By the age of 2, my sons were not speaking words and sentences the way other children in their preschool groups were. They each showed precocious signs of their intellectual development, such as my older son drawing and diagramming out “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” book, including writing out words like “egg,” “cocoon,” and “caterpillar.” In fact, the first time he did it at preschool I thought the teacher was joking until she showed me and my son did it in front of me. However, he only spoke a handful of words for his age, so we had him assessed and indeed he needed and benefited from speech therapy. By the age of 4 both of my sons were speaking so well my husband and I joked that it that it seemed hard to believe we were so worried about their speech.
In our case, one son has autism, while the other had speech delays that were resolved with speech therapy. The son with autism was having social communication and sensory issues that my other son did not.
I will always remember sitting at the small table with my son’s kindergarten teacher in his classroom, knees knocking, heart beating, as she gently discussed the concerns she had about my son. She handled the moment so sensitively when she suggested I have him evaluated. I didn’t know much about autism beyond inaccurate stereotypes in movies. What could it mean for my child and his future?
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Once upon a time, my husband and I were afraid to utter the word ‘autism.’ We thought that merely saying the word aloud would make autism a reality for our son, Jacob. Like many parents who suspect or learn their child has autism, we were in denial big time. After denial, we experienced a period of grief. But in time, we realized that whether Jacob had autism or not, our goal as parents was to help him reach his fullest potential and live the best life possible. That’s when we rolled up our sleeves and got busy.
Sharing the News: We began telling our families and friends about Jacob’s diagnosis. Some relatives had questions we couldn’t answer. Some friends wanted to help but we didn’t know how or what they could do. Yet whatever responses we got were almost a relief because they got us openly talking about autism—they got us over our fear. They got us ‘unstuck’ and focused us on beginning to build a support team.
Knowledge is Power: Two seconds after getting Jacob’s diagnosis, we realized that there was no instructional manual that came with it. We were on our own. Scary. My husband and I had zero experience with autism so we had to begin educating ourselves. We did online research, read articles, sought out parent-friendly websites and support groups, and started attending local autism workshops and Milestones’ conference. The one thing we soon stumbled upon was not knowing what information was trustworthy. Would some therapies offer false hope? Be a waste of money? Maybe even be harmful to Jacob? We quickly learned that we should focus on ‘evidence-based’ strategies and interventions only as these were backed by studies and reliable research.
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