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Does My Child Have Autism?
April 2020 | blog article by an Imagine A Way dad
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My name is Bruce. Well it’s not really. I changed it for the purpose of a false sense of anonymity it might give my family and I. I’m not sure where or how to start this other than to tell you a brief summary of my life up until the birth of my son Peter. (Again not his real name, though my wife did like that name as well.)

I was born to overwhelmed parents as the seventh of nine children, seven boys and two girls. Not at all relevant most people just find that fact interesting. I had a strict religious upbringing and was by far the most misbehaved and rebellious of the group. I was bright and did well in school when I applied myself. In my twenties my path got lost and I wandered aimlessly with no definite direction as to where my life was headed, nor did I have any idea that I was lost at all. That was until I met her.

She was beautiful, funny and feisty. I did not like her at all. What happened next has the makings of a romantic comedy and though very cute and funny and heartbreaking at times, I’m holding out so I can sell the rights to Nicholas Sparks for his next book. Sufficient to say she became my world, my life had direction and as long as she was there I thought everything would turn out happily ever after.

We were married in October and three short months later Peter was born… another story for another time. (He was not a seven-pound preemie.) He was perfect. I’m sure all new parents think this about their children, but he had to be the most beautiful and amazing thing we had ever seen. We were excited to be parents, we read books upon books on sleep training and feeding. We were not over zealous; we wanted all the facts before we did what we found worked for Peter and us. (My wife does not have the heart for the Ferber method, she cried more than Peter did.)

When Peter was ten months old we found out we were expecting another child. At this point we thought we had it down. Peter was now pooping regularly and sleeping through the night, no problem how hard could another one be? We were happy, healthy baby boy and a bun in the oven.

Peter was doing great. He was an early crawler and was walking at ten months, running at a year. Around this time we started to notice that Peter would not respond to his name. He made very little babbling noises and though our pediatrician said it was fine and not to worry, we began to worry about the possibility of Autism.

What happens from here on out is our gut-wrenching tale of heartache and our path to peace. It is the reason I writing this today in hopes that other parents in similar situations will read this and find the comfort we have without the self-inflicted agony we brought upon ourselves.

Our pediatrician had told us not to worry and we did. We did the responsible thing and researched it.

The Internet can be a wondrous thing with vast amounts of useful resources, cat videos and crock-pot recipes. It can also be a vicious black hole for a worrisome parent. Everything you child does or ever has done becomes a symptom. You become convinced that your child is autistic, you will read every article on the subject, you will blame the vaccines, you will blame yourselves, you will watch videos of autistic children not realizing that maybe that’s just something all 18 month old children do… It is a pit of despair and no answers or comfort will come of it.

By the time we emerged from this darkness we were convinced not only was Peter Autistic; he had the plague and colon cancer as well.

I remember very distinctly rocking Peter to sleep that night. His little body cradled in my arms slowly drifting off as I sobbed uncontrollably. His little hand reaching up to touch my face and feel my scruff before shutting his eyes and sighing. I held him for another hour still crying, praying to God to make it not so. I couldn’t figure out where I went wrong, everything was falling apart. I was going to coach his little league team, teach him to drive, dance with my wife at his wedding…

My wife and I decided to stop researching symptoms. You will find that Autism has become such a large spectrum nearly everything is a symptom and pretty much everyone has Autistic tendencies. It had created a large pit of despair and sorrow in our hearts. We made an appointment with our pediatrician to get another point of view and some perspective. (She, after all was an actual doctor whereas we were just newly Internet experts on the subject.)

Our very wonderful doctor whom we loved was very understanding. She told us that she had no worries about Peter. He seemed to have all the appropriate responses a one year old would have. She gently explained how all children develop differently and though they may not reach a benchmark at the specifically defined time line, there would some that reach those later than average just as Peter had reached certain milestones earlier than others. We left full of hope and relieved, though in the depths of our hearts we knew that only time would tell if she was right about Peter.

Our worries subsided for a brief period.

The relief from the weight that had been lifted from our hearts was short lived. Our worries and pain began to return and what hope we had found slowly disappeared as if it was never really there. Peter was not talking, still would not respond to his name and his eye contact was fleeting at best. He seemed happy… for some reason that escaped us or was less important to us at the time.

During this period of our lives we had several big changes coming into play. We were expecting our second child any day now. We had decided that in light of this second child that my beautiful wife would not return to work as a high powered executive of a global corporation that was secretly a cover for a covert pseudo government agency protecting the world from alien invasion and certain annihilation of the human race, (not her real job… or was it...) so she could stay home with the children. Certain things had to be done for this to happen. We decided to move away from all of our family and friends in beautiful, crowded, sunny, overpriced, Orange County CA. I had a wonderful opportunity to work for a company with better hours/ pay and where I would eventually be able to work from our new home in Austin TX.

My wonderful wife up until this point in her life could not recall living outside a 10-mile radius of her childhood home. She made a leap of faith and sacrificed being close to everything and everyone she knew and loved so she could stay at home and care for our children.

We put our condo up for sale and amiss all this stress we had a beautiful baby boy. Another perfect little man. Tony (still not a real name) came into this world screaming like a banshee. I could write another article just about this sweet boy but let’s stay on point; he’ll come back into the story later.

