I moved to New Westminster in December of 2008, when my older son was just three months old. I didn’t know at the time that I was mom to a child with special needs. Luckily, there are many resources here in New West for my son and our family. I want to share my experiences with you, so that if you have concerns about your child’s development, you’ll know that there are people here who can help. Because I didn’t know. Not at first.
From the time that he was born, my son was different from other babies. He cried constantly, rarely slept for more than half an hour at a time and had problems with feeding. As he got older, he hit many milestones early, but he had no interest in learning to talk. He also avoided eye contact, he melted down during story time at the library and the concept of pointing eluded him. I started taking him to doctors, but couldn’t seem to get anywhere.
When he was 19 months old, his little brother was born. When I took the baby to visit the Public Health Nurse at the Public Health Unit, I mentioned the concerns I had about my older child. She listened with empathy and then, in a move that forever improved the life of my firstborn, she referred him to the Fraser Health Speech and Hearing Clinic and to the Infant Development Program at the New Westminster Children’s Centre.
The Speech and Hearing Clinic warned me that the waitlist for treatment was nearly a year long, but an assessment could be arranged fairly quickly. It was during the assessment that, for the first time, someone else echoed what I had secretly suspected for months. The Speech Pathologist noticed that my son was displaying many symptoms associated with autism.
The Infant Development Consultant contacted me within a few days as well and immediately set up a home appointment to do an assessment. She arrived with no judgment about my unwashed dishes or piles of laundry. She enquired about the challenges my son and I faced, made observations, interacted with him in a variety of activities and took pages of notes. She pointed out several areas where he was not only meeting developmental expectations, but exceeding them. However, it was clear that he was dramatically developmentally delayed and immediate intervention was needed.
Our Infant Development Consultant came to our home regularly. She gave me easy, accessible activities to do with my son to try to coax him out of his world and into ours. She arranged for play dates at the Children’s Centre with other kids, referred him to occupational therapy and got him seen by a physical therapist.
The official diagnosis of autism came just before my son’s third birthday. A ‘Child and Youth with Special Needs’ Social Worker from the Ministry of Children and Families, located at the Children’s Centre, came to my home during nap time and helped guide me through the daunting task of filling out government forms and selecting appropriate therapy. When a clerical error at the funding unit in Victoria caused delays, she intervened and had the problem resolved immediately.
Around the same time, my son graduated from Infant Development and began working with a Supported Child Development Consultant. She helped find him a spot at a wonderful daycare and arranged for funding for a support worker to help him with the daily challenges he faces.
Because of the many resources that are available here in New Westminster, my son is a happy and well-adjusted three-year-old. His advanced understanding of letters and numbers leaves me in awe and he is now learning to interact with his peers and the world. Because of the support he gets, I no longer fear for his future. It’s looking brighter every day.
The New Westminster Children’s Centre is located at 811 Royal Avenue. They take referrals not just from medical professionals, but from parents themselves. If you have concerns about your child’s development, call them at 604.521.8078 local 318 and ask for either Infant Development (0-3 years) or Supported Child Development (3+ years). They will help you determine if your child meets the criteria to be eligible for services.