Autism. For some, that word induces fear, denial, anger, hesitation, maybe even disgust. But not for me. For me, Autism is love, wonder, intelligence, quirkiness, and hope.
Many people hear the word Autism, and think “Rain Man”, Albert Einstein, or Temple Grandin. Others may think of the odd man down the street who fidgets a lot and can spend hours staring at the pinwheels in his flowerbeds. Me? I think of my little boy.
As a new parent you read all kinds of books and articles trying to make sure you are doing what’s best for your child. When Lucas was a baby, most of the articles about Autism were primarily fear based. They referred to symptoms as “red flags” and “warning signs.” You should “bring up your concerns with your child’s doctor” because “early intervention is key.” This creates a sense of fear and apprehension around it, treating it like a horrible disease that you don’t want your child to catch. Chances are that hasn’t changed, I just don’t bother to read articles about something that the authors don’t really understand in the first place.
I knew from a young age that Lucas was different, I saw the signs and tried to get him some help. Instead, I spent years fighting doctors and even therapists, trying to get answers. I KNEW there was an amazing, intelligent kid hiding behind the meltdowns, hyperactivity, fixations, and lack of speech. I got told repeatedly, by more than one “professional” that he was “just slow, and would probably catch up eventually,” and that they “didn’t want to label him.” In the meantime, I got to watch him struggle, and as a result I was struggling too. Thanks to uninformed, and insensitive so-called medical professionals, I spent years feeling like I was failing as a mother. I mean, come on, if he was having that hard of a time it had to be something I was doing wrong, right?
I never wanted a label, to stuff him into some category, or to restrict him. What I wanted was a diagnosis, answers and information on how best I could help him. I finally figured out that if I was going to get answers, I was going to have to take matters into my own hands, and I made an appointment with the only pediatric behavioral specialist in the state.
Unlike every other doctor we had seen previously, she walked into the office, completely ignored me and my mother, sat down on the floor with Lucas and simply played with him for about five minutes. I don’t remember ever filling out the stupid forms with a million questions asking “on a scale of 1-5 how often…” that someone in an office somewhere created, in an attempt to determine how “normal” a child is based on some unrealistic algorithm. Instead, she treated him like a regular 4-year-old little boy. He wasn’t just another patient to check off of her to-do list for the day.
When she stood up, turned to me, and said “he has Autism.” I wasn’t devastated, as many parents are. I was relieved. That day was a huge turning point in our journey, there were finally answers on how to help. We got referrals to amazing speech and occupational therapists. Most importantly, she gave me hope and reassurance that he would be able to catch up to the other kids his age, and be a fully functional, albeit quirky adult.
In the years following, he has not only caught up, but far surpassed my expectations. He has amazing grades, is a pretty awesome drummer in band, has friends he plays with regularly… and even a girlfriend! He is incredibly talented at fixing things, most likely a result of wanting to know how everything works, and his attention to detail. Plus, he is one hell of a shot with a .22. He is funny, kind, loving, and compassionate. As far as I am concerned, he is a superhero!
His diagnosis has never been a restriction, it has never held him back, or slowed him down. In fact, it was the best thing that has happened to him. Sure, we do some things a little differently, not everything makes sense to someone outside of our family, and that’s okay. He might have Autism, but I wouldn’t want him any other way.