When I look at photos of the small, wrinkled creature whose whole hand was half the length of my index finger, it's sometimes hard not to wonder if we could have pursued a course that would have guaranteed a different outcome. But then I remember everything my wife did: becoming a full-time mother, buying organic food we couldn't afford, organising play dates and constantly reading to my son. She was jokingly nicknamed the 'perfect mother'.
Perhaps the one thing that could have made a difference was if we'd got a diagnosis six years earlier, rather than being labelled by some psychologists as the ineffectual parents of a badly behaved boy (on one occasion, a rather strange German woman, who wore an absurdly revealing top, turned to us and said "Why do you want to medicalise your child? Hiss behaviour is just simple sibling rivalry").
In the face of 'expert opinion', we meekly acquiesced. Perhaps we were just neurotic, middle class parents, over-intellectualising problems that were simply the result of poor parenting. It took many years and a lot of suffering on our son's part before we met a psychiatrist who changed everything.
I feel rather anxious about the next few years, but there are plenty of positives too. My son is a bright, quirky individual with a good sense of humour and a strong moral sense (when his classmates started using 'gay' as a term of abuse, he not only refused to join in, but openly challenged anyone that said it). He will never be part of the crowd and that's no bad thing, but isolation can be debilitating.
As he grows older, my son should find more people like himself and has the potential to lead a fulfilling life, if he can just find his niche. His main challenge is to find a way of functioning in the world of neurotypicals who won't understand why he doesn't want to go on the staff trip to Thorpe Park or attend a two-day seminar in Telford.
In the meantime, we're trying to fill his life with calming, fulfilling activities that will also get him away from the Xbox. That latest idea is 'farm therapy':
It's also very good for adults too. As I brushed the mud off a pony, I felt myself experiencing flow and left feeling more physically and mentally relaxed than I had been for a long time. Why should brushing mud off an animal be so rewarding?
On reflection, I liked the way the pony became very still and seemed to enjoy the brush strokes. I also enjoyed the repetition of the action and the way the coat became increasingly silky as the dirt was brushed out. When it was time to groom the pigs, the snorting and probing snouts added an element of humour too.
The farm was only a mile away, but it felt like another world, far removed from the nonsense of marketing meetings, public relations and rebranding exercises. I'm not sure if my son wants to go back, but if he doesn't I'll go on my own.
Finally, on the theme of nature, I went for a walk up on the Downs today and found something unusual in this puddle: