My son was diagnosed with Autism… by mistake?

He has Autism Spectrum Disorder. These 5 words I never thought would be addressed to me and my husband.

I was in the high about motherhood for having my daughter, my firstborn, I was amazed at how a heart can unconditionally love a little being.  Then, we found out that I was pregnant again and with a boy, this blessing was priceless!

I had the usual morning sickness and had to manage gestational diabetes with insulin shots and diet. I must say my pregnancy was a smooth sail despite these. On February 18, 2015, I gave birth to this beautiful baby boy. He had a birthmark on his forehead, and coincidentally, it was an Ash Wednesday, everything was perfect.

Our observation started.

When he was almost a year old, I remember him being able to memorize numbers and ABCs. We thought he’s advanced!  We were astonished by how easily he can memorize things.  Before he was 1 ½ years old, he can arrange number and letter puzzles in order and can identify colors and shapes.  He can even line up his toys and detect keenly if something was moved, missing, rearranged differently.  I remember my Dad telling me “Maniwala ka sa akin, genius ang anak mo”.  I just shrugged it off, it doesn’t run in our genes, I funnily thought.

But, there were things we can’t help not noticing when he was 2+ years old.  There were other observations but these are the main ones.

  • He didn’t do much eye contact. 
  • He didn’t talk too much. Sure, a 2-year old boy would not know many words but when he talks, he would mumble and be able to utter only 1 or 2 words and not conversational.  Most of the time, he would not talk.
  • It was hard to get his attention.
  • Tantrums – I know it is natural for all kids.  However, we observed it would take him a long time to settle.  He would not hurt himself, but he would just bawl for an hour or 2 before he moves on. 

Nonetheless, with family’s comments and assurance that he’ll come around, we just let him be. 

And we learned about the diagnosis…

He was 3+ years old and he still didn’t have many conversational talks with us.  I have a nephew of the same age and he seemed to be on the right track, unlike my son.  I finally arranged an appointment with a Developmental Pediatrician.

At the clinic, we were informed that the Developmental pediatrician was not available due to an emergency.  So, he had to be checked by a reliever DevPed.  We thought it was okay but didn’t know that this was the game-changer.

We were secluded in a room and basically, we were asked how he would do things.  These were the questions I remember:

“How does he play?”

“How does he act in front of relatives?  Other kids?”

“What does he do when he has tantrums?”

“How is he in school?  Did his teachers observe something or has told you of their observations?”

We answered all these questions while the DevPed put our son to do different activities using toys, puzzles, etc.  It took more than 2 hours to complete the assessment.  We were asked to wait for the result, I was expecting a Speech Delay diagnosis. 

“Your son has Autism Spectrum Disorder”.  These 5 words I never thought would be addressed to me and my husband.  How can she be so sure? 

I remember she highlighted how we described he would play his car toys.  My son arranged them and he will surely notice when we removed one or moved one in a different direction.  She said that a child of his age without autism will pretend play and will play car racing.  We never thought of this.  Then, she cited other instances – eye contact without eye lock, tantrums, behavior on loud sounds etc…  He was suggested to take Occupational Therapy.

Then, the Devped started mentioning about joining support groups like the Autism Society of the Philippines.  That’s when it struck me and I cried.  We went home with heavy hearts.

Guilt ate me up.

I thought about the future, his future.  Can’t he have a normal life and his own family?  I felt sad for him and for putting the responsibility to our daughter once we are gone.  What did I do wrong when I was pregnant with him? 

I remember always crying while driving going to work and back home.  I cried when I shared it with family and friends. 

Then, while going through all these, another news came, I found out that I was pregnant and another surge of guilt ate me up.  I thought I was unfair to him because I haven’t given him all my focus to cater his needs, and yet another baby is coming to divide my attention.  It was an emotional period in my life.

We noticed improvements.

A month after the diagnosis, our helper had to go home due to an emergency.  My husband had to be in charge of the household chores, he took the kids to school and fetched them.  I continued working and helped the kids with their homework after work.  To make it short, we were not able to sign up my son for Occupational therapy.

Life went on and we noticed improvement on our son’s behavior especially with the way he talked.  One to two words became sentences.  We observed more eye contact and can make him do an eye lock longer if we want him to elaborate what he wanted to tell us.  He started to reason every time we told him not to do something. 

Honestly, our hearts were glad to see those changes, but yet, we didn’t want to have false hope and in the end get another heartbreaking confirmation.  We said, as soon as we get a helper, we will enroll him for therapy. 

But, his improvements kept coming.  We saw him play a race with his toy cars, play his plane toys with sounds, draw more, sing more, and play more with his sister, even quarrel with her.  His speech improved too, but we can tell he still struggled.

Another diagnosis…

We can’t discount anymore these improvements, I got us another appointment and this time, with the Developmental Pediatrician whom I booked an appointment with the first time. 

She reviewed the initial assessment of her reliever doctor.  More questions were asked, more activities were done, she even had a young man assist her with the activities that my son had to complete.  My son was responsive and I sure can tell he had fun.  I can’t help not feeling that this would turn up favorable for us.

And it did.  The DevPed confirmed he is not in the spectrum. She said he has Speech Delay.

I remember closing my eyes for like 2-3 seconds.  I managed to hold back tears of joy, I was partly preoccupied as I was breastfeeding my baby throughout the assessment.  We were happy to share the good news with the rest of our family.

What did we learn?

When we were told about him having autism, my husband and I listened to many talks about autism.  This helped a lot to educate us on what we needed to do. 

We also listened to parents’ struggles at first in accepting it and how they saw light out of the situation.  We learned that there are success stories.  We listened to talks where the people with autism are the speaker, and they did a very fantastic job delivering their messages.

Above all, we learned not to look at ASD as a disability, it is indeed an ability as they say.

There is a saying that one cannot truly understand a feeling until one endures the same.  We experienced first-hand the feeling of uncertainty of the future, and how love can shift it to acceptance and assurance. 

Every time I look at my son, I always think of this experience.  I don’t have ill feelings towards the first DevPed who gave her diagnosis, I acknowledge she may have a basis to support her findings.  But I can’t help think if it could be subjective.  What if we answered differently?  Would she give a different diagnosis?

Needless to say, we treat our son the same and give him all the love and support to gear him up to be the great person he is destined to be.

Written by: Les Zingapan

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