Playground

Little Bear has been getting 15 hours a week of ABA for about 3 weeks now and the improvements have been measurable. Today he was eating his dinner in his high chair and he pointed to the napkin holder and said, “Yo ee ne.” Which is close enough to, “Yo quiero (whatever – you pointed!)” for me to be thrilled. Tuesdays are always especially hard for him because we have PT at my mother’s house, ABA for three hours at home, barely a 2 hour nap, then SL, followed by another hour of ABA. Since he did so well, I took him and his brother to the park.

The boys were running around, having a great time. Big Bear, who is four, insisted on taking his matchbox space shuttle with him. He was running around the playground, Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 11.38.07 PMclimbing and playing with the shuttle when this slightly older child, maybe 5 or a young six, came over and tried to take it from him. I noticed immediately that the child was almost certainly on the spectrum. He was not making eye contact, he was not noticing anything except the space shuttle – even when he pushed my son, he never looked away from the toy. I intervened and told the child, “Let’s put the toy away so we can play together.” The child did not look at me and said, “My shuttle.”

The boy’s mother came over and looked mortified. I said, “Oh, don’t worry. My younger child is similar.” I smiled, trying to signal, “It’s okay. My son’s on the spectrum, too. It happens.” Her response was, “I hope not. Of course I have the kid who likes to mug other kids on the playground. It’s because he’s an only child. He doesn’t understand that he needs to share.” She reminded her son that he has five shuttles of his own at home. I later saw her leading him around with a backpack style leash on him.

It was at that moment that I felt a profound pity for that child. Could it be that his mother didn’t realize or want to admit that he has special needs? This child was at least kindergarten age, if not first grade, and he spoke to me on the level of a young two year old. It really hurt to see a child that may have had the potential to obtain fluent language and develop social skill muted by a parent who just explained away the differences.

I sincerely hope, with all my heart, that she was simply embarrassed by her child’s behavior and that he is, in fact, receiving a full schedule of therapy. No child deserves to be denied his or her future.

“I don’t think his final diagnosis will be Autism.”

In 2002, I met a girl online while searching for other fans of a Spanish pop singer. We quickly became friends and, when my best friend died of lupus a year later, she was a huge support for me. Fifteen years later, we remain close friends and confidants. During those fifteen years, she went on to become a Pediatrician. Dr. Friend now works at the clinic of a prominent hospital in her city.

She lives far away from us, so she hasn’t seen Big Bear since he was a baby and this was her first time meeting Little Bear. She knows that Little Bear has an ASD diagnosis and I had told her about my husband’s freakout on Monday.

Little Bear has done phenomenally at home with me this past week. On Monday, he was throwing tantrums and wouldn’t sign “want” at all. Today he didn’t throw a tantrum until 3 hours into our day when he was legitimately tired and done. When we did our puzzle together, he not only signed “want” every time, but he coupled it with “Yo” (“I” in Spanish) and the name of the animal that the piece was related to. This was after only four days of working with him at home. He is like a different child.

So it was this Little Bear that Dr. Friend met. She gave him a board book of Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See and, after reading it twice, read Dr. Seuss’s ABC with him. She was surprised to see that he knew huge portions of the book by heart and was able to turn the pages with minimal help.

Later, we took our cat to the vet since she had been suffering from a UTI for a week. Little Bear fell asleep in the car on the way. I asked Dr. Friend to stay in the car with him while I took the cat and Big Bear inside for our appointment. At some point during the appointment, he woke up and she brought him inside and showed him the cats and the fish. During the entire time, he was well behaved, held her hand, and smiled at her while he laughed at the animals.

Later that evening, Papi Bear and I took her to a Brazilian restaurant for live music and too many caipirinhas. After two or or three, I asked her for her opinion on Little Bear.

“I only just met him, but I don’t think his final diagnosis will be autism. He doesn’t exhibit a lot of the signs of children on the spectrum. He is delayed linguistically and socially, but he was completely fine spending time with me and he’s very interactive with people he knows. He’s very affectionate, he follows directions or he at least understands them and chooses not to follow them.”

She advised us to continue with his therapies, get as many as possible, have him in the special needs school for at least a year, but she thinks he will eventually mainstream.

I think this is what my husband needed to hear and I do think her comments are more along the lines of what the neurologist feels, even though his therapists and pediatrician continue to say he is autistic. Ultimately it’s the symptoms that matter rather than the actual diagnosis, but to hear from a trusted friend that he is social and cognitively where he should be definitely relieved some of my anxiety.

The stages of grief

I’ve been in the acceptance phase of Little Bear’s diagnosis for a long time now. I spent weeks crying, blasting my self-soothing music, crying, “Why my son? Why my baby?” at absolutely no one. I mourned his differences as if I had lost a child. I did lose a child. But in losing the child I imagined he was, I began to meet, love, and adore the child he is.

