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In Their Own Words – Our Path to Diagnosis

February 16, 2012 32 comments

This post is by Jennifer, a stay at home mom with two children.  In 2009 her family started walking for Autism Speaks and since then, we have raised over $38k and are gearing up for another year.  Our walk team is called Grape Jelly on Pizza because my son has a very strange appetite! You can check our her blog Grape Jelly on Pizza which was created  to help others navigate through all the difficult questions and behaviors associated with autism and to also remind parents that they are not alone.  Support – Compassion – Awareness.

It was not a simple path to his diagnosis.  Realizing there was a problem was tough.  Knowing where to start was hard and dealing with the fact that your child will have autism his entire life was horrible. I haven’t heard one story that was cut and dry yet about getting a diagnosis.  Here is our story.
My son was born at 13:13 on January 7th.  (13 happens to be a lucky number for me.)  It seemed like everyone was there to welcome in the first born grandson from both sides.  It was a happy occasion.  We had many visitors for months to come.  He was a squirmy little guy with a big smile.  He didn’t like to stay still, ever. He was hitting all of his milestones and his gross motor skills were off the charts.  He was climbing stairs before he could walk.  Everything seemed normal.

We didn’t want to wait, so we had another baby.  My daughter and son are 17 months apart.  Oh, how our lives changed when there were two.  Lack of sleep because my son still wasn’t a good sleeper and now a newborn.  They would both be up every three hours and not at the same time.  There were days that were just a blur.

A friend of mine had a son who was five months younger than B.  She would bring T over to play often.  That’s when I started to notice differences between the boys.  T would talk to her, point at things, make eye contact, play appropriately with toys; the list went on and on.  Now, I’m not big on comparing but it couldn’t be helped.  Why was B so much different than T?  At night I would tell my husband about all the differences and would end up crying at the dinner table.  After a while he didn’t want my friend to come over anymore because of how upset I would get.

Confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. 

When we were alone he was fine.  We were fine.  It didn’t matter that he couldn’t talk.  Kids throw fits.  We could justify anything.  We were good at explaining what was happening or not happening away.  Confirmation bias.

Finally we heard the word autism.  Two family members stepped forward at two different times to express their concerns.  Unfortunately, they left it up to me to relay the information to my husband.  It is sorta like when people keep asking the girl, “When are you going to get engaged?”……go to the guy to find out.  It puts her in a bad spot.
At my son’s wellness visit at 2+ we asked if he could have autism. While I was holding my son on my lap, the pediatrician said his name.  My son looked up at the doctor and the doctor told us, “No.  He doesn’t have autism.  If he did, he wouldn’t have looked at me.”  OK.  Again, confirmation bias.  A doctor confirmed it, he didn’t have it.  Sounded good.  Everyone else is crazy.  Instead he wrote a prescription out for a speech therapist.  This we would do.

After the intake and he started therapy, his speech therapist suggested he had developmental delay.  OK.  No ‘autism’ word.  We kept with the speech therapy.  In the meantime I had contacted the county to get started on getting him evaluated for speech delay and developmental delay.  Not autism.  The papers were received in the mail, completed and re mailed that same day.  I knew he needed help.  I waited and finally got the appointment call.

So we went and of course he qualified for services.  The report brought me to tears.  I HATE reading those reports.  Still do.  Then I get a call from someone saying she was his teacher.  I was like, what?  Turns out he qualified for 1/2 days, 4x a week and he could ride the bus.  He started when he was just 3.  I had never been away from him with the exception of having my daughter.  It was tough.  Then a few months went by and I received a flier in his backpack advertising an Autism Awareness day at Sesame Place.  Autism?  He doesn’t have autism.  Speech and developmental delay yes but not autism.  I called the teacher to see if it was a mistake and she said, oh, I must have put it in his backpack by accident.  See, every professional we had dealt with up to this point had never used the autism word.  Since then we found out why.  If a professional says ‘autism’ to you and you don’t have insurance, then they are responsible to pay for your services.  Didn’t know that did you?

I also started going to a parent support group through the IU and after the second time a mom told me the truth……speech delay & developmental delay = autism.  We now had to find a developmental pediatrician to get an official diagnosis then start with medical assistance.  My head was spinning and I went into depression.  I swear I lost days, weeks and months.  Feeling completely numb and truly alone in my quest to get help.  I tried my best not to show the stress.  Like I was in control but I was falling apart.

