy places like the supermarket or sports centre.
‘Autistic children are often very sensitive to sounds and light - things like the sound of the strip lights buzzing overhead, for instance. But he loves water and is very excited by the swimming pool so although that is a place he would naturally hate, he can manage to overcome that.’
Currently Mrs Jacob Armstrong said they were planning to to take Samuel to see a specialist paediatric occupational therapist based in Ireland to help address his fears.
‘The services for Samuel in the Isle of Man have been terrific - I wouldn’t knock them for a moment - it is just this particular occupational therapy we can’t get here. They deal with the sensory side of things, helping to address fear and other issues like food problems, which are common because autistic children are very concerned with texture - more so than taste,’ she said.
‘We want to act quickly to nip things in the bud where possible so they don’t become established in later life,’ she said.
Offering words of encouragement to anyone whose child has an autistism diagnosis, she said: ‘Allow yourself time to accept it and try not to panic. Your child may not encounter the problems you have read about. Your child is unique like any other. The Autistic Spectrum is massive – Albert Einstein was autistic .... stay positive. By all means read everything you can on the Autistic Spectrum but it is even more important to learn about your child - get into their world and understand them.
‘Most autistic children have low self esteem due to their poor level of social communication so encourage them by focusing on what they can do well. Use the National Autistic Society website – it is there to help you. Flexibility is a luxury autistic children and adults do not have.’
World Autism Day is Wednesday, April 2. Parents wanting a private sensory professional off island should email firstname.lastname@example.org