They say not to judge a book by it’s cover. Maybe that’s why it took so long to diagnose Adam’s autism. Adam’s cover didn’t look like autism. Maybe if he regressed in his language and skills. Maybe if he had stimmed more. Maybe if he lined up his toys, spun in circles, got fixated on ceiling fans, and had displayed all of the other characteristics of Autism, that the books describe, he would have been diagnosed sooner. Is that good or bad? I really don’t know.
Adam’s cover also didn’t tell us that he was having hundreds, possibly thousands of seizures for the first 6 years of his life. Instead, we chased countless sinus infections, ear infections, removed his tonsils, adenoids, and reshaped his sinus cavity; all in the name of keeping him healthy. Maybe if his cover had told us that all of the infections were causing countless mini seizures. It took a 40 minute seiure to finally get a diagnosis. Could we have retrained his brain earlier? Would his ability to process and use language still not be so far behind? Would his language skills be more advanced? Who knows.
They say that when you’ve seen one child with autism, you’ve seen one child with autism. Adam continues to affirm this statement with every day, month and year that goes by. He is a totally different kid than he was 6 years ago when he was first diagnosed. Honestly, he’s a totally different kid than he was a mere 6 months ago. Adam is just one child with autism.
Adam’s recent IEP meeting got me thinking. With every new school year, comes a new team. A new set of teachers who have the task of getting to know Adam. He spends many weeks in the beginning, proving his strengths. Proving why we fought so hard to move him into the mainstream. For at the beginning of every year, I know that his cover is judged ever so slightly, by one word – Autism. Our cover as parents is continually judged, for his new teachers don’t have the slightest idea of the journey we have traveled the past 6 years.
Adam’s cover was judged back in kindergarten, as we discussed his first grade placement. The team ‘agreed’ that sending him to a different school in our district, and placing him in a self contained classroom was the best choice for him. My gut knows that this decision was based on one word, and one word only….Autism.
I objected. I questioned. But I was dismissed. I was assured that he would be ‘ok’. I replay that meeting in my mind over and over. And I wish over and over that my older and wiser self could go back and change that decision. If I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I would not have let them place him in a self contained classroom. For during those 6 months of 1st grade, we all lived in mostly misery and we most definitely learned.
Maybe then, 1st grade would have been a much better experience for all of us. Maybe then, he wouldn’t have displayed so many behaviors at school. He wouldn’t have cried for what seemed like every waking minute. He wouldn’t have bitten his teachers. He wouldn’t have hit his friends. He wouldn’t have been sent home from school 4 times in one month. I guess, though, I would have never known that this was a violation and I would have never developed a true understanding of his rights.
Maybe then, after that 4th time he was sent home, I wouldn’t have been standing in Target, 10 days before Christmas with tears streaming down my face, truly unaware of how I got there; holding his little hand. And maybe then, my cover wouldn’t have been judged, as an elderly woman asked me if she could help me buy my son some Christmas presents.
I insisted that these behaviors were so unusual. That I knew the reason he was acting out was because Adam was so unhappy in this classroom. He repeatedly told me, in his own way, that he wanted to be back in the same grade school as his brother and sister. These behaviors were the result of his frustration for he was not able to truly verbally express how he was feeling. He was perceived as a ‘brat’. And my parenting skills and judgement were questioned not only by educators, but friends and family.
Once again, his cover was judged and so was mine.
As I sat in my chair at the conference table, a week ago, I listened to each team member give their reports and updates. I listened to how his work, tests and quizzes in these general education classes are only occasionally modified. I listened to how he is beginning to recognize social cues, how he is consistently saying hello and goodbye to teachers and students in class and in the hallway. I realized, by the slight look of surprise on some of the team members faces, his cover continues to be judged, by one word – Autism.
We discussed Adam’s interests. I described how he now has a cell phone. How he has been learning in private speech therapy, to text. How he still has an interest in trains, but a strong interest in helicopters, especially military helicopters, is starting to take over. Of course, I talked about he continues to obsess about my butt. I talked about how he loves to watch YouTube videos of kids getting into trouble. And I described how I walked into Adam’s room a month ago to find him watching a video of girls clad in colorful bikini’s skydiving out of helicopters. I’m fairly sure that the helicopter was not the only attraction. After all he will be 13 years old in March.
Once again, the surprise, that book…that damn book.