Why I Didn’t Cry When My Daughter Was Diagnosed With Autism
I remember the details pretty vividly of when the therapist told my husband and me that our daughter was on the spectrum. It was morning. The office was dark. The couch was uncomfortable in that it was too deep to sit back on and still have my feet on the floor. The therapist held a clipboard like it was armor. I’m sure now she probably had to deal with a lot of defensive, incredulous parents before us.
This therapist had spent three hour-long sessions with Ruby prior to today. Observing her. Questioning her. Trying to relate to her. Ruby was 4 years old. Ruby walked on her toes and flapped her arms. Ruby rarely made eye-contact. Ruby was not interested in changing from one game to another until the first game was completely exhausted. Ruby talked in long run-on sentences that never had an end or seemingly a point. Ruby played solo and not with any preschool mate. Ruby hilariously used her name in third person.
Ruby also learned the characters of the alphabet before she was 15 months old. She memorized most all Dr. Seuss books by the time she was 2. She memorized song lyrics after hearing them once. She showed an amazing amount of patience and tenacity with challenging crafts. She spoke like someone who lived many lives before and like she was born a 16-year-old. She loved to author her own stories and songs into recorders and would spend hours doing it if allowed.
When the therapist said “Ruby has PDD-NOS or Asberger syndrome. She’s on the autism spectrum,” both my husband and I sat in silence. I remember the therapist going into some long explanations of how she arrived at the diagnosis along with some advice as to what we should do next and then asking us for questions. I remember thinking, “I wish I could think of a question.” It was so quiet for so long.
What was said next though is the moment that truly stands out for me. The therapist remarked that I was not crying or otherwise emotional (which if you know me is actually something quite odd) and that maybe we did not understand what she was saying. I slowly answered her. I said to her that she was telling us nothing that we didn’t already know. We knew our daughter and we knew that something about her was different from her brothers, from other kids her age. We were there because we knew “it”–we just wanted to know if “it” was something we should be worried about.
And then I felt stupid. I always knew Ruby was different. I always knew she was exceptional. Why were we there to be worried? Why were we handing any kind of power to shape Ruby’s thoughts about herself to relative strangers? It was like God came out of the clouds like he does in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and said to me, “Knock it off. Of course you being the guardian of this child is a good idea! Get on with it!”
That day, I handled myself with as much maturity and grace as I have ever in my lifetime. I don’t know where it came from (or where it’s since gone) but I thank the God in the clouds it was there. I wish I had had it in the months before we went and had the presence of mind to lose myself to Ruby’s quirks rather than wondering if they were “normal.” I would tell myself if I could go back, “You got this.”
In the years and therapies that have followed the diagnosis, Ruby is now 11 years old. Ruby makes eye-contact. Ruby rarely flaps her arms anymore. Ruby walks on her toes but not always. Ruby talks endlessly about fairies and computer programs and Kelly Clarkson lyrics.
Ruby still insists on finishing what she is doing, but will take a break to eat dinner. Ruby has written and published a book of her poetry. Ruby acts in plays. Ruby has a best friend. Ruby no longer uses her name in third person. She doesn’t need to remind me who she is anymore.
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