All the Things We Missed

Autism became an official member of our family on December 2, 2009, but it haunted us for about six months before that. My father-in-law was the first to mention it. We resisted at first, I think denial is a normal reaction to the idea that something might be different about your child. My husband and I were reluctant to look to hard at that label. We didn’t want people treating our youngest son differently, seeing him differently. I think, deep down, we might have been afraid that it would change our own perceptions of him. It did not.

The problem we had with seeing the signs, which I can now see were there all along, was that we had no definition of ‘normal’. Our oldest son is classified as ‘gifted’, his speech came early and clearly. We had no barometer for where a typical child should be and as such, we thought very little of Logan’s scripting. Our pediatrician was the first to mention the word ‘Echolalia’. To us, he just really liked the Backyardigans. And commercials, especially those commercials that were the strangest to hear from a two-year-old. And songs. And repeating everything his father or I said.

Even when functional speech came, it was in the form of one word demands. “Milk,” “T” (his stuffed rabbit), “Changed,” all very simple, but good communication. Never once has he asked me why. I would still give anything for why. It was only recently, after making progress in speech therapy and with emotion PECs, that he will answer when I ask him how he feels and even then, he only answers if he is happy. The first time he answered me, I very nearly cried. We have worked very hard to get sentences. “I want…” “Can I have…” “I need…”

Logan was always very affectionate with my husband and I and, to a lesser extent, his brother. He was not affectionate with anyone else. He resisted being touched by anyone else. He would not give hugs or kisses. He would throw a fit if we left him with his grandparents. Once we were in the grocery store and a very sweet old woman came up to him and innocently touched his arm. His scream scared the poor woman who could not figure out what she’d done wrong and no amount of explaining from me made it any better. I always assumed this was my fault in some way, I hadn’t let them hold him enough as an infant or something, so it too was easy to ignore, to put squarely on my over-protective mother shoulders.

The rocking was a little harder to miss. He would rock in his pack-n-play. As he rocked, he would move the whole thing from one end of the room to the other. He could do that before he could walk. To us, it seemed like his way of getting from one place to another. It made it easy for us to push that sign away.

We had put his constant scratching down to skin sensitivities or allergies, even though all the blood tests said it wasn’t allergies and we had finally found soaps and detergents he wasn’t overly sensitive to. But still, we were able to put it in a category that had nothing to do with autism.

His reluctance to eat certain colors, certain textures, his preference for freeze dried or gummy foods, we couldn’t really explain that away. His lack of social skills, his love of patterns, even the way he played with his toys. His need to touch everything to his upper lip. His desire to put everything in lines. When we looked for the signs, they were everywhere. Alone, any one of his idiosyncrasies could be explained. Together they told us all we needed to know. There are times when I still feel guilty for not having seen it earlier, for not getting him into the therapies that have helped him so much just a little earlier.

It is pointless – that kind of guilt. I’m doing what I can do now. I’m doing the best I can do. And I have to believe that my best is good enough. Knowing the path now, knowing what to research, knowing the right questions to ask – I can see the difference it is making. I can see progress.

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