|The only reaction this should |
elicit is "What in the hell was
up with her hair?" But instead
it reminds me of that day.
No, wait. That can’t be right. Can it? No. I don’t think so. But. Is she? Maybe. No, she is. I think she is. She definitely is. Absolutely. No way. You think? Wow. Really. Autism. Everything had been fine just seconds before, and now nothing would ever be the same. Audrey was in the back, flipping through books in her car seat as she always did. Nothing had changed about her in those few seconds but suddenly my perception of her was completely different. She was no longer just a late bloomer or an introvert. She had autism, a neurological disorder from which she might never recover.
That morning, we’d had her 18-month doctor appointment. Not much had changed since her 15-month checkup. She still wasn’t crawling right, let alone walking. Nor was she talking or pointing or in any way trying to communicate. She couldn’t do where’s-your-nose or play peek-a-boo, didn’t answer to her name, and her eye contact was poor. There were some new developments, but they were uniformly disturbing. Her disposition had progressed from fussy to surly to exorcism-ready. She had lost all ability to play appropriately with her toys. And the latest trend was her becoming increasingly upset to the point of inconsolable when she heard the cries of another child.
The pediatrician never uttered the word autism at that appointment, and only made vague comments about developmental delays. She said that she had seen this sort of thing before, and that the children were usually caught up by the time that they were in first grade. First grade? I was incensed! She was only 18 months old and she was already making a judgment that she would be hopelessly behind until first grade?
After the checkup, we headed to Audrey’s weekly physical therapy appointment. We had started PT at 11 months. At the time, I thought that it was just a temporary thing. She just needed a little jump start to get her going. Karen was a great therapist, and Audrey had made a lot of progress over the 7 months that we had been seeing her. She had been commenting all along about how Audrey reminded her so much of another little boy that she had worked with. She brought Ben up frequently, and, when Audrey developed the new habit of repeatedly flinging toys over her shoulder, she again mentioned Ben and how he had done the same thing. They were so much alike, Ben and Audrey. I knew that Karen dealt with all kinds of different kids with a myriad of disabilities, and I had studiously avoided ever asking her what exactly was wrong with Ben. But on the day of that 18-month appointment, I related the story of what the pediatrician had said about Audrey falling behind and not catching up for five or six more years and awaited her horrified response. But she clearly did not get the script that I was telegraphing her. She wasn’t shocked and disgusted. In fact, she didn’t say much at all. A few minutes later, she brought up Ben again, and I finally blurted out, “So what exactly is the deal with Ben?” She said, “He’s autistic.” And just like that it began.
My number had come up. I was ordered to report for duty. I could not imagine the battles that lie ahead.