I confess. When it comes to blogging, I do a lot of lurking, especially when I first discover someone’s blog. I feel like I need to get a sense of the person before I reach out. But I also lurk because sometimes, like when I’m reading about someone who’s just beginning their journey with their autistic child, I become lost in my memories. It’s been nearly twelve years since I began my journey, when Nigel was two and a half and I thought, Hmm. He’s not talking. He often doesn’t react when people talk to him. He can’t seem to interact with peers. Autism was the farthest thing from my mind. The child development books I owned barely mentioned the A word. “Autistic children do not show emotion or affection,” they said. “They live in their own world.” That told me nothing.
Thus began a process of referrals and testing and ultimately a diagnosis that, at the time (1997), confounded me. I went back to Barnes & Noble and found a copy of the DSM IV (first edition), looked up autism, and realized that it was quite different than what I had thought it to be. And I knew then that my son had it. No question. He fit all of the criteria. Every single one. I put the book back on the shelf and went full throttle into his intensive ABA-based therapy. It was certainly gentler than full-on Lovaas (Nigel’s program did not use aversives), but the frequency at the center combined with the home visits proved to be effective and beneficial. Nigel improved, but he did not “recover.” I slowly realized that was not going to happen.
And so, if I had blogged ten years ago, when Nigel was four and a half, I would have written on a daily basis about things very different than what I write now. There would be no Boy Scouts, no Nigelisms. No posts about how well he now does in grocery stores. Ten years ago I would have written about the veritable riots he had in grocery stores, malls, restaurants, while having his hair cut (even at home), and going to the doctor’s office. I would write about how he shrieked and writhed on the floor when I had to take him into public restrooms. How he wailed if anyone even walked past the door where the vacuum cleaner was kept. I would write about how fearful he was of hearing tests, even though I held him on my lap the entire time he screamed, and his traumatic lead testing experience. I would write about my frustration explaining to friends and relatives why he did the things he did. I would write about my joy if I found a helpful autism book, because there were so few then. I would write about Nigel’s rampant echolalia at age four and a half, how he often tried to use memorized lines from movies and fit them within the context of the real situation. I would write about his hyperlexia, teaching himself to read at age three and a half, before he could talk. I would write about how he greeted visiting relatives by reciting their license plate numbers instead of saying hello. I would write about PECS cards, visual schedules, home visits, and the dedicated therapists who tirelessly worked with him. There would be talk of the precursor to IEPs, the IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan) meetings, which we attended every few months.
If I blogged ten years ago, I would mention my fears that two-and-a-half-year-old Aidan also had autism. He exhibited the same extreme sensory issues as Nigel, and also had a significant language delay. But Aidan made eye contact. He didn’t line up the Hot Wheels cars along the back of the couch and tilt his head while staring at them, as Nigel did. I figured maybe Aidan had a touch of PDD, but I could see the difference between my boys. Even so, some of Aidan’s sensory issues turned out to be worse than Nigel’s, particularly his oral defensiveness and proprioception. I enrolled him in the same center where Nigel received his therapy, and Aidan received some OT and speech. (He was in speech until he was almost ten, and also had an IEP until then.)
Ten years ago, I would write about just trying to get through the day. At that point, I couldn’t even think about the future. I couldn’t imagine what my boys would be like at twelve and fourteen. I was just so preoccupied with helping them to be as comfortable as possible in this world. And trying to keep my sanity because I was so isolated.
And so, when I read those blogs written by parents of children much younger than mine, I don’t want to come off as a know-it-all when I say this, but I say it with true empathy and understanding: I know what you’re going through. I’m there with you. I remember it all. You will get through it and your child will improve. He or she may not be able to do what Nigel or others can do now, but in many ways he or she will progress. Your child will not be the same ten years from now. And neither will you. (And I mean that in a good way!)