Eventually, we went in to see the developmental pediatrician.  We walked out with an official diagnosis of autism.  For the first time I had a smile on my face.  I knew what it was, it had a name and I was going to do everything in my power to help my son.  Nothing was going to stop me and nothing has.  We are a strong family unit out to do whatever it takes to not only help our son but to help others.  We are not alone.  You are not alone.  We are all here for each other.  We need to continue to reach out to others.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

In Their Own Words – A Moment in the Sun

January 19, 2012 11 comments

This ‘In Their Own Words’ is by J. Lorraine Martin. She digs deep through laughter and tears in her personal blog on life and motherhood at http://cheeselesspizza.blogspot.com.  She is the mother to three children, one of whom has autism.  She is a writer, graduate student, volunteer/mentor in the autism and refugee/immigrant communities.  

I’m standing on a tennis court in my neighborhood.

Despite trees baring no leaves, the weather belies the time of year as the sun warms our exposed arms.  I have an unlikely tennis partner by my side:  my 17-year-old autistic son. This was his idea today.  A breeze tickles through our hair, birds on a Southerly journey pause to sing, as if for us.

My other son–an avid tennis player capable of sending balls at a fast pace swooshing right by me before my eyes can barely register it–stands on the other side of the court, playing left handed so as to ease the pace of the game and give us a fighting chance.

We have playful rallies.  We work on helping my oldest son by my side call out “mine” or “yours.”  We laugh over mishits, and occasionally my youngest son can’t help creaming a ball at me.  I can’t help trying to return it with equal power, most often hitting the net and hoping I don’t tax my old lady joints too badly.

I ponder the present moment. I am playing tennis with both of my boys. No one is rushing the moment.  No one is embarrassed. No one is anxious.  There are no “scenes.”  My oldest son, who usually surveys his surroundings on heightened guard, seems like that layer of self protectiveness is not required on this day.  He has stepped outside, something he doesn’t do much in our neighborhood, as he prefers the security and comfort of home. Yet on this day he is standing calmly and happily in the sunshine by his own initiative.

My husband, our dutiful ball boy and resident coach, asks our oldest son:  “Why are you smiling so much?”

He answers,  “Because I’m so happy.”

We hit some more.  I feel comfortably wrapped in gratitude and joy.  At the end of our playing time, I hug each son for different reasons; heroes to me in their own unique way.

As my husband and youngest son want to play longer, I ask my oldest son if he would like to walk around to see the other courts, playground and pool closed for the winter.  Normally, he would want to leave and go back home to what feels most comfortable. On this day, he says, “Let’s walk.” And we do.  Strolling, peacefully taking in the view. We end our walk, viewing my husband and other son playing some more, as we stand on a higher platform looking down at them.

And then expectations begin to seep in.  “Maybe you might like to come up to the high school to watch your brother play sometime.”  “Well, maybe,” he answers.  I imagine him sitting in the stands with us; my heart yearns and hopes.  I then bring up that his yoga class will be resuming now that the holiday break is over.  An intruding bit of anxiety hits my son, “I’m not sure if I want to go back to yoga, Mom.”  He is recalling that the instructor had coughed the last time and how that bothered him.  I find myself wanting to say some sort of validating thought coupled with some problem solving advice as I feel yoga is good for my son to cultivate self-awareness and inner calm.  I don’t want him to discount all he loves about a person simply because they coughed as he sometimes tends to do.  I find a bit of sadness creeping into my heart.

And then I suddenly feel quite aware of myself.  Why am I clouding such a perfect moment—the calm and peaceful present—with expectations about the future?  Why would I allow such intrusions?  I switch back to what matters most:  this moment I’ve been given.

The sun.  The breeze gently whispering.  The crisp sound of my youngest son’s racket making contact with a ball as he plays tennis with his dad. My oldest son by my side, entirely calm, having just happily played tennis and taking a leisurely stroll with me.

He then puts his hand up for a minute to gesture for me to pause.  “Listen, Mom to the birds.”  And we stand together and hear their song.

