Autism was never on our radar, mainly because my husband and I had no real concept of what autism even was (we are learning quickly).
Regardless, I have been asked a form of this question by countless therapists, doctors, psychologists, pediatricians, teachers, social workers, friends, and family these past two months. I’m never quite sure how to answer them.
And it’s a dangerous road to travel down, the “I should have known” road. Trust me. I’ve been down it. It’s dark, dangerous, and inevitably leads to a dead-end.
The reality is that Big C is my first child, so I have had no frame of reference for what is ‘normal.’ To me, he is a perfectly ‘normal’ kid, albeit with some quirks (who doesn’t have those?), a bit of eczema, fearlessness, and an impressively high tolerance for pain. He didn’t have any of those potential “red flags” of delayed speech or developmental delays.
But, oh, that temper.
It’s not uncommon at a family gathering to hear, in reference to my son, “He comes by it honestly!” Both my dad and I are notoriously known for our hot tempers, so we’ve always chalked up Big C’s aggressiveness merely to temperament and family genes.
But then it got worse.
Big C started attending daycare at five months of age and everything was pretty smooth until he reached about 13 months. Then, the shoving, slapping, and biting of other kids (and daycare staff) moved beyond the realm of ‘normal.’ The temper tantrums were getting more elevated and he was starting to bang his head on the floor when he got frustrated. There was talk of suspension (you can imagine how good that felt).
Then, it actually happened. I’ll never forget it. It was September 2012, the end of the first week of school (I’m a teacher: we’ll open that can of worms at a much later date). I was pregnant with my second, and I got a call (not even a face-to-face) that Big C wasn’t welcome at the daycare anymore. I remember having to hang up the phone because I was sobbing. I had never been so humiliated in all my life. I felt like I had failed my son and so failed as a mother.
But we picked up the pieces. My husband and I both took days off of work while trying to find another alternative (we had my parents to help too which was incredible). We decided a nanny was the best fit for Big C at the time. He simply wasn’t ready to be in a group setting. We found someone we immediately connected with. Big C liked her. We liked her. It was a done deal.
In the spring of 2013, little C was born with no complications, I took some time off of work to be with my boys, and the nanny said she’d love to watch both of them at the start of the next school year. Life was pretty perfect.
And then it wasn’t anymore.
In the fall of 2013, we thought it’d be a good idea for the nanny to take Big C to preschool twice a week so he could start getting acclimated to other children. It had been a year since he’d been removed from his previous daycare; we assumed he had matured and would be fine.
But he wasn’t. He struggled immediately, and after months of trying, we chose to remove him. It wasn’t a good fit. Meanwhile, our nanny was visibly stressed and struggling with Big C. She made comments that it felt like he was regressing and that she didn’t know what to do anymore. Then, in December, right before Christmas break, she quit.
I didn’t cry this time. I laughed. Granted, it was hysterical laughing, but I wasn’t throwing a pity party this time. I took it as a sign that he needed to be in a daycare again, full-time, one that could provide him with the resources he needed. What those resources were, I had no idea , but I wasn’t going to have him form an attachment to another nanny, only to have it severed again.
We lucked out. With some recommendations from friends, we found a daycare through our local school system who claimed they had never kicked a kid out (seriously, I asked). We decided to give it a try, and Big C is still there now. They’ve been incredible working with him, challenges and all, and have guided us through some pretty overwhelming stuff like the creation of an IEP. I have no doubt they will be a tremendous asset to us as we continue to deal with this very recent diagnosis of autism.
So how did we finally find out Big C has autism?
You’ll just have to read the next post, my friends.