The Day My Son Was Diagnosed
One day of pure hell
As we walk across the street towards the immense and foreboding hospital, I hold my three year olds’ trembling hand in mine. I glance at him out of the corner of my eye; he is sobbing quietly. My own eyes fill with tears as I adjust my sunglasses to hide my tears from the passing strangers.
“I want Daddy! I want Daddy! I want Daddy!” Raymond, my son, cries piteously (and loudly). The cries had started out small but were gaining in intensity as we reach the doors of the hospital. I stay silent; knowing that if I respond the cries will turn into screeches in the middle of the street, drawing further attention to the boy who looks so miserable.
Raymond begins to struggle against me, his eyes growing wide with fear. The screaming starts. After three years of living through the screaming and the head-butts I am immune. People begin to stare. I can feel their eyes wheedling into my skin, my skin starts crawling. I silently beg Raymond to stop making a spectacle of us. Please, son. I would do anything to make you stop, but we can’t go home yet.
I check in with an angry-looking nurse. She eyes Raymond wearily and directs us to a waiting room, full of other parents and their (quiet) children. By now, Raymond is screaming a high-pitched squeal at the top of his lungs. Tears are running down my face and I have no choice but to remove my sunglasses and surreptitiously wipe my face. I try not to meet anyone’s eyes and pull Raymond onto my lap as he kicks and screams. A kick lands in my stomach, knocking my air out and then that kick is immediately followed by a head-butt to the bridge of my nose. I am crying, in earnest, now. No reason to hide your tears anymore.
We wait mere seconds before a bedraggled psychologist runs into the room and ushers us to a large room with toys. There are around 10-15 doctors in the room, their expertise ranging from psychologist to student. It is a teaching hospital. Raymond is sobbing uncontrollably now, screaming that he ‘needs his Daddy’. The kicking has subsided (thankfully) and (unfortunately) he has started to bite his arms. I restrain him but it’s too late, there are teeth marks and blood surfacing on the indention. You suck as a mother, I silently chastise myself.
The psychologists direct me to a chair with tables and let me know that the testing and examinations will begin. I nod to them, numb. They shout over Raymond’s screams and tell me to step back and just to watch them “perform” their tests. Yeah, right...let’s see you people get him to stop shrieking…you guys think you’re so damn smart.
The psychologists resolutely move to the next battery of tests after a mind numbing hour and a half of shrieking and refusing to participate in their tests. (The first test was to determine if Raymond can play with toys in a typical fashion. No. He can’t. I could have told you that an hour and a half ago.)
Two hours pass and I have answered more than 500 questions, fired at me from 10 different people. “Professionals” in their respective fields, I snort to myself. Raymond has stopped screaming and is lying across my lap, face down, staring at the floor while he licks his arm. I see a psychologist observing him and scribbling furiously on her pad. What the hell are you writing? Just tell me. Why are you keeping me in the dark? I know none of this normal. Just TELL ME.
We are moved into a doctor’s office. It has been almost four hours since the testing began. Raymond is whimpering and I have begun to cry again, silently. A nurse-practitioner comes into the room and says that she is going to examine him for medical problems, other than what he is being tested for. She agrees that it would be best if she just observed, rather than try to interact with the relatively calm boy.
She and I chat while we watch Raymond discover a box of toys. I watch silently, begging him to pick something “normal” from the box. My heart sinks when he picks up what looks like a small, smooth disc. He begins to inspect the object at arm’s length. There’s nothing wrong with that! He’s just curious! It’s a weird object to have in a toy box, anyways.
I glance at the nurse-practitioner and she is shaking her head slowly. Now what? He’s a freak because he didn’t pick up the “right” toy? Please, someone just tell me what is going on. At that moment, Raymond palms the toy and crawls under my chair. We leave him there and continue to discuss his medical history. (There is none, other than crying for nearly 16 hours a day and not sleeping…ever.)
We hear the snores. We both look under my chair and Raymond is fast asleep. He cried for nearly four hours. We glance at each other and I start giggling. He looks so cute under there. I wait for her to laugh. Ten seconds pass and we are both laughing uproariously. Finally, someone else can see how silly and “normal” my kid is! He’s just…“got his quirks.”
“Mrs. R, I am going to step out and ask that the psychologist come back in to discuss Raymond’s diagnosis. Please stay seated.” The nameless nurse-practitioner steps out.
My heart is pounding. I start sweating. Diagnosis? She’s crazy! My son’s perfectly normal. Sure, he cries for almost any reason and had some language delays, but there is nothing wrong with him. I glance at Raymond’s sweet, slumbering body, he is sleeping soundly under my chair.
The door opens and the two women step back into the room. I look at the nurse’s face to try to feel out what the diagnosis could be. Both women are stoic. Oh my God... what is it?
“Mrs. R, thank you for coming in today,” says the psychologist. As if I had a choice! “I would like to discuss my findings with you regarding Raymond’s behavior.”
I am frozen. My vocal chords no longer function. I nod and cannot meet her eyes. I wonder if she can hear my heart, pounding faster than a machine gun, in my chest. Please, just tell me so I can get out of here before I have a stroke.
“Your son fits the criteria of DSM-IV.” The psychologists smiles sadly at me, as if I am supposed to know what the hell she is talking about.
“Um…Huh?” I mutter, nonsensically.
“Your son has Autism.” She states flatly.
No. You are wrong. She continues to explain what Autism is while I nod. You can’t be right. Your degrees mean nothing! You’re evil and so is everyone that was in that room. I stare at her face, my eyes brimming in tears.
“Do you have any questions?” The psychologist is looking ashamedly at her notepad. You should be ashamed, moneygrubber. I bet you’re about to tell me he needs to be on all kinds of medicine now, right?
I stare at her, trying to think of a question before they whisk me out to the lobby with my sleeping boy. I open my mouth to speak but, to my horror, a loud sob escapes. I start bellowing. The two women glance at the floor, at the walls, anywhere but my face, as I lose it. I sob for nearly 15 minutes before I start to calm down. They take that opportunity to hand me a bunch of paperwork, including the handwritten diagnosis and several pamphlets about Autism, and usher me out the door with Raymond.
I start trudging back to my car which is nearly a mile away, carrying my boy..my sweet Raymond. I am still crying, thinking about the phone calls that I need to make to tell everyone how the test went. Fresh sobs start in my chest. My knees are weak, like Jell-o. I feel Raymond stirring in my arms.
“Mommy? Are you okay? I love you!” Raymond chirps at me and kisses my cheek. I smile at him and squeeze him to my chest. I smash my cheeks against his cheeks, trying to hold him as close as I can.
“Everything is just fine, my love. Let’s go home and see your daddy,” I whisper in his ear.