When Daniel was about two-and-a-half years old, I took him to a cake shop. He was motivated by sugar as most children are; he never got given it in my house but when he went to his dad’s he did, and all the good work I’d done during the week would be undone in a mouthful at the weekend, which was intensely frustrating. Standing there in this cake shop in Randwick – and I had chosen the quietest one I knew – I’d asked Daniel which cake he would like and he’d predictably pointed to one that was filled with cream and coated in icing.
Andi, our speech language pathologist, had warned me, “You don’t realise this but you’re inhibiting his language by allowing him to point, and by responding to it”. She had to convince me to change my way of looking at this and reconsider how I was going to approach the situation and get my son to talk. She told me I was going to have to stand there for however long it took until he said the word ‘cake’. “Cake is going to be his biggest motivator, and he is more likely to say that word than anything else”. Twenty-two minutes we stood there until he eventually said, “ca”. I paid for the cake, stuffed it in his mouth and got the fuck out of there in floods and floods of tears, because every minute that passed showed me how disabled, how incapacitated, and how backward he was at the age of two-and-a-half. Most two-year-olds can master about a hundred words, and a two-and-a-half-year-old should be able to put words together in phrases. He didn’t even have one word. His assessment report stated that the only functional capability he had at two-and-a-half was his capacity to throw a toy up in the air. Yet two-year-old Nancy in our street was merrily talking about the black cat, which was meowing in the garden. It was unbearable, and back in the early 2000s, we didn’t know very much about autism, we were still considered to be cold refrigerator mothers who’d done something wrong.