January 15, 2010

How Did You Know Your Son Has Autism?

As my son Will passed the 18 month mark and approached his second birthday, I became more and more concerned that he wasn't talking. We spent alot of time around another little boy a few months older than Will and seeing them together was heightening my concern. Whereas the other little guy was talking up a storm, my son seemed to lack some sort of connection with the world that I could not put my finger on. Will was affectionate and loving toward us, but he didn't seem interested in other kids or curious about things that most other kids would be enthusiastic about.

Looking back, it's much easier to see the signs I missed: he didn't point, he didn't bring me toys to engage me in play, he loved to twirl in circles with his eyes to the side, he looked at things at weird angles, he was frightened and clingy in social situations, he had a disproportionate interest in letters and numbers (he could recite Chicka Chicka Boom Boom before he could put two words together in conversation), he had difficulty with transition or different routines, he didn't like to have anything messy on his hands (like finger paint), and he was overly concerned with carrying things in his hands.

When he turned 2, I began to express my concerns to family and friends. As is typical for most people in my situation, everyone reassured me that he was fine, reminding me that Einstein didn't talk until he was 5 (I heard that so much) and that Will was a boy and would develop a little later. Even though I wanted these reassurances and I didn't know what exactly was "off", my mommy instincts were telling me that something was wrong.

I decided to get his hearing checked because he acted deaf in some ways (he didn't turn when I called his name, he didn't seem to hear or understand my directions). We went to the ENT and found that he, in fact, had fluid behind his ears that was causing some hearing loss. I was relieved...this had to be the problem. He had tubes put in (twice, actually) and I waited and waited for his language to develop.

At 2 1/2, nothing had changed. If anything, things were getting worse. His tantrums and meltdowns were constant because he couldn't express himself with words and the differences between Will and other kids his age were becoming more noticeable. It was around this time that I knew... but did not want to know... that my little boy probably had autism. I was starting to allow the thought in, to try it "on for size", that my son could have autism. I quickly tumbled into a very difficult period (I call them "the dark days"), which I will talk about in another post. I mention that because the grief caused my responses to go into slow motion. I knew I needed to get help, but I didn't have a clue what to do.

We finally knew for sure when we took him for testing through the school district as he approached his third birthday. They confirmed what I had known: it was autism.