Before we moved, we had decided to have Peter “evaluated” against the better judgment of our pediatrician. I put quotation marks around evaluated because in my own and newly Internet educated opinion it was very… what would be the opposite of thorough… incomplete, partial, superficial, unfinished… yeah all of the above.

The process was flawed at best. Three evaluators showed up to our home for an hour. They spent 15 minutes asking my wife and I questions about our son and then 35 minutes “evaluating our son”. Our son was already extremely shy and only reacted to a handful of people. Needless to say the 35-minute “evaluation” did not go well. The three evaluators left for a few minutes and came back with their evaluation. I remember them specifically asking me if I had any concerns regarding Autism. It had come up during the evaluation that I had previously spent several years working with Autistic children. I replied that I was not overly concerned and at this time I wasn’t. My wife and I had hoped that we may be over reacting and everything was going to be fine.

Then the hammer dropped.

The evaluators came back with their conclusions. Peter was delayed in all areas except for one. They came back with significant delays in every category except for motor skills. They informed us that though they were not qualified to make a formal diagnosis, they felt that Peter displayed several Autistic tendencies.

Looking back at this, it frustrates me that this is the system. The evaluators got nothing more than a 35 minute snap shot of Peter and on top of that they ignored things that we knew he could do because we had seen him do it, but because he had not shown those skills during the evaluation they were marked as delays. I felt that our opinions and input were grossly ignored during this process as they quickly and casually dealt out a judgment that could potentially devastate a family.

We had just clawed our way out of an endless abyss of despair only to be kicked in the gut and sent sprawling back into it. Nothing is more devastating in this life than being told that your child who you knew with all your heart is perfect in everyway, is anything less than that.

I had a hard time putting on the strong face that I knew my heartbroken wife needed. I know I failed her more than once during this time when she looked to me for comfort and I had none to offer. The truth be told I was drowning in an ocean of despair and could not find a breath of comfort for myself let alone any to share with her.

Now this is the most important part of our story. This is where we decided how to handle this and in essence any situation that involves our children.

We love them.

This simple realization that we clung to for dear life brought waves of calm to us. Not all at once but slowly like the waves of the ocean over and over again until our fears and worries were all but washed out to sea. We knew that if our child were to be diagnosed Autistic or with anything else for that matter, it would not change our love for our child. We would do all that we could to ensure that our child lived a full and happy life.

Truth be told my wife struggled with it a little longer than I did. She is a much more logical realistic person, whereas I am an optimist and hopeless romantic. She would see all the possibilities and trials that could possibly be laid out before our beautiful boy, I would believe everything would work out based on my unwavering love for him and knowing I would move heaven and earth for him if I could.

When all the dust had settled and life began to move on (as it always does), my wife would not only be determined to get back to ‘normal’ but also got to work with a blazing fire inside of her. She was determined to make sure Peter had every opportunity available. She became his advocate, his teacher, and his biggest fan. Every day while I went off to work my beautiful wife worked with our speech and occupational therapists to ensure that Peter was constantly working on needed skills. Constantly making flash cards or games, modeling sounds and words, taking him to places that involved situations that encouraged social interaction. Her life had become one long therapy session, all along with a one year old in tow. She has since started her own blog detailing her experiences through this adventure, answering questions and offering advice to others.

Recently at our 15-month appointment for one youngest Tony (remember him?), our very insensitive pediatrician casually mentioned that we should have him evaluated for Autism as well. The pediatrician who had only seen our children a handful of times had just thrown this out there to stay behind the eight ball. Needless to say it was not handled well with phrases like “Peter seems more Autistic than Tony” and my favorite was the “did this upset you? I’m just doing my job”. We promptly fired her as our pediatrician.

Here we go again. My worst nightmare had come true. Not the possibility of potentially having multiple children needing therapy or having delays, but going through the darkness and despair we had recently emerged from with our first child.

We were circling the rabbit’s hole…

I could see it in her eyes. No. Not again. My heart broke as I knew there was very little one could do or say to bring comfort when it comes to the worrying about your children. Parents will always worry about children regardless of the situation. You might as well try to stop the tides or the sun from shinning. Yet there I was, on the shore with my bucket and in the sun with my umbrella.

Looking at my wife, it reaffirms my belief in a higher power. This beautiful dedicated woman (who I somehow managed to convince that I was her best option) was meant to be our children’s Mom. She did not go down the rabbit’s hole; instead she spoke to our therapist who sees Tony on a regular basis while doing therapy with Peter. She was able to calm our fears and better explained what they were looking for as far as labeling skills as delays. My wife then doubled her efforts working with both children on different skill sets all the while educating me on what I need to do to ensure I continue the work when I get home.

Life is messy and unpredictable, things will always go wrong and there will sometimes be heartache. How we handle these situations when they are thrust upon become the defining moments in our life.

It helps to be on the same page as the person by your side.

My wife is the reason for any success we have achieved. She is constantly succeeding where I would fail. She is the cornerstone of this family and once again I feel as if as long as we are all together we will have our happily ever after.

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