Autism: From the outside looking in.

Awe-Tism: What Autism Looks Like To Me

I will never know what it’s like to be autistic. I will never pretend to know what it’s like just because I have children who are autistic. Isn’t it annoying that some people think they know what it’s like to raise kids because they have babysitting experience? This is two different worlds & two different realities.

From birth, my sons thrived like the average child. As usual, I was a proud mommy. Julian was born in 2015, and 11 months later I gave birth to a set of twins. Joshua was born with his sister, Jessica. Despite her challenges in the beginning, Jessica was always slightly ahead of Joshua with her milestones. After Joshua’s first birthday, I noticed that his pupils always seemed to be dilated and he would barely make eye contact. This went on for awhile. I kind of brushed the matter off when two year old Julian never attempted the words “mom” or “dad” or when he never responded to his name. 

At three years old, Julian said his first words. They were “Thank you”. He would thank his dad and I whenever we gave him something. Julian also began to recognize colors. I was very relieved by this progress. Still, he wouldn’t acknowledge his dad or myself by name or answer to his name. Joshua was two at this point. He  was not talking or answering to his name either. Meanwhile, Jessica has a vocabulary of at least 50 words. I try not to compare kids because they are all different, but I can admit that I felt weird about the differences between my twins & their development. Part of me wanted to try the “wait and see” approach because I have other children who experienced delays in speech. They eventually became chatter boxes. 

My husband took Joshua and Jessica to their two year old check up. Jessica has a great report. Joshua was healthy, but his pediatrician referred him for further evaluation. This process was not new to me. My son, Avery was referred for evaluations when he was in Head Start. Today, he is almost eight years old. He has no specific diagnosis, but he is listed as having learning disabilities on his IEP.

I followed up with a coordinator from the local infant and toddler program. She was very nice and helpful. She came to my house to visit Joshua and set up appointments for him to have a speech evaluation and hearing screening. I wanted to make sure Joshua was deaf since he still was not responding normal noises or his name being called. 

During this same time frame, I noticed that Julian had stopped speaking. He had a noticeably small vocabulary, but it was gone. Also, he was still not responding to his name. I could not obtain services for Julian through the program Joshua was in because he was three. Kids in the program age out the day before their third birthday. Joshua began to exhibit behaviors such as hopping and what my husband called, “flapping his wings”.  Julian had also been “flapping his wings”, but he was also walking on his tip toes all of the time. Joshua began to receive speech and developmental therapy. Julian would also attend several appointments with Joshua. 

Towards the end of Joshua’s enrollment in the Infant and Toddler program, he was enrolled in the public school system. He was able to attend Pre-K at three years old so that he could receive additional support. Joshua was then  referral to UNC TEAACH in Chapel Hill, NC after his psychological evaluation returned heartbreaking results. My husband and I packed up all of our kids and made the drive to this center. Everyone was really friendly. The staff helped care for our other children while the doctor evaluated Joshua. 

After the evaluation, my husband and I were ushered into a conference room. We received the verdict that we were expecting: “Joshua has Autism Spectrum Disorder”.  My stomach dropped. I already knew, but hearing the words made things final. Before the doctor discussed her findings, she handed me a thick packet of paperwork and asked to see Julian next. She observed some of his behavior in passing. It made sense. If Joshua has Autism, then Julian does as well. At this point I was numb. I couldn’t think of any questions to ask, which was abnormal for me. I always ask questions. I always verify information. In that moment, I had nothing to say. The doctor kept mentioning “2” and “3”, but I was just issuing a blank stare. I later read the paperwork and got a better understanding. I made a phone call a few weeks later and asked a flood of questions. 

Julian’s diagnosis came next after his evaluations. I enrolled him in Pre-K. Because the county coordinator had retired in the middle of the year, it took a long time for me to get Julian in school. When a replacement was finally hired, I kept getting the runaround. Julian finally started attending school a year after his younger brother. Unfortunately, they go to two different schools. There are only so many available openings per school. Joshua was sent to a traditional school, while Julian was sent to a year round school.

It’s not my world. I’m just blessed to be apart of it. 

By Antonia Harris

A stay-at-home mom & dedicated wife on a path to find a purpose.

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