My son was born on May 8th 2017. Beaming with light, he sprang into the world and he was EVERYTHING. His father and I instantly knew that everything we would or wouldn’t do in our lives would solely be to make his life happier. Over the course of the next 10 months, he knocked all his physical milestones out of the park. Rolling over,
sitting, crawling, standing, perfecting the pincer grip, and walking. We were filled to the brim and bursting with pride as all new parents are or, at least, should be. He was more or less a typical infant and I clearly remember gushing to my husband that we had the most well behaved baby I’d ever come across. He rarely cried or whined. He didn’t require attention for long periods of time. He was content to sit in the same spot, play with the same toy, or watch the entire “Trolls” movie without so much as a few gleeful squeals and hand flaps. We’d created perfection.
One morning, about 5 weeks before his first birthday, I woke the baby, changed and fed him, gave him some watered down apple juice, played with him, and put his movie on so that I could do the dishes. Only this time he wasn’t so content. He started to melt down and it took nearly an hour to calm him. I thought to myself that he may just have been reaching a new developmental milestone, but I was concerned. This behavior was very odd for our son, so I began to watch a bit more closely. A few weeks passed and I began to notice small things. He stopped saying the few words he had, stopped making eye contact, and his hand flapping was getting more and more intentional. He also began to hum constantly. He lost all interest in other children and played in his own little world more often than not. Nothing seemed to exist or be of importance outside of “Bruno Land.” He was missing developmental milestones constantly and my big boy, who was so far ahead of the game in comparison to the other infants around me, started to lag behind.
I began doing some research on the signs of Autism in an infant. Everything I found was exactly what we had been experiencing with the baby. I did have a little leg up because a younger cousin of mine had been diagnosed with the condition when she was a toddler. I knew what to look for, so I looked for it. As time went on, I started to vocalize my concern to our families. While my husband was doubtful, he was always on board. He too wanted what was best for Bruno’s development. Our families and friends were harder to convince. Our guy was pretty much a typical toddler at this point. He climbed on everything he could and loved rough housing and cuddles. He was exceptionally well behaved and those of you with toddlers know how rare that is. He didn’t have tantrums or protest when you took a toy away. He simply happily existed and complied. I was told to count my blessings more often than not. The words, “He doesn’t seem autistic to me.” repeated over and over in conversations. “Boys are just slower.” “My son didn’t talk until he was three.” “How could you think that about your son?” “He’s a normal boy.” “Let him come into his own on his own time.” These phrases made me cringe. Despite feeling a bit guilty for assuming he was lacking, I was certain a connection was broken. I pushed forward and made all the appropriate appointments.
He was officially diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and a Language Receptive Disorder by a doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) on October 25th 2018, just two weeks before he turned 18 months old.
The fact of the matter is that I never thought anything was wrong with my son. He was just different. There is such a massive stigma when someone hears the word “Autism.” Society in general tends to create its own definition for the word. “Wrong.” “Bad.” “Abnormal.” Expect to hear the phrase, “I’m so sorry,” when you inform a friend. Even now, after his official diagnosis, people will still tell me that he’s too young to be diagnosed or they’ll desperately try to
think of a time when they noticed a typical connection. I understand this mentality and am aware I may not be able to change a person’s perception of the disorder, especially if all their knowledge of the condition was gathered while watching the film “Rain Man”; however, the spectrum is enormous. Imagine it as a color prism rather than a straight line. There are no two people with autism completely alike. Every person diagnosed may have similar symptoms, but very different strengths and weaknesses. One may be great at conversation, but may also be easily over stimulated. Another may not have the ability to look you in the eye for long periods of time, but might seek out thrill and sensory experiences, like Bruno does.
I will not talk down about the people who believe he was misdiagnosed. Their concern doesn’t come from a bad place. It’s simply how they were taught to perceive the disorder in their social corner. For me, what matters most at the end of the day is intent. I find more often than not that when a person has a concern about Bruno’s diagnosis, they aren’t trying to impose or sound rude. I am, however, human. I do get frustrated some days and I do occasionally boil over, as would most parents who feel the need to defend their child against ignorance. Nevertheless, we must remind ourselves that we live in a society that assumes the worst about uncharted territory and that this mentality is the norm. The long and short of it is that YOU are your child’s advocate and you will know him or her best. You will see the signs first because you know your child on the most intimate level. That is until you send them out in the world to start their own family. Advocate for them and make the appropriate appointments as early as possible. With ASD it is so important to obtain Early Intervention Services to help your child grow into their maximum potential. Make sure they receive the correct types of therapy, which they’ll need in order to adapt to the society that you and I navigate more easily. Forget the social norms and ignore every person who tells you how wrong you are for assuming such a thing could be possible. It is your job as a parent to shut down the naysayers and to do all you can to keep your child healthy, happy, kind, and able.
Forget autism awareness. It’s high time we begin talking about autism acceptance. If your child was your light a week before his or her diagnosis, they’re your lighthouse after it. Maintain them and help them shine as bright as they are capable of shining and they will breathe joy and life into every path they cross. Our son has Autism. It is a part of what makes him, him… and to this day I turn to my husband before bed and say, “We’ve created perfection.”
Written By Ellen Banning Lerro