When did you suspect your child had autism? I get that question all the time.
At two weeks old, I was holding my daughter after feeding her. She looked up into my eyes. We maintained a gaze together, so engrossing that I felt myself lost in her. She was perfect and I felt such joy. After a few seconds, she broke our connection. Her eyes were far away. It was as if she drifted away even though I was holding my face close to hers. I had a feeling that something was wrong. I thought it was new mom paranoia.
A year and a half later, that feeling was validated by an autism diagnosis. My daughter developed typically until she was about 10 months old. Then we saw behaviors surface: she would make a funny face when she was excited or happy, she walked late, she slept very little, she did not respond to her name or to our voices. We thought it was cute and thoroughly normal. At a year old she had a few words: “baby”, “cat”, “duck”. At fifteen months, those words were gone. I would smash things on the floor to get her attention and she would not flinch. We thought she may be deaf. However, when we played Elmo’s theme song, her face would light up or she’d come running from the other room. She was not deaf.
At 15 months I took her to a music class with other babies. She preferred to walk in circles or eat the instruments rather than participate. The teacher, who was not very professional, said: “What is wrong with her?” I was highly offended and did not go back to class. So I took her to a gym class and the other toddlers were singing, dancing and climbing all over the equipment. My child licked the floor and then cried hysterically for no apparent reason. When I took her out of the class and put her in her car seat she babbled happily. I knew something was wrong. I cried in the car that day.
We told family and friends about our fears. Some people dismissed us as being “overreactive” or “wanting attention”. We were subject to anecdotes of delayed development and claims that “so-and-so was a late talker, too”. I knew something was wrong with my child. She was not just a “late talker”.
What perplexed me was that she was so happy. She would play with her toys for hours. She knew every song on her videos. She loved to cuddle and was so affectionate. How could something be wrong with a child so loving and happy?
Her developmental pediatrician took less than ten minutes to come to the conclusion that my child had autism. The doctor told us it was a life-long affliction. She told us that our child needed intense intervention. She told us that she may never speak, go to college, marry or live independently. All my dreams for my child were snatched away by those three words: she has autism. I remembered looking into my daughter’s eyes and watching her slip from my gaze. That moment haunts me. However, it drove me to get her the help she needs. Always trust a mother’s instinct.