This morning we started our homeschool sessions. I think everything went well except for table time. We definitely need to work on table time. His ABA therapist came at ten and he did a wonderful job reading books with her and taking breaks before transitioning back to his assigned activities. She gave me ideas on how to organize his day and get him to do what he needed to do. When she left, I felt very positive about his future. He knew at least two words on every page of the Dr. Seuss ABC book, he named my sister, my mother, and my mother in law and he asked for food every time he wanted it. To me, it was a very successful day.

I filled out his transition papers for preschool. I requested a special needs school with complete knowledge and acceptance that this is what my son needs. It was a good day.

My husband has also gone through stages, but today was not a good day for him. Little Bear was rolling his head back, not answering to his name, and being generally disinterested in anything my husband said or did with him. On Mondays and Wednesdays I teach at night, so I wasn’t there to help get him back on track or figure out why he was derailed at dinner/bedtime.

I came home late from work. I had papers to grade and tests to write and I always work more efficiently from my office or a classroom compared to my home. I came in and my husband was on the couch, classical music playing, feeling very down. He had been reading about ASD and was full of questions, the biggest one being: Why our son? Why our family?

He broke my heart more than once during the conversation, although I didn’t tell him. The first time was when he said he didn’t want to have any more children because of the risk that another one could have ASD. I very much want a third child and Little Bear isn’t confirmed ASD yet. He has ASD-like symptoms, but his neurologist is heavily leaning towards delayed myelination. Since delayed myelination isn’t genetic, I see no reason not to have a third child. I want a third child. I very much want to have a third child in the next year.

As he kept saying what pre-occupies him and what scares him and what his fears about the future were, I tried to remind him repeatedly that our little bear is not a lost cause. Looking at where he should be cognitively, he hits every single milestone except following two-step directions. When looking at what a 3 year old does cognitively, he does everything except turning a doorknob and playing make believe. His delays are purely linguistic and social in nature. I have no doubt Little Bear will eventually mainstream once his language skills take off. How easy school will be for him is another question. My husband doesn’t seem to share those feelings. He fears Little Bear will be in a home and need constant care for life. I just don’t see that happening. His language was at an 11 month level 6 months ago. He tested at 18 months two months ago and he has gained an avalanche of words and phrases since then. He’s potty training on schedule like a neurotypical 2 year old. In other words, he’s making progress.

That wasn’t the moment that broke me, though. I asked him if he’d rather an autistic Little Bear or no Little Bear. The obvious response should be, “Autistic Little Bear.” His response was, “Please don’t ask me that.” My heart broke in that moment. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces because, while I’d love Little Bear to be able to walk through this world as comfortable as possible, the idea of this world moving on without him is a possibility I would never want to consider.

Then came the argument of secrecy. My husband does not like to tell people Little Bear is autistic. I tell people all the time. I really don’t see it as a big deal. I tell family. I tell strangers. I tell anyone that wonders why my 2.5 year old acts like an 18 month old. I think it’s better to be honest and have them treat him with kindness and empathy than have them think we’re awful parents. My husband has not told the vast majority of his family. He says, “I don’t see why they need to know. It’s private.” To me “private” means “embarrassing.” His family is “private” about anything and everything that can cause discomfort. I am not. This is a continual collision point in our marriage and I see it continuing to be so as we move forward with Little Bear’s treatment.

So now we’ve gone from having a venting conversation to not talking because I’m too public about Little Bear’s diagnosis. And that, too, breaks my heart.

Strike 2

Little Bear got kicked out of Fancy Religious Child Care Center on Thursday.

No shock there, but Papi Bear took it very hard. He was pretty messed up about it all day.

Special Needs Child Care center will be able to accommodate us the second week of June for their summer program. I have to call back on Monday when the director returns to see where he is on the wait list for the regular program.

I have to admit there were some tears when I explained how much it hurt that Little Bear wouldn’t have friends anymore. Maybe that moved us up. Fingers crossed.

Until then… Little Bear Home School goes into session on Monday at 7AM.

Semantics

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 11.30.32 PM

Today a friend I knew when I was in grad school made a post on facebook during a trip to the local fair asking something along the lines of “is it normal for 5 and 6 year olds to have pacifiers and ride in strollers now?” This friend has always had a penchant for the sarcastic and lives in a heavily hispanic area despite being a white man, so it was quite obvious that his comment was saying, “Latinos, you need to get your kids up and walking and not give them pacifiers.”

My children are Latino. My 4 year old rides in a stroller when we go to theme parks for safety reasons.

I decided not to play into the racism of the comment and instead mentioned that many children are special needs and require sensory stimulation in crowds and need to be in strollers for their own safety or they may simply be disabled. A friend of his responded, “Their kids will end up gap toothed and having weak legs.”

The conversation moved towards “well, there must have been a lot of kids with autism there!” My response, “1:42 boys have it. My son is autistic. So was Thomas Jefferson.” To which gap-tooth-weak-leg woman said, I kid you not, that *I* was being ableist for calling my child autistic.

