Jingles was cancelled yesterday due to a lack of hall to hold it in, so we went to a local indoor play centre for the morning instead. We met up with three of the NCT ladies and their boys, plus when I arrived I spotted another friend with her little girl too.
Or so I thought!
The boy is often better playing on a one to one basis. I know that. But it does him good to mix in bigger groups and he does do well at Jingles and at gym club so I wasn't unduly worried.
He took a little while to get used to the cavernous warehouse that is Play-2-Day and seemed slightly overwhelmed. He's been there before but ages ago so I thought this might happen. It happened last time. He takes time to adjust to some new surroundings, especially big noisy rooms. Well he doesn't go to nursery yet so I can see why.
He played. He ran around. He went off on his own and then he'd check where I was. He laughed at peek a boo with me in the Little Tikes play house. He ran headlong into a little girl and they both cried. He melted down at toys that didn't quite do what he wanted them to. He obsessed about the big fire engine and police car in the area for older children. He wasn't sure if he liked the ball pit or not! He had a drink and two lots of snacks. He wouldn't sit still for long. He took himself off on his own and sat in the Peppa Pig ride several times!
He was generally, the boy!
Maybe I'm just used to him but I didn't think anything of it.
We'd been there about an hour and a half when a lady I didn't know approached me.
"I hope you don't mind me asking but is your little boy autistic?" she said
"No!" I replied. I was completely gob smacked!
"It's just that my son is eight and has just been diagnosed with autism and I recognise some of the early signs in your little boy"
For all my confidence coaching and new found self assurance I completed crumbled. Tears welled up in my eyes and when asked if I minded her bringing it up I said no it was fine.
Of course it wasn't fine. She was a complete stranger and it was bloody rude to be brutally honest but I didn't say a word.
And it was this that annoyed me about the situation the most. My complete inability to assert myself!
She went on to talk about her children, one has ADHD the other autism and she had two others as well! She said she'd been watching my boy for a while and he seemed stressed in social situations and switched quickly from perfectly happy to a complete tantrum.
Well love you want to keep an eye on your own kids and stop watching mine thank you very much.
Did I say that? Did I hell. I think I said something weak and non committal like "I see".
I was crestfallen. You see I don't believe the boy is autistic. And believe me I was up at 4 am this morning, unable to sleep researching it on the internet! I think he's a toddler who is full of energy and personality. However, much like hubby and myself when we were little, he likes to take himself out of crowds and have his own space, particularly when he's not familiar with the setting.
The reason I was so upset, apart from not speaking my mind, was that I felt like the worst mother in the world. Was my boy so badly behaved that a complete stranger mistook his personality for autism?
Don't get me wrong, if he is autistic, and I will go and speak to a health visitor now I'm so shaken up by it all, I won't be ashamed. It's nothing to be ashamed of. I'll be scared out of my mind. I'll feel anger and resent and lots of selfish emotions like how the hell will I cope. I'll feel terrible that the boy may not fulfil his full potential. But I would never be ashamed.
I'm just angry at myself for not asserting myself more.
The woman carried on even though I had turned away, partly to try and compose myself and partly to just get away from her.
"The doctors said the reason my son was late walking and talking was because he has two older sisters and they did everything for him" she carried on.
Hubby has three older sisters. He was very late talking. He didn't speak until he was three and had to go and see a speech therapist when he was a school so I completely got what she was saying.
But the boy wasn't late walking and certainly not talking. Given Hubby's problems with speech as a toddler we've been really pleased with how the boy's language is progressing.
Then it suddenly occurred to me! The boy is tall. Very tall. Hubby is 6 foot 4 inches so he was always going to be.
"Well my son wasn't late doing either" I said much more assertively. "He's only 20 months old you know. He's like any other little one who is nearly two. He has tantrums".
"Oh. He looks a lot older. My little girl is two and quarter and he's far more advanced than her" she back peddled.
Well, if his speech is more advanced than your two year old he's hardly bloody autistic then is he!
But again I didn't say it.
She sloped away without another word and shortly afterwards left.
I told the girls what had happened. They were, as always the amazing support network they always are but I was upset, troubled and frankly pissed off.
We decided three things:
1) Due to his height the boy looks about 2 and a half. I may well be plagued with misunderstandings for as long as he seems about a year older than he actually is!
2) I have a neon sign on my head that says "Bring your troubles to me. I'm a nice person. I'm as soft as lights and I'll take your problems on for you".
3) Some people try and make themselves feel better by offloading their woes onto others.
And I think that was what it was. Her son had just been diagnosed with autism and she was searching for a kindred spirit. Another lost soul. Maybe I just give off vulnerable "I don't know what the hell I'm doing come and make me feel worse about it" vibes!
One of my fellow blogger Crystal Jigsaw has an autistic daughter and writes an honest, moving and very funny blog about the daily life of bringing up an autistic child.
She is inspiring, almost always cheerful and constantly proud and amazed at her beautiful daughter and they way she looks at life.
Maybe I should've told this lady about Crystal? Because she certainly wouldn't have minced her words!