A mother’s take on understanding autism
11.40am, Wednesday 6 February
Marlene walked into her kitchen to prepare lunch for her son. The fingers of her right hand stiffened. She flexed them, but within seconds her hand fell limp at her side.
A primal scream evolved, with tones of a different language, unknown to her. Her son’s carer tried to help, but was unable to understand her new language of foamy gurgles. As she cried out, bubbles of saliva escaped her mouth in slow motion.
“What is wrong?” he asked.
Marlene’s 62 years of knowing let her down today. The words inside her head muddled and disconnected from her tenuous link to speech.
“Shall I call the ambulance…I get your sister?”
She tried to tell him with her eyes. But the sounds that came out from her misshapen mouth were again more like this new language that only she could understand.
“I’m habong a poak!”
Her son’s carer ran to get her sister and the entire incident lasted about 15 minutes. Yet in moments, Marlene realised that she needed to make some kind of physical connection with her disobedient right arm, which had remained lifeless and indisposed by her side.
Marlene held the lifeless limb up above her head and pumped it, up and down, to restore its blood supply until it returned to normal function. The newness of her condition brought inner perspective, not only of her own mortality, but the vulnerability of all. For in the blink of an eye everything may change.
Marlene sat in the chair opposite her vulnerable son, who had laughed a kind of distracting laugh throughout the entire event. She called out his name, but the sounds came out like a jumble of disobedient noises, which mocked her and wrestled her heavy tongue for control. Her persistence had paid off and as she achieved a more familiar tone to his name. She dialled 999.
Paramedics came within minutes and her heart and blood pressure were found to be good. By 12.37pm she had been admitted to hospital, where they diagnosed a minor stroke.
What had been ironic throughout the entire incident, Marlene realised, was that she had uncannily experienced something of the challenges that her autistic son had been undergoing for over 26 years of his life. The complexities of his autistic condition had left him in a world of noises and unfriendly sounds that he had been unable to capture for normal communication – something we all take for granted.