Being bilingual and other fears.

When Antony started nursery earlier this year, a part of me was gearing up for a possible talk from his teacher, simply because I knew my child, I knew the whirlwind he is and I have always known he wasn’t your everyday child. I have always thought he was different…special!

When we were told he might be on the spectrum, I crumbled, though. A bunch of uncertainties and insecurities grew on me. I hated to think ‘I knew something was up’ and wondering whether I should have done something earlier. I started blaming myself, trying to think what I may or may not have done that caused him to be what he was. Had our parenting been poor? Had I done something during my pregnancy that caused him harm? Had I been a bad mum? Why was this happening? Why was this happening to our first born? I wanted to pinpoint the cause of our dilemma so badly.

Since that talk we had at school, our journey for a diagnosis began. I have lost count of the many questions we’ve been asked regarding our son’s behaviour. When we have to explain and go through his array of peculiarities, I can easily point the time and day he did something astonishing or when he had a bad meltdown. I feel my brain is turning into a catalogue where you can find things that trigger meltdowns, methods for coping with X or Y situations, things he likes and dislikes and of course…everything about his ‘Antonysm’, that’s how I call his little world.

Personally, dealing with his speech and communication issues has been one of the toughest experiences I have dealt with in my life. Because of my background in linguistics and keen interest in language acquisition in children, it had always been very important to me to play an active role in the development of my offspring’s speech and communication. I hail from the warm and humid tropics of Central America and so, as a native Spanish speaker, it was also crucial to pass on my mother tongue. Therefore, we decided to bring any children we would have bilingual.

Slowly but surely, we saw little words coming from his mouth in one language then the other language’s would appear soon after. But then, one day, we felt his speech was not developing as fast as other children his age, and there was the ‘he is bilingual, maybe his speech is delayed because of that’ kinda thought. I kept having that nagging feeling that there was more to it than his bilingualism.

I even fell into dark places of not trusting the way I have been bringing him up, where I wondered if being bilingual caused him any delays and I hate myself for falling into that trap, because, deep inside, I don’t think being bilingual is causing him any detriment.
Research on bilingualism in autistic children is scarce; experts haven’t found whether being bilingual is harmful for children with autism. I have been given advice from well meaning people in the past, telling me that perhaps it may be better to speak to Antony only in English, but my gut tells me that I ought to stick to what I have been doing since he was in utero – talk to him in my native language- simply because that is what comes naturally to me.

Antony amazes us. Every time he learns a new word in one language, its counterpart comes soon after and he gets it!
For example, if he wants an apple and he asks me in English, he immediately corrects himself, without being prompted, and goes for ‘manzana’ and it happens the other way round, too. He knows which language to use for the people in his life.

When I was expecting Antony, I looked forward to his first words and little sentences, I looked forward to his first curious questions and those ‘But why?’ moments. And then, as months went by, a delay in his communication skills became more and more apparent, and I became more concerned, wondering what I was doing wrong, why my little boy wasn’t saying yes or no, why it wasn’t until he was reaching his second birthday that he started calling us ‘Mami’ and ‘Daddy’.
I am no speech therapist, but there are moments I wish I was…the moments where I see how frustrated he gets when he can’t let us know what he needs/wants, when his efforts to speak end up in an agitated babbling that turns into meltdown and/or tearful screams. I often struggle to hold back the tears…and fail.

Even though I have got over that initial “shock” of the news, I can’t help but feel worried about the future:
• I wonder how Antony will cope with education and learning…I know he has great potential because I know he is very bright.

•I wonder if he will be able to pursue a career. I keep thinking whether he will get to go to university and study something he loves.

• I wonder whether he’ll be able to find a job that fulfills him and gives him a sense of achievement. I want him to realise he can be useful to society and feel proud of himself for doing so.

• I wonder if he will make friends along the way, if he’ll find people who cherish him and enjoy his company.

•I wonder whether he’ll fall in love, if he’ll find someone who will love him for who he is, with the good and the bad times. I hope he will find true love.

We may go through tough days with him, but we also have some pretty amazing days with him where he surprises us. We can’t stop and complain about our situation. What we have to do is support him along the way, be there for him and give him our unconditional love and patience. My son is a pure soul and I want everyone to know it!

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