I was slightly skeptical, but mostly relieved, upon hearing these words from my son’s pediatric neurologist back in 2004. After all, it had taken about five months to get an appointment with him. Surely he knew what he was talking about. MJ, who was two-and-half at the time, wasn’t speaking and had been a late walker. He also moved awkwardly and often flapped his hands like he was trying to fly.
We made the appointment with this busy neurologist at the suggestion of our primary care pediatrician. The neurologist noted that MJ had some significant developmental delays which would require therapy, but then he gave us the good news: This wasn’t autism, and he would demonstrate how he knew this. He hid behind a curtain, then jumped out quickly and said “peek-a-boo.” MJ laughed. An autistic kid wouldn’t have laughed, explained the doctor. Keep up with the speech therapy, occupational therapy and behavioral therapy, he advised. But your son will catch up by 2nd grade, he said.
My son is now in 2nd grade at a school for children with autism spectrum disorders where he is receiving the above-mentioned therapies (supplemented by services at home). Our district agreed to send him to this school only after he was officially diagnosed as being on the spectrum. The diagnosis came from a developmental pediatrician to whom we were referred by his primary care doctor who was highly skeptical about the neurologist’s assurances. I now realize that getting the diagnosis was the most important step we could have taken.
Over the past five years, MJ has made tremendous progress in his communication and self-help skills, much of it due to his dedicated and well-trained teachers and therapists. However, we have experienced frustration and anxiety along the way. It has been an exhausting and expensive experience to gather the information and experts necessary to carry out an effective plan. The plan is just beginning and will last a lifetime. My vision for Autism Parents is that it will become a practical and free resource for parents with kids on the spectrum based on proven practices. I’d like to share short-cuts and ideas for dealing with autism on a budget whenever possible.
My son may never be mainstreamed and I’m OK with that. I do remain confident that he will speak some day and take great joy in the fact that even without verbal speech he is more outgoing than I was at his age. He still loves peek-a-boo and has grown quite fond of his teachers, therapists, grandparents and especially his parents.
Our autistic kids have common traits, but they are all individuals, of course. Each with his own personality. Each with his own strengths and weaknesses. With your help, we will share reliable information and strategies for allowing them to live happy, healthy and productive lives.