Autism is one of those disorders where parents anxiously watch their child's development, looking for clues. They know something isn't quite right, but they just can't seem to put their finger on it. Lee, mother of three, has a seven year old son with autism. A teacher and a grad student, Lee is used to being tired. Her son though, she explains, tasks her in ways she never thought possible. She loves him undyingly, but there are days she is drained from having to deal with her son, who she describes as both violently frustrating and wonderfully insightful. As many parents, Lee struggles with autism and how it affects all of her children.
Autism is a developmental disorder that children are born with, but they usually do not manifest symptoms until they are about a year old or older. Even then, it usually begins with hunches and gut feelings. This was the case with Lee. Her son was a beautiful, healthy baby boy, who was remarkably peaceful and slept easily throughout the night. He was a happy baby and progressed normally at all his well baby visits. Lee figured that his crying spells on occasion were normal, attributing some of his sensitivities to light or commotion as a difference in personalities. Each of her children had differences in their likes and dislikes and temperaments. As he became older, she sort of wondered about, but didn't find too distressing the fact that he would spend hours dumping all the toys out of his yellow box, lining up each of the cars by size and then, methodically, putting them back in the yellow box just to dump them out again. She wasn't too thrilled that he would scream for hours, if she took the yellow box away prematurely.
Children with autism often do appear completely normal until they are about 18 months old, much like Lee's son. Then, slight differences begin to crop up, making parents wonder what's going on. Children with autism do not like change and react strongly to extremes is light or sound, much as Lee's son did. There are certain times when they don't want to be touched or held or wear certain clothes. Some of their behaviors are often written off as “quirky,” like repeated the same movements over and over. And, as Lee often discovered, an interruption or sudden change in their routine, can send them over the edge, often causing younger children with autism to cry or scream for hours.
Autism isn't a death sentence, however, and some parents have even gone so far as to call autism the “gift” of autism. Lee always marveled at her son's ability to see things she just couldn't. Exhausted and completely unmotivated one day, she slumped down to sit next to her son, who enjoyed sitting on the curb in front of their home. “Mom,” her son reveled in her presence, “Now you can hear the dinosaurs with me.” Too tired to argue and somewhat curious, Lee bit. “What dinosaurs, Randy?” “Wait, Mom. You'll hear them.” They sat together, side by side, for about ten minutes, silently. Lee listened to the soft gurgling of the water emptying into the storm drain. A car drove by and her son put his head nearly level with the curb. “There!” he said with delight. Lee had no clue, but just smiled. Randy was undeterred. “No, mom. You got to put your head down.” As the next car finally came by, she did. The sound of the car was echoed in the storm drain. Like the soft growl of a dinosaur. Only her son would have discovered a dinosaur in the storm drain.