Autism in Northern Ireland - The tragedy and the shame

Mickey Keenan, winner of the Society’s Award for Promoting Equality of Opportunity, writes about his work.

18 February 2004

At Colin’s belated 18-months assessment the health visitor expressed a number of concerns about him. He did not respond to the hearing tests, and it was difficult to keep him in the room. The health visitor made reference to hearing loss, possible brain damage, and developmental delay. Over the next two years Colin was seen by dozens of health professionals – community medical officers, audiologists, ear, nose and throat specialists, speech therapists, psychologists, paediatricians, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, and several health visitors. Family life was severely disrupted because it was too much of a battle to take him visiting or shopping. Colin had been assessed as having moderate learning difficulties, and the consultant psychiatrist diagnosed him as having Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD. He had very little language – only about seven or eight words. In nursery school he refused to join in story time or planned activities, preferring solitary repetitive play with toy cars, water and sand. At home he was seldom still and his parents had to lock windows and doors. He did not respond to his name and he slept little.

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