People often comment these days how fast Munchkin responds to her name... this wasn't always the case. As with the majority of children on the autism spectrum, this was one of the first red flags that was raised with her. You could call and call her name to no response. I tried changing the tone and the pitch of my voice to grab her attention... zilch. I may as well have been talking to the kitchen wall (which I must admit, has had a fair bit of one way conversation over the years!)
I spent countless hours, days and weeks trying to teach my little girl her name, and to respond to it. All the usual tricks and lessons were tried... mirrors, photographs, videos etc and slowly she started to respond on occasion. Every night, our routine after dressing for bed, washing teeth and saying goodnight to her brother and sister we would stand in front of the bathroom mirror and I would say "Who's that?... Its Mummy"... and "Who's that?... Its Charlie." This was repeated every time we passed a mirror, or even just a shiny reflection in a window and I'm sure that I attracted strange looks from passersbys at times. Like so many other things I was trying to teach her, an opportunity to teach missed was an opportunity lost. Life was a series of prompts and knowing when to fade them out!
The day that sticks in my memory as a pivotal turning point, and making me realise that answering to her name was top of my priority list was the day she made my heart pound with terrorising fear. As with many children, my daughter is a descendant of Houdini... There is little that can contain her if she decides to escape. On many occasions, she has managed to give me the slip at home and I will find her testing windows and doors. From a very early age, she would scope a room as soon as we entered it, mentally clocking up the escape routes! Our home is typical of many families I know where it is under lockdown constantly. Doors and windows must be locked at all times, and I have constructed a "safe zone" at the rear of the house where there is a combination lock on the back gate so that I can at least boil a kettle without keeping her within my sights. I still don't trust her for a second as when she's a little older, she'll be up and over that fence before you can blink!
The day in question however, we were visiting a friend and her son. She also has a "safe area" at the back of her house as it's just been built, the acre of land its on has not been landscaped and backs out onto a main road. Her fences are slightly lower than mine so I was mindful of being on higher alert than usual. We locked the doors to all the rooms, only leaving the sitting room, a bedroom, the kitchen and play area accessible... The two kids were happily pottering around and keeping themselves occupied. Every few minutes we would check to make sure that they were ok and that Munchkin wasn't eating anything odd, like the charcoal from their fireplace...
I sat drinking a coffee and realised it was very quiet in the sitting room so went to check the kids. My friends son was sitting quietly watching television, but there was no sign of Munchkin. I checked the bedroom but she wasn't there. Out to the play area and once again it was empty. I started to get that panicky feeling in my chest. I ran back inside and started calling her name again.. over and over... My friend was searching in the bedroom, under the bed, in the wardrobe calling out constantly. I started shouting her name and checked the sitting room once again.. She was GONE!! Outside we ran, abandoning my friends newborn son on the kitchen floor tearing through the overgrown garden shouting, the fear evident in both our voices now. She ran down the lane towards the main road, while I headed to the back of the brush and the little gap in the hedgerow where cars were whizzing past. There was no sign of her at all. Tears were flowing now and it was all out panic stations. My mind went where no mothers mind should ever go and I ran back into the house, ready to call the Gardai (police). We did one more check of the house shouting frantically her name and there was no sound at all. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move in the corner of the sitting room.... I ran over and pulled the lid off this little plastic crate, barely big enough for a cat and there she was, all squashed in with the lid pulled over. I cried and shook with relief that she was safe and unharmed but I'll be honest, the shock of that day will stay with me for many years to come. THAT was the day that answering to her name became my primary focus.
Nowadays, as soon as I say her name, she replies quickly and firmly "yes!"
I have thought of this day a lot over the last week, especially in light of the story of Aisling Symes, the little angel whos parents have to deal with the overwhelming loss of their daughter. My thoughts are with them xxx