My ‘aha moment’ developed over a series of very confusing, embarrassing, bizarre, and frustrating events. But, I know that there was an undeniable moment in time, where I saw without a doubt, that there was something about my son very different from other kids his age, something very different from my older son. The difference wasn’t a spoiled child. It wasn’t a lack of discipline. It wasn’t just the toddler stage. This difference was beginning to infiltrate every moment of every day and every night.
Looking back, I could say that joining a ‘mommy and me’ class was surely the most noticeable place for me to really grasp the truth. The word autism had already been thrown out there by the pediatrician. At his three-year-old check up visit, she said “let’s diagnose him with autism, so your insurance will be able to cover intervention.” She mentioned a therapy that was great for autistic kids that she couldn’t remember. She said, “don’t worry if later on he doesn’t wind up having autism. We can remove the diagnosis if needed later, but for now, let’s get services started.” The characteristics that qualified my son for meeting the diagnosis were becoming more and more apparent to me. However, to my husband and my family, they weren’t. They weren’t ready to see it. Maybe they viewed it as giving up hope. I viewed this denial as betrayal to me.
And so we went on. I got the phone call later that day. The pediatrician mentioned applied behavior analysis. I made all the phone calls. The insurance. All the local ABA centers. Developmental pediatricians. Neurologists. I went through all the autism motions, but it still hadn’t sunk into my heart that this was forever. ABA had a long wait list. We were already doing speech and occupational therapy. And, I wasn’t totally convinced that it was as bad as it was. So I decided that it would be great for us to have something together that had nothing to do with doctors and therapy. We joined the ‘mommy and me’ class that I had done with my older son when he was a toddler. At circle time, kids were expected to say their name and answer simple questions like their favorite foods and colors and state their ages. Other mothers and their kids went on with the class, for the most part as planned. Not my son. My son only enjoyed things that weren’t expected, scheduled, or safe. Transitions, following rules, social skills, talking- were not flowing for my son.
He only wanted to either run around wildly nonstop, risking trampling over other kids or climbing and falling off of equipment. He answered questions only with screams, punches, biting, kicks and tears, mostly directed at me. I struggled to hold him down thinking, if he could just realize the other kids were enjoying this, then he might enjoy it also. At one point he kicked me in the nose so hard that tears flooded down my face. I hoped people didn’t notice or realize the overflow of the pain and confusion I was hiding. In the ball pit, he only wanted to pile up all the blue balls. While other kids participated, spoke, and laughed, my son looked at me with an uncontrollable urge to be himself, which was nothing like the other kids.
During one of these classes, my aha moment finally came. My son had started running across a raised platform that connected to the top of a slide. At the other end, in the direction he was running, stood another little kid. Before I could realize, move, or stop him, my son ran right up to this child and pushed him off the top of this landing. I looked in horror, as the other child flipped upside down and bounced off of equipment, then landed on the floor and bounced again. My first reaction was to make sure this other child was OK. My next reaction was to try to make amends with his mother and apologize for what my son did. Then I tried to get Lucas to say he was sorry, which he refused, because he saw nothing wrong. All he saw was his need to go down that slide, exactly when he needed to. If something was in his way, then he’d just get it out. And my heart broke into 1 million pieces in that moment. It broke for the child who fell. It broke for the mother of the child who fell. It broke for myself, and it broke for my son. I could clearly see now, that making sense out of this world, was so incredibly hard and different for him than it was for other people.
From that point on, I realized. This was autism. We stopped going to that class. We were done trying to fit into ”normal.” By that point, I was pretty much over the stares, the judgement, the shame I felt, even though there was nothing to be shameful for. Since then, I have relentlessly pursued learning to understand him, be his advocate, and open my heart in a way it had never known. Although at the time, it hurt more than words can say, I am grateful for my son, with all his unique qualities. The joys that he gives me are a reward beyond belief for this incredibly hard journey.