A Solitary Existence

Part of a case study by Xanthia Eftaxias.

Xanthia works full-time with an autistic child as his integration aide. She is also the mother of 7yo Athanasios (Nathan), who is autistic.

Imagine being in an isolated and confusing world where no-one can understand you. Imagine that you have no social skills and don't even know what they are. Imagine that you see everything happening around you but feel detached from it, as though a glass wall was around you. This is the world that a little boy called Nathan is trying to survive in. A strong little boy with blond hair, bright blue eyes and the longest eyelashes you have ever seen. His angelic face and smile penetrates your soul, as you witness his daily struggle to exist in a so-called normal world.

Nathan is a six-year-old boy who has a love of life and a deeper love for animals. He was born by caesarean secction, jaundiced but otherwise healthy. He has three siblings -- Peta, who is ten years old, Billy, who is five and Maria, who is three and Maria, who is just two. Nathan is the second oldest and, in the beginning, most of his behavioral problems were associated with middle child syndrome.

His progress was quite normal until his first hearing assessment at 8.5 months, which he failed. A month later, a second test yielded even worse results. At 12 months Nathan had a third hearing assessment after which his mother was told that he was deaf because of a buildup of fluid in his middle ear, commonly known as glue ear.

At this time, Nathan started to get very sick, with temperatures and sore throats which his doctor diagnosed as tonsillitis. He started to lose weight rapidly and his tonsillitis attacks recurred every four to six weeks. After twelve months and many antibiotics, Nathan underwent a tonsillectomy and had his adenoids removed as well, resulting in Nathan's hearing being restored. Specialists told his family that his speech would develop quickly but this was not to be. After many sessions of speech therapy and subsequent assessments at a communication clinic, Nathan was referred to his local mental health service and was diagnosed autistic.

His lack of communication, social interaction and imaginative play could not be blamed on deafness any more. His limited knowledge of language made it difficult for him to get his message across, causing him frustration and anger which escalated into tantrums and high-pitched, ched, ear-piercing squeals.

He could play beside other children but not together with them, as he didn't like to be touched or to copy their games. He was withdrawn and showed a lack of consideration for other peoples' feelings.

Nathan made only limited eye contact and always grouped such things as colors, sizes, shapes and species. He preferred everything to be lined up and very often resisted change. Nathan loves animals; his ultimate obsession is horses. He chosses to carry a favourite toy horse with him at all times for security.

For three years, Nathan attended an early intervention program and a regular kindergarten. With a behavior modification program and intense speech therapy, not to mention extremely supportive staff, Nathan's progress was fast and steady. During this time, Nathan's first signs of progress were demonstrated and verified. He learned how to relate to others once he allowed them to penetrate his solitary world.

Nathan is now in prep and coping quite well. Even though he has an integration aide by his side, he works most of the time quite independently. All goals that were set for him in the first term have been achieved. He can now count up to five and knows all his shapes and colors. He can even write his name. He continues to have speech therapy and also has three hours each week of English as a Second Language (ESL) to help him ilp him increase his vocabulary.

Being his mother has been a traumatic and educational experience, which has enhanced the strength within me and magnified my perception of life. As I lived in a dream world like most people do throughout life, I suddenly had to face reality. My initial reaction was to block out everything and withdraw into my collapsed world. As I was in denial I realised that Nathan was dependent on me and together we had to aim for a positive future. I began researching into autism and that lead to me taking courses and participating in many seminars. As a result of combined efforts including Nathan's, he is now a happy little boy who can smile, show affection and socially interact with his friends.

Copyright Xanthia Eftaxias.

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