You are probably wondering what’s so special about a video of a little boy vacuuming the stairs. For sure he is cute and it is heart melting that he is helping out, but why share it here?
Please meet Surpreet, one of my favourite young men! We first met in Spring 2014. He was a very different child then. His mother, Preeti, and I struggled to have a conversation because Surpreet was so agitated. He was around 6 years old and his stimming was so bad he was constantly bouncing up and down and tugging at everything around him. He dribbled, made noises but did not use words, often expressed frustration and avoided eye contact. His lack of response made it hard to know whether he even realised I was addressing him.
So it was that I learned how Surpreet had been diagnosed as high on the autism spectrum. His parents had been told fairly unequivocally not to expect much improvement, and had exhausted many other possibilities in allopathic and complementary care to help their son.
I started to work with him, for around an hour at a time. I always worked at a distance, never face to face. I would do a session, email Preeti feedback and then wait to hear from her. Changes were evident after the very first session. He was calmer, stopped dribbling, and showed more interest in food. The breakthroughs that followed exceeded expectations, and soon he was asking to eat sausages, sleeping through the night and asking for the toilet when he needed it.
Fast forward to 2016. Now when I blow him a kiss, Surpreet giggles, and flashes me a cheeky smile as he waves good bye, making direct eye contact. He loves food. Persuading him to eat had been a chore; now he will want to taste whatever you are eating, as well as clearing his own plate. One of his favourite treats is a family outing for pizza, which is all the more amazing because he can now actually join the family for a meal in a noisy restaurant. Previously he found such environments intolerable.
He has grown not only in inches, but also in his comprehension of the world. He not only knows how to ask for what he wants, he appreciates the complexity of humour and teases even his teachers at school. Yes, he goes to school! He started to use words, and has begun to write.
Preeti was unable to take him to the shops previously; now he goes to school on the bus (on his own!). This summer he enjoyed his first holiday abroad, including site seeing and visiting a chocolate factory. Previously he couldn’t tolerate noise and became agitated and frustrated very quickly, now happily travelling by bus, train, plane and car! He has a best friend at school and has just been moved up a class because his progress has exceeded all expectations. He loves swimming, and started to pack his swimming clothes on a Sunday evening without being prompted, ready for Monday’s swimming class.
All these changes didn’t happen overnight (although some were within days). We have had periods where we have worked together more intensely, and then other times more sporadically, according to Surpreet’s needs, and continue to do so. Throughout, Preeti has remained determined to find what best supports her son. This includes looking after herself better, as well as ensuring Surpreet’s nutrition, exercise, sleep and activities all support his well being. I am so impressed by this young mother’s determination, often in the face of opposition by health/education professionals who doubted her son would progress (and often insisted in their opinion, to the point of demoralising and upsetting her), as well as scepticism from family, friends and community.
Although we continue to work together, our objectives now are different to those in the first sessions. This is no longer just about making life more comfortable for a child who often appeared to be isolated and in extreme distress. Instead it’s more about supporting him so he thrives and realises his full potential, like any other child. He is so bright, intelligent, funny and gentle! I have every expectation he will continue to confound all the expectations attributed to him as child labelled as autistic.
So now you know why this is not just another cute video made by another proud parent. It really is magical that this boy (who only ever used to walk on tip toes), is able to balance this equipment on the stairs, understand the task, appreciate which nozzle works best for which part of the task and be able to attach/detach it accordingly, as he completes the cleaning thoroughly, without supervision. He used to hate the noise of the vacuum; who would have thought this would become one of his favourite ways of helping his mother!
Preeti and I decided to write this piece together because when I asked her to describe what had changed for Surpreet we realised that the list was so long we both struggled to recall all the improvements! I had forgotten how much he used to bounce up and down, and she tells me that, even as she wrote her testimonial, she became quite overwhelmed at realising how far he has come. She recalls so many moments now that she never expected to see, like the second video (below) which captures Surpreet playing quietly and patiently with his sister. Previously he vented his frustrations through aggression and preferred to keep his own company.
We both hope that hearing Surpreet’s story will encourage other parents in a similar situation to remain strong and positive, even when they are exhausted and have no idea what to do next. Amazing, unexpected progress is possible! If ever you doubt that, come back and visit these videos and let Surpreet remind you!