I have recently discovered the reason why Bailey kept hitting his head. Bailey did not have a "parachute reflex". The parachute reflex is when a baby throws their arms forwards, as they fall from sitting position, to stop their head and chest from hitting the ground. When Bailey would begin to fall his arms would remain in the same position, by his side. His constant craving for movement meant that we would see him fall and hit his head up to 15 times a day. The lack of a parachute reflex is now considered to be a key indicator that a child will later be diagnosed with autism.
There are a number of methods of baby spotting for a future diagnosis. The best known is the “Teitelbaum Tilt Test” (TTT). It is named after a husband and wife team, the Teitelbaum’s, who spent two decades observing (and apparently tilting) babies, whilst recording their early motor development. The Teitelbaum’s found a direct correlation between unusual motor development and a diagnosis’ of Aspergers and Autism.
The TTT is very easy to perform by simply holding a six month old baby (or up to a seven year old if you frequent the gym) in the air and slowly tilting the baby 45 degrees to the side. A typical baby will adjust their head to keep it vertical whereas a non-typical baby will not correct their head position. The lack of head movement shows an impairment of the vestibular system, which controls balance. The vestibular system also provides feedback to the brain on sensory processing. The majority of children on the autism spectrum have a Sensory Processing Disorder.
All three of my boys have a sensory processing disorder that I was not aware of until they were diagnosed with Autism. Fortunately as a Mum my main parenting strategy has always been instinct. I knew that my boys would not cope with childcare, so when I had to work, we hired a nanny. When my 14 month old woke every two hours overnight I didn’t control cry him. All he needed was to know was that I was there, and he went back to sleep. Instead of letting him cry it out, we just built a bed next to ours and a simple pat on the back allowed him to go back to sleep.
My instincts told me that my boys needed one on one care and a Mum who was receptive to their plentiful demands, many of which ended up being sensory processing issues. Casey would scream hysterically every time I put the vacuum cleaner on, so I would have to carry him whilst vacuuming. His sensitivity to sound, and accompanying Sensory Processing Disorder, still persists at almost 10 years of age. If I want a few minutes quiet time to myself I just switch on the vacuum and the boys are all instantly in their bedrooms!
There have been some other unexpected bonus’ to having vestibularly challenged kids. Bailey’s lack of a parachute reflex was the inspiration behind my invention of the “Tumbletop”. A cute ladybird design padded helmet that was designed, produced and sold. There are about 500 babies in Japan currently wearing Tumbletops thanks to Bailey’s propensity to falling. At one stage I almost had an entire chain of childcare centers convinced that their babies needed Tumbletops! Almost.
Casey was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder – Aspergers Type when he was four and a half. That is when my education began and my eyes were opened as to what was going on in my little man’s mind. Around the same time I was learning about autism and sensory processing disorder my third son Archie, who was eight months old, started showing signs of sensory dysfunction. Whenever I fed him he would hold my hair. His hair infatuation developed to the extent that he couldn’t go to sleep without stroking my hair, would wake up several times a night to hold my hair and after a while, I was ready to pull out my hair!
Thankfully the two dollar shop had great two dollar wigs, and even though after a few days of Archie's love they would turn into hippy dreadlock wigs, I managed to get my hair back, and some of my sanity. I also came to the resolution very early on that my baby would most likely be an aspie.
Archie’s sensory needs continued and escalated. He hating wearing shoes and socks and when in the pram would constantly take them off. We received many phone calls from places we had visited to come back and collect the labelled shoe they had found. After a while I just gave up on collecting and replacing the shoes and dealt with the scouring looks at my bare footed child from the Grannies instead. The looks were often complimented by comments such as “couldn’t afford shoes for this one hey?” and “aren’t his feet cold?”
Other early signs of autism in our family were Casey’s ability to memorize over 100 different characters from Thomas the Tank Engine at the age of two. This remarkable feat of memory has continued, except it’s now Lego themed. He can pick up any piece of Lego, even one that he received four years ago, and tell you the make, model and who gave it to him. A very handy skill when you have two younger brother Lego enthusiasts to contend with!
As a four year old Casey had unique speech patterns and referred to himself as “we” instead of “I”. His use of pronouns has now been corrected, however he now learns new expressions and language by a form of speech called “echolalia”. Echolalia means he copies what he’s heard and repeats it like a mimic. Casey will watch the same movie hundreds of times and copy the words and expressions. Highly entertaining for him except most of the movies he memorizes are American, and my Australian son now speaks in a very non-Australian accent!
I believe it’s extremely important to raise awareness to recognizing the early signs of autism. Knowing and seeing the signs does not necessarily mean there will be a definitive diagnosis in later years, but it does raise awareness for being tuned into children’s needs. It also provides the verbal ammunition required to educate well-meaning strangers about children with sensory processing disorders.
If I could rewind time and apply what I have been able to learn I would probably have responded to the Grannies with something like: “Wearing shoes and socks causes my son a great deal of discomfort. His sensory processing interprets the texture as hundreds of crawling hairy caterpillars. I can find some caterpillars and demonstrate on you if you like?”
Even if I did have a time machine there are some things I wouldn’t want to change, the main one being having my three aspies.