October 2006. That was when my beautiful, perfectly imperfect son was born. He was the last extraordinary piece to my family. I prayed for him and wanted him more than words could express. His name is Colin.
We found out we here expecting a son when I was 13 weeks pregnant, thanks to all of the crazy testing they do for a mother of “advanced maternal age”. I already had 3 daughters, but I had always wanted a son and I was over-the-moon excited with the news. Sometime late in my second trimester Spirit told me, “he will be autistic.” I didn’t care. I was already so in love with him that it didn’t matter. I had a relatively normal and mundane pregnancy. Nothing overly exciting and it was riddled with the usual pregnancy ups and downs. I did the typical mother-to-be things: I took my vitamins, prepared the other kids for the new little life coming and I nested like crazy. And then, on a warm autumn evening, he was born. He was here. I finally got to hold him and love on him. Our family was complete. Then the “fun” began.
When Colin was 4 weeks old he was diagnosed with torticollis. He couldn’t move his little head very much. He was stuck with his head turned with one ear almost on his shoulder and his chin facing the other shoulder. Physical therapy was ordered. Then, he was diagnosed with severe reflux. And when I say severe, I mean SEVERE. Almost everything this kid ate came up in a massive projectile explosion. I began feeding him with beach towels covering me and the floor around me. It wasn’t pretty. So, between all of the physical therapy and the constant changing of clothes and carpet cleaning, I had forgotten all about what Spirit had said. I had too many other issues I was dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
Seven months into his little life, his rock star status was beginning to show itself to the world. One day during his physical therapy, I was talking with his therapist about his progress. I noticed she wasn’t really listening to me and was focused on him behind me. Halfway through my sentence, she interrupted me and said “13 steps! He just took 13 whole steps! I saw him!!!” He had just turned 7 months old the week before. Colin was already showing us what he was made of.
Colin was developing normally. He was walking, feeding himself and trying to talk. He was hitting all of the milestones and was thriving! Then at around 18 months, I noticed things were changing. He wasn’t talking anymore and he seemed more distant. Eye contact was becoming less and less. Maybe it’s just a phase, I thought. All kids develop differently, right? All of my girls are so different, maybe this is normal for him. I knew in my gut what the issue was, but the brave mother I was several months ago was gone now. I was scared. Not so much about my son, but more about the impact it would have on how society viewed him.
When Colin was 3 years old, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I had him tested. The diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder. I could feel my heart sink. I sat at the head of a table that included several experts from the county. I felt them all staring at me as they took turns reading the results of all of his testing. It was by pure willpower alone that I didn’t cry. I didn’t want them to see me upset because, to them, it may appear that I was sad for my son. In hindsight I’m not sure why I was upset, but for that day, I was. The first phone call I made was to his father. Needless to say, that was a conversation I’m sure we would both rather forget. My next call was to my oldest daughter who said the most amazing thing to me upon hearing the diagnosis. She said, “Mom, it’s still the same Colin it was this morning before you knew. He’s still the same kid. Now you just have a name attached to why he acts the way he does.” Never have wiser words been spoken by a 15 year old.
One of the best things I have ever done was to get him into therapy early. He went to a local school for social, physical, behavioral and occupational therapy. It helped a tremendous amount with his eye contact. He was beginning to socialize more, but still very “quirky”. The biggest problem I had was his disassociation with emotions. If he became angry, he would fly into a rage and begin trying to hurt whomever or whatever it was causing him the problem. I spent countless upon countless hours holding him to calm him down and explaining over and over again that this was “anger” or this was “sadness”. I tried to teach him each emotion and what the appropriate response was for them.
Having a child with autism is so different than raising other children. I know because I have three “normal” kids along with my son. While other moms were picking out the perfect VPK program for their four year old, I was at home desperately trying to potty-train my child just so he could go to any preschool at all….it didn’t have to be perfect, I just wanted him to be able to attend like the other kids. While other moms were laughing and sharing humorous stories about what their child said, I could barely understand mine. Other mothers were weeding through birthday invitations for their child and picking which ones to attend. I was just praying my son would get invited to one…just one…so he wouldn’t feel left out. Other moms were scheduling play dates while my child sat home alone with no one to call “friend.” Other kids were going to baseball games, but crowds and noise threw my son into a full-blown panic attack. Some parents were lucky and got hugs from their child. My son just leaned his head in your general direction. Colin was bullied and physically hurt at school sometimes. He was different and he knew it. And these kids weren’t going to let him forget. Early in elementary school, he would cry every morning because he didn’t want to go to school. He said the kids were mean, and I believed him. But every morning, however, he would still gather his things and go. His rock star was beginning to shine brighter and brighter.
I heard a saying one time that if you want to know how to treat someone with autism, look to their siblings and they will show you. This couldn’t be more true. Colin’s sisters embrace him for who he is. They don’t treat him special and they certainly don’t let him get away with anything because he is different. They are, however, the most patient and loving sisters a boy could ask for and they go quickly into protection mode if they think anyone is out to hurt him.
Today, I am proud to say that my son is once again thriving. Do we still have daily struggles? Absolutely! In addition to having ASD, he has recently been diagnosed as having dyslexia and dysgraphia. But does he let that slow him down? Not a chance. His confidence is growing by leaps and bounds. I credit that to a loving family, a man in my life who treats him with amazing grace and understanding, and a teacher that (finally) truly cares and understands my son. His reading has improved greatly and he even has friends! He had his first real play date last month with a boy that accepts Colin for who he is. Eye contact can still be an issue for my son, but he is getting better and he has learned to work around it. He still hums while he eats when it’s something he likes, just like he did when he was a baby. I love that. And he uses big words like “rapidly”, “essentially”, and “in theory” when he speaks. He is super creative and extremely intelligent and always has a different way of looking at the world. He still tilts his head to that one side when he is tired. The same side that was affected by the torticollis. And I am so happy to say that Colin now gives the biggest and best hugs a boy has ever given.
Colin will always be “quirky” in the eyes of most people, and I’m completely ok with that. To me, he is perfect and there isn’t one little bit that I would change about him. Why would I want to change this little bit of pure perfection? I don’t ever wish he were “normal”, either. Some of the most gifted and brilliant people have been ASD, and my son is one of them. Colin is a member of an elite club. There is no test to take to join, you have to be born into it. I consider myself beyond lucky to have been given this gift called Colin, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this kid.