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Waldon Teaches

Bishopswood School June 2013







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Understanding UNDERSTANDING

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Walter Solomon

Chris Holland

Mary Jo Middleton

With a foreward by
 
Prof. Colwyn Trevarthen

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Author's preface

1st two pages

Child development

 

 

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© Walter Solomon 2017

 
AUTISM AND UNDERSTANDING
 
1. Early days

1968 – 1972
 

'Does he know he’s in a different garden' ?


In this chapter we trace Robert from birth, through the suspicion that he was not developing in a typical manner; to a series of documented visits to his GP and various specialists; and to the start of his lessons with Dr Geoffrey Waldon.
 
Walter
 
‘Does he know he’s in a different garden'? asked Hannah as we sat in the shrub filled garden of her Knutsford home one glorious summer’s day in early September 1971. Robert was three and a bit, and had thoroughly inspected and flushed all the toilets in the house, and unrolled as many rolls of paper as he could get hold of; and he was now running happily in circles round and round the lawn. He was talking, but not making much sense, and it was clear that this good-looking, sturdy little boy had started life on a different track.
 
I was present at the birth except for the final moments of the forceps delivery and I will never forget the gynaecologist’s impatience as he waited for the anaesthetist to arrive. It seems as though we waited for ever with him saying: ‘Where is he’? ‘Tell him to hurry’. But born he was, marginally underweight, which meant a week’s stay in an incubator. But he and Pamela came home on schedule and I will never forget the pride of that day.
 
Robert was such a good baby. We thought we were blessed. He rarely cried. He went to sleep without complaint. He allowed us to enter and leave his room without protest. Of course these were signs but we were new young parents and did not know what to look for or what we were looking at. He walked late, talked late and failed to create the normal affectionate bond between mother and child. I so well remember Pamela hugging and kissing him and thinking the relationship somehow awkward and unnatural but did not understand that this was her response to Robert’s seeming indifference to her.
 
In actual and terrible fact, he gradually became a nightmare child. He screamed, he had tantrums, he ignored us. He was happy when he was alone, squinting sideways at the world or looking through his fingers, spinning a large multicoloured top, or splashing in the paddling pool. But he never inter-reacted with us, was never able to make any normal human contact. It was as if we, his parents, were just inanimate objects in his incomprehensible world.
 
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Robert was our first baby and it is hard to express the anguish of having such an unresponsive, seemingly so unloving child. In another garden I had dropped in to see friends. Their nine-month baby clutched me, looked into my eyes and made my heart break. Home I sped to Pamela to describe the feeling and to express my fears.
 
Pamela
 
The first few months sped past. At three months he was sleeping through the night and was a model baby. His day was filled with feeding, bathing and playing. I spoke to him all day long, read stories to him, took him shopping and filled his days with a bounty of goodies. He grew and was content.
 
By the time Robert was nine months old I had begun to make friends and I invited a friend over with her six-month-old baby girl. Two things stood out very clearly from this encounter. The little girl behaved incredibly well, whereas Rob screamed nonstop. But the most significant thing was the way this young six-month-old child reacted to her mother and the environment. Not for one instant did the baby’s eyes leave the mother’s face. There was constant eye and body interaction and to my amazement the baby actually put up her hands asking to be carried.
 
I asked Judy if she thought that my nine-month baby was unusual as he had never displayed any reaction to me, but rather treated the world as of no concern or interest to him. He just spent hours watching his hands out of the corner of his eyes, looking at the ceiling continuously and rocking. He was getting to be rather an expert rocker and could move his cradle all over the room.
 
She replied that yes, Robert was rather unusual, and perhaps it would be a good idea to take him to the doctor. I was astounded. I had asked the question expecting her to say: ‘Don’t be silly. All first babies are different yet all first mothers are impatient’.
 
The family doctor at nine months
 
The next day I was at the doctor’s. After waiting a lifetime, during which I repeatedly told myself that I was wasting his time and my money, but all the same wanting to be reassured that there was nothing wrong, we were finally ushered into the surgery.
 
 
‘What appears to be the problem with young Robert'? Dr Casson asked.
 
‘Well’ I began, hesitating to find the right words and trying to control the
emotions that were building up, ‘I just want to make sure that Robert is developing normally’ and I recounted the worries that had arisen after the Judy episode.
 
‘It is always wrong to compare babies’ said the doctor, ‘they differ enormously
at this age, but let’s be looking at the young man’.
 
 
With this I handed Robert over and watched with anxiety as the doctor
performed the routine test for reflexes, gave him a very thorough work-out and
 
 
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