I don't want to write this one. I figure if I don't, it will all go away and it'll turn out that we've overreacted, misunderstood, misdiagnosed... I figure if I don't acknowledge it publicly, it will go away privately, and I'll wake up tomorrow morning with Leo telling me, in a clear voice, that he's hungry and would like some breakfast, please.
Leo is now 3-and-a-half years old. We noticed a while ago that his speech skills were not developing the same as other children his age.
We figured at the time that every toddler develops at a different pace, so while we took notice of the delay, we weren't worried. Time passed. After he turned two, we had him screened. In many ways, he was on target with other kids his age. We were reassured.
But another year passed, and we watched as other kids his age were speaking more clearly and moving on to potty training and other typical milestones that didn't interest Leo in the slightest. He certainly says more than he used to. It's not as if there's been no progress at all. Still, you just know. Something's not right.
We talked to our pediatrician. She was familiar with the signs we described to her. She gave us one of those official-sounding diagnoses that's really designed to authorize more intense testing and screening. And that's what happened. After Leo turned 3, we confirmed what we needed to hear. Leo has what they call "pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified."
In plain English, Leo is sort of autistic. I don't want to overstate his symptoms and make it sound as if he's headed for Rain Man territory. As autism goes, Leo's one of the lucky ones. We've heard of children much older than he who have yet to speak their first words. The more we become immersed in this, the more I'll be able to distinguish between Leo's challenge and those of other children on the autism spectrum.
At the same time, I don't want to minimize the challenge he's been handed (the challenge we've been handed right along with him). We're on this journey now because something's wrong, something we need to address. My wife, a Broward County school teacher, has been a rock throughout this process, making sure we are aware of every available resource for children on the autism spectrum. I've been a mess. But I know we're not alone. We have each other, and we know there's support for Leo and for those of us committed to his growth and development. We're not alone.
Next month, Leo will be a student at the Baudhuin Preschool in Davie. We hear great things about the place. In a lot of ways, Leo's journey begins there. And yes, his mom and I will be with him throughout this journey, holding Leo's hand every step of the way.
If it were up to parents, every child would be diagnosed with every possible illness and/or disorder. Although we had our suspicions, the key thing we did was talk to Leo's pediatrician. If you think your child is facing a similar challenge, or a different one, please talk to your pediatrician. There are organizations in Broward and Palm Beach that engage in autism research and treatment; we'll be writing about them as we get to know them along Leo's journey.