D is for Diagnosis
By the time my oldest was 18 months old, I knew he had Asperger’s….but no one else seemed to know except for maybe my husband. He spoke like an adult yet seemed confused whenever anyone asked him something directly. (“He’s a genius! Listen to him talk…he’s just busy thinking about other things”). At Mommy-Tot class while all the other babies would watch with wonder as technicolor bubbles floated by, he was finding his way across the gym to open and close the door over and over. (“He’s a genius! Bubbles are beneath his intelligence!”) And yes, he loved to go to the park….but would decide which park based on what kind of public toilet was there and then would spend the majority of his time in said toilet if allowed….and I would often have to threaten him with a consequence if he didn’t go and play (“He’s a genius! He’ll be an engineer one day…he just wants to know how it works!”). While he also never hugged or kissed me, he would let me do it to him. I said “I love you” any opportunity I had but he never said it back. He would let me sit down to play with him, but his back would soon be turned and he was playing on his own again. His conversations often consisted of repetitive phrases over a video he watched over and over for months at a time. The list could go on and on….but the fact was that he was not particularly disruptive, he was functional and he was so cute and tiny and spoke so well people mistook him for a quirky genius. What was difficult is that we lived far from family and friends so when they saw him for brief periods they would just tell us we were worrying too much. They would see the quirk for a few days at a time….not hours on end like we saw. So when my youngest got to be about 8 months old and clearly had serious medical issues all concerns we had about A1 went to the way side. My concerns were still there but again were also pushed aside by the pediatrician when I would bring them up (“Some kids are just persistent” “Drooling has just become a bad habit”) It wasn’t until he was 7 years old that I had him tested and really, it was only because he was floundering at school. I was being told that “some kids are average to below average”….the same kid just 2 years earlier everyone was telling me was a genius. I had to see if he had a diagnosis in order to get him the assistance he needed at school…And sure enough….psychoeducational testing by a licensed psychologist showed what we always knew. ADHD and Asperger’s Disorder. A few years later I actually got a second opinion from another psychologist…and guess what….same outcome. On standardized testing. Across settings. Again. He is definitely not a genius…but he is also definitely not below average. A1 is the fall-through-the-crack kid. His rigidity can be seen as defiance. His poor social skills makes him look like a loner. His attention issues make him look lazy. And as the person who lives with him 24/7 I can tell you he is no more of those things than any 12-year-old. He is a people pleaser and when he thinks he has failed at that he kicks himself over it. Overall, A1 is going to be fine….but I believe it is because we have recognized the thing that makes him different…but not less.
A2 was not diagnosed until the age of 4 despite my husband and I and everyone around us knowing something was very wrong. What was troubling was that when he turned 6 months old and I started him on solids…everything else stopped. Except for the worst constipation I have ever witnessed. He stopped growing. Stopped. Completely. At one year he was about the same size and weight as he was at 6 months old. He stopped developing but did not lose any skills. At 12 months he was the same adorable little nugget he was at 6 months. Was it possible I willed him to stay an infant? What also did not change was his inability to stay asleep for more than 90 minutes at a time. Down for 90…up for 2 hours. This went on for 2 years and one day I got the flu and was out of commission for 10 days. I had to let my husband get up with him through the night. When I got out of those sweaty sheets after 10 days….it occurred to me that I was not clinically depressed as I believed I was up until that moment my body became an achy, hot mess….I instead emerged a new woman. A rested woman forced to sleep by a virus. A2 had already been diagnosed by a fresh muscle biopsy at the Cleveland Clinic with Static Encephalopathy with Mitochondrial Dysfunction….we got a scary letter to take with us everywhere we went. We were told not to let his blood sugar drop too low. We were told to keep him cool in the summer. We were told to have a very low tolerance for fever and dehydration. We were told he had an uncertain life span.
At about 2 years old when he started crawling he found that rubber stopper thingy behind a door. Thhhhwwwaaaang! He’d whip his head to the side and roll his eyes. Thhhhwwaang again. Again with the head thing and eye rolling. I remember my heart dropping to my stomach. I remember thinking “oooohhhhh shiiiiittt”. I knew that was a stim (self-stimulatory behavior). For the next 2 years I watched A2 develop at 20% of the speed of the rest of his peers. He went from being the most social baby of the group and as his peers developed speech I watched him realize he was not part of the group…to standing by the group and watching everyone play….to standing out of the group and not paying attention to everyone. To this day I believe it is not because he didn’t want to…but because he knew he couldn’t. He flapped. He screamed. He stopped eating all solid food. He had no language other than the vowel sounds of babbles of a young infant. But he was still sweet, and loving and laughed heartily. He was finally diagnosed at 4 years old with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). The diagnostic version of “your kid has Autism…mostly…”.
What’s in a name? Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, ASD, HFA, On-The-Spectrum, Neurodiverse, High functioning Autism, Severe Autism, Non-Verbal Autism. You may have heard any and all of these used when hearing about someone who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (the now official diagnosis to describe all of the above as of 2013). We will likely intuitively still call Autism all of these terms because as we have all heard “if you meet one person with Autism…you have met ONE person with Autism”. The criteria was narrowed and Asperger’s and PDD-NOS were eliminated from official diagnosis. In my private practice as a therapist, I now see children who come through my office with a list as long as my leg (I’m only 5 feet tall, but you get the picture). Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder, Bipolar Disorder……all in one child. Why?? Because we have eliminated Asperger’s Syndrome from our vernacular. My children have both been reclassified as Autism Spectrum Disorder (as they are supposed to be due to consideration of prior history and diagnosis). But they could not be any different. With hard work that would make your head spin and a hard-core bitch of a mom they continue to improve in terms of working toward being independent, contributing members of our community. But they could NOT be any more different. This is autism.