Traumatic Experiences as a Baby and Autistic behaviours: Habib’s Story
Habib was born with a heart-defect. Aged 3 months, he was in intensive care for several weeks after the operation. His babyhood was overshadowed by his father’s violence towards his mother and abusive relationship with Habib and his older brother.
When I met Habib, he seemed to spend most of his time with his head on the floor crawling round and round the room in circles. He did not talk. He did not play. And there wasn’t much to play with. He was 3 years old. Habib’s mum had left her abusive husband and had moved back to her mum. They had tried to teach Habib to ‘sit properly’. It made him crawl in circles even more. He’d scream when anyone tried to stop him. And then he’d crawl off with his head on the floor again. Mum went to seek help. She got a diagnosis. Autism. What’s that? Did it matter? Could he improve, – get better? I said ‘Who knows? Let’s try.’ We played. Mum got onto the floor and mirrored Habib crawling around the room. Habib stopped to look. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He crawled on. Mum followed like a shadow. He could feel his mum do, what he did and felt. Amazing! He loved it. That’s how it all started to change. They stopped trying to stop him. Mum mirrored him instead, – his crawling, his movements, his sounds. It didn’t take long and the crawling stopped. There were ups and downs and new challenges. We got some recycling things as play materials and symbolic toys for the children to play with. Mum got some help for Habib’s brother, who had been severely traumatised by the father’s neglect and abuse.
When Habib was 5½ , mum complained about a new problem: ‘I don’t know what to do. He is talking non stop all the time! Constantly asking me questions. It is driving me crazy.’ Often she did not know the answers. ‘Mum, mum! Where is that girl going? Who threw that rubbish on the street? Who does the blue car over there belong to?’ We talked about helping Habib to think for himself and to trust in his own mind: ‘I don’t know. What do you think, Habib?’ One day they bumped into his dad in the street: ‘Why did you hit my mum?’, demanded Habib. Later his brother said to him ‘Why didn’t you say it in Bengali? Then he would’ve understood.’ (as their dad doesn’t speak English.)
Now 8 years old, Habib can read and write and loves to go to school, where he is popular and has a best friend. He attends class 3 of a mainstream school, but in English he attends year 4 as he is too advanced for his age-group. His mum now works as a support worker with other families with an autistic child coaching parents to play and teaching them what she learnt herself.
(All names and other identifying details have been changed.)