husband) and I started on what is going to be a long journey, as to why Sam is so different to his peers and if it hadn’t been for my background in swimming teaching, I don’t think I would have been able to cope with what we now think the outcome could be. To be honest, the story starts further back than September 2015, but when Sam was about one and I had invited the health visitor to the house to discuss Luke’s behaviour due to James working away during the working week. It was noted that Sam’s verbal skills were not developing the way they should be and that his speech was limited. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, but by the time he had reached pre-school age, it was clear that Sam would need speech therapy as he had delayed speech.
Fast forward to the autumn term 2015 and the school informs me that Sam is being discharged from NHS speech therapy, even though his speech is still not clear. The reason given is that Sam can make the individual sounds required for speech and therefore cannot be helped any further, the school and I think it is due to NHS cutbacks. This was the second time that Sam has had NHS speech therapy withdrawn, the first time, I ended up going private and I was told by the private speech therapist that Sam should have never been discharged (it was amazing how quickly Sam was put back on the NHS). Sam’s teacher was clearly upset when she told me and quite frankly, I was furious, so I insisted on a reassessment.
In the meantime, there were also grave concerns about Sam’s progress at school and it was suggested that I make an appointment for an Irlens test with the local opticians. I actually ended up making two, one with the optician and one with a specialist Irlens centre in a nearby town, which I had to pay privately. Sam past all tests with flying colours, but a stigmatism was found on one of his eyes at the opticians, so he had to have glasses to correct this. The lady at the Irlens centre, assessed Sam’s behaviour and through our conversation, told me that she thought Sam could be on the Autistic spectrum (her own children were). This opinion was further strengthened when I took Sam to be reassessed by the speech therapist and as the appointment progressed, the lady started looking at Sam as a whole rather than just his speech and language skills. It turned out that the therapist specialises in sociocommunication and works a lot with autistic children and she explained to me that parents and schools quite often cling onto speech therapists because they are only really the health profession that goes into school and if the parents and schools think something is wrong with a particular child, they cling on for dear life as that is the only help that they are receiving. I came away from the appointment with two things; that Sam would be assessed by the therapist in classroom situation and a referral to the community pediatrician.
Over Christmas, I received the questionnaires that had to be filled in by the school and they and myself were certainly geared towards the autistic spectrum. A lot of it, I felt at the time, didn’t apply to Sam and his teachers felt this even more so when they completed their version of the questionnaire (but they have only known him for two academic terms). Slight panic set in though when I received the report assessment from the speech and language therapist going into school to observe Sam. It is truly amazing how much a specialised professional can pick up on within just one session, which the school and myself had quite simply missed. As a swimming teacher, you quite often wonder if a particular child has got some kind of special needs and why hasn’t the parents noticed, but don’t dare mention it to the parents as this would be deemed unprofessional. However, as in mine and Sam’s case, it is behaviour that is normal for Sam, yes it is different from his siblings, but it is all we have ever known and we are not trained in spotting such unordinary traits. The therapist had picked up on more autistic traits than what we had and that prompted me to send an email asking that the fact we had missed out on certain traits be taken into consideration. As once they had been spelt out to us, we couldn’t disagree with the findings.
The stage we are at is that Sam has a fixed date when his case file will be discussed with the community pediatrician and relevant professionals, then hopefully, Sam will be seen in person by said professionals. It is going to be a long haul, but one that I feel that I am prepared for.