It was a routine check up with our paediatrician. I was exhausted because, I was seven months pregnant with our third child. She was discussing growth charts, then casually slipped in that she thought our son was showing a lot of signs of autism. I had an unshakable feeling down to the very last cell in my body that she was right, but I couldn’t accept it. I had no idea, in that moment, that my life would change forever. Or even more shockingly, just how much it would change.
My ears started to ring, and my heart sank into my stomach. “Umm… signs of autism?” was all I was able to choke out. She replied what felt like so indifferently, “It’s nothing to worry about. Autism isn’t as scary as it once was, and we live in a great place for resources.” I was filled with so much anger and hatred, I didn’t hear another word. I focused on just breathing and getting through the rest of the appointment without lashing out at her.
Nothing to worry about?! You’ve just changed my whole life.
Great place for resources? Like what? Shitty doctors like you?
What could she possibly know about my child? She sees him for a few minutes every 6 months, maybe even less!
Before she made this suggestion, I thought our paediatrician was amazing. She was so sure of herself, knowledgeable, and direct. She didn’t stress over minor things the kids did or didn’t do. Did or didn’t eat. Did or didn’t say. I loved her relaxed but confident nature. As soon as she pointed out something “wrong” about my child, I saw her in an entirely different light. When the phrase “signs of autism” came out of her mouth, all the good will she had built over the years was gone.
She. Was. Terrible.
She. Knew. Nothing.
Thankfully my husband was with me because he had left work early to support me through the appointment. Our children absolutely hated going to the doctor, and it always ended in at least one major meltdown. It was so bad that my husband was willing to leave work early to help. Yet another red flag I had conveniently ignored.
We left the office, walked to our vehicles and I instantly fell apart. My husband held me in the parking lot as I tried to hide my tears from our boys. Luckily he was able to take our oldest with him, but our youngest was still deeply attached to me and wanted to remain with me for the drive home. I didn’t mind, but I couldn’t hold back my tears. “Besides,” I thought to myself, “if he really is autistic he won’t even care that I’m crying anyway.”
I got home, went upstairs, crawled into the empty bathtub, fully clothed, and sobbed for what felt like hours. Not the ideal emotions to be pulsing through your body when you’re trying to get through your third trimester. I tried to calm myself, but no matter what, I just couldn’t. What was I thinking, having a third child? How could I possibly handle this? What kind of mother am I? Where can I find a new paediatrician?
Months went by, and I was contacted by the office of specialists the doctor had referred us to. My son had just turned 4 at the time of her autism suggestion, so time was getting short. Early intervention is everything, and we had failed him by not having him diagnosed sooner. We couldn’t leave it until he was 5. She urged them to push him to the top of the list. They asked me, did I agree?
“My son is not autistic and I don’t know what she’s talking about. You might as well take him off the list. He doesn’t need a diagnosis, he just needs time. She simply doesn’t understand him, but I do. I get him. He has started preschool since that check up, and is doing great. Once he gets more of that socialization, he’ll come out of his shell and she will see how wrong she is.”
Thankfully the person handling the intake was gracious enough to hear my deep insecurities without making me feel like she had the slightest hint of them. “Sure,” she said, “no problem. We can take him off the list, but if you change your mind, he will go right back on it where he is now. So stay in touch, ok?!”
Outside of having a wonderfully distracting newborn, as well as two other beautiful children to care for, autism consumed my thoughts.
Then that spring, I went to a preschool class where all the parents got to attend. The kids were so excited to share the classroom with their parents. Some of them couldn’t wait to show off their younger sibling to the teacher or a friend.
“Let’s make a puzzle daddy!”
“Come read me my favourite book, mommy!”
I stopped googling.
The signs of autism were there.
Despite months of being in the same class, he could not keep up. He could not understand, or sing, or play. He could not sit criss cross apple sauce. It meant nothing to him that his mom was seeing his classroom, or that his teacher could meet his baby sister. He looked totally uninvolved and separated, despite the kind children who urged him to play along. I was devastated, because I could no longer hide the fact that I was wrong.
I cried in the class, in front of all the sweetest four year olds and their parents, the teachers, everyone. I leaned into my daughter’s bucket car seat and tried to hide my face. I wiped my tears with her swaddle blanket, but it didn’t matter. They knew, and I knew. My son is different. His doctor is right, and I can’t deny it anymore.
I called the specialist’s office, and we were in the following month. We got the diagnosis I could no longer avoid.
Autism Spectrum Disorder. Severe.