At nine months, I knew there was something different about my son Cian. I mentioned my concern to my family and friends. I heard different things like: ‘All children develop differently,’ and ‘Boys can be slower developers than girls’. As a mother I listened to this. I did not act on my suspicions until Cian was about 18 months old. I watched him sit on the floor, spinning his bottle and sip cup and flicking any book or magazine he could get his hands on. This is how he played. He did not react to his name being called, he had major problems changing from one activity to another, and he had no language skills.
When Cian was 19 months I acted on my suspicions. I myself was working with children with special needs and I was very fortunate to have him assessed by a psychologist working at the same center in Cork. He agreed to see him very soon—I had been told it could take 3–6 months for him to be assessed.
That day was very sad for me. My husband, Martin, was away working in New York at the time, so my sister Mary came with me for support. The assessment lasted about 40 minutes. Mary left the room and the psychologist spoke to me gently. What I heard was: ‘Your son Cian is delayed by 9–12 months. He is delayed in all areas and definitely in speech.’ At that I did not know what to do. I felt so sad, but also had a sense of relief that I could now understand what was happening.
A programme was set up for Cian for speech therapy, and in time he would get into a pre-school programme. I took him to the speech therapist for a half-hour of one-to-one work each week.
In March of that year I went to New York to visit my husband. While I was there I did some research into the services for children who are delayed. I got in touch with an early intervention service (Therapeutic Inprints) for children from newborn to three years old. The process started very quickly. They came to my home within two days of my phone call and by the end of the week Cian had been assessed in all areas. I was informed that he was delayed in all areas and that he would need speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and also special educational instruction. All of these services were obtainable at home. At this point I knew that I was in the right place and I decided to remain in New York, so that Cian would get a lot of help. He did not get any label or diagnosis at this time.
I then set up an appointment with a psychologist, who diagnosed Cian with autism, when he was two years old. I knew this in my heart myself, but had been unable to admit before then that it was autism. Martin and I were told by the psychologist that Cian was under the PDD Spectrum. She said he was mild to moderate. She spoke gently, explaining that it was not our fault. I don’t think that I will ever forget that day. I was unable to cry then, but have cried a lot since. I have also come to accept that Cian is my little boy who is autistic, but he is very happy, musical and fun to be with.
Cian is now four years old and is in a full-time preschool programme, called Harry Gordon in the Bronx. He’s picked up by bus every morning at 7.50am and brought home again by 3pm. He has an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) programme at home, with a specialist teacher for 10 hours a week.
Cian has made great strides. His language has become more spontaneous and he is learning how to play appropriately. I am so proud of him.
I am glad that I listened to myself and followed through with my suspicions about Cian’s delay. I am also very thankful to the people in Cork and New York who have helped and supported us as a family during this time.