Leading up to Autism

My house sounds like any other house with children. There is laughter, there is screaming, there are squeals of joy, but there are also other sounds, like the sound of my son's train whistle or the meaningless syllables being yelled over and over again just for the sound they make.

For three years I felt crazy. Every time I was alone, I called my mom two states away. Half the time she came to help me care for my son, Gabriel, the other half she wanted to. Sometimes I begged for help, but when she was there, things would settle down and I would want her to go home so I could get back to my “routine.” As soon as she pulled out of the driveway, I knew I was in over my head and going to be calling her within the week, praying for help with my son.

Things were easier when he was nine months old. He knew how to sit. He could do puzzles and a wheel or door on a toy bus could keep him busy for hours on end. I could do my housework, homework, and cook dinner by 6pm and have nothing to do on the weekend except enjoy my free time.

When my husband came back from Iraq, we decided to have another child. We had a son, Jude. Gabriel was two when Jude was born. He loved his brother from the start. He fed him, held him, tried to burp him, tried to help him sit, and even tried using the breast pump on himself to get milk for Jude when Jude was crying. Gabriel was still “easy.” He tried to be Mr. Mom and even took up an obsession with vacuuming. I was happy to let him vacuum the house from time to time or just play with my old vacuum.

Jude was a horrible sleeper. He would go to bed at 6:30 be up at 10:00 and stay up until 3:00. From 3:00 to 6:00, Jude slept in my bed with me, the only way I could get any sleep. Gabriel got up at 6:00 so I had to too. I held them to a strict nap time 11:30 until 3:00. Jude slept on the couch with me for nap time, the only other hours of sleep I got.

By the time Jude was five weeks old, I was burnt out. My husband was deploying again, not that he helped with the children much (he slept through everything). I drove straight from the meeting point to my parents house, 16 hours away. I lived with my parents for the next month then drove back home. My mom visited for the first few weeks after I got back to my house, then flew back to her house. I kept myself busy with friends and day trips and planning the next visit to my parents house. I managed to potty train Gabriel and still keep up (barely) with my school work.

I started to notice that Jude was behind in his development. When my friend's baby (born two weeks before Jude) started sitting, Jude was still having a hard time holding up his head. As her baby started to crawl, Jude was still not rolling, grabbing for toys, sitting, or babbling. Everything Jude was doing was about six months behind other babies.

I moved back in with my parents when Jude was 8 months old. On his first visit to the new pediatrician, the doctor was alarmed when Jude just fell over when she tried to sit him on the scale. By the end of the day, Jude was enrolled with early intervention to help him catch up on his developmental delays.

Gabriel was also starting to show some odd things, we chalked them up to the adjustment of the big move back to my parents' house. He stopped going potty on his own and screamed when he was told he had to. He started having a hard time with people coming and going from the house and refused to cuddle or even be hugged. He loved Sesame Street and could play with play dough or puzzles for hours. His vocabulary took off and he started repeating phrases or words over and over again until he thought he had said them just right.

Ten months later, I was living in a house I rent with my new fiance. Jude was 17 months old and Gabriel was three and a half. After work, I went to my mom's house to pick up the boys. Like any Tuesday, Jude had had his early intervention and my mom was telling me about the day. That was the first time someone outside my family had said the word autism and related it to my sons. That was the day we marked as the first day as our journey with autism and that day was four weeks ago.

In four weeks, a lot has happened. I went from being an over stressed mother with two boys that seemed to have difficulty with discipline to a mother of two autistic boys. I realize that not much has really changed. The only thing that has changed is that we know what we are up against, and as my cousin said, “how this battle might go.”

Two weeks after Jude's therapist suggested the boys might be autistic, they were officially diagnosed. Gabriel was diagnosed as having Asperger Syndrome and Jude with an autism spectrum disorder. The degree of Jude's disorder will not be known for a while, but for now he is well behind his peers and nonverbal. We have been trying to face our reality and also realize that nothing has been lost, the boys have always been autistic, we just didn't know it yet. We keep looking back and seeing the signs, just like you can see the signs as you read this. The difference is, we were not reading this post or seeing all the signs together at once. We saw Gabriel spin wheels and open and close doors, but we also saw him do puzzles and start talking. We saw him pull away from affection and flirt with every person he could see in a store. Above all, I was a young mother who had and has two perfect little boys that I love and would not trade for the world.

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