“Have you had him evaluated?”
“Something’s not right with him. Katie.”
“He reminds me of [quirky TV character.]”
No. You don’t know him like I know him. He talks! He makes eye contact! He’s just shy. He has his quirks, but they’re funny! He just gets really anxious in social situations. Sorry, my child isn’t trying to be rude, he just doesn’t know how to act around other people that aren’t, well… me. You’re wrong.
I wish I could remember Holden’s pediatrician’s exact words.
What I heard was “something something something, something autism something.”
That was three weeks ago, and I haven’t thought about anything else since. Most of all, I think about how wrong I’ve been and how I could have started this process sooner. We already have to wait four months for his comprehensive evaluation. If I could have seen what was right in front of me, would we have a diagnosis already? Would he be receiving therapy already?
Why couldn’t I take off my mommy goggles?
For three weeks, my life has revolved around soaking up as much knowledge about ASD and other related disorders as I can (and there may or may not have been a lot of Parenthood bingewatching.) One resounding piece of advice from veteran autism moms I keep reading is: Adapt to him. Not the other way around. Rather than suppress his quirks, we can choose to embrace and celebrate them.
Holden, who can carry on a lengthy conversation about Minecraft that extends well beyond my knowledge of the game, sometimes reverts into “catchphrase mode.” At times of high anxiety or excitement, he repeats one nonsense phrase over and over until something else distracts him. We can, and do, embrace it–up to a point. I’d be lying if I said I never once yelled, “DO NOT SAY ‘FUSSY NUTS’ ONE MORE TIME! NO MORE ‘FUSSY NUTS’ TODAY!!!” before turning to my husband like, “I think I’m a fussy nut today.” I rapidly went from Mary Poppins to Vern Dursley when he’s finally had enough of the letters from Hogwarts.
The catchphrases (along with his tendency to speak in a growl voice) are behaviors that I find myself not only having to explain to people around us, but also apologizing for. Sometimes it’s downright embarrassing. A lot of the catchphrases are borderline inappropriate, and to the stranger beside us at Walmart, they’re borderline “OMG I’m pretty sure that mom is letting her kid say p*ssy.” (Note: Nope, it just sounds like it. I promise.) I might have reacted harshly in the past, but I’m learning now that I have to choose my battles. This is a child who, on his worst days, tries to run away from me, bites me, describes very violent things he wants to do, and more. The catchphrases can stay and I’m done apologizing for them.
The other night during Holden’s bath, I caught him off guard when I said one of his signature phrases, “lean back with your head sack.” We have no idea where this came from. I even Googled it just to see if it was from a show that he watches or a game he plays. But alas, the phrase was invented by none other than Holden himself. It’s funny because it rhymes, get it? Yeah… anyway, I said it when I was rinsing out his hair earlier this week. “Lean back with your head sack.”
Holden quickly spun around to face me with his mouth agape, as though I’d just greatly offended him, and said in his low, threatening, growl voice: “No. That’s mine.”
Whoops. I hadn’t realized it was trademarked. ;)
Our journey is just beginning. And an autism diagnosis–or ADHD, SPD, ODD, etc.–will help us, not hurt us. He will still be the same child, and the only thing that will change is that we will now be equipped with what we need to help him.
See the Autism & Sensory Processing Disorder resources I’ve been pinning lately: