Rūdolfs

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Rūdolfs

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Latvia

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Latvia

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Autism

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The experience story of Rūdolfs’ dad: life with an autistic son.

It took six years from an ear examination to diagnosis, to dolphin therapy, to a broader vocabulary, and the first expression of strong positive emotions.

When Rūdolfs was born, you went on parental leave and took care of the baby. What was this time like?

Rūdolfs’ mum works in the private – business – sector. Due to various work circumstances, she was unable to spend her parental leave at home, so I spent the time with Rūdolfs. I bow my head to all the women, as I have experienced what it is to be with a small child. Some people think it’s the ultimate holiday, but it’s really not. But the service called me. And when you work in the police, you can’t spend all your time dealing with autism-related matters, so Rūdolfs’ grandmother and grandfather are a big help.

Rudolf was diagnosed with autism at the age of 1.5 years. What was the road to realising what it was?

He started going to a private kindergarten, where we were told that Rūdolfs was not listening and responding. That was the first reason why we started to go for check-ups and look for the cause. No one could say for sure what was to blame. One by one, we visited different specialists – an otolaryngologist, a speech therapist, and others – until we got to a proper psychiatrist who told us it was autism.

We had to change kindergartens because at his previous kindergarten he was sometimes left out by the other children.

“He was a lonely boy with a beating heart and sparkling eyes, but no contact with anyone.”

When we drove to the kindergarten to pick up Rūdis, we felt sorry to see all the children playing while he was standing there all alone. It was a difficult time. But it was also a push to go and fight for Rūdolfs to be a full-fledged member of our society.

In an interview, you said that you want your son to live in a society that accepts him, that doesn’t judge him and sees the person behind the problem.

Sometimes our society is cruel, especially children. They exclude others. The child doesn’t understand why he is being pushed away, he doesn’t understand that he might be a little different. Autistic children cannot express their emotions, but show them in outbursts of aggression, so it is important that people understand that it is not his whim or his temper, it is who he is, he does not know how to express these emotions fully.

Seeing what was happening, we had to move him to a special kindergarten, where there were children with even more severe diagnoses than Rūdis, but there was nothing else we could do. We are moving forward step by step.

What are your observations, has there been progress in our society over time, or do you still face reproach?

People’s attitudes have changed a little, they are more aware of these children. But this is especially evident among the neighbours’ kids. They are also six years old – at first, they tried to reject Rūdis, but with their parents’ explanation, Rūdis was accepted.

Parents have an important role to play and should explain to their children that we are all different, but not better or worse.

That’s right! It is the parents’ responsibility to explain. Parents need to tell their kids at home that someone can be different and should be accepted, not pushed away. Sometimes it may be easier to explain the situation if the child is in a wheelchair, you can see and understand it, but the emotions that come with autism are not accepted by other children.

I think special schools for autistic children should be established, where children’s intelligence level is assessed, indicating whether or not they can try to integrate with healthier children. We need to find the golden mean! Because at the moment, it’s either the child stays in boarding school or is put in a mainstream school. There should be more schools in the middle.

My son has a best friend in kindergarten. I asked why her, and he said: “Because she understands me!” Who is Rūdolfs’ best friend?

(Pointing to himself with tears in his eyes) Dad! One of his older step-brothers is 23 years old, the other is 18. They don’t have that kind of cooperation and contact. They are grown-ups and have their own rhythms of life.

Not only you and your wife, but also your parents play a big role in Rūdolfs’ upbringing.

My parents are former teachers, they put all their energy in. A couple of their former students are doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists. They gave us the contacts of the multifunctional centre for children and young people with autism spectrum disorders Step Up. After kindergarten, my parents take Rūdis to different specialists – ABA therapy, speech therapy, ergotherapy, Montessori programme. We have dogs at home. We have also tried equine therapy. It’s a lot of work.

How did you come to the conclusion that you should take him to dolphin therapy?

I researched what is happening in the world, what works and what doesn’t work. A work colleague who has a child with reduced mobility suggested trying dolphin therapy. They liked it. I decided that we should try it too. I found good reviews for places in Ukraine and Belarus. Belarus was the closest and most convenient option. We applied for a visit, made the call, and went there.

We were supposed to go in May, but with the first wave of Covid, everything fell apart. We postponed the visit until September. Everything was planned and arranged, but the political situation there changed. However, we decided to take the risk and go. We both got in the car and enjoyed a cool ride together. Thanks also to Rūdolfs’ mum and little brother for supporting us on our adventure together.

Rūdolfs wasn’t scared? It’s something new, there are strangers, a deep pool, and big swimming dolphins.

Before the trip, I prepared Rūdis – I showed dolphin therapy videos, how everything works. I motivated him that we would go too. It was fruitful, because it was interesting for him to experience and see it all in real life. He opened up there, every day he had new and unprecedented emotions. I also learned many things on this trip, including to love more…

The first time they put him in the water, you could see that there was a feeling of insecurity and fear, but the coaches (one in the water and two out of the pool) worked with him and motivated him. One of the coaches also spoke Latvian. It all started with a familiarisation game, a ball toss, and fitness exercises in the water. But the way they encouraged him is indescribable! On the first day Rūdolfs was swimming with a swim vest, on the second day – only with armbands, on the third day – without anything! He didn’t even know how to swim before! Now he swims.

What were your observations during the dolphin therapy? Were there any immediate changes?

Day by day you could see Rūdolfs’ face changing, his expression changing. He showed new emotions. He started to talk more, to ask more. It is unbelievable what those people did. As we drove away, it was sad that we were leaving it all behind. But the success was like a push to return there and do more!

“The child changed by days, by hours, by minutes. He didn’t smile in everyday life, he didn’t have big and open emotions, but during the dolphin therapy he opened up.”

The coaches pointed out that the actual result will only be seen in two or three weeks. And they were right! When we came home, the speech therapists praised Rūdolfs, everyone in the kindergarten was shocked and couldn’t understand what happened to him. He is different at home too. He has opened up. He started playing with toys like other children, showing more emotions – I want this, I don’t want that, give me this, let’s go there… Before the dolphin therapy, I tried to get him into roller skating. When we came back, he put the skates on by himself, took the hockey stick in his hands, and skated around the room. In terms of physical development, you can’t tell that he has a problem.

How to strengthen and develop the effect achieved here in Latvia?

The main task is to keep communicating and to keep working through play and exercise. It’s not like we’re playing with cars, no, it’s engaging with the child through play, play in all kinds of circumstances – throwing sticks in the forest… it’s being together, being the main support.

We have resumed equine therapy. Mum takes Rudolf to violin lessons. We also have drums and an electric guitar at home. He loves music. He copies David Garrett. We are offering him everything.

Although this was our first time in dolphin therapy in September, I know we will go there again. Maybe to Odessa, because there are other therapies besides dolphin therapy that children with autism need.

Rūdolfs likes music, sports. What else is he passionate about?

When I was on parental leave, I used to watch hockey, but to get Rūdis to fall asleep, I used to put on some Schlager music. Now he enjoys both playing hockey and playing music. He likes quad biking and cycling. But it was all done one step at a time, so as not scare him. It’s daily work. We should also go fishing together, maybe it won’t work, but we have to go and try.

“The important thing is to get down to the child’s level and work with them!”

He is different every day. One day he’s a musician, the next – a motocross racer, the next – a hockey player. You can’t predict what will happen tomorrow, what he will be like when he wakes up and what he will think.

What have you learned from Rūdolfs so far?

To love. I see his love for me, and I have learned to love truly, without insincerity, without anything…

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