The past few days my mind has been consumed with one thought: Eric. I need a place to get these jumbled thoughts out of my head, so this is the place. This may not be a coherent blog, so just bear with me.
Anyone who knows Eric and Matthew, knows one thing for certain. The are two VERY different boys. Even though we knew Matthew would be different than Eric, we were still shocked when this little demanding fireball entered our world. We struggled at first, wondering why Matthew "couldn't be more like Eric." He required far more energy than our quiet, self-soothing Eric that we had come to love. It didn't take long for us to love Matthew for who he is as much as we love Eric for who he is.
As they continued to grow, and we watched more of Eric's "personality" develop he received a bit of teasing. He was (is) a little bit different than other boys his age. But so what? EVERY child is different! I relate well to Eric. I understand him better than most and feel that we have very similar personalities. As of late though, my mindset has changed from "Why is Matthew not like Eric?" to "Why isn't (wasn't) Eric more like Matthew?"
Let me explain. For a while now, I've been concerned about Eric's socialization. I have noticed that he prefers alone time. That's not to say that he doesn't love people and playing with other children. He plays VERY well one on one. But anytime I have seen him with a group of children, he will be playing alone. I've kept that in the back of the mind. I know since I am a stay-at-home mom and he doesn't get the opportunity to be with other kids often, that could contribute to it. But even still....it's different for Matthew...
The second concern has been his language development. Eric was VERY slow to start talking. He has made great strides in this past year and has learned to become conversational. I haven't been *too* worried about how well he talks, because to me - that's normal. But as I listen to Matthew talking and realize how clear he speaks and how he speaks in 3 word sentences already, I start to wonder, is Eric delayed? By the age of 2, Matthew will most certainly be talking AS WELL as Eric does at nearly 4. And with Eric, it's not that you can't understand the words he is saying, because you can. he does struggle with some consonants, but the BIGGEST issue is, even though you can understand the words he is saying, you will most likely not have a clue what he is talking about. His chain of thought is hard to follow.
This is where I walk the fine line of crazy versus observant and rightly concerned. 2 red flags. Language development and Social development. I don't know why the thought occurred to me, but there was this seed planted in my mind that I should research Autism. I know. It sounds absolutely crazy. And that's what I'm struggling with right now.
Now most obviously, Eric is NOT severely autistic by any means. But that's what makes this difficult. Autism is a blanket term for a wide spectrum of "issues" for lack of a better word. I did some basic research, but mostly thought about 2 things. 1. What behavior has Eric shown that has been "different" and 2. What behavior has Eric has had that has frustrated me?
The list became quite lengthy. I was swimming in so many thoughts and memories and wondering if what I had thought had been normal (even it was odd) were signs of something more. So I decided to start asking people. I have every intention of talking to a professional, but I needed to know I wasn't crazy for thinking that something, no matter how subtle, was "off".
I first asked a friend of the family. She had been with Eric a few times and watched him play with her daughter. I asked her if she had ever felt that Eric was "different" in any way. I explained that I had been considering the possibility that he might fall into the autistic category. She asked for examples of why I felt that way. She explained that he seemed perfectly normal to her and of course he wouldn't be like Matthew and I shouldn't expect him to be. He's 3 years old, and any differences I was seeing, or that anyone else was seeing, could be attributed to my style of parenting. Basically? I fell on the "crazy" side of parenting. (don't worry J! I know that's NOT what you were saying, but on the crazy vs. rightly concerned, that was the side you fell on - and that's fine!)
