This afternoon Jake and Cole were swimming with our neighbor’s boy. They are two houses down from us, and they have one of those pools that you can put up for the summer, and then take down once the weather cools down. It’s the perfect type of pool for our kids’ age group..and for our climate. This arrangement worked well for all 3 boys. I couldn’t go with them, as I had to stay on premises while Tate did his ABA therapy. Our neighbor’s nanny was fine with the 2 boys playing there, but I popped outside to check on them occasionally.
The boys had been outside for almost 2 hours, and it had been about a half hour since my last check. I crept into the grass, and watched as the boys giggled and shouted at each other while they played some silly game. They were happy, and seemed content. As I walked back to the house, I caught the eye of my neighbor who lives in between our houses. She had her 2 kids outside playing with the sand and water table. Her children are 4 and *this close* to 2.
We said hello and waved. Since her daughter and Cole are about the same age, she asked if we had gotten into the preschool with the school district. I confirmed that we got our acceptance letter. She told me that she had decided to keep her daughter at the same school where she attended 3-year-old preschool. I totally understood. For my other 2 sons, switching preschools would have been difficult. However, Cole can handle the switch, and the benefits of the district-run program are plenty.
We chatted a bit, and I was saying how it’s such a different experience to have a child who is developmentally on track. She forced a laugh, and said that she wished she knew. I knew that her daughter had been through Early Intervention–in fact, her daughter had the same speech therapist that Tate still sees. Turns out, her daughter is doing OT for sensory processing disorder, and is in a group speech therapy. Also, a few months ago I noticed a flotilla of cars ascend upon her house. I recognized an SUV and a sedan–they were the same individuals who had evaluated Tate for speech and OT way back in 2008. (OMG–it’s been that long?!) Turns out her son is doing the trio of speech, OT & Developmental Therapy.
When she told me that he had all three, I felt a pang in my chest. Tate had all 3 once. Back then, I was glad they were helping him..figured it would get him on track by kindergarten. Now, I know. I asked how her son was doing. She sighed and said he’s not progressing much. His 6 month meeting is in a couple of weeks, and they are starting to suggest autism as a possibility. She tried to shrug it off, saying that he is *only* two. That shrug. That self-denial. The uneasy smile, trying to convince others, and yourself, that it’s not what you fear. Now, I know. Five years ago I was in her shoes, doing same thing. I told her that the evaluations for 2-year-olds can be done. She nodded.
She asked when we had gotten Tate’s diagnosis. I gulped. He was almost 5. She looked at me incredulously. She thought she remembered that he was diagnosed early. I explained…he was in early intervention when he turned 2. He did the entire Early Childhood program through our school district. Midway through his 3-year-old preschool year we were told he was the most impulsive child the teacher had ever seen. We were told she believed it was “neurological”. I had no idea what the sam-hell that meant back then…but now I know. Now, I know. Neurological = Autism. Neurological = ADHD. Neurological = Anxiety. I told her that one of the doctors we had seen assuaged our guilt–admitting that Tate was a “blurry” case. He had some classic signs of autism…and yet, in some other categories, he presented typically.
I talked about how I wished I had known that some of Tate’s behaviors were “classic” autism. His meltdowns. He didn’t tantrum…he melted down. Hard. The difficulty with transition. The rigidity to routine. The sensory disorder. The sensitivity. The speech delay. The echolalia. Oh, the echolalia. The non-imaginative play. The hanging on the perimeter. Now, I know.
She excused herself as she ran to pull her son out of harm’s way. And by harm’s way, I mean he was *this close* to being clobbered by Jake and the other neighbor boy, who were now swinging on our playset. Her son was totally oblivious. As I watched, I remembered how we used to almost giggle about Tate and his lack of awareness of his space-time continuum. He really did not have a good sense of his body and where it was in relation to others. Then I just thought he was clumsy. Now, I know.
I watched her son as he played around the other kids. There was a familiarity to it. I have seen “play” like that before. The flitting from activity to activity. The being part of the group–without being a part of the group. Flapping hands as excitement mounts. Yes, I have seen that before. Now, I know.
Eventually my neighbor excused herself as her children were getting tired and fussy. The boys in my yard were loud and chaotic and overstimulating. She didn’t have to explain anything…because, well, I know.
Editor’s Note: If she does find out her son is autistic, I will be there for her any way that I can. She apologized several times for “picking my brain”. I couldn’t emphasize enough how I don’t mind at all…and that I am happy to help in any way that I can. I wish I had someone back then to help me find my footing. I had to go it alone…and the feelings of isolation and despair that it was *just* us were overwhelming. I want to let all newly initiated to this community know they aren’t alone, that a diagnosis isn’t the end of the world, and that there is always hope. Because now, I know.