This story is a summary of feedback we received from the parents of a little girl called Lara about their journey through the Autism Assessment process with Key Assets Consulting.
As a parent, I was feeling very lost and to be honest tired and worried. I simply didn’t know where to turn for help. Lara is our only child so we had nothing to compare to but I felt something was different from when she was a baby. Lara’s cries didn’t seem as predictable to understand and she didn’t settle easy. She was sensitive to changes in light, clothing, temperature – travelling with Lara even when it was a small trip proved to be challenging. We knew she was unsettled and struggling but none of the usual parenting advice about settling little ones seemed to work for her.
As time went on it became more noticeable that Lara’s development wasn’t progressing typically. Lara was 3 before she spoke any form of sentences and they were short – but we always treasured her every word. As parents our hearts leapt for joy when she did show signs that her language was developing. But still we worried – Lara didn’t show any interest really in other children unless they were interested in what she loved at the time; regular toys didn’t fascinate her like other children unless they had a display of colours, lights – something to visually excite her. Then she lit up much like the toys did! Music evoked a similar response – I remember we went to a wedding with her when she was three and she seemed to hate all the fuss and hid under the table until the string quartet played. Then she scooted her way over and sat on the floor in front of the musicians and stayed their enthralled swaying, tapping her feet in time to the music. She was only three and yet she looked like she wanted to conduct the musicians – it seemed to transport her to a happy place.
Day to day parenting was rather stressful before we understood Lara’s needs – her sensory sensitivities (which we didn’t understand at the time) meant everyday there were things that overwhelmed her, frightened her and led to ‘meltdowns.’ This happened especially in public places unless it was a very familiar place. Lara didn’t speak much which made it harder for us in the beginning to recognise what she needed. Over time we learnt to read her triggers and signals but until we went for the assessment we felt like amateur detectives – under skilled despite all our love for her.
Lara may not have been very vocal or communicative in typical ways but we soon saw that her drawing skills were miles ahead of other children and this was noticed in her creche. Lara would much prefer to sit and colour and draw and create in silence than to play house or build blocks. I noticed how it calmed her – the more colours she had to explore and express with the more engaged she was – though it was hard to get her to switch activities such was her strength of focus.
Other parents complained to me about their hyper children who couldn’t sit still – we were dealing with the opposite – Lara could sit still for ages once she was doing what she loved best – playing with sounds and colours, patterns and shapes attracted her in everything it seemed. But we couldn’t help her transition without meltdowns or so it was back then.
We read as much as we could and began to wonder if Lara might be autistic – it was a scary thing to consider at first but we were in need of answers so we faced our worries and reached out for help. A friend of mine had their son assessed at the Key Assets clinic and suggested I try there. I can honestly say that from the minute we started our assessment journey, we felt supported. There’s a warmth and an acceptance and care that hits you from the moment you speak with staff on the phone and this filtered through in the clinic. Our psychologist, Paul, showed such understanding and compassion that it brough us huge relief. As parents our thoughts and concerns mattered and we felt we were in the right place for Lara. Along the way we met with Emma our OT, and Alison our SLT as well as the support team. Everyone took time to connect, smile, reassure with Lara and with us. What really helped us was how everyone recognised Lara’s strengths and talents and emphasised how we can support her to thrive using her strengths as the main lens. Even when Lara was disinterested, unsettled or silent the team found a way to reach Lara at her level and to accept her.
The assessment can feel intense and I won’t deny there weren’t wobbles for us as parents along the way – but there was a sense of being held which was comforting – like we weren’t alone in the worry and longing to find the best supports for Lara. We felt hope and a driving passion to do all we can as her parents to make sure she is loved and accepted as she is.
At the end of the process, it was confirmed that Lara is autistic and equally she is awesome! The assessment has helped us to help her grow in so many ways and to nurture her special interests and strengths. We understand her sensory needs better and have learnt to balance the inputs to give her the balance of what she needs day to day – we also learnt how to help her when she needs grounding or regulating supports through using predictable routines, timers, first-then strategies, sensory integration strategies, calm-down spaces and lots and lots of careful planning and visual aids around our house. Lara teaches us every day how being different is something, once understood, to be celebrated.
We are so grateful for the support and genuine care that team at Key Assets showed to us as a family. It gave us a strong foundation to embrace her differences and support her with her developmental needs. It’s what we would wish for any parent about to embark on this difficult journey – it isn’t plain sailing but with the right support the journey and the destination are worth it!
Thank you to everyone at Key Assets for seeing Lara in all her colours!