Saturday, January 10, 2009

David's diagnosis

When David was two, he went for a well checkup. He still had not started talking and the pediatrician was concerned. The first suspect was David's hearing. I was not optimistic that the hearing check would reveal anything. David had receptive language. He just could not talk. The pediatrician had his hearing checked anyway and of course, it showed no issues.

Eventually, our pediatrician referred us to a pediatric neurologist. I was concerned about a lot of things that went way beyond his inability to talk so I wrote down all of the strange things David was doing.
Not talking though he could clearly respond to commands
Humming like a bhuddist monk
Playing continuously with his toy vacuum cleaner
Not engaging with other children
Not sleeping at night
Lack of eye contact
His bout of head banging
(He had sound sensitivity, but I didn't recognize it)

In the course of our discussion with the pediatric neurologist, I gave him the list that I wrote down. He asked if he could keep the list. It was an excellent discription of autism.

I am glad I had gone to the bathroom before meeting with the pediatric neurologist. I am not sure I could have held it. I objected. Autistic children are touch sensitive. David is not. Autistic children go nuts when there is a change. David is easy going and handles change well. David is cuddly. He could not be autistic. But the pediatric neurologist let me know that the symptoms are different from one autistic to another.

Well, there it was. We had a diagnosis. Although I make it sound like it was just two meetings with two doctors, it took a lot longer. Each time another appointment with no result. But now that we had a diagnosis I felt sick. I had no idea what David's being autistic would entail. The one instance I had seen said that David would grow up to be monstrous. But more than that, I kept looking for what I had done wrong. My wife and I did not do drugs. We did not hurt him. We did nothing that might cause David to be autistic. So what happened? Where did I go wrong? I had no answers and yet I felt there had to be something.

It was a long phase of baying at the moon for me. When my father died, I did not feel the sense of loss as acutely as I felt when I learned that David was autistic. It was the death of everything I wanted and expected for my son. I thought that getting comfortable with David's diagnosis would be like getting comfortable with a permanent case of the shingles. All that time, David was still David, the cuddly, sweet, lovable, easy-going little guy. Without ever saying a word, David transcended my sense of loss. David made it easy for me through what otherwise would have been a painful maturity lesson. I did not have a broken doll, I had a little boy who was worthy of my time and effort.

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