He wasn’t always autistic.
For the first two years LittleOne hit ever single milestone. He had torticollis and got PT for his neck muscles the first 18 months of his life. I remember thinking every time I went to the children’s hospital, “Thank God, he’s perfect.”
And then he wasn’t.
LittleOne held a crayon and colored. He had cookies and juice while I sipped my Starbucks. We shopped happily in Target. He threw kisses and waved ‘bye’ and gleefully said, “I love you!”
And then he didn’t.
It was like flipping a switch. He was different.
Off running in circles, shaking a straw. No more coloring. No more waving. No more milestones. No more new language. No more “I love you.”
I would email my friends, “Read this article and tell me what you think.” “He’s fine,” they said, “boys develop slower than girls.” “He will talk when he’s ready.” “My nephew/ cousin/ whomever went through a phase like this.” I knew. This wasn’t a phase. He was slipping behind, slipping away.
I slipped away too. How could I be friends with people who don’t see? Who don’t hear? Who couldn’t tell I was dying inside? I had my son long after my friends. After years of hearing about little league and soccer, dance and scouts, no one wanted to talk night terrors, speech delays or medical articles about detox and diets.
We slipped away into our own world.
One year later we walked into a developmental pediatrician’s office, who started our conversation by saying, “With autistic kids like yours…” LittleOne was so obviously autistic it was a forgone conclusion.
Remember in Harry Potter how no one said the Dark Lord’s name long enough that even the word was visceral? Voldemort.
Same reaction. My darkest fears stepping out to engage. I too knew it was coming. I knew before it was ever vocalized, but hearing it said was physically painful.
It was another year before he said, “I love you.” to me. He’s slowly coming back, edging into our world. But it’s a fragile bridge he must cross. Coming back is harder than slipping away.