Let me start off by saying, I am no autism expert; I don’t have education in autism, I don’t know everything. What I am is a mother raising a son recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. So far on my journey I have learned A TON and I am here to share and help other parents, siblings, grandparents, or ANYONE with or a relationship with ASD.
My son Eli was officially diagnosed December 2015, although we had been seeking help since September 2014. My first red flag was when my son was one-year-old and not saying any words. Any new mother finds herself secretly comparing their kid to other children. “What the hell, Stacey’s son is already walking? Honey! Get the camera, we’re going to make Ben walk today!” I said and did the same things when my friends were posting videos of their kids saying their first words on Facebook while my son was stuck baby babbling. My family and friends kept telling me “just wait, Eli will get there. Every child is different” or my personal favorite, “Boys develop later than girls”. Both of these are true, well at least the first one (do boys really take longer to do things than girls or is this an urban myth?). But I stayed positive, it will come. After months went by and Eli still wasn’t talking I sought out help.
When Eli was 18 months we were in Michigan during my husband’s first deployment. My mom helped me find Early On, a state program offering services for children 0-3. I believe all/most states have programs like this that is considered a school readiness program; the best part- it was completely free. They respond to your application and have to come out within so many days to do an evaluation, if they find your child with any type of delay you get approved for services. Eli was found with a speech delay so we began speech therapy within the month. Everything was home based, we never had to travel for services. Eli remained in speech until my husband got back from deployment and we moved to Arizona. We started up the Arizona equivalent to Michigan’s Early On with AZEIP (Arizona Early Intervention Program). This was about the same process, everything is home based and they even saw Eli once a week in daycare and at home so they can work with him in different environments. I suggest taking this route first. Autism is diagnosed once children are a little older, but if you notice any type of developmental delay around a year old, look into these programs. They’re AWESOME!!!
Because we are military, I realize we have more opportunities that others might, so this next part may not be an option for everyone, but here is my experience. We brought Eli in for a basic doctor check-up and I voiced my concerns about his speech delay despite a year with speech therapy. She gave me a referral to see a developmental pediatrician. At this appointment Eli was a little over 2 ½. Within a half hour or so, the doctor hit me with something I never saw coming, the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. I fought back tears as I tried to listen to him, but after he said that, from then on out I only heard Charlie Brown’s teacher. Hearing that your child has a disability is heartbreaking. You heart breaks for your child, then a million questions run through your head, “What does this mean?” “How do we fix this?” “Is he going to be different his whole life?” “Will he be able to make friends?” “Is it something I did?” My husband was away when we had this appointment so I sat in the office by myself with all my feels swirling around.
My son is very low on the spectrum. He is high functioning but he also has extreme communication delays and fine motor delays as well. However, that doesn’t help hearing that diagnosis. Everything is very overwhelming. Your emotions are perfectly normal and its ok to take the time to absorb everything and be sad for your child. But as soon as you can, kick them all away and get into power mode. Find support groups, Facebook is a great place to start. Support groups are a great place to ask questions, get advice, and best of all to make friends. Next, find as much reading material as you can. There are a million books out there that give great insight on ASD and also personal help. Lastly, Google is a great place to find a lot of resource websites, ideas, groups, and even blogs like mine!
An Autism is not the end; it is the beginning.