Then I talked to my mom about it. I decided to ask people in a progressive manner. Friend, Family, Professional. I expressed my concern to mom. She expressed that she had been concerned about his language development as well but didn't want to say anything to concern me unnecessarily. I tried to explain to her as well, why I thought he was leaning towards autism, though I became quite frustrated trying to come up with a concrete example that couldn't be refuted with "he's 3 years old!". Mom knows Eric well. and understood my frustration. Because she knows as well as I do, that something is "off". And it's so very subtle. Of course my friend couldn't see it. I doubt anybody outside the family would pick up on anything. But while mom and I thought on the topic together, and debated "he's 3 versus it could be something more", she decided I wasn't crazy and that I was right to be concerned. Afterall, it could be nothing - which would be great! But it wouldn't hurt to just talk to a professional and see what they thought. Which I planned on doing, but I was still trying to find a way to explain why I thought something more was happening with examples that on the surface seemed so..normal (I'll be going into further detail)
I know a handful of parents with autistic children of varying degrees - from Aspberger's to non-verbal Austism. I would have loved to talk to one of them, but I wasn't close enough to any of them to bring it up. Or so I thought. One of the families that has a 10 yr old autistic child invited us to dinner last night. Pretty random, huh? (God!) :) I got the chance to talk with my friend for hours about the subject. For the third time, I had to try and explain why it was I thought Eric had these tendencies. I first brought up the broad spectrum of language and socialization. She had taught him in Children's church so I asked how he had interacted with other kids. She said she hadn't noticed an issue. She explained that he followed group direction well, as opposed to kids with autism who must be specifically told what to do. She would know...so maybe I was being ridiculous afterall. But eventually I was able to bring more specific examples to the table of what concerned me.
He is off the charts academically, but has met every one of his developmental milestones late. As if he just couldn't understand what needed to be done.
He couldn't manipulate objects like Matthew can.
By the age of 2 he had memorized the books of the Old Testament, but if you asked him, "What would you like to eat?" he couldn't answer you.
He most certainly experiences sensory overload. We have watched the melt-downs happen when being around too many people came to be too much. All it took to calm him down, was to take him away from the chaos and let him be in a quiet environment for a while.
He has not been big into playing with toys. And when he has played with them, he's played with the m oddly. Example: Taking Legos out of the box one by one and running them over his nose.
If you take him to a playground, he will spend 3/4 of the time, sitting by himself crushing dead leaves.
He talks - a lot. And yet you may never understand a thing he is trying to say. Example: When he was really into coloring, I asked him "Do you like to color?" His response was, "No. I like penguins." I laughed this off, but wondered why he answered questions so randomly. Nothing he said made sense. The next day, I pulled out all his coloring books and crayons for him. He picked his favorite coloring book. What was on the cover? A penguin.
And what about his lack of patience and high frustration? Do austistic children get frustrated easily? I've watched since Eric was itty-bitty, scream and throw toys when he couldn't make them "work" the way he wanted. Was this just his personality, or the sign of something more?
He relies heavily on routine. I would not have thought twice about that because I rely heavily on routine. But I had read that this was a sign of autism. He has not done well with changes in routine in the past, though it has improved some. He is still insistent that some things go a certain way. Example: If I put one sock on and then attempt to put the shoe on, he will fuss and insist that I put the other sock on first and THEN the shoes.
He has had OCD tendencies since he was itty bitty. Things go a certain way. Again, didn't think much about this because I'm that way. I figured I inadvertently taught him to be that way. But as I continued to listen about the different aspects of autism, that stood out to me.
Examples seemed to flow all night. A lot of times my friend would smile and nod and say, "That sounds like autism" and other times she would say, "that could just be his skill level" or "that could just be his personality". The end conclusion was that she was not a professional and she couldn't say one way or another, but confirmed more than anyone had that I WAS right to be concerned, that I was NOT crazy and that she had been through the EXACT same thing with her child. It may be nothing. Then again it may be. She is giving me some information for his language to be tested. That's immensely helpful. We can go from there. She assured me that they work with tons of autistic children, and if there was any sign of that, they would pick up on it.
MY end conclusion? I really don't care if he is autistic or not. I don't care if he is diagnosed with this or not. You can call the issues whatever you want as long as you give me the resources to ease his frustration and to help him grow in ALL areas of his life. I have one reason, and one reason only to pursue any testing. And that's so I can be the best parent I can be to help him be the BEST Eric he can be. If we test and we find developmental delays, we can fix it. If he needs special help, we can give it to him. If we test and he's fine, great!
I had falsely assumed before having children, that the more time you spend with them and the better you get to know them, the better parent you can be because you will know exactly what they need and how best to provide that. I never imagined that there would be such a gray area, where everything seems to intertwine in such a knotted mess that it seems impossible to straighten out. If I never brought this up again or pursued testing, would Eric be okay? I believe so. I think he could go his whole life and deal fine. But I also believe that we can make his life easier, and less frustrating if we address any weaknesses he may have. Please pray that I make the best decisions for him and that he can grow in every way God intended him to.