“Mommy, I want eggs, please.”
“Go tell Daddy.”
July 28, 2012
At some point, we will wonder whether the experts who placed my son Leo on the autism spectrum were simply mistaken. He will speak to us in a clear voice. He will master making eye contact. He will learn to share his toys. He will express his frustration in words instead of seemingly hostile actions. He’s going to be OK.
This was the prognosis we received last week when we brought Leo to a neurologist at the Miami Children’s Hospital Dan Marino Center in Weston. My wife and I had no idea what to expect when we walked in with Leo, 3. Would they need to do an MRI? Would they have to knock Leo out so that he could lie still in some scary looking machine while some unpronounceable rays scanned his brain? Would they have to knock me out to spare me the fear of watching what they had to do to my son?
We will wonder whether this was a misdiagnosis, we were told. But it’s not.
After I revealed Leo’s challenge last month, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from family, friends and other parents whose children are on this journey. And I’m embarrassed at our fortune. So many children will never experience the success predicted for Leo. Their parents will never wonder. They know.
“If you’ve met one autistic child, you’ve met one autistic child,” a fellow reporter told me. He spoke from experience. His pre-teen daughter is autistic. He was one of the first people I told, and one of the first to offer me the comfort that the diagnosis is nothing to fear. Even as he described his daughter to me, I realized that his family’s struggle was more intense than mine. I felt lucky. Glad I wasn’t in his shoes. Then guilty. I fear a future he would probably embrace for his own child.
The other day, in a fairly clear voice, Leo asked his mom for eggs. He asked in a way that was almost eerie, because it was something I said would be a sign that this is all some kind of bad dream.
My son is not like other boys. He’s different – not less. He has to learn things other kids take for granted. We have every reason to believe he’ll make significant progress.
But no, we will never wonder. We are the parents of an autistic child. We will never lose sight of that. We will hold his hand as long as we can. Others will hold our hands, in love and support. In time, Leo, my wife and I will be the ones offering a helping hand and letting others know they are not alone.
Afterthought: This article uses two lines that are well known to those who are familiar with the struggles of autistic children and adults. The first is the quote my reporter-friend relayed to me about meeting an autistic child. The second is the term "different, not less." I decided the day after I originally posted this article to include these movie clips which are, for ME, the source of that line. They are from the HBO movie Temple Grandin, about the noted autistic doctor (you read that right). Different, Not Less is also the title of a book she wrote about successful people with autism, Asperger's and ADHD. Good luck keeping a dry eye while watching this.