"I didn't know he had autism."
I heard a stranger tell me this months before his diagnosis.
Over the course of 2 weeks, I had 3 different people bring up the word "autism" to me, referring to my son.
I was furious. The first time I heard someone tell me this I left, carrying my son who was kicking and screaming the whole way, out to the car. I would beg him to let me buckle him in his seat belt as he fought it. It would take several minutes, then I would get in the car and just start bawling at the steering wheel.
When I started hearing from others that my son may be autistic, I didn't know what to think. I didn't know what to do. I would think to myself, it's just a toddler thing. It's a phase he is going through, it will get better with time. He was my first child, so I had no other experience. He was your average baby. He ate his food, he was always smiling, he loved mamas cuddles and waved to everyone. Around the 18 months/20 months mark, everything began to change. He would refuse to eat. If it came time to leave and go somewhere, it would be a fight. We would be at the store and a stranger would come up to say hi to him, and he would start screaming and kicking. It got to the point where if anyone would look at him, he would go into a panic. Taking him to play dates was a nightmare. We would often leave shortly after we would arrive. At home, if there was a toy he was playing with, he would not put it down and continue to pick up the next one. Pretty soon he would be juggling 8 or more toys in his hands. Then when he would drop them, he would have a major tantrum. I remember being at a restaurant one day while my mom was in town, and having to leave within 10 minutes because he refused to sit down at the table. I tried to hush his shrieks, but it was impossible. I left feeling absolutely defeated. My mom had to tell me that she also believed autism was a possibility, and we needed to seek help.
When we went to the doctors to ask for advice, he was 2 years old. I remember having to drag him in the doctors office, he always put up an outstanding fight. Luckily my mom was able to go with me and be of assistance. (We were a military family at the time. We lived in Florida and were from California. My husband was always working long hours, or "out of town.") When the doctor finally came in the room, she walked in to see my son laying on the floor, in the middle of a mega meltdown. He was crying, screaming, kicking.... the works. She then looked at me and asked if he was always like this. I told her yes, and proceeded to ask if this was the normal 2 year old behavior. As we were talking my son ran up and started screaming in my face, this was a regular behavior for us. He would always shout out "mommy!" and grab my face whenever anyone tried speaking to me.
When she responded with saying no (that this wasn't typical behavior), with a worried look on her face, my stomach dropped. She made us an appointment with a behavioral specialist right away.
The appointment went by quickly. They did a number of tests, which almost all of them he didn't want to participate in. When it came time, the doctor came right out and said "your son has autism." I felt numb. But wait... it got better (major sarcasm there). He looked down at my big belly and said "And I see you're expecting. Do you know what you're having yet?" When I told him were expecting another boy, he proceeded to tell my husband and I that boys have a higher risk of having autism. He then continued by telling us that if our first son was autistic, then there was a great chance our unborn son would be autistic as well. (Screw this jerk...am I right?!) I was stone cold, just wanting to go home and wallow. I kept looking to my husband, who is always my rock, with a stern look on his face continuing to ask questions. He is always Mr. Fix-It. So being told that there was nothing he could do to "cure" our son really broke him.
We left the appointment nearly speechless. We had no idea where to start. That moment when we left that appointment, we made a decision to fight. To fight for our son. To do everything we could to support him and to continue to give him a great life. Instead of going straight home and mourn the news we just got, we went out and celebrated. Celebrated our amazing boy. It is a day I will never forget... walking the pier in Destin, taking photo booth pictures, and eating yummy food. Just soaking up our blessing of a boy.
We got straight to work. We started researching like crazy.
We knew we had a long, difficult road ahead of us. But we were as ready as we would ever be to hit it head on.
3 years later, after lots of therapy sessions, amazing teachers and tons of support, our son is a completely different kid. He has conversations with us, he has made friends, is loved by his classmates and school staff, and is just overall the most amazing kid ever. He makes me proud every second of every day, and I am so thankful to be his mother.
When I meet people with young autistic children, I tell our story. I let them know that there will be amazingly good days, along with some horrific days. I can see them struggle with "simple" tasks and I let them know that I have been there, and it does get easier.
I went from a time where people were telling me that my son seems autistic, to people now telling me they would have never guessed my son has autism. If someone would have told me 3 years ago that by the age of 5 my son would start having actual conversations with me, be potty trained, and engage in social play...I would have never believed them.
Having a child with autism makes you super appreciative of the small things.
Small victories is what we live for.
Appreciate the little things.
And NEVER give up.
I am so thankful to be this amazing boy's mother.
He is my best friend in the entire world and I wouldn't change him for anything.