As most people in our life know, Andrew, our 5 year old, is on the Autism Spectrum. When we tell people that, we get an “oh, he doesn’t LOOK autistic, I would have never known if you hadn’t told me”. That’s because majority of people we meet only get a glimpse of exactly who Andrew is. I also think that it’s because most have a pre-conceived notion of what “Autism” actually is.
Andrew was born just after 7am on Wednesday, February 4th, 2004. I had a fairly easy delivery with him, pain free thanks to a fentanyl epi, and he was just over 8lbs. He was perfect…a little red and wrinkly, but beautiful nonetheless. Things were great until the following day, when he started to refuse to nurse. I thought it was a temporary aversion and a tried to perservere…however, Andrew had already decided…he was not going to breastfeed. I have never, ever seen a child with that much of an aversion…he screamed like he was being murdered as I tried to put him to the breast. So, I ended up pumping and bottle feeding for 4 months. In hindsight, I think I knew Andrew was ‘different’ from that second day of his life. As he didn’t like to be held…he didn’t like to be rocked to sleep unless it was the rock of the mechanical swing…he didn’t interact like other babies. At around 9 months we thought he was deaf…we soon realized that he responded to music, but not to the sound of us calling his name. He met all his physical milestones, but seemed to be behind on the social ones. Of course, all this realization is in hindsight. I had Allen, who was quite advanced, so I just chalked up Andrew’s differences to being a different child than his big brother. At the time, Amy was his caregiver, and she shared her concerns with me. Andrew seemed to do a lot of things differently and some things later than others. He didn’t walk on his own for the first time until he was 17 months of age (one of the only physical milestones that he didn’t meet on time).
Right around the time he started to walk, we started to get really concerned about his social development. He didn’t interact with us, he didn’t interact with other kids…he just was in his own little world. One beautiful summer day at the park, Amy and I had the epiphany while watching Andrew in the sand. Andrew was sitting there, oblivious to everyone else around him. He was picking up sand in his chubby little fists, placing the fists against his face, and then slowly let the sand fall out of his hands, down his cheek and onto his legs. He did it about 20 times in a row. That’s when I looked at Amy and said “Do you think he’s autistic?” and Amy had thought almost the exact same thing at the exact same time.
So off to the doctor we trotted and within about 4 months we had a diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder. The strange thing was that I wasn’t devastated. I don’t know why, but I this feeling of calm, of knowing what the problem was and a sense that now that we knew, we could do something about it.
Over the years Andrew has progressed from non-verbal at 30 months, to his mouth running a mile a minute 30 months later at the age of 5. Andrew is in a regular kindergarten class with an aide and they have mentioned a few times that they think he might be gifted academically. He’s hyperlexic (spontaneously started reading just before he turned 4) and loves numbers and letters and sounds. Academically he’s brilliant…socially and emotionally is a different story though. He’s about 2 years behind when it comes to these things…but we’re slowly working on it. Andrew has problems with his gross and fine motor skills…only just learned to ride a tricycle this past summer…he has virtually no upper body strength. He has occupational therapy sessions and he wears custom orthotics to correct his gait and to stop him from tip-toe walking. He’s slowly getting better with those things and he will get better. That’s one thing I try to convey to people about Autism…it’s a developmental delay, not developmental stagnation! He will get there, with love, patience and a lot of hard work.
If you knew Andrew, and saw him on an everyday basis, you would see his autism. He rocks and spins, walks on tiptoes and stims, he perseverates on things. He’s extremely interested in birthdays right now…he can tell you every family members birthday and how old they are and how old they will be on their next birthday. He proudly tells everyone he sees “My mom is 39 years old and she’s going to be 40 on her next birthday, which is March 6th, 2010” (gee, thanks kid).
We don’t wonder why Andrew is autistic at our house…he’s just Andrew. I believe he was born with Autism and that it’s an intrinsic part of who he is and the adult he will become. We don’t treat him any differently from our so called ‘neurotypical’ children. He’s expected to do his chores, behave appropriately, do his homework, be respectlful and most of all, be a kid and have a lot of fun.
Andrew is the face of Autism at our house…and what a beautiful face it is: