Our Journey to an Autism Diagnosis
When you’re pregnant, you think about all the amazing things your child could become. You think about all the things you want to share with them. All your hopes and dreams for the things you want your child to achieve. When you’re pregnant, no one tells you that there’s a possibility that your child could be different. Sure, you know that kids are born with complex medical conditions. You know there are kids with disabilities, but, that won’t be your kid. When you’re pregnant, you don’t dream of having a child that’s different. It’s not something you hope for; it’s not.
Then your beautiful baby gets here, and it’s life-altering in a way that you never imagined a baby could be. At that moment, you realize that you have never loved someone so fiercely as you love this child. You look at those little hands and toes and see the big eyes and everything is right with the world. Until it’s not.
“She’s so serious,” they’d say. “What an easy baby you have,” they’d mutter. And it’s true. She was easy. Our girl rarely cried, and she loved being in her swing or left alone to stare into space. She was in her world. What was there to worry about? She hit her developmental milestones within the range of normal.
I had friends with kids the same age or younger than mine, and it wasn’t until I started seeing some of their photos and videos that I started questioning. Wait, that baby is six months younger than mine and is talking! Or, that baby is the same age as mine and loves getting hugs! Wow, that child is looking right at the camera!
My friends and I would get together and meeting up only reinforced that my child was… well… different. Not different in a bad way, just quirky; she got overstimulated a lot faster than my friend’s children. My girl covered her ears a lot. She was active, so active that I feared I would lose her in public if she weren’t being worn or restrained in a stroller.
My husband and I gave up on trying to go out to dinner. It was impossible. Try restraining 25 pounds of an active child for a 50-minute meal; there was nothing fun about it. Folks suggested taking toys or crayons. Toys? Crayons? My child never played with any toy we tried to give her. Crayons were great if you wanted them ingested. So we caved and started letting her watch movies.
She loved movies. She enjoyed watching the same movie over and over again. Didn’t we all have favorite movies as kids? She loved quoting films and never wanted to have a conversation, but she would quote movies to herself all the time.
We chatted with her daycare providers. How’s she doing? Does she like other kids? Do other kids like her? Does she listen and do activities? Does she talk? The short answer was: no, she doesn’t like other kids, and she did not like group activities one bit. She never spoke, but she loved to play alone with no one near her.
Are you starting to see some red flags? Yellow ones? We didn’t.
It wasn’t until she was 18 months old and had yet to speak intentionally to another person that my husband finally said to me, ‘Chrissie, something’s not right.’ I laughed at him. I said, ‘She’s a late talker, it’s fine.’ That’s what everyone was telling us anyway. But she wasn’t just a late talker. So we started early intervention and, at age 2.5, she began to talk. She communicated long before that though; she loved sign language and her PECS board. But talking wasn’t her thing.
Could she hear? Did she understand language? Does she do any of the things on this list? We got referral after referral. Audiologist, ENT, Developmental Pediatrician, Speech-Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist… and the list goes on. The list got so long I had to start keeping a binder of evaluations and phone numbers.
We still had no answers, we knew our kid was different, and that was ok.
It wasn’t until she was a little over three that she was diagnosed as autistic. When the developmental psychiatrist called, she had a very somber tone. ‘I’m sorry,” she said, “your daughter has autism.” Like it was a prison sentence. I was overwhelmed and relieved all at the same time.
I felt validated and heard. In that instant autism wasn’t a diagnosis to overcome, but an explanation for all the things that were different yet was our usual.
My child is brave, kind, smart, funny, and she is also autistic. It’s part of her in the same way that she has blonde hair and blue eyes. She is fantastic, and she is mine.
No one wants their child to be different; I certainly didn’t. In hindsight, that notion was based on my ignorance. I didn’t know how beautiful different would be. Autism is not a disability to overcome, and it’s not a puzzle that needs to be solved. It is a brain with a different operating system. There’s beauty in that, and I get to see it firsthand, what an incredible privilege.
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