He adds, “I feel so good inside.”  My boy’s song amongst the birds.  A mother’s spirit aloft and soaring.

We stand side by side gripping the iron rails of a fence, looking down at my husband and youngest son playing tennis. My emotions flow forth.  “Oh, Mom is crying,” my husband says with a smile on his face as he looks toward me with understanding.  My son by my side looks at me and offers, “Mom cries when she’s happy, but I only cry when I’m sad.”   My husband replies, “Why do you think she does that?”  He says, “Because she is proud of me.”

In Their Own Words – Despite the System

December 6, 2011 10 comments

This is a blog post by Barbara MacArthur. She was diagnosed on the autism spectrum in her mid seventies and her son Howard also has autism.

My husband and I split up before our son was born.  He left the city and I had no idea of his whereabouts.  He had given up his job and later I found he had left behind a lot of debts which were nothing to do with me, but being a muggins I managed to repay them as I continued to work until a couple of weeks before the birth. I did not tell anyone that I was pregnant as I was lucky it did not show and I was afraid of losing my job.  (I had to leave a couple of weeks before the birth, as there were no special arrangements in those days).

We heard no more from Derek until one day, having taken Howard out in his pram; he pulled up in his car. I thought he wanted to look at the baby, but instead he asked me to the movies. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I said no, and he went, and that was the last I saw of him. At the time these events felt tragic, but now Howard, who is 57 and still living with me, and I smile at this. I thought Derek was strong and dominant. I thought I was weak and feminine. I see now that I did not know who I was then, and that I was the strong one.

When he was a child, Howard, was diagnosed as profoundly autistic and asthmatic.  “Just one of those things,” the doctors said. One told me he was “a write-off.” Another advised, “Stop sacrificing yourself, put him in an institution and forget him,” but having Howard adopted was an option I never considered. It seemed such a ridiculous suggestion, and I was sure I could work to support us.

I always had to work, there was no choice.  My husband never supported us and I did not know where he was. Howard was a bonny baby and weighed 28 lbs when he was 6 months old. Social security money would have been insufficient to keep him.  He always had a large appetite and his extra-large size clothes were expensive.  In 1973 my son received an official letter to say my ex-husband had died inManchester.  He had never remarried so my son was his only relative, but nothing was left except just enough to pay the burial expenses.  It was very sad because he was well educated and handsome, and had served as an officer in the Royal Artillery during the war.  Unfortunately, no widowed mother’s allowance, because I had divorced him in his absence (by newspaper advertisement) to make sure I could keep my job – married women were always the first to be made redundant.

In those days there was no allowance for one child or for a handicapped child or lone parent. I had to smile when I was refused a mortgage because my husband’s signature was needed in those days, even though he had left his job, I still had no idea where he was and I was in full-time employment.  I managed to get enough cash to buy a very old house with a dodgy roof, no bathroom and an outside toilet. It was cheap because of its condition, but it was all I could afford, and it took me ages to clean it up, get rid of the cockroaches, beetles and mice.  Somehow I managed to carry out some essential repairs myself until, over the years I saved enough to pay professionals for proper improvements and repairs.

Once, when my son was very small, I did give in to pride when I was on my uppers and applied for help from a charitable organization which had been set up to give financial and other support to unmarried mothers.  They had extended their remit and had given regular financial help to widows, widowers and single dads.  I felt so embarrassed when they turned me down flat in such an unpleasant way telling me in no uncertain terms that my it was my husband’s duty to support my child and me – as if I did not know that already!   Unfortunately, the phrase “Tell me about it!” had not yet been coined. Life is so funny – thank goodness I could see the funny side of it.

The stigma of being a divorcee with a child with learning difficulties was very strong, and we were regarded as less than second-class citizens.  Because of his hyperactivity, screams and tantrums, people thought he was a naughty child with a bad mother. In supermarkets he would go behind the counters and switch any switches on or off, or pull trays of goods to the floor. Could you blame the staff for threatening to ban us? When I took him to the beach he had to be watched all the time.  He had a habit of plonking himself on girls’ tummies when they were sunbathing. And if the bus home ever deviated from the usual route he would try to jump off while the conductor and passengers would remark: “Why don’t you control that effing boy! Women like you shouldn’t be allowed to have children. You should be sterilized.” Even doctors did not seem to understand autism and no facilities or support was available. I came to believe that what people said must be true; sometimes I used to feel that people were stepping all over me with heavy boots, and that I was beaten down into the pavement.

I am proud of my son for what he has achieved.  He will always be autistic and be considered by many as being ‘eccentric’ or a ‘bit odd’, but he is popular and has a tremendous sense of humour.  He is great company, enjoys his hobbies and is kind and affectionate. He is an extremely happy person.

A few years ago my son, Howard, and I signed on for part-time computer courses because we were both computer illiterate.  A Disability Officer at the Jobcentre referred him to the classes and I joined too, partly because I felt my son needed a ‘helper’ to cope with his learning difficulties.   I need not have worried.  We both became hooked on computers and ended up by both signing on for a full-time course at a local College in 1998.  My son became so proficient that the tutors nicknamed him ‘cyber-junkie’ and the name has stuck.  We both lost education in our youth – me at the age of just 14 because my school was destroyed by explosive incendiaries during World War Two – my son because he was refused admission to any school until he was 10 years old because he could not speak until then.  As the local Education Department put it in their letter to me “the medical officer and the educational psychologist have decided that Howard has such a disability of mind as to make him incapable of receiving education”

We completed the second year of full-time studies at college.    An assignment Howard chose to complete was about shopping on the Internet (5,000-plus words plus illustrations) and he named it ‘Window(s) Shopping’.  Despite his slight speech impediment he gave a great 20-minute presentation of the subject in front of class and tutors. It was very enjoyable for everyone.  I chose to compose an assignment about elderly people surfing the Internet and I called it ‘Cyber-Wrinklies’.

I used to be a full-time carer for three people – my elderly parents and my son.  My parents gave up their Council flat in Llanrumney and lived with my son and me for 16 years when we cared for them.  In July 1982 I was lucky enough to be able to take early retirement, as it really had become a 24-hour a day job at home. Some years ago my parents died within a month of each other – both in their 90s, in our home, leaving just enough money to cover cremation expenses. They had dreaded the thought of going to a nursing-home, they went suddenly and without pain, first my father with a heart attack and then my mother with a massive stroke.

My son and I were both thrilled to gain our Computer Science qualifications and continued our studies.  Howard graduated from University in 2003 – Computer Science. We are both very happy and have made lots of friends through our IT interests. Our life was transformed. We owe a lot to the tutors and staff at college and University and those who have set up these educational schemes.

Howard and I complement each other in that we have similar interests — computers and bookshops, for instance — yet we go in different directions. Howard loves downloading train simulators from different countries of the world on to his virtual railways. He has become hooked on music from YouTube. Howard loves Enya. I like downloading photos of tropical blue seas, palm trees and beaches. I like looking at different websites and what is going on in the world, especiallyUSpolitics. Howard is wary of the telephone, young children, noise, dogs, yet we both love heavy metal (noise) like ‘Queensof the Stone Age’, ‘Rammstein’ and Dave Grohl. Howard used to tease me because I loved all Leonard Cohen CDs, but later he became hooked too.

We are both loners – I suppose that is the autism in us.  It was not until my father was quite old that it dawned on me that he always had the classic symptoms of autism.  He had no formal education and joined the Royal Navy at the outbreak of the Great War (WW1) when he was just 16; he was well read and considered very clever, but extremely eccentric. When I thought back to my childhood I realized that I was ‘different’ but I was not diagnosed as somewhere within the autistic syndrome until I was in my mid-70s.

Now I am 85 and still Howard’s only carer, though he needs guidance more than care these days. I tell people that as I get older and less strong physically, we “prop each other up”, but that is partly to raise Howard’s self-esteem. He likes to consider himself my “nurturer”, a word he found on the web. I joke sometimes about pensioners who say they are lonely; I wish I had the chance to be lonely. I enjoy time on my own, always go to bed late and sometimes get up in the early hours and, if I am lucky, watch a late-night film drama. Tonight as I write he is in bed and I have just put out the rubbish bags. He helped earlier by emptying waste-paper baskets around the house, so it is team work. But he is often in his own world in his mind.

