Atticus’s Story (by Sarah Asquith-Vallance)

Written by Guest Writer

March 2, 2021

“He will be the end of you.” 

A voice rang so crystal clear in my head as I entered into day five of labour but one I had heard for the last nine months. Now was the time to give birth to our little boy, our miracle baby, the child we were told 20 years ago we would never have.

Eight months previously I had been in a car accident and damaged my pelvis and so after many whispered conversations between my medical team, unwanted drugs and exhaustion my husband was asked to sign consent forms for a c- section with general anaesthetic. My dream of giving birth at home, surrounded by my loved ones, in peace and safety was so far removed it was as if I were living someone else’s life.

That was almost a decade ago and within a blink of an eye and a skillful cut of the surgeon’s scalpel my life changed completely, forever. 

Our stunning little boy entered the world with a special light and radiance, a deep knowing of what he needed shone in his eyes, and from day one he had a very clear view of how his life should be. We were on the rollercoaster ride of our lives.

Long before Atticus was born I was a neuroscientist working in neurodiversity and neuroplasticity of the brain. My very first job was a joy and a privilege to work with and learn from autistic children in London’s East End. The way they saw the world and how life was for them just blew me away.

My husband, Andrew, and I subsequently moved back to the stunning Lake District. I set up my own business using brain science to train the brains of entrepreneurs for financial and business success. I loved my work, but once Atticus was born I found that our little boy was needing me so much more than the other mums at the playgroups. 

As a baby he was calm and peaceful, but also a complete boob monster who never napped or slept and woke 6 times a night (and did so until he was almost seven years old.)

He grew into a clingy toddler who only ever wanted to play with me or Andrew. He was disinterested in other children. The park, the wooden blocks and heuristic box on the floor and the walks in the woods were great as long as he didn’t have to interact with other children or be in unfamiliar indoor environments.

During my pregnancy Andrew and I decided we would love to home educate our little boy so for the first four years of Atticus’ life we met up with a very large community of nature loving, home educating families who were caring, open, and had a wonderful listening ear, as I told of the challenges we are experiencing. They could empathise but as far as their experience of parenting went they couldn’t fully understand what we are going through as a family. However, Atticus really took to being with the children and gravitated towards the older ones and it truly was a happy time.

When he was three he also went to a beautiful nursery two mornings a week. Lots of outdoor space and fun toys, but when he went inside he would become so distressed. We put on our detective hats and found he was sensitive to noise, certain lights, proximity to others, smells and tastes. The puzzle of why he only ever wanted to be outside with mama and papa when he was tiny was beginning to make sense.

From the age of two he was very eloquent and constructed full sentences and so when he went to nursery he struggled to make friends his own age. After several weeks of being there and not verbally communicating much he decided he only wanted to speak with the adults and he couldn’t find common ground with the other children. They said “Choo-choo train” he said “Shinkansen Bullet train.” For him it was like they were speaking a different language and he was bored with what they had to say.

Although he was happy being home educated, Atticus had made a great friend at nursery and he loved to be with her. So when it was time to go to school Andrew and I thought it may be possible that he would love it because she was going too. 

How wrong we were! 

Atticus with his mum Sarah

Our little boy who was happy and loving disappeared over night and what appeared was heartbreaking. “Why do you send me to that prison” he would cry over and over. The meltdowns that he had experienced from the age of two became a daily occurrence, his little brain was overwhelmed with the physical environment and restrictive routine of the school system. 

His love of learning left overnight. The child who I thought I would need extra degrees to keep up with was gone. We didn’t know how to get him back.

We looked for support from the NHS and were told there was a 12 week waiting list. No way could he wait that long for help. So he searched the web and found a couple of paediatric psychologists who we hoped could give us the answers and some guidance. Their qualifications and experience were similar but we chose the one who looked like a mummy and she was great with Atticus. Her name was Dr J. and we all loved her.

After 12 sessions, Dr J. sat Andrew and I down and said “I think Atticus is on the autism spectrum.” 

My heart stopped. I had worked with autistic children. He wasn’t like those children. He was extremely bright, funny, articulate, had a phenomenal memory.. “Yes.”she said “That’s his personality, but look deeper.” 

I went through my Mind Movie of his life. 

The problems communicating with peers, the sensory issues, the struggles with reading and writing, the obsessional ‘hot topics’ of train and dinosaurs, reading one page over and over of a book for 8 hours, the lack of eye contact with strangers, no kisses only nose rubs, the need for touch and massage, the food likes and dislikes, the need for a routine that worked for him, transition troubles, the inability to dress himself without legs in arm holes and shoes on the wrong feet, the meltdowns and emotional overload, the anxiety (oh my goodness the anxiety).

It all made sense. I was an autism mama. He was an autistic person.

Once you have met one autistic person you have met one autistic person.

I had to learn to become a special type of parent who not only has to be carer but also advocate and champion for our children.  

Our conversation with Dr J. really brought home the impact this news would have on our lives, his life and us as a family and it took a further 2.5 years for Atticus to get a diagnosis of ASC.

As with any child Atticus’ needs have changed slightly as he is growing up, new challenges appear with each stage of development. Gone are the days of trains (but they do pop back from time to time). Now he is a child of the digital age. He just ‘gets’ technology. He wants to be a theoretical physicist or a NYPD detective.

So what happened to me. Well as I said at the start about the voice “He will be the end of you” and he really was. But, he was also the beginning.

I had to really dig deep and see how I was going to be the best mama I could be for him.

I paused my business for a couple of years until I found how to make all our lives work so we are all happy and all have our needs met.

And on the way I truly fell in love with me being a mama. Atticus made me stronger, I have more empathy, patience, love, compassion and a deep connection and communication with this amazing little boy.

So much so that I now work as a Parent Coach supporting parents of neuro-diverse children, so they too can step into the parent they need to be without losing their own identity. I help them develop a deep connection and communication with their children and bring peace, happiness and harmony into the homes where there was once stress and uncertainty.

There are times when I have to put on the autism mama hat, fill in the paperwork or fight his corner. But I soon take it off again, put it in the draw tucked away until next time. Then he and I are Atticus and mama, an amazing pair who love to read stories, make camps in the woods, light fires, walk in nature for hours, bake cookies and snuggle under blankets on rainy days with hot chocolate.

This is an ongoing love story of a little boy who came to change my world, stole my heart along the way and who knows maybe will uncover the mysteries of the universe in a few years’ time too.

By Sarah Asquith-Vallance, Neuroscientist & Parent Coach

Atticus snow angel

Atticus with his mum Sarah


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