I have heard the idea of “autistic” being ableist before. I have heard the arguments of  it not defining the child. I have heard them and as a mother of a child with this disability and as a linguist, I wholeheartedly disagree. I respect the desire of people who want to be referred to as “having autism” and will always follow their leads (or that of the parent in the case of young children), but I will not be told by the mother of neurotypical children how I should refer to my child who is on the spectrum. Take a seat. Pull out your suitcase. Unpack for a minute. I know I had to before writing this post.

If given a choice of terms, I would say my son does not have autism. To me, you have diseases. He didn’t acquire autism when someone sneezed on him. When he was born, he was hard of hearing. He was not “without hearing.” We don’t change the morphology of any other disability-related word to make it less “defining.” Why are we afraid to define our children or, in adult situations, ourselves, as autistic? Why can’t we embrace it as a trait rather than an affliction to be “had”?

My son was born with autism. It may not be in his DNA as far as the geneticist can see, but his tendencies were visible soon after birth. Autism is part of him. He doesn’t have it any more than he has latino heritage or white skin. He is latino. He is white. He is autistic. No, it doesn’t define him, but it certainly makes up a large part of his world view and to take that away from him and isolate it as a sort of illness is offensive to me as his mother. Also, I feel like saying he “has autism” gives the false impression that it’s an issue to be cured. He doesn’t need curing. He may need therapy to help him navigate the world, but he certainly doesn’t need a “cure” for his autism. As a very staunch pro-science mother, I also feel this term plays a bit too much into the woo ideas of it being curable through pseudoscience.

I am certain that as Little Bear grows autism will be an important part of his identity.  Every part of his identity deserves an adjective. He came to us with both a full head of hair, light skin, and autism. Calling him brown-haired, light skinned, and autistic are just naming three aspects of his being that make him my beautiful, special little man.

If he decides that he feels differently as he matures, I’ll change my way of referring to him, but for now, he is my autistic son Little Bear. If the person has any background in medicine, I may say he’s on the spectrum. You will never hear me introduce him as “my child with autism” unless the day comes when he says that’s what he wants.

So the ableists who want to call out the mom of an autistic child for defending her child and his culture… they need to take a goddamn seat and check their privilege while not defining my child according to what they feel defines him and doesn’t. Autism defines my child. Latino defines my child. South American defines my child. North American defines my child. Bilingual defines my child. Adorable defines my child. Just as a word can have many definitions, so can a child. Autistic is just one of the many listed under the dictionary entry of Little Bear.

First Sentence!

Little Bear was sitting in his seat the table eating his favorite food ever: smokey mozzarella salad from Fresh Market.
“Ques be shek.”

Papi Bear and I looked at each other. Little Bear pointed at the TV.

“Did he just say…”

“I think I heard it, too.”

We put Baby Shark on the TV. Little Bear got a huge sm
ile and started singing along.

April 11, 2017. The day Little Bear made his first non-memorized, not-requested sentence: “Quieres Baby Shark?”Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 12.49.15 AM

Look, Mommy! It’s Little Bear!

We were running around the playground playing monster. Mama Bear being chased by Little Bear and Big Bear, although Little Bear inevitably ended up behind and the chased. Lots of laughs and giggling, but then Little Bear tired of the game and decided to walk around and play alone, as he often does.

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 1.05.59 PM“That’s Little Bear!” I thought I heard a voice yelling.

Nah, it must be another Little Bear.

But I heard it again and again. And a mother confirming her daughter’s comments.

There was a little girl on the playground who knew Little Bear from Fancy Child Care Center. I introduced myself as his mother and talked to the child’s mother for ten or fifteen minutes. I apologized for my son’s disinterest in her daughter and let her know that he had ASD. She said she understood, although it was quite apparent from later comments that she didn’t. She revealed to me that her daughter had been one of his biting victims, although, seeing Little Bear’s delays, she didn’t seem especially upset by it. She brushed it off as, “She came home saying, ‘Little Bear was mean to me!’ and I told her that I know she’s been mean, too, and so have her friends.”

I explained about the ear tubes and their effect on his behavior. She asked who his ENT was because her daughter needed them. I gave her his name and information and she said she’d heard wonderful things about him. I told her how the fluid had affected his balance so profoundly as a baby that he didn’t walk until a week after they were placed. They were life-changing for him.

Then came the unsolicited advice and excuses, as it always does in these possible-friends situations. I expanded on his delays and she said she had read that children usually focus on one skill at a time, so maybe he was focussing on his gross motor skills rather than his speaking and social skills. She adjusted the amber bracelet on her daughter’s wrist as she explained this alternative fact mined from Google.

I didn’t want another mother to hate me and my child for his disability, so I, “oh, really?”ed while willing my eyes not to roll. Since I didn’t let them roll, I had to also try to fight back the tears that want to escape when I have to make the mother of a neurotypical child understand that my child is not neurotypical and will almost certainly never be neurotypical.

Her daughter tried to play with Little Bear. He would follow her when she ran, but he didn’t know how to interact with her. He just didn’t know what to do and it breaks my heart all over again.

But… in other news… today he said, “There you go” multiple times in socially appropriate situations. Also, he and his brother did an excellent job of taking turns playing a game on the ipad.