This is how we entered with world of Autism.
My firstborn, my son Toby, was born in 2008. He was a happy, smiley little baby with big dark eyes and curl in the middle of his forehead, Superman style. My adjustment to motherhood was tough. I was young, and had a solid hit from post-partum depression. My husband was a full-time student and worked as well. Even though he made valiant efforts, he was unable to help me as much as I needed. Toby was not a good sleeper, and I was beyond exhausted the majority of his first year.
Since he was my first child, I had nothing to compare him to. The early signs of autism were there, but I didn’t see them. I also had a fierce desire not to be one of “those” moms. I promised myself I would not be the kind of mom that pushes their child to be the first to check off that developmental checklist. I was determined to let him go at his own pace.
I didn’t realize exactly how slow his pace was.
One day, a childhood friend of mine posted a video on her personal blog. It was of her son, the same age as Toby, bouncing in his saucer, babbling up a storm.
Out of nowhere, an absolute fury overcame me and I was seeing red. I thought, “I can’t believe how pathetic some people are, that they think they need to brag about their child all the time.” My face heated up with anger. “Every child goes at their own pace. This doesn’t mean her kid is any better or smarter than other kids!”
While I was somewhat shocked at how emotional I became over something that was so trivial, I pushed my overreaction to the back of my mind. Toby will babble when he is ready.
That was what I constantly told myself, whenever the developmental checklist came up short.
“When he’s ready…”
Once Toby started sleeping better, my depression subsided and we felt confident enough to have another child. Elinor was born in 2010. Finally, when Toby was two and a half, and still wasn’t talking other than a few words here and there, I decided to take him to the pediatrician.
She told me he was likely just speech delayed (very common in boys), and might (although she doubted it) qualify for speech therapy through our area’s early intervention program.
I took him to be assessed. He failed with flying colors. He was not just speech delayed (a full year behind schedule), he was also testing behind developmentally.
But even then I put on the brakes and reassured myself with thoughts like, “Well, he just doesn’t know how to pull his pants up because I haven’t taught him how…” and “Some of these goals sound a little lofty…”
So we got the speech therapy. And for almost two years I felt sure that he was fine, that he just needed a little extra help. He aged out of the early intervention program, and when it came time to write his IEP [Individual Education Plan, a set of goals done by the school system] I was all too eager to agree with the school system that all he needed was thirty minutes of speech therapy a week.
I was wrong.
I didn’t know.
I had so little faith in myself, I assumed that any of his problems were due to my various failures as a mother. I thought I had done something wrong, that the reason he couldn’t transition from activities was because I wasn’t stern enough with him. The reason he wouldn’t hold still for diaper changes was because he was naughty or wild or stubborn.
And I continued to heap those feelings onto myself for a long time. I was so weighed down and so frustrated.
I began to feel like I’d never be the successful, happy mother I once thought I could be.
In my desperation, I turned to a church leader for help. He saw my depression had returned and was keeping me down, and tenderly suggested that I put Toby in preschool for a few days a week so that I could have a break from the constant stress.
For some reason I had the misguided notion that if I put my three year old in preschool, I was not a good mother. I had wanted to keep him home with me until he was ready for a real pre-kindergarten classroom. But the idea of 9 hours of relief a week was too good to pass up and I enrolled him in a three day a week preschool at a nearby church. Looking back, I realize that a good mother isn’t all self-sacrificing to the point of running herself down; she recognizes her limits and makes changes accordingly.
The break was all too welcome, but sending Toby to that preschool was the decision that finally put us on the path to those answers we needed.
To be continued…