We lead a happy life. Coming back from town this morning we were dodging the traffic and continually laughing for no particular reason. But I worry what will happen to Howard when I die. My ex-husband died of cancer inManchester (this we learned by letter in 1973). We have our own home and Howard would want to remain here. There must be many carers in similar circumstances throughout the world who lay awake at night wondering what will happen when they are gone. Howard loves his home and is happy here; it would break his heart to be moved.

We were very lucky as we survived DESPITE the system – not because of it.  I hope eventually all of you will be lucky too.

Enzo’s mom talks insurance

November 30, 2011 12 comments

This blog post is by Jeanie Caggiano. Her son Enzo has autism and she is an Allstate customer.

My little boy, Enzo, is 7 years old.  He was diagnosed at age 3 with pervasive developmental delay. Last year, they gave us a more specific diagnosis that I am still coming to terms with: autism.

Enzo is apparently on the mild end of the spectrum. But that’s not much of a consolation when I get the call from school that he lost it again today and bit a classmate. Or when I go to volunteer at school and a boy in his class comes up to me and says, “You know, Enzo’s crazy.” Or when I call and call and call the other moms in his class to set up a play date and they don’t return my calls. For the parents of a kid with autism, there’s a new opportunity every day for your heart to break.

It’s why Autism Speaks is so essential. Every day, they’re helping families like ours cope with this disability by researching causes and treatments – and advocating for those who can’t speak for themselves.

I’m writing this because I want to tell you about an easy way to help raise money for Autism Speaks. Now through December 31 (we extended the deadline!) December 14th, when you get any Allstate insurance quote, Allstate will donate $10 to Autism Speaks.

They’ve made a pledge to donate up to $500,000. It’s really easy. You just call 866-998-4488 or visit AutismSpeaks.org/Allstate. Get a free quote on any kind of insurance: car, home, boat, life, motorcycle, business, anything.

Everybody needs insurance. I feel better about getting mine from a company that supports a cause I believe in so much. So please get a quote now through December 31 (we extended the deadline!) December 14th, and tell your family and friends about it, too.

In Their Own Words – The Big Dance

October 27, 2011 18 comments
It was a random phone conversation of no significance. She mentioned the big dance at a local boy’s school: the first big dance of the year.

I didn’t know about the dance. I listened to who was going, names of kids I knew and some, some only vaguely. “It’s a pretty big deal, it kicks off the social for the whole school year. You remember how it was about the first dance.”I smile to myself. Yes, I remember.

A couple of names were presented as not going. I suggest they are only freshman. Maybe they are just not emotionally ready. “No,” she responds. “They really should go. They meet other kids. Those social connections are important.”

Though Sam is the same age as most of the kids named, he isn’t going. He has never gone. But I don’t say those words out loud. The obvious reason is that he doesn’t go to the school and boys outside the school are not invited.

But that isn’t the only reason of course. Quite unexpectedly I feel a brief waive of nausea. I want to stop listening but I don’t. I realize I have stopped breathing for a moment.

It’s just a dance, I remind myself. Just a dance with teenage kids.

But neatly tucked away are my youthful memories of The First Dance. All the excitement; the emotional roller coaster ride of adolescence – the delight, the terror, crushes and heartbreak; the tentative steps into a more adult world of emotion. That right of passage that most of us experience.

I want Sam to experience that. But he likely can’t. He likely won’t. Why does this particular milestone catch me by surprise? I don’t want to care. But I do.

I keep the conversation moving and ask a mindless question. This time convincing myself, it’s just a dance. Just a dance.

As I hang up the phone and walk to the kitchen, Sam is playing music. We dance with abandon as we often do. And though it isn’t the same; or even close, I hear his laughter as we twirl. I find myself smiling and realize, it will do.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

Celebrating Moms!

April 25, 2011 61 comments

Welcome to this installment of ‘Topic of the Week.’ These topics stem from submissions from our community. If there is anything in particular that you would like to see featured, please contact us!

We would like to celebrate mothers this week!

What positive message do you want to send to other Moms who have a child with autism? If you could offer encouragement to other Moms what would you say? What new strength or wisdom did you gain from raising a child with autism?

Be sure to subscribe to the next Community Connections that will, “Celebrate Moms,” to be published on May 6.

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