From the outset, my daughter was a gorgeous, easy baby. She gurgled contentedly in her bouncy seat and slept through the night at four weeks. I stared into her blue eyes and she was dazzling as the sun. My husband and I orbited her like a pair of pale moons.
Yet Katie wasn’t born under ordinary circumstances. Her birthmother had been in and out of jail due to a several-year-old minor drug conviction. I didn’t know the extent of her drug use, but I naively assumed it wasn’t much. I think it’s safe to say that any drug use is too much when you’re preparing to adopt.
Despite this, her birth was straightforward and uncomplicated. For a year we watched for signs of trouble I feared would come. But at every checkup Katie exceeded the developmental milestones. The doctor shrugged and said she’d flown under the radar. I took it as a sign. This was the child we were meant to have.
When Katie was 16 months old, she climbed into my lap with a book. As I read she babbled and trilled, but no matter how I encouraged her, she wouldn’t attempt a word. A knot lodged between my shoulder blades. It was hard to tell, but she seemed to understand everything I said and part of.me argued there was no reason for concern. Katie had sat, crawled, and walked on schedule. She would talk when she was ready.
Two months later, Katie’s pediatrician asked if Katie could identify five body parts, and I said she knew fourteen. “I mix them up—just to make sure.”
The doctor laughed and assured me everything was fine. But as the months progressed and words never came, I couldn’t shake the suspicion something was wrong.
Katie was diagnosed with a speech delay at 26 months, then sensory processing disorder, then pervasive developmental delay—not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). (This would later change to autism when I sought a second opinion.) My husband of twelve years, the troubled but charismatic man I considered my soul mate, moved out three weeks later. To say it was a rough time would be an understatement.
I longed to curl up in bed and hibernate, but I couldn’t. I had a child who needed me. I bottled up my tears and threw myself into Katie’s recovery, spending long nights reading books, websites, anything I could find.
About the time I filed for divorce, a few weeks after Katie’s third birthday, a friend asked how things were going. I said I was depressed, that when I looked into Katie’s eyes I saw an IQ boiling, just out of reach, and I wanted to smash something, anything, on her behalf. I couldn’t imagine facing each day trapped, the thoughts spilling over with nowhere to go. I was surprised to find myself in tears.
He nodded and I wished he could calm the emotional storm that threatened to capsize me. Just tell me, I wanted to say to him (or anyone who would listen). Just tell me what to do. I suspect that’s how most of us feel following an autism diagnosis. Please, someone, just give me the answers.
And the unfortunate truth: No one has them.
This is the reality of autism.
Until next time,