“Declan, can you point to the animal in the picture?”
Declan was 2, and in the process of being evaluated for services.
Instead of answering the evaluator’s question, Declan squatted to the ground, put his head on the carpet and walked forward, pushing his forehead into the ground.
“Declan,” she continued, “which one is the dog?”
Declan stood up, ran over to her, took the card out of her hand and threw it. Then he ran around in circles, shaking his head while staring at the ceiling lights.
“Declan,” she persisted, “Say DOG. Can you say the word DOG?”
I realized what she was getting at, and I was getting mad. Declan could say DOG. We had 3 of them! He knew all their names. He called them. He played with them.
“Declan say DOG!” I yelled.
But the running in circles continued.
“This is ridiculous,” I said to the evaluator, “He can say the word DOG. You should write that down. He can say it. I don’t know why he is not saying it, but he shouldn’t be losing points because he didn’t say it. He can say it!”
I did not accept that Declan had stopped speaking. I knew he could speak. I had heard him speak. IT WAS IN THERE. Why did he stop? I don’t know. We just had to get it out.
The Pediatrician recommended I have Declan evaluated for supportive services when he was 2, which is when he stopped speaking.
It wasn’t until Declan was 3, and had spent a year with those supportive services for Sensory Processing issues that I allowed for him to be evaluated for autism. I was so confident that with all the work we had done, and all the progress I had seen in that year, he would not be diagnosed with autism.
I had felt an autism diagnosis would steal from Declan’s future. At least the future I had planned for him.
When the evaluation came back with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I was upset. It felt like all the work we had done was worthless. It felt like we had failed.
I grieved. It took me a little while, but I realized something.
I was wrong.
It also took me a little while to realize something I already knew.
Declan was perfect.
Chances are you have heard of Temple Grandin, a woman with ASD who is a public spokesperson for autism. Just a few days ago, Ms. Grandin was named to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
One of the things Temple Grandin has said in her talks about autism, that has stuck with me is this:
DIFFERENT, not less.
I was afraid of autism before it came into our home. I was worried what it meant and what it could do to someone.
But as far as I can see, it has only helped me help my children. It helped me see what their differences were so I could help them find ways to navigate the world.
My kids have likes and dislikes, just like everyone else. They seek out happiness, they have dreams.
They are just different, terrific kids. Not less.
So when Declan was reevaluated for autism and Catelyn was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism two years later, I said,
Because I knew we could help them.
Autism is not a bad thing. In my dichotomous mind of the unknown, things were simply put into two catagories. Good or Bad. I was afraid of autism because I knew nothing about it. My fear was unsubstantiated.
Then I learned about autism. I listened to people with autism talk about their experiences. I read other families tell their stories of autism.
I became aware of autism. And realized I needed to rewrite my mental list. Because autism is not bad.
Autism is different. Not less.