A Short Story by Sara Miller
She knew something was wrong with the baby. It was in the way he wouldn’t look her in the eye. It was in the way he wasn’t talking by the time he was two. It was in the way he didn’t see her.
She wasn’t young when she had had her son. She was nearly thirty years old and had a nine year old daughter by the time she learned she was pregnant. She was wasn’t ignorant, or inexperienced, or unaware when it came to the oddness of the boy’s behavior. She knew normal two year olds didn’t try to purposely harm themselves or their mothers. She knew that her son’s ability to run on little to no food and less sleep was also not typical. So many things were just not right.
What the mother did know was frightening. She knew from the many articles she read. She knew from the countless symptom checklists she found on the internet. She knew. She just knew. Every parent’s worst nightmare was staring at her in face, reflected back to her in the dark hazel eyes of the little boy she adored so much.
The mother ignored it. She ignored it as her son ripped out chunks of her hair. She ignored it as the bite and scratch marks became so abundant on her arms that she had to wear long sleeves in the summer, lest people think she was a needle junkie. She put it in the back of her mind as she pinned her three year old to the floor to keep him from hurting himself or his sister. The kitchen cabinet doors were ripped off, one by one, and yet she ignored it.
The mother decided it was the word that bothered her. The word was that inevitable diagnoses that would forever label her beautiful curly haired boy as some strange “other” for the rest of his life. Disabled. Slow. Stupid. Retarded. She knew in her soul her son was none of those things. However, society, in its cold cruelty, would see her son, her only son and last child, as all of those things. The label would follow him everywhere for the rest of his life. So the mother ignored it.
Finally, at a doctor’s appointment that couldn’t be dismissed, she gave into suggestion, and accepted a referral for an evaluation. The young doctor was concerned about the boy’s missed milestones. Milestones that the mother had repeatedly assured herself would eventually come in time.
They came to the house to evaluate her son. The mother disliked the intrusion. She didn’t like people in her house and she most assuredly didn’t like her feigned ignorance to her son’s behavior being confronted. It was a painful afternoon, watching her baby boy fail at simple tasks that her daughter had mastered at a much younger age. She hated listening to the strange women evaluating her son tell her the truth. He was not functioning like a normal three year old. He was not making eye contact. He could not express his needs adequately. He needed consistent in home therapies. He needed to see a neurologist. Annoyed, angry, and feeling violated, the mother agreed.
She made the appointment with the neurologist at a fancy children’s hospital in a neighboring state. She dreaded the appointment more than she ever dreaded anything in her life. The day came and she took her beautiful boy in to be evaluated again by strangers. Sight, hearing, and coordination tests were given. Hundreds of questions were asked. At last, the axe fell.
“Your son has Autism Spectrum Disorder. We are lucky you brought him in now, we can start the appropriate therapies and he should develop normally. I’ll be a little slow going, but he will be fine.”
The neurologist had said it. He had said the words she had known for a year. It was the worst label anyone could have given her bright eyed son. Something inside of her felt like it had died. All her hopes and dreams for her precious child seemed to fade into nothingness.
Late that night, after many glasses of wine, many tears, and much contemplation, it came to the mother. She brushed aside the damp curls on her son’s sweaty brow. It wasn’t labeling her son that bothered her, it was the way it would affect her own self. She was afraid of what it would mean to her, not what it would mean to her son. She had been selfish in putting the diagnosis aside. Pretending it wasn’t there was not helping her child. Avoiding it was more detrimental to the boy then confronting it. She had been wrong. She felt sorry, she felt guilty. She was more concerned about how people would think about her son would affect her, not how it would affect him.
She woke up to a new world with a new perspective. She looked at her boy with new eyes. He was not disabled. He was not slow. He was not stupid. He was her son, and he has autism.