It started as a soft whisper deep within my heart.
Something is different. You know something is going on. Why doesn’t he look at you? Shouldn’t he seem more connected to you? Are all boys like this? If you were a better mom you’d know.
I ignored these whispers for months, focusing on play dates, decorating the nursery for baby boy number two, planning a family vacation and telling myself that he would catch up.
Boys develop later than girls, I told myself. He will talk. He’s introspective. He’s shy. He’s just being stubborn. But I blamed myself. Did I not read to him enough? Was I reading him the wrong kind of books? Maybe I should have taught him sign language as a baby. I knew I should have bought the organic baby food. It’s all that listening to Lady Gaga and not Mozart. I should have signed him up for baby art classes instead of baby gym. It’s all my fault. The guilt was like an ocean. And I was sinking. Fast.
Months passed. That little voice in my heart traveled to my head. He’s still not talking. He doesn’t look me in the eyes. He doesn’t respond to his name. He has trouble expressing emotion. He seems to look right through me sometimes. He walks on his toes. He flaps his arms and spins in circles when he’s excited. Something is different. Autism. You know it’s autism. You were a teacher before he was born, remember? You know the signs. Quit ignoring them.
I called a local child psychologist. I’d like to make an appointment for my son. He just turned two. I think he has autism. Autism. Saying it out loud felt like a million bricks had been stacked on my mommy heart. I made an appointment, hung up, curled into a ball on the couch and cried. My baby. My firstborn. Autism. What did I do? What didn’t I do? Why me? Why us? My baby!
Time passed. We were happy. We were good parents. We celebrated his second birthday. Newborn brother came into the world with such fury he was nearly born in the car on the way to the hospital. Life was good. Great, in fact. The waves of my guilt ocean slowly subsided and the bricks on my heart lifted one by one.
Two months later, I sat with my husband on an uncomfortable couch, with our newborn sleeping between us and our toddler at home with his babysitter. Across a huge mahogany desk was a woman who needed to be chosen as the next person featured on What Not To Wear. She was so serious. So abrupt. So nonchalant. So unphased that her words would change my world forever. Based on everything we discussed, the tests we completed, surveys from his teachers and speech therapist and observing him here in the office I can say with confidence that your son has moderate autism. The tests are conclusive.
10:42AM on a sunny Monday morning and my whole world was changed. Our family changed. And you know what? It changed for the better. At 10:41am I might not have believed that, but it’s true.
The guilt has been erased. I didn’t cause this. No one did. Bye, bye guilt ocean. See ya never, bricks on my heart.
We now have understanding about why my sweet son is the way he is. He is different. And that’s alright. My son has Autism. And without autism he wouldn’t be….well, him. He’s silly. He loves to tickle and wrestle with daddy before bed. He loves to play outside and explore nature. He loves Elmo videos on YouTube. He loves music and dances at school with no inhibitions.
Yesterday, we were at Target and he pulled my face into his hands and gave me a big slobbery kiss. You might take that for granted with your child. But for me, that is progress. And connection. And amazing. That’s something I only prayed for months ago. And I wasn’t even the least bit ashamed that I started crying right there by the discounted Halloween costumes. He made me a mommy. He’s teaching me to be the woman and mommy I want to be. And I wouldn’t trade him for the world.
Autism doesn’t change that. It doesn’t change anything.
Related post: A Letter to the New Autism Parent