A Parent’s Experience… (Geneviève Paquette)

A parent’s experience…

Excerpt from the allocution of Mrs. Geneviève Paquette at the Benefit Gala of the Fondation Autisme Montréal, on Monday, May 4th
“Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening.  I am extremely happy to be here tonight.  It was a pleasure for me to accept the Foundation’s invitation to talk to you about my life with Gabriel, my son, who turned 12 today, May 4th.  Today, I can tell you that Gabriel is doing better, but we have both come a long way.  Living with autism is not a simple thing.  Gabriel has high-functioning autism.  This means that he can speak and function with an intelligence (IQ) in the average range for children his age and at first glance, he does not seem to have an apparent disability.  This can be the cause of problems, since people expect a lot from him. 

Last fall, I attended a conference which was about a man who tried the reach the summit of Mount Everest.  I was listening to his story and thinking that Gabriel and I had a similar history, although the experience was different.  However, when we have such experiences, the feelings are the same and the questions are the following: “Will we be able to succeed?  Are we going to be O.K. in the end?  At what cost?”  There are also long periods during which we must accept that we will not move forward, but go back before starting to move forward again. 

Gabriel and I are still moving forward and no one can say if we are in the middle of our journey or about to arrive.  Living with autism is complicated and unpredictable.

Gabriel and I have taken this path alone.  His father is deceased and I am a single parent.  However, I would not want to be perceived as a victim or “superwoman”.  I am only a mother.   A mother who loves her children more than anything in the world.  And my journey has many obstacles and challenges along the way. 

First challenge or obstacle: “the desperate search for a diagnosis”.  As parents, we realize that our child is not like the others and we question ourselves.  We then find out that we absolutely need to obtain a diagnosis from a child psychiatrist or else we will not receive any services.  We must answer the needs not only of our child, but also the system.   We think that this is simple, but this process can take months or even years of solicitations and waiting before finally obtaining this diagnosis. 

Then, there is the “school system”.  Those years were characterized, in our case, by Gabriel’s outbursts, but also the relations with the school-teams, which had more or less expertise, depending on the team.  Some teams were efficient, others not so much…  There were big outbursts and when that happened, I had to come and pick up Gabriel from school.  During some of those outbursts, three people were necessary to carry him in the restraint room.  There were also moments during which the school personnel was trying to avoid him when he passed them by in a corridor.  I can also mention a suspension from school which lasted for a month during that period.  I then had to keep him at home, but I work full-time and I am a single mother.  So, in fourth grade, Gabriel still did not know how to read and did not even have the knowledge of a child in first grade and you must remember that we are talking about a child who is clever, verbal and has potential. 

Therefore, this journey was full of painful and difficult events and also conflicts, such as an official complaint against a paragovernmental organization, the hiring of a lawyer and many telephone calls. 

Since the fall of 2007, Gabriel is in therapy.  The change was almost miraculous: no more outbursts, no more medication and Gabriel is doing much better in school.  Indeed, he is now finishing second grade.  However, he still is four years behind and has important limitations with regards to relationships, including with his pears and even the members of his family.

We are working to improve those…  Things are not over.  We are still far from the summit, but I think that this is worth it for the love of a child”. 

Geneviève Paquette
School psychologist at the CSPI (Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Île), mother of two children aged 14 and 12 years old, including Gabriel who has autism and ATEDM’S Vice-President.

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