When Austin was a very young infant I remember feeling relieved when he started smiling and making eye contact. Those milestones assured me that all was well & Austin was developing as he should.
When he was around 6 months of age, however, I noticed that Austin’s little buddy who was just a week older would get upset and cry if he saw his grandma while he was in the nursery at our church. I remember thinking that Austin wouldn’t care if he even saw me while he was in nursery, much less his grandparents whom he seemed oblivious to.
When Austin was a year old, my father in law randomly mentioned that Austin didn’t respond to his name. I noticed it after that, and remember telling Mike that we had too many silly nicknames for Austin and we needed to stop and only use his name so he would learn to respond to it. We did that, but for some reason, when there was no improvement it still didn’t click with me that this is a big red flag for autism.
I was worried because Austin had no speech at all (no mama, or dada), but as everyone says that boys are late talkers, I tried not to dwell on it too much.
At 18 months when Austin still had no speech, and was rocking and banging the back of his head more and more, I mentioned my concerns to the pediatrician. Of course I got the “He’s a boy, boys are slow” speech. He suggested we wait and see where he was at age 2.
So I spent the next few months trying to relax and trust what the doctor said. But my uneasy feeling only grew.
When Austin was around 21 months of age we went to a birthday party for my little nephew. It was here for the first time, that what I was seeing in Austin shocked me. He was so stressed with all the people around. I remember seeing the expression on my sister in law’s face and realizing “she thinks there’s something wrong with him”.
Suddenly everything I was seeing clicked. I went home and looked up symptoms of autism; Austin had symptoms in every category. I took the MCHAT screening test for autism and the results suggested we see a doctor asap.
It shocked me just how much every little thing he did and didn’t do made sense when considering the autism spectrum. I made another appointment with the pediatrician and shared my concerns and the new behaviors I was seeing as well as the previous concerns that I still had. Again, they thought there was nothing to worry about, but they did give me a referral to a speech therapist.
At 22 months Austin had a speech evaluation. He was diagnosed with verbal apraxia and mixed expressive-receptive language disorder. More concerning to me than the lack of any speech was the fact that Austin didn’t seem to understand anything we said to him.
It was also evident that Austin did not have the play skills he should have had. He had no interest in giving the baby her bottle, or interacting with the therapist. He was in his own little world, completely preoccupied with dumping blocks out and putting them back in. In and out. In and out. Over and over again.
Speech therapy twice a week was the recommendation, and the speech language pathologist also suggested we get an evaluation from occupational therapy because of all the sensory behaviors she saw during his evaluation.
I tried to tell myself that Austin just had a speech delay after this evaluation, but by the time we had the OT evaluation 3 weeks later, my mommy alarms were going off again. I knew that this was more than a speech delay or language disorder.
At the OT evaluation Austin was diagnosed with a developmental delay, and it was recommended that he have OT twice a week in addition to speech therapy.
In October, I again met with the pediatrician to talk about my concerns. He was a great listener and was kind. But he didn’t really want to discuss the possibility of autism. He said a lot of kids show autistic behaviors and outgrow it. He said a speech explosion happens in toddlers between 2 and 2 ½.
During my 20 minute conversation with the doctor Austin never looked up from the stool that he was spinning repeatedly. Maybe because of this the doctor gave in a bit and said that IF Austin was autistic that he was really high functioning.
I tried to convince myself that we were doing all we could and that a label wasn’t necessary, but I just couldn’t be satisfied with that.
I needed to know. I’m all for calling things what they are.
If we call malignant tumors cancer, why wouldn’t we call a nonverbal toddler with sensory problems, repetitive behaviors, poor social skills and self injurious behaviors autistic?