I can’t tell you how I feel about that. We all hate labels, right? It doesn’t define me, or tell you anything about me. And labels on kids with autism only hinder their opportunity to grow sometimes, so again, I can’t tell you where I’m at. My feelings change daily. Hourly, even.  I’m doing my best to be present and allow myself to feel.

On Thursday, January 22nd, 2015, my wife and I received the news we both knew was coming — that my son Thaine is autistic. It’s difficult to describe the way it feels when you get that diagnosis.  Many autism parents write about how it hit them like a ton of bricks, or that they felt helpless, like it was a major surprise.  For us it was different. I mean, naturally, you try to convince yourself that your son may just be a bit different. But the signs were there. I knew what to look for.

Let me back up — the signs weren’t always there.  Thaine had a rough first year (and second year) of life.  Weeks after we brought him home, he would cry. Not normal baby crying. He cried for no apparent reason. Always crying.  The doctor finally diagnosed him with reflux, and gave us a prescription for Zantac.  It definitely helped, so we were happy to have that.  Then, at two months, he came down with RSV.  He had an ear infection at 12 months and always seemed to have a runny nose. Despite all this, he was able to learn some sign language. We started teaching him at around 8 months old, and he used it to communicate his needs. He would look at us in the eye and watch for our facial expressions when we looked at him and signed with him. He even had a few words — Dad, thank-you, go, etc.

It was around 13-14 months that we noticed he stopped trying to make eye contact. If he did look at us, it was fleeting and not related to communication. He stopped using sign language completely. We’d hold him directly in front of us and he would look past us, avoiding eye contact. The signs were starting to show.

It’s a good thing my wife and I both knew about autism and the signs, because many parents don’t, and go for years trying to use discipline and other tactics that don’t help autism. I’m happy to say we disregarded our former pediatricians advice to “just wait” on beginning to work with him or find him help. In July of last year, we noticed more regression, which in hindsight seemed to correspond with the 6 vaccines they gave him in June. That’s right, six. But, I won’t get into that now. The good news is, we found a new pediatrician and enrolled Thaine in speech therapy as well as beginning to work with him one on one in a play environment at home.

Thaine has progressed and is using some sign language again. He now has about 50 words and will make eye contact quite frequently with people he trusts. He’s very intelligent and is highly interested in clocks and numbers, as well as letters and the alphabet. He knows many letters already, and taught himself how to use an iPad in one month. He’s always been very loving and unlike many autistic children, he never showed any signs of not wanting to be touched, which has made this easier.

It has been recommended that Thaine be enrolled in 20-40 hours a week of intensive early intervention Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), but we are hesitant to thrust him into a behavior modification-through-conditioning program where reward and aversives are used to change his behavior. We are still talking with therapists trying to decide what’s best for him.

For now, he is making progress. Very fast progress. And if he wasn’t, I’d be more inclined to hurry and get him into something else, but he’s doing well.

I can’t explain to you how it feels, without crying, when your child, who hasn’t looked at you too much for months, runs up to you and screams “daddyyyy” and looks you in the eye waiting for your response. I’ve had many emotional days lately, most of them tears of joy as he starts to come out of his world back into ours. Some tears of sadness and surprise, but mostly good tears. He’s missed so much, and so have we. I can’t wait to hear about the things he has to tell me about his world. For now, I’ll just keep spending time in his world with him showing him small glimpses of the world he’s missing each time he lets me. I’ll try and post more about his progress as we go.

I’m an Autism Dad. And I’ve never been more proud.

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About The Author

Ryan P. Maier

Ryan is the co-owner and founder of DadLifts and an autism and fatherhood advocate. Ryan is also a Movement Coach and USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach in Minneapolis, MN. Ryan is a husband and father of three.