The all knowing healing power of Dr Google has been the greatest discovery I made when I became a mum. It helped me to diagnose Michael’s dairy allergy while I was breast-feeding, and distinguish a cold from a more serious illness.
It was also Dr Google, along with Dr YouTube, that first helped me diagnose my little boy, at the age of 19 months, with autism.
Not one doctor had said this word to me. At his 18 month checkup I asked the nurse why he never responded to his name, and ran back and forward all day. He had no words. He didn’t point, and he used to wave but didn’t anymore. ‘Do you or your husband have a difficult personality?’ she asked. “Maybe just see a speech pathologist if he doesn’t talk in the next few months.”
Over the next few weeks I ruminated on what she said, and decided to put my difficult personality to good use. I looked up developmental delay, speech delay, and running back and forward. My son had also started sliding all his toys around on the floor rather than playing with them and I looked that up too. I looked at YouTube videos, and read every blog. I ignored everything my family told me about how ‘every child develops differently’ and ‘my (distant cousin’s nephew) didn’t talk until he was four years old and now he’s the director of NASA!’. My grandma told me that the reason he never listened to me was because he was a little emperor and considered that we, as his slaves, were there to do his bidding and not the other way around. She had a point there but I knew there was more to it.
Again and again I came up against the term ‘autism’. Finally I found a video of the early signs of autism put up by the Kennedy Krieger Institute and the kids there were like little copies of my son. They got a new toy – they turned it over to spin the wheels. They didn’t look back at their mum to show her how cool it was, or to ask for help. They didn’t interact. They ignored everyone else in the room. They didn’t pretend to eat the plastic cake or put the cup near the teapot. They just pressed buttons, twirled, and made no eye contact. This was it. This was Michael. I just hadn’t noticed these things because I didn’t know it could be any different.
By this point all that Michael did, all day, was slide toys around on the floor, and run back and forth around the house. If I left him alone, he would do these things over and over, get bored and frustrated, and tantrum. But still wouldn’t do anything else. If I tried to help, he threw a tantrum. If I really got down and tried to ‘encourage’ him to play with a toy properly, he also threw a tantrum.
I should note that Michael had always been a difficult baby. He had colic and screamed pretty much non stop for the first three months of his life. Make that 12. His lung capacity never ceased to astound me. I used to stare wistfully at all the mums in their mothers groups, sitting around and talking while their babies calmly sat in the pram. Mine would scream if the pram wasn’t moving for more than about a second. Even if the pram were moving. If a small beam of sunlight accidentally wandered over his face. Actually, he would just scream all the time at everything.
But this was alright because he more than made up for it with his adorable grin, with his playfulness, his cheekiness, his chubbiness and the way he clearly adored me. He always wanted my attention. He made me read to him for hours at a time, until I lost my voice. As soon as he could he followed me around the house like a little tail. He was also, in my objective opinion as his mother, the cutest baby that had ever appeared on earth, and I was convinced that he had a promising modeling career ahead of him if he could lose some of the weight. He was also, despite the screaming, a really happy child. He laughed constantly, was very ticklish, played with me, ate EVERYTHING, and just seemed to enjoy life, especially if we were connected at the hip. Yet now he seemed to be fading from me, going to a foreign country, and to make it worse it seemed to be a country he didn’t seem to particularly want to go to and that he certainly didn’t enjoy.