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Foreign language school suspect autism

(7 Posts)
Smorgs Wed 29-Jun-16 14:44:31

We live in France but are British and speak English at home. DS1 (3.5) started French maternelle/pre-school in September. I was advised to see a specialist/school psychologist in March as he was having trouble at school and after observing him over a few days the psychologist has suggested he might have ASD.

It has been a shock as, although he is a pretty wilful child, I never thought there was a serious problem and put any issues down to his age, the jealousy when his younger brother arrived when he was two-years-old and that he started at a busy French school just before he turned three. Oh, and the fact that I'm not a very strict parent. I'm feeling very guilty that maybe I've missed something?

I've been doing some research on ASD and he definitely does have some traits but others that would point to him not being on the spectrum. So, for example, he does not have very strong social skills, he doesn't seem to need the company of other children and will not often seek them out to play with, apart from one older boy we know and, maybe tellingly, another boy in his class who is severely autistic. He tends to be in his own imaginary world a great deal and will happily play with his cars and lorries, dinosaurs and Lego for a long time. He used to find playgroups/singing groups quite challenging and hated circle time. He still struggles to sit down and join in with activities at school. At birthday parties or playdates I will often find him playing alone. The few weeks he started having lunch at school he really played up in the canteen. One thing I find a bit worrying is that he has occasionally started crossing his fingers on one hand; I've only noticed it at mealtimes.

However, his English language skills are pretty strong in my opinion. He started to speak between 18 months and two years, but really took off when he was about two. He uses the correct pronouns and rarely makes grammatical errors. He has very little letter or number recognition though. His imaginative play is very strong and he will often pretend to be a doggy and I take him for 'walks', or a tiger, shark, cat etc. He plays with Playmobil a lot and the different characters go on little adventures where various disasters befall them. He plays with little cars and each one has its own name and they 'talk' to each other. He will use the climbing frame at the playground as an 'ice-cream shop' and serve me and him 'ice-cream cones' in whatever flavour we say they are and pretend to eat them. His gross motor skills are ok, he walked at 15 months, runs and jumps, has good balance, will climb climbing frames although it isn't his favourite thing and has been great on his balance bike since about three. His fine motor skills are good, although he is a very messy eater and often uses his fingers.

I personally think the French language has been a huge barrier to him, and his defence mechanism has been to put himself in his own imaginary world and not listen or engage at school. He is a champion not-listener, even at home. He only goes mornings, but he will go full time from September. But I wonder if I am just ignoring the signs and putting it down to the language barrier? I've spoken to lots of ex pats around here and quite a few have said their children didn't speak the language until the section year of school.

I just feel very confused about it and a bit tearful. It's going to be hard to get him the help he needs if he does have ASD as a foreign student in a French school but it's a bit late to register for a bilingual or English school for September now (there are both very close to us luckily). We've sort of decided to give it one more year in the French system and then review it half way through the year and at the end of the year.

I don't know what I'm asking really - does it sound like he is on the spectrum? How do I find out for sure? Where do I go for advice? I feel a bit lost and it's all new to me! Thank you.

zzzzz Wed 29-Jun-16 16:59:41

When he is playing his imaginary games what happens if you change the script (eg one of the people grows wings and flies, or falls down and gets trapped, or you don't want ice cream at all but would like to come and cook?)

It sounds like he was on the late side reaching milestones and is struggling to manage a second language and the increased demands of school. Honestly? Because autism is such a huge deal in France with a large proportion of kids being sidelined at school I would want to know definitively if it was language or autism creating the barrier to learning. My approach would be to pull out the stops and get him shifted to the English school. Then I would watch for 6 months and decide what I thought. I would be uncomfortable having him assessed for autism in a second language he is not confident in and a school he struggles to engage in.

Imaginosity Wed 29-Jun-16 22:59:02

My child is 6 and has high functioning autism. My DS sounds quite like yours - but, having said that, that doesn't necessarily mean your DS has ASD. I don't want to worry you as I remember being at your stage and feeling so upset.

I remember going through all the ASD signs before DS was diagnosed and spotting some that really sounded like him but some that did not sound like him at all. I feet alarmed and then reassured depending on what I read.

Only an expert will tell you for sure. If you look up sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia and ADHD then it can be quite confusing as much of the criteria can seem to overlap.

My DS is extremely imaginative - more so than other children his age. He loves make believe and day dreaming. If I let him away with it he'd spent most of the day in character pretending to be someone else like a robot or a secret agent. He enjoys games like pretending he has a shop or a factory etc. I like to connect him back to reality at times!

My DS will play with other children provided they are Doug something that interests him. If they do something he has no interest in he drifts off and will happily focus on a toy and forget there is anyone else around.

Is there a process in France for having children assessed? Could you look up an autism support group in your area and talk to someone who might know. Are you staying there long-term

marshallmum Thu 30-Jun-16 15:57:28

Hi OP, we were in France when DS was diagnosed... It's been nearly 4 years now so this may not be up to date, but hopefully some of it is useful. My DS was much more severe at 3.5 than you have described above with your DS, so you may choose to wait and see and/or transfer to an English-speaking school.
If you do want to go down the assessment route... Firstly (as you may have noticed) autism provision /awareness /knowledge in France is still shockingly behind, so you're doing the right thing to do your own research. 3.5yo is still relatively young for a diagnosis in France (average age for a dx is something like 6....).
If you have a good GP (generaliste) go and see them - but be prepared to push for them to refer your DS for evaluation. From what I can remember, the route to dx in France goes through a child psychiatrist (pedopsychiatre), and the mindset is still pretty old fashioned...
If you go to one of the hospitals for assessment / dx - avoid la Pitie Salpetriere as they are/were notorious for the psychiatry-based approach... from what I remember Robert Debre is more behavioural/psychology oriented. Bear in mind we waited 15 months for an appointment at Robert Debre by which point we had left the country. You can also contact the American or British hospitals in Paris. is useful if you speak French - they are an association who work on changing the psychiatry-based mindset in France into a more "rest of the world" view of ASD. - this was an absolute godsend when I was going through the dx process with DS. There are several parents who are members with kids with ASD, who know the French system but also know how to get the best out of it. They have a helpful discussion forum.

i hope this is useful. Good luck!

zzzzz Thu 30-Jun-16 16:02:28

Everything I have read would make me extremely wary of bringing up an autistic child in France.sad. I know not what you are asking but probably better to be aware than not.


Ineedmorepatience Thu 30-Jun-16 17:32:01

I know we are not great at getting it right i this country either but one thing that has come from the new SEND code of practice is that we should be careful when working with children for whom english is an additional language not to assume that they have special needs!

I have worked with many pre school children who do not speak the language of the setting when they arrive and they do need more time and support! I think, if you are worried it might be worth having him assessed but it must be in his first language! It would be very unfair for him to be assessed in french.

Good luck flowers

eskimomama Thu 30-Jun-16 17:54:06

OP I live in France too. I agree with everything with what marshallmum said.
Personally I do not trust any pedopsychiatre, they are either champions of inaction or talking crap. I wouldn't be surprised if they tell you to only speak French to your DS (that's what we were told). Oh and you're never going to be a strict enough parent with them!
I'm surprised to see it was a school psychologist who suggested he might have ASD traits. I don't think they are trained to assess ASD.

A neuropsychologist could be a good and easier way to get an age-related assessment. It won't be a proper diagnosis, but it will give you clues. Also agree with Ineedmorepatience that it would be a good idea to have an assessment done in the UK/in English to compare.

We had to get DD diagnosed privately in Dublin where my DH is from, because nothing was happening in France, it was only wait-and-see-if-something-changes. I translated the report and then we got access to a great speech therapist and OT, and there are more services depending where you live. Insist with the GP and say in the UK you'd get a dx very quickly even if it isn't completely true.

Good luck

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