Coping with a child with Asperger's

By Thelma Etim
BBC News

Image caption,
There are more than 500,000 people with autism in the UK, according to the National Autistic Society

"There are days when I think I just cannot do it anymore. But then you have to - you are a mum."

The honest admission by Amelie (not her real name) about trying to be a good parent to her son will resonate with other parents of children diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

George (not his real name) will turn six this Christmas.

"Ten is the important number now," said Amelie, who lives in Church ward in Reading, Berkshire. "It was eight before."

A recent Reading Borough Council report revealed the number of children diagnosed with ASD in the town rose from 68 to 186 between 2000 and 2008.

That prompted the council to hold the town's first Autism Awareness Week earlier this month.

Amelie said: "George must have his toast cut up into 10 pieces with chocolate spread before he will eat it.

Repetitive behaviours

"He will give me a list of the things he wants and end his order with, 'please now, please now'."

She added: "Sometimes, for one reason or another, I forget and give him jam but then he cries and runs off shouting that he is not my friend anymore."

Amelie's description of her son's erratic behaviour at breakfast time is a typical characteristic of Asperger syndrome.

People with ASD, which include autism and Asperger's, tend to engage in repetitive behaviours.

They also have problems with social interaction and have poor communication skills.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) says the exact causes of autism are unknown.

When George was diagnosed as having Asperger's at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in April, his 43-year-old single mother felt a sense of relief.

"I used to think it was my fault - that I had been doing something wrong," Amelie said.

"But then I would think I am doing my best.

"It was very upsetting when I got the diagnosis. When I heard the actual words I cried but then I felt relieved."

Amelie describes her son as a "lovely, quirky, interesting little boy" who is "very popular" and "loves trains and collecting postcards and pictures".

But, she says, his demeanour can quickly become severe in response to any sudden changes.

He relies on structure and routine.

'Increasing awareness'

She has now stopped having guests at her home and instead visits her friends alone because of George's inability to share.

"He would not let anybody touch anything and would become tearful and stressed," added the part-time sales assistant.

Image caption,
Some people with autism, like Stephen Wiltshire who featured on the BBC in 2001, display special talents despite having learning difficulties

To avoid such outbursts, she tries to prepare George for change - such as a different route to school or going on holiday - wherever it is possible to do so.

There are more than 500,000 people with autism in the UK - 1 in 100, according to the NAS.

About 20,585 children and young people aged five to 18 live in Reading, according to Office for National Statistics projections for 2010.

The NAS is not alarmed by the sharp rise of ASD cases in the town.

A spokeswoman said: "You would expect about 205 children to have an autism diagnosis in Reading - based on the national 1 in 100 estimate.

"This shows that whilst in itself the increase might look significant, it is an accurate reflection of the increasing awareness and recognition of autism amongst parents and professionals and in line with what we would expect to see."

Tom Madders, head of the society's campaigns, added: "There is some evidence to suggest that autism prevalence may be increasing; however the reasons for this are unclear.

"It is possible it may be down to improved diagnosis, broadening diagnostic criteria, and a greater awareness of autism amongst both health professionals and the general public."

Amelie added: "I do still get frustrated but I welcomed having the diagnosis because I am able to understand why George is the way he is."

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