I Get the Blame for My Son's Foulmouthed, Bullying Behaviour but It Took Me Years of Anguish to Discover It's All Down to Autism

Daily Mail (London), August 17, 1999 | Go to article overview

I Get the Blame for My Son's Foulmouthed, Bullying Behaviour but It Took Me Years of Anguish to Discover It's All Down to Autism


Byline: JILL DAWSON

WHEN Lewis Dawson was excluded from school for bad behaviour, theten-year-old's mother intensified her quest to discover what wascausing his moods - the swearing, bullying and aggression. But whileJill, 37, from London, saw every specialist she could, no onesuggested autism. Here, JILL DAWSON describes the painful battle tounderstand her son - and get the authorities to do so too... THE DAY my son was excluded from school - two months ago - was the worst day of my life. I was too ashamed to attend the meeting at which my partner listened to every lurid misdemeanour that Lewis had recently committed.

There was swearing, throwing a clock at his special needs assistant, sending foul notes to a child's mother, bullying other children daily, using obscenities of the foulest, most explicit kind - and there was more, which my partner, feeling I'd heard plenty over the past few years, restrained himself from repeating.

It was all down in writing, in the letter which followed, in any case.

Now, if I was you reading this, I'd be thinking one of three things: a) that child is deeply unhappy; b) he's being sexually or physically abused; or simply c) what kind of parents can produce such a monster?

This is the kind of parent I am.

I'm lively, extrovert, educated and a writer. I have only one child and I have been with my current partner for nearly three years.

He is an architect - kind, imaginative, patient, fully committed to staying together and taking on the parenting of Lewis.

I left Lewis's father when our son was four. The relationship was not a happy one and, for the past six years, I have believed that the aggression my son showed towards other children and to me, and his difficulty in empathising with others, was due to the angry scenes he witnessed.

I was convinced Lewis had firmly defended himself against ever admitting to feeling pain, yet was compelled to act out that pain.

BY THE same token, I was sure that if he could allow us a glimpse of his vulnerability he would then acknowledge vulnerability in others, and his need to hurt them would disappear.

Searching for this key to Lewis's emotions, he underwent weekly psychotherapy for four years, which stopped only when he began kicking the therapist so hard that I feared for her safety.

Those of you of a liberal persuasion will probably accept this psychodynamic explanation; those of you who believe that children need more discipline and less understanding will wonder why I didn't try the slipper or a stiff boarding school. But how many of you would come up with the truth - that my child has a disorder on the autistic spectrum called Asperger's Syndrome?

Since Lewis was excluded, I have rung every helpline I can find, from Young Minds to the National Autistic Society. Each time someone describes the condition to me, another piece of the jigsaw clicks into place.

Since nursery school, Lewis has had funny, endearing little obsessions and collections - plastic fruit, soaps, fuses, a particular kind of string.

Whenever he was given a present he showed little desire to play with it and every desire to have another one just like it. In one drawer he has 30 notebooks, all unused. In another he has more felt pens than Woolworths, also unused.

These ritualised interests and lack of imaginative play are mentioned many times in books on Asperger's children.

The condition, discovered by Hans Asperger in 1944, was found to affect mostly boys. Some have suggested that it includes exaggerated aspects of a typical masculine personality - obsessions, rote memory, indifference to the fact that you're boring your girlfriend to death.

To diagnose Asperger's Syndrome, a triad of impairments is used: difficulties in peer relationships, particularly in understanding 'theory of mind' (that others have beliefs, feelings and thoughts different from your own); ritualised behaviour and lack of imaginative play; communication problems.

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