Since April is Autism Awareness month, I'm going relate what happened the day I was told my son was autistic.
Mikey was over three years old and still didn't talk, and I was very worried. I took him to be assessed. The doctor asked me questions about his development and observed Mikey while writing notes on her pad.
“I know my son has some developmental delays,” I finally said after nervously watching the doctor watch my son, “but the prognosis is good for that, isn't it? I can work with him myself and get him into speech therapy.”
The doctor’s face had a slight tense smile on it. “Your son is autistic. I could tell as soon as I began to watch him.”
I had been picking up a toy from the floor as the doctor spoke. The toy crashed back down to the floor as I tried to absorb the doctor’s words. My brain was frozen in some sort of blind panic. My instinct was to rush out of the room so I couldn’t hear another word.
“But…but,” I spluttered. “At the last check-up he had, no one said anything about...” My sentence trailed off as I noticed Mikey spinning in circles. The doctor’s glance followed mine.
“I know this must be a shock to you,” the doctor said, still smiling in a stilted professional way. “But I’m making this judgment based on the following observations.” She looked at the notes in her lap. “Since I entered this room, your son has shown no interest in me. Most children are curious about strangers. And do you see this big bag? I put it away from me after you sat down, and slightly opened it. Most children will try and see what’s inside. Your son has shown no such curiosity.”
“Well, why would he care what’s in your bag,” I began, but the doctor’s next words ran over mine like a truck flattening a Coke can.
“Have you noticed how obsessed your son is with small things like screws? He’s found every screw on the equipment in this office already.”
“But he’s just interested.”
“He’s not interested – he’s obsessed. Children developing normally don’t display these characteristics.”
Then the doctor said: “Your son should also have a vocabulary by now. Yet all I’ve heard him say this afternoon is one word– ‘no’.”
I put my head in my hands to steady myself against the medical onslaught.
The doctor scanned her notes then looked at me. “Does your son play with children his age? Does he have any friends?”
“No,” I whispered.
“Isolation from other children,” she nodded, “that’s another common trait in autistic children. They don’t like socializing.”
After the appointment was over, I walked around my house like a zombie, not knowing what to think or do. I was in such a daze that I even went to a drinks thing at my domineering rich next-door neighbour's house that evening because I didn't want to let her down. How stupid I was to put everyone else's needs above my own.
I wouldn't do that now. I guess getting older does have some benefits.