Matthew was born at twenty-four weeks' gestation. I had a difficult pregnancy and was on bed rest in hospital the whole time because my placenta had started to separate. At eighteen weeks I began an early labour and bled profusely and by twenty-four weeks Matthew decided to make his appearance in the world. He weighed 'less than a bag of sugar'. (How many times have those of you who have had premature babies heard that?!)
Matthew progressed in much the same way as any premature baby with the developments and setbacks that are an accepted part of such a tiny baby's life and he eventually came out of the special care unit when he was around five months old. Considering the fact that Matthew was born nearly twenty years ago when technology wasn't quite so advanced, it is remarkable that he survived and has done as well as he has. I will always be indebted to the paediatricians and special care staff that took care of him.
Adjusting his age to take into account his prematurity, Matthew developed well and typically in most ways. When he did learn to walk at around eighteen months old, it was with an unusual and unsteady gait - in fact he had massive difficulties with both gross and fine motor coordination. He found it impossible to run, jump and hop and there was nothing Matthew loathed more than trying to do jigsaws or thread beads - they would invariably be hurled across the room in an angry display of frustration. He was referred to an occupational and physiotherapist and began therapy. By his third birthday Matthew still showed no signs at all of even wanting to speak. He didn't babble and only made odd grunting noises and so was referred to the speech and language therapist. As Matthew was my first child, neither myself nor my husband were unduly worried about his delayed development. After all he was very premature and was a sickly child who suffered from many chest infections. We presumed that his development would catch up eventually.
Matthew did have some unusual ways however. Rather than liking toys, he used to carry a remote control from the television around everywhere with him and wouldn't sleep without it. He loved the colour purple (he still does) to a rather obsessional extent, and liked to rock backwards and forwards for hours, humming to himself. None of this worried me at all as I presumed all children had their little endearing ways. Only the speech delay was a concern, but on Christmas Day Matthew surprised us all. As he sat eating his Christmas dinner (cheese on toast and ice cream - he was very restrictive about his food) shortly after his third birthday, he turned to me and said "Mmm this is nice, this is lovely isn't it". Those were his first words. No babble, no Mummy, no Daddy - just a full sentence. From that moment on Matthew has never stopped talking!
As he grew, however, it became obvious that he had more serious coordination problems. He was always falling and bumping into things. His legs got tired very easily and he needed inserts into special shoes to help his coordination and flat footedness. As he stumbled and tripped through the next couple of years, he underwent a battery of physiotherapy and occupational therapy assessments and was eventually diagnosed as having developmental coordination disorder (DCD) or dyspraxia.
Matthew was very left-sided to the point where he would forget to use, or avoid using, his right side as much as he could. He wrote with his left hand, kicked with his left foot and looked mainly through his left eye. I attributed this to the dyspraxia and as he started to read and write, his left-sidedness was considered to be the reason why he was struggling to do things that other children of his age were doing. When looking at a book he would start at the back and seemingly read backwards. He wrote with perfect mirror writing, starting at the right side and working towards the left. As he got older however, he was still jumbling letters around and having major difficulties grasping even simple spellings and it became obvious that the reading and spelling problems were quite significant. I had had Rachel and Sarah by then and in many ways they seemed to be overtaking him in developmental terms.
Matthew was put on the special educational needs register at school and given extra lessons in spelling and reading, I paid for private lessons in reading and writing, and still things didn't seem to get any better. Eventually dyslexia was suggested and after getting sick of waiting for assessments through the local authorities, I had him assessed privately by a specialist in dyslexia and he was officially diagnosed. I have to say that around this time I was probably Matthew's biggest hindrance. He was my first child so I had no yardstick by which to measure his development. I have never had any difficulties at all with reading and writing - in fact I was able to read perfectly at an extremely young age, even before I went to school. For this reason I found it impossible to understand why Matthew could be taught the same words over and over again and yet spell them a different way each time. Poor Matthew had lesson after lesson in reading and spelling and we paid thousands of pounds to tutors in a bid to force Matthew to do something he just was not capable of doing, not in the way he was being taught anyway. Sorry Mat!
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Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests itself in early childhood and affects the functioning of the brain, primarily in the areas of social interaction and communication. Children with autism look like other children but do not play or behave like other children. They must struggle daily to cope and connect with the world around them.