Don’t Be Afraid of the A Word, Autism
The ‘A’ word…whenever I heard this for the first time, I didn’t really understand what it meant. It was always approached as a hush-hush topic. It was a hush-hush topic until it became apart of my daily life.
My daughter was born on June 6, 2011. She did things right on time according to the developmental timeline. It just seemed so easy with her. Then my son was born 15 months later. He seemed to be moving right along as did his older sister, until we noticed him not developing verbally as others his age. Whenever we brought up this concern to anyone, it was always just shrugged off with the ‘He is a boy.’ and ‘Plus his sister does all the talking for him!’ It seemed to make sense, but something kept telling me it was more than that.
When Brady was about 2 years old, we began to notice how he would shun himself from large group gatherings. These gatherings were not just full of random people. This was family, familiar faces. It was if he got overwhelmed from all the commotion and had to get away from it all. He would run off into another room and shut the door. Of course, we didn’t want him to be rude. We would try our best to bring him out to visit with family. This did not go over well and always resulted in a huge meltdown. Now remember, he is still not verbal. My gut continued to tell me This is not normal.
I hate to use the word normal here, but it is the only way I could describe what was going on in my life. It was what I was used to, what was my normal. My husband and I decided we did not want to wait it out. If Brady were in need of any kind of therapy, why wait? Early intervention has been proven to be successful. At a little over 28 months, Christmas Eve to be exact, we had Brady evaluated by an Early Childhood Therapist. I will never forget how nervous I was, for myself and for Brady. I tried to read every single facial expression the therapist gave in reaction to Brady’s responses. At the end of the evaluation, she told me something that shattered my normal world. Brady had characteristics of an autistic child.
Wait, what?! My son is autistic? She begins to explain to me that autism is something that ranges in its severity. Not every autistic child will behave the same and all will be physically and mentally different. This is where the term ‘autistic spectrum’ comes in to play. My son was on the spectrum, but on the higher end. He was capable of doing most day to day things with no problems. Where he lacked was speech, inability to keep eye contact or engage with anyone for a long period of time, and had a few quirks about needing things to be lined up in a certain order (toys, blocks..). As the therapist left my house, she told me early intervention is key, and for me to get my son into a program now. Being Christmas Eve, I knew I was going to have to wait to talk with anyone. It did not stop me from calling and leaving messages though! As soon as she left, this momma called the therapy center she suggested and left a message. Then I sat down and cried.
I cried. As a parent, it is difficult to be told any news of your child not being 100%, whether it be mentally or physically healthy. We all have this need to keep them safe and their worlds just right and perfect. How was I going to do that for Brady? How do I fix it to make it right for him? I just wanted to fix it. Christmas holidays came and went as my anxiousness grew to speak with someone from the therapy center. I tried to figure out everything I could about autism. Finally, I got a call from the therapy center around the second week of January.
They were calling to let me know that they really wanted to let me into their program, but I was going to have to be on a waiting list. As soon as they had room, they would give me a call. This made me want to cry again. As a mother who wants to fix it and fix it now, this wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear. I gladly accepted the waited list and prayed for answers to a situation I was lost in. A few days later, I received a call telling me that a speech therapist from the therapy center would be able to work with Brady through the Early Intervention Program. BEST NEWS EVER!
I was ready to do whatever was necessary. Again, I had to wait another 2-3 weeks for paperwork to be completed and all the necessary arrangements set up. Finally, Brady’s therapy sessions began. These therapy sessions were not easy for me. Even though they only focused on keeping him engaged and getting him to use words to communicate, it was hard to watch him get frustrated. He wanted to run off and hide, but it was not an option. He had these therapy sessions twice a week. At the beginning of each week, his therapist would hand me a sheet telling me any progress and where he was developmentally. I anxiously waited for this sheet…then one day it was not needed anymore!
When Brady turned 3, he was required to attend classes at the therapy facility instead of at the house. He was now excited about going to these sessions. How far we had come! Day by day, we continued to see improvement. We saw it both in social and verbally. To have him finally acknowledge me as his mother was one of the best feelings in the world! Most parents get giddy for those first words to be spoken by infants, hoping to hear ‘momma’ or ‘dada’. For me, it was a three year old looking at me and saying ‘momma!’
Brady remained in therapy sessions at this facility until he was released aka ‘graduated’. I remember it like it was yesterday…his therapist informed me at the end of May 2016 that he had tested out of the program. Praise God! I knew he still had more catching up to do developmentally as well as verbally, but how far we had come! Once a child who spoke maybe 3-4 words, MAYBE, and did not want to interact with peers now speaking at least 50-100 words and interacting with peers-including strangers. What an accomplishment! For the next year and a half, Brady attend an Early Childhood class at the elementary school down the road. It was a special education class set up similar to a preschool setting. He had speech therapy twice a week as well as all a basic preschool schedule designed just for him.
Brady will be 5 in a few more months and will be starting Kindergarten. I mean, what?! We had intended to hold him back, but his Early Childhood teachers have all told me that he needs to be placed in Kindergarten. Who would have ever thought! He is now a talking machine, class clown, and my little squishy teddy bear. He still has his quirks, but who doesn’t?! He will have his meltdowns from time to time, but he is Brady. He is my beautiful child who showed me that the ‘A’ word is nothing but a word. Nothing scary about it. It doesn’t define him. Brady will always be unique and there is nothing more special than that!