FEATURE

Charlie enjoys his trips to the RDA Centre at Reston for riding lessons
Charlie enjoys his trips to the RDA Centre at Reston for riding lessons

A little more understanding and a little less judgment would go a long way to helping families who have a child with autism.

Families have the support of the United Nations General Assembly who passed a resolution for April 2, to be designated World Autism Awareness Day, but while understanding of this disorder of neural development is getting better there is still a long way to go.

Charlie Hamilton with his younger brother Finn

Charlie Hamilton with his younger brother Finn

Impaired social interaction and communication, and repetitive behaviour are indicators that can be picked up before a child is three years old.

Certainly Lauren Hamilton, from Coldstream, was aware that something was not quite right when her son, Charlie, was six months old.

“I got really concerned at 18 months because of his lack of eye contact, lack of speech - there was a lack of imaginery and independent play,” said Lauren.

“I contacted a health visitor but they kept saying he’s still young and there’s time for him to catch up.”

When he was 30 months old Charlie was referred to the Andrew Lang Unit where a team of professionals confirmed he was one of the 700,000 people in this country with autism.

A year of observations followed by a second assessment confirmed Charlie’s non-verbal autism.

Support from the Andrew Lang Unit is on-going and will continue. His family have been told he won’t be able to live independently.

“He’s becoming more aware of himself and his feelings and is having meltdowns because he’s frustrated at not being able to talk,” Lauren explained.

The ipad that local people helped the school to buy for Charlie has helped him communicate but there is still a long way to go.

Now in P3 at Coldstream Primary School, Charlie gets one-to-one support from Ann Coulthard and has done since he started nursery. Lauren can’t praise her enough: “How he has progressed is down to Ann. She’s so in tune with him.”

Autism affects most of Charlie’s senses - smell, touch, sound, taste, speech – and that can make the world a difficult place for him to handle. He wears ear protectors because his hearing is so sensitive noises are much louder to him than they would be to others.

“The simplest things folk take for granted we have to think about and plan,” said Lauren. However, that doesn’t hold either Charlie or his family back. He and his dad Barry were at Murrayfield on Saturday for the last day of the Six Nations rugby and a successful trip to Disney World in America is being repeated again later this year.

“They are way ahead of us over there. Disney World provide ear protectors for the children and buggies for when your child has a meltdown.”

Sleep is something we all take for granted, but it’s the one thing Charlie needs very little of. After four or five hours sleep he can be up and about at 2.30am until bedtime the following evening.

Lauren recently attended a Sleep Scotland workshop, with Scottish Borders Council’s equalities and diversity champion John Greenwell.

Afterwards John said: “The most moving group I have visited has to have been the Sleep Scotland workshop.

“Some of these parents have coped for many years with little or no sleep night after night, but the one thing that shone through was how much they loved their children.

“The message is that early diagnosis is so important and training in our schools to better understand the child and help the parents is vital.

“If anyone reading this sees a mother having difficulty with a child do not assume it’s down to bad parenting. There could be more involved than you think.”