The last five months have been life-changing for me and my family. Our son Troy was diagnosed with autism last November, and the months right before and since have been, well, crazy. There’s no other word for it.
As I’ve opened up to friends and family about this, I’ve gotten all kinds of reactions – mostly unhelpful. Many are afraid of autism, and it’s still not well understood by most people, so I’d like to share my experience and some lessons I’ve learned since my son was diagnosed.
1. Autism is not a one-size-fits-all condition.
I had a friend – a well meaning, very sweet friend – tell me that Troy’s diagnoses must have been a mistake, because he doesn’t act like an autistic kid. She practically accused my doctor of malpractice.
The first thing to know is that autism is not a one-size-fits-all condition. There are kids on all corners of the spectrum – and a wide range of symptoms that different children experience in different ranges of severity. Doctors are trained to recognize these symptoms, and their diagnoses can be trusted.
Getting Troy’s diagnoses was a long process that began last September, when I enrolled him in a local co-op preschool. I figured he was a little young at 2 1/2, but I also suspected he needed something more than I was giving him at home, and I figured preschool would give him the opportunity to socialize with other kids.
It did make a difference, but not in the way I thought it would.
After Troy’s first day, his teacher pulled me aside and said she suspected Troy was language delayed. She also told me how impressed she was that Troy already knew the entire alphabet, but that he had trouble following directions and sitting still for any period of time. After observing him in the classroom, I understood her concerns, and pulled him out.
I was disappointed, but I assumed it was an easy problem to solve. When I was Troy’s age, I was language delayed, and my mom got me speech therapy at the state university. With a little research, I discovered that our local university offers affordable speech therapy given by students earning their masters degrees, so I enrolled him and figured he would be ready for the classroom in a few months.
A month passed, and Troy’s speech therapist gave us her initial assessment. That’s when we learned Troy was more than a year behind in his speech, pragmatic, and play skills. I took her report to my pediatrician, who gave me the number for our local California Regional Center. She referred Troy for speech and occupational therapy, pending a diagnosis. At the regional center, his language and play skills were evaluated, and he was referred again to a psychologist, who saw him three times before officially diagnosing him on the autism spectrum.
Yeah. I think the diagnosis is right.
2. Vaccines don’t cause autism!
Seriously! VACCINES DON’T CAUSE AUTISM! There is this weird idea in our culture that comes from the postmodern philosophy we all subscribe to (without realizing we subscribe to it) that says “no idea is bad,” and “there is no objective right or wrong answer to any question.”
Well, sometimes ideas are bad. I know that sounds patronizing, but if you’ve ever uttered the words “Just because something is true for me doesn’t make it true for other people,” then you need to hear this.
When the scientific method proves that something is true, then it’s just true. The sun is hot. Fish swim in the ocean. Vaccines are safe. My hair is brown.
Oh, and what about that one, single, solitary study that said there might be a link between vaccines and autism? It’s been retracted. And the doctor who wrote it has lost his licence. He’s not a doctor anymore.
Both my son and his baby sister are fully up to date on their vaccines. I didn’t hesitate for a second before I vaccinated Violet – and if are blessed by God with any other children, I’ll vaccinate them too. And I will thank God for creating people with minds that could invent these beautiful substances that save countless children every year from death and disease.
Vaccines don’t cause autism!
3. No news is NOT good news!
Another well meaning, completely wrong friend of mine suggested, oh so kindly, that it might be a good idea to keep Troy’s diagnosis under wraps. After all, I wouldn’t want people to judge him before they knew him. And, again, most people don’t understand autism, and it might make them wary of Troy.
Unfortunately, I took this advice – at least for a little while. But what I found was that the reverse was actually true – the more I talked about it with others, the closer to them Troy and I got. Keeping his diagnosis a secret made me feel like it was something to be ashamed of – and that led to anxieties surrounding how much blame I deserved for his condition. I cursed myself for every episode of Sesame Street I let him watch and all the gluten and chemical-filled chicken nuggets I’d fed him.
As mothers, our heads fill up with nutty, toxic thoughts of guilt all day long. But saying them out loud, and letting them bounce off of others’ ears, takes their power away and shows us how ridiculous they are. Of course I didn’t give my son autism! God designed Troy exactly the way He planned for a purpose! I’m excited to learn what God has in store for my sweet son.
Many parents suspect their child may be on the autism spectrum, but don’t talk to their pediatricians about their concerns because they’re afraid of what they’ll hear. But I want to make it clear that it is critical for your child’s future that you face that fear. If you are wrong, your pediatrician will tell you so. And if you’re right, then getting your child help as soon as possible is the best thing you can do for them.
Once Troy received his diagnosis, he became eligible for speech therapy, occupational therapy, and a special education preschool taught by a credentialed teacher. He’s been enrolled for a little more than a month now, and it’s already made a HUGE impact! We have seen his skills improve everyday since he’s been enrolled.
***UPDATE: A few months after beginning his other therapies, we signed Troy up for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. If his progress before ABA therapy had been a race car, it’s now a rocket ship! I highly recommend ABA therapy! It is the single most effective therapy he is receiving!
Autism can be a scary thing to face, but with knowledge comes power, and with power comes confidence.
And confidence is something every parent can use more of.
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