I know that you are not supposed to compare your child to other children. All Moms know this. But a part of you cannot help but notice the differences. While deep in my heart I knew that Jp would catch up, I knew he was a little behind the curve when it came to speaking. He met most of milestones late, he was a 2 month preemie, after all. I didn’t think entirely too much of it until the day that I babysat a friend’s daughter-four months his junior-and she asked me for, “water with ice, please”. I looked at that little girl and thought, “Wow, I wish Jp could use sentences like that.”. It is probably not a popular thought to have and while I loved my little angel just the way he was, deep down I just didn’t want him to be behind his peers. I had always excelled as a child, always been praised and rewarded for being advanced. In my formative years I viewed intelligence as a main reason that my parents loved and spoiled me and I wanted the same for my son. To feel special.
So I promptly found the best rated (what did we do before the internet, I wonder?) Speech Pathologist I could find. At the evaluation he seemed to do quite well. So well, in fact, that while he was slightly behind his peers in the sense he didn’t organically combine two word sentences, he may not be so far behind that insurance would cover the costs. If anyone has ever looked into paying out of pocket for speech therapy you would be appalled. At a hundred dollars a session twice a week I certainly knew we couldn’t afford it so it was a bit of a double edged sword. I was profoundly happy that he wasn’t too far behind although worried he wouldn’t be eligible for the help he needed.
Though those fears proved to be unfounded when he qualified for 13 sessions. Thank you Blue Cross Blue Shield. He seemed to truly enjoy it and I heard words out of him that I hadn’t heard at home so everything, to me, was going quite well. Then came the 7th session. The dreaded 7th session that would send my world into a tailspin. On that day Jp was cranky and uncooperative. He had spent most the night awake teething and it was everything I could do just to get him dressed and into the building much less have him participate. So when she ended the session by telling me she had “concerns” I wasn’t utterly surprised. He had barely spoken two words since we walked in the door.
Though her concerns were a bit more broad than that day alone. She conveyed to me that she was seeing some “rigidity in his speech patterns that was disconcerting”. I was confused. I had seen him open up immensely and she seemed pleased with his progress until that point. But being a psychology major and knowing nothing of speech patterns in toddlers all I knew was that atypical symptoms typically present with some type of typical disorder. So I asked the only question I could think of, “Which presents with…?” She looked at me as though I had asked the one question she didn’t want to answer. She sat quietly for a moment, as though collecting her thoughts, and answered, “In the spectrum.”
It was such a simple statement. In the spectrum. Some people may not even know fully what that statement meant. I knew. Autism. I had worked with autistic children in high school and was entirely familiar with the entire spectrum of Autism. This woman had to be out of her mind. My loving, funny, bright-if not all that talkative-child was not autistic. He didn’t flap, looked deeply into your eyes, almost into your soul deeply, he didn’t have any aversions to sounds or lights. He was a normal kid, for goodness sake. How could she think he was autistic?
She went on to explain that his eye contact was inconsistent and largly depended on whether or not he wanted something. Isn’t that all toddlers? Particularly shy ones, like my son? He didn’t respond to his name consistently. Why would he, you always have toys that he is playing with? Do toddlers typically jump up and answer when they are engulfed in an activity? He doesn’t say hello or goodbye unprompted. Lady, he’s two! His “phrases” are learned as a whole and he shows no universality with them. His understanding of language is atypical. What does that mean? I had no idea what typical was…he is my only child.
After that meeting I barely remember the drive home. I was in a daze and had no idea how I would tell me husband. I had no idea how to process the information she had given me. It was an impossible situation. One, it was uncertain. MAYBE he was, maybe he wasn’t. It is not something to grieve over even if he was, it wasn’t as though he had cancer, though I felt as though a large part of me was grieving. Grieving that his journey was not going to be easy. He wouldn’t get to sleep through classes as I did, or study for 45 minutes before a test and ace it. I grieved that things would be just harder for him and I didn’t think it was fair.
I didn’t want for him to have to struggle to do what other children did so easily. I was angry. I was angry at the therapist for saying it, angry at myself since in some way it had to be my fault (mom guilt), and angry that I wasn’t smart enough to understand what she saw. I genuinely just couldn’t grasp it. He was such a warm and loving child. So unlike the children I worked with in my youth. I was trained and educated to see differences, so why couldn’t I recognize any in my own son? What was wrong with me?
That night I sat my husband down to tell him the devastating news. And something magical happened. Let me preface by saying that Christopher isn’t always the best at receiving bad news. He is the fatalistic one in our marriage. Which is why we balance so well as I am over-optimistic. I need someone to tell me that things will not always be alright and sometimes action is needed instead of leaving everything to fate and, in turn, he needs me to cheer him up and help him to see the silver lining in terrible situations. But on that day our roles reversed. I was crushed, devastated. I was ready to throw in the towel and weep. My son is my whole world and the idea that anything could be wrong was just too much to bear. When I said it out loud I expected Chris to be angry, to yell, to feel all of the inappropriate emotions that I did. Though he didn’t and to this day I am eternally grateful.
He just looked at me and said, “She could be wrong. People are wrong all the time. I don’t think he is, I think she is wrong, but if she isn’t as long as he is happy, that is all that matters.”
I don’t think more profound or truer words have ever been spoken. It was the zen force that I needed. Because everything he said was 100% correct. If he was autistic nothing I could say or do would change that but crying over it certainly wouldn’t make Jp any happier of a child. I am not going to lie and say that all of the processing in my mind stopped in that moment but it helped. It made me realize that just because you hear bad news it does not mean your world is ending. You just start a new path, and maybe it isn’t the one you saw originally, but who is to say it isn’t better?
I'm just living minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day.