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  • This is Thomas, when he was two and a half years old. This is Thomas when he was still young, and our lives marginally less complicated. This is Thomas before Doctor Who, but after the reflux that blighted his infancy and welded him almost permanently to the red sling that Emily used to carry him about in the summer of 2007, in scenes of attachment parenting that would have warmed the heart and soul of Mayim Balik.

    This is Thomas before the tantrums and the meltdowns. This is Thomas before they took to shutting him in the nursery office to calm him down. This is Thomas before the screaming and the disappearances in supermarkets when his stimulus went into overload. This is Thomas before the ten o'clock bedtimes. This is Thomas before the repeated attempts at potty training and the argument with my parents that dragged out for seven weeks. This is Thomas before the denial and then the assessment and the diagnosis and the acceptance, not in that order. This is Thomas before Miss O and Mrs P and the blessings that have been showered upon us by both.

    This is Thomas before the obsessions with puzzles and road signs and the computer. This is Thomas before he taught himself to read. This is Thomas before we bought the expensive pushchair and the two-seater chariot for the school run. This is Thomas before the white rabbit and the iPod. This is Thomas before he learned to tell us what was wrong. This is Thomas before the word 'autism' became something I dropped in my search engine daily. This is Thomas before we realised things were not right with our son. This is Thomas before we noticed he had no friends. This is Thomas before I learned about eye contact and heightened sensitivity, and the importance of routine and visual reminders. This is Thomas before he risked becoming a label, a battle that still rages within me on a daily basis.

    This is Thomas when he'd only recently stopped using his pacifier as a security blanket. When the complicated and idiosyncratic sentences were just part of normal language development. When Mouse and Hippo would have followed him to the ends of the earth. When I laughed the day he held up a toy aeroplane and made a noise like a fire engine. When the literalism was part of being a toddler instead of part of who he was. This is Thomas after the Isle of Wight, but before the week we lost him on the beaches of Pembrokeshire. This is Thomas when the struggles he faces daily were either not there at all or just invisible.

    This is Thomas, before we knew him. And this is our world, before it became interesting.

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