St Luke's Church, Eccleshill - The Link magazine
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March 2002, Page 1.
Index of articles.
Autism in the news
Many of you will know that my son Neil has an autistic spectrum disorder. It was first picked up in September 2000 when he started at the playgroup at St Luke’s School: when the staff pointed out that Neil did not interact with the other children in the way you’d expect of a child of his age. They lent us a couple of books about autism, and as I read them I instantly realized that they described Neil.
Autism is difficulties in three areas of life: social interaction, communication, and imagination.
• The first sign of Neil’s autism (if I’d recognized it then) was that he never used to point at things to get an adult to look at them. He plays with toys by himself, and isn’t interested in games or sharing with others. When strangers enter the room Neil just ignores them, and when you call his name he doesn’t respond. He will enjoy some joint activities (for instance, rough and tumble play), but he switches you out of his mind as soon as you stop that activity.
• Neil learnt to speak and to sing songs quite well - or so we thought. He learnt “When I survey the wondrous cross” by memory, all four verses, by the age of two-and-a-half (you can tell how I used to sing him to sleep!), and he could tell the story of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” word for word. But if you ask him “Neil, do you want jam or paté?”, he’ll reply “want jam or paté.” This is called “echolalia” - he can repeat words, but using them to communicate is something else entirely. He has only 20 or 30 words with meanings.
• And on imagination, Neil can build towers with bricks. He can count model cows, and line them in rows. He has absolutely no idea of making a field for the cows to live in.
In a way these three areas are all linked: to interact socially or to communicate, you have to be able to imagine what it’s like to be someone else. Neil’s autism is partly his inability to see the world through anyone else’s eyes.
So what caused it? I don’t know. The constant questions in the news this last month have been very painful. I can’t remember Neil having a bad reaction to his MMR vaccinations. But more than one in 200 children now have autistic disorders, compared to less than one in 2,000 ten years ago. We know measles can do dreadful things, and maybe we are discovering that the vaccine can too?
I have no answer to “why?” But what I do have, through Jesus, is an answer to the question of how to live through it. I have one who holds my hand, even if I go through the valley of the shadow of death.
Neil Hartley at Golden Acre Park
(The original article carried no photograph.)
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This web page was last updated on 5th July 2002.