Autism: The Journey Begins

autism babyTaylor was such a happy baby and he was busy all the time! As soon as he began to crawl, I knew we were in trouble. I envied my friends who could have all these beautiful decorations on their coffee table. How did their baby not destroy those? You would not find any precious knick-knacks on our tables. Nope. Just a lamp and a telephone (remember those?). Anything else would have been in his mouth, on the floor broken or just gone. Nothing was safe below the two foot mark. If we went to visit friends, we had to take everything that was in his reach off their tables. Every. Single. Time. He was into EVERYTHING! We called him a “Busy Baby”, we did not realize that this was one of our first signs.

RED FLAG #1

My first indication that something may not be right was when he was eight months old. I went to pick him up at daycare one afternoon and as I came to the door of his classroom, I stood there a moment watching him. Taylor hadn’t seen me yet and I wanted to just watch him play. I always loved the look on his face when he first saw me in the door and I was waiting for him to spot me on this afternoon. The picture to the left is the precious face I couldn’t wait to see every afternoon, crawling to me as fast as he could when he saw me.

While I was standing there, his teacher walked up to me and asked me if I had ever had Taylor’s hearing checked. I sort of laughed, and explained there was no reason. I knew Taylor could hear just fine and even told her how every night when my husband came in the back door, Taylor would hear the door chime, knew that meant Daddy was home and crawl lightning fast to go see his Daddy.

She didn’t say anything so I asked her why she was asking. She explained that whenever she called Taylor’s name, he never responded to her. Then she demonstrated by calling his name loudly and sure enough, Taylor continued to sit there with his back to us, just having a blast playing with the dump truck. What the heck?

So I did what every mom would do, I called Taylor’s name. “Taylor!” Immediately he turned around and saw me. His face lit up and he went into the fastest crawl you’ve ever seen, working his way towards me. I just looked at the teacher and shrugged like, “well there you go.” He could obviously hear. Maybe he was just busy. Maybe he didn’t like her voice?

But what did I just witness?

See, what I didn’t realize is that not responding to his name is one of the early signs of autism. Although I thought he was responding to his name when I said it, he was actually responding to the sound of my voice. The reason he did not respond to his teacher was because he did not understand that the word “Taylor” was his name. It would take many more months before he finally understood this concept.

RED FLAG #2

It was not long after this that the biting started and I don’t mean a little nip, this kid could bite!! I think we lasted another month at that daycare before he was kicked out. Thus, the beginning of the nightmare called “Biting and Finding a New Daycare”.

I think we went through three daycares. My husband, myself and the teachers tried everything! Timeout, hot sauce (teachers were allowed to do that then), popping his hand, talking with him, separating him from the other toddlers. Nothing worked and I cannot explain how stressful my days at work were waiting for the phone call from the daycare that I needed to come pick him up again and take him home so I could discipline him because he bit another child. How do you punish a one-year-old, hours after the act when he has been completely removed from the situation?

You don’t. You just pray that he grows out of it. So, we prayed.

We tried to figure out the cause of the biting but the problem was that EVERYTHING seemed to provoke it. If he was frustrated, he bit. If he loved you, he bit. If he was scared, he bit. If he was mad, he bit. If he was really mad, he bit himself! In fact, initially the daycare thought it was Taylor being bit until we realized he was biting himself. He would bite the top of his wrist while he looked at you because he really wanted you to know just how pissed he was!

RED FLAG #3

As Taylor continued on into toddlerhood, my husband and I began to notice that his vocabulary had seemed to really slow down. Around 18 months old is when we really took notice. He stopped saying new words and then words he had already begun to say, he may say once and then never again. I had a list of his words that I kept on the refrigerator. Every time he said a new word, I proudly wrote it on the list. From 10 months to about 18 months it seemed I was adding a word a week but then he seemed to lose interest in talking. We would go weeks without saying a new word.

The biting continued.

I don’t think I would have been alarmed as soon as I was if it wasn’t for our friends and neighbors who had babies around the same time I had Taylor. My friend, Jennifer lived down the street from us and had her daughter Rebecca, exactly one month after Taylor was born. We had play dates together and would walk them around the neighborhood with them in their strollers while they laughed and cooed.

As much as we try not to, we as parents do compare our children to others, I am admitting it for all of us, and it was very hard not to constantly compare Taylor to Rebecca with them being so close in age. I remember Jennifer being so concerned because Taylor began walking at 10 months and Rebecca refused to do it. She really was cute though the way she would scoot across the floor with one leg in front and one leg behind her. She was fine, of course and she walked perfectly when she decided she was ready to do it.

It soon became my turn to be concerned as Rebecca began to pass Taylor on the milestones. Taylor had a vocabulary of fifteen words and Rebecca was always talking. I told myself it was fine, just like Rebecca took her time walking, Taylor was taking his time talking. Besides girls and boys develop differently, right? I don’t think I believed it, even then. I knew in my heart something wasn’t right.

My other friend, Lisa, had her son 6 months after Taylor was born. Jackson was born 3 months premature and was the tiniest little thing I had ever seen. For the first year of Jackson’s’ life, if you asked Lisa how old he was, she would give you his corrected age (for example: he is 6 months old but was 3 months premi so his corrected age is 3 months old) So for the first year, Jackson was “corrected age” 9 months younger than Taylor instead of 6 months younger.

The reason I explain this is because it was watching Jackson that really brought it to my attention on how delayed Taylor was. I remember being over at Lisa’s house one night and Jackson was probably about 1 year-old. The entire time I was there, Jackson let out stream of “mama, mama, mama” or “ball”, or “mama ball” and even “Dawn, ball”, “Dawn!”. At this time, Taylor had never said “Mama”. Not once. He had no name for me. As much as I loved hearing Jackson say my name I still remember doing everything I could to keep from crying as I imagined what it would sound like to hear Taylor call me “Mama”.

I began to express my concerns. Why wasn’t Taylor talking?! If Jackson was talking, certainly Taylor should be! It seemed I was the only one concerned, I think mostly because the only thing that Taylor seemed to be delayed in was his speech. Was I being paranoid? Taylor was just too “busy” to talk, right?

One night, another friend babysat Taylor for us. It was the first time Ginny had babysat Taylor. I was worried that she wouldn’t be able to understand what Taylor needed because he was really just grunting at this point. When we picked Taylor up that night, she said he was perfect. She knew my concerns about Taylor’s speech and she wanted to reassure me that she saw a perfectly normal 18-month old. Ginny said she never had a problem that night at all understanding what Taylor wanted. “No problem at all!” She always knew what he wanted to eat or drink or what video he wanted to watch or what he wanted to play.

I loved her for that but I wasn’t satisfied. I asked her simply, “what words did he say?” She stood there for a long minute thinking. I could tell that I had stumped her. I said, “He didn’t say anything, did he? He grabbed you by the hand and led you to the refrigerator and pointed to what he wanted to eat and drink. He brought you the video he wanted to watch. He pointed at the things that he wanted to play with, right? Taylor is so good at expressing what he wants, that you didn’t even realize that he only grunted and didn’t said a single word. I am right, aren’t I,” I asked. The look on her face told me that I was right.

As much as we didn’t want to admit it, Taylor wasn’t talking like he should. It was time to do something about it. I knew something was wrong. At Taylor’s 18-month check-up, I brought it up to Taylor’s pediatrician. The doctor didn’t seem very concerned and told me “let’s see how he is doing at 2 years-old.”

So, we waited.

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