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Autism: A Mother Looks at Diagnosis

She didn't say anything like that, just set a regular weekly appointment for Andrew and suggested we play some games with him to heighten his social interaction.

At a subsequent session, when Roberta said to us, "Do you have any guesses about what's going on here?" I actually muttered something about how maybe it could be autism – hoping, I guess, that she would adamantly disagree with me. I mean, it wasn't like it hadn't crossed my mind.

And she said, carefully, "I'm not a diagnostician, but if I had to make a guess, I'd say, yes, his behaviors fall somewhere on the autism spectrum."

If step one was our sneaking little fear that something was seriously wrong with our child, then step two was hearing a professional say that maybe there was something to our sneaking little fear. We decided we needed to know for sure and took Andrew to see Dr. B.J. Freeman at UCLA, and she said her thing about knowing for sure that he had autism.

And that was step three: Utter and Complete Confirmation of Our Worst Fear.

Talk to Him
I come from an unemotional family. People don't cry or say, "I love you," and they downplay big moments. So I thought I had to be cool about this. Act like it was no huge deal. Do the research, call some experts, fix my kid. Breaking down would just waste everyone's time. That first day, Rob and I were both very calm. We asked B.J. some questions, then went home and vowed to go to the bookstore the next day to buy some books on autism. We discussed it all fairly dispassionately.

But that night, I rocked our younger son to sleep and, alone with the sleeping baby in the dark, finally allowed myself to sob. My beautiful little boy had autism. His future was dark and awful. I loved him, but I couldn't save him from this. In my whole sheltered, charmed life, nothing had ever hurt this much.

Months later, I found out Rob did the same thing – snuck off somewhere by himself to cry. I don't know why we didn't cry together. We should have. It took us almost a year to recover from the news, a year that almost destroyed our marriage, because we both chose to hide our misery instead of share it.

When I talk to people now who've just had a child diagnosed with any kind of special needs, one of the first things I say is, "Talk to each other about how sad you are." You may think you need to be brave for your spouse's sake, but putting on a brave front doesn't help anyone. You both need to mourn, and you need to mourn together. You're the only two people in the world who are feeling the same thing at that moment. You were handed the rawest, lousiest, most piece-of-shit news parents can get – at least let it pull you closer together instead of farther apart.

Telling People
You should, you know. Tell people. You don't have to walk up to strangers on the street or anything, but confide in the people who love you. That was one thing we did right: we told our families and our friends right away. First we called them, and then we copied a good, comprehensive article someone wrote about autism and annotated it with specifics about Andrew, and we mailed it out to everyone we knew. (You could do the same thing with sections from this book, by the way.)

None of our good friends pulled away from us because our kid had autism. Just the opposite – our friends and families rallied around us in amazing ways and have continued to cheer Andrew's progress on year after year.



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From Overcoming Autism by Lynn Kern Koegel, Ph.D. and Claire LaZebnik. Copyright 2004. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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