The Memory That Does Not Fade
by Lisa Smith
I remember the day my precious little boy was diagnosed with autism. Portions of that day have faded but much of it runs in a loop I can play in my mind over and over. I remember the phone call I placed that morning, in a panic, insisting I get “right in” to see the pediatrician. I remember the receptionist asking me what symptoms my child was having and I remember the difficulty I had putting those words together and speaking them out loud. I remember her telling me that I could bring him in almost immediately. I remember picking my little boy up and putting him in his car seat, handing him his cloth diaper to hold; and I remember driving the thirty minutes to our appointment time. I remember praying as I drove.
I had been forced to face the reality that something was wrong. Something was not just “a little off” but something was REALLY terribly wrong. What had happened to all the language he used to have? Why didn’t he talk to me anymore? Where had my little boy gone?
I remember the night before that appointment. I remember getting up out of the bed, worried about all the strange things Tate had been doing. I remember that my husband was snoring. I remember going into the study and Googling “mental illness in children.” I remember the hard-backed chair I was sitting in at the desk. I remember typing in the symptoms I had noted and the things I had questioned in the weeks leading up to that night. I remember when the word “autism” came upon the screen. I remember taking a test and scoring Tate, afraid to read the results. I remember the first time I ever saw “PDD-NOS” and learned that there were different kinds of autism. I remember running to the bathroom to be sick, tears running down my face. I remember waking my husband and asking him to come and read the things I had found. I remember Shawn reading, looking at the test I had found and calmly telling me he thought I had just accurately diagnosed Tate. I remember that he eventually went back to bed and I remember sitting at the computer the rest of the night shivering, reading, and crying, wondering and worrying.
Our appointment with the pediatrician was set for 11:00. I remember sitting in the waiting room. There is a waiting area for well patients and a separate waiting area for the patients who are sick. We waited on the well side and I wished we were only there for an ear infection or a cough. Normally, I hated sitting on the “sick side” amongst the germs. I would have given anything to switch sides that day. I remember the nurse who called us back and I remember which patient room we used that day. Tate sat on the carpeted floor. There were some big trucks in the room that my other children had often played with. Tate ignored them. His cloth diaper was much more interesting to him.
I remember the doctor coming into the room and asking me why we had come. I said, “I think there is something wrong with my baby” and I began to cry. He handed me a tissue and stood next to me and watched Tate “play.” We watched as Tate tossed his cloth diaper into the air over and over, watching it drop. Tate did not look up and acknowledge the doctor or notice that I was crying. He just tossed that diaper up in the air and watched it fall. I told the doctor that it was Tate’s favorite activity. The doctor asked, “What do you think?” and I said, “I think he has autism.” I remember the doctor’s exact words: “I suspect you are right.” He waited quietly until I could talk. I remember asking, “What do I do?” and him promising me he would make sure I got all the right phone numbers and contact information for people who could help me. I remember him telling me that I would need to take Tate to a developmental pediatrician for an official diagnosis. I remember asking him what our future would be like and what would happen when Tate was grown. I do not remember his exact words but I do remember he did not lie to me. He was very compassionate when he told me that the future would be somewhat limited for Tate.
I remember leaving that appointment with a very heavy heart. But I also remember the phone ringing soon after I got home and the nurse making recommendations and giving me phone numbers to call for information and services. I did not feel alone or abandoned. I was not ever treated with anything except compassion and kindness. So many parents with children diagnosed with autism have horrible stories to tell about the way they were told their children have autism or the way their doctors treated them. I have nothing but nice things to say about the pediatrician and the people he referred me to.
It is possible that more and more of that day all those years ago will fade from my memory as more time passes. But, I somehow doubt that I will ever forget the compassionate doctor that helped me take my first steps into the world of autism.
Lisa Smith is the mother of seven children ranging in ages 10 to 26. Lisa’s youngest two children have special needs. Lisa’s blog called “Quirks and Chaos” entertains and educates as she discusses autism, adoption, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and ADHD. Find Lisa on Facebook as Quirks and Chaos.