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The Day Autism Became 'Real' for Us

My son was 8 months old and my mom and I were shopping at a children’s clothing store. My mom picked out the cutest little sweater with a reindeer on it; it was one of those sweaters many kids wear for their Christmas photos. I wanted my son to wear it so badly, but even at 8 months old I knew to “ask him” if he wanted it. It seems strange to ask an 8-month-old if he wants to wear something, and at the time I didn’t really understand what was going on, but I knew he already had his preferences. So I “asked” him nonetheless. Upon presenting the sweater to him, my son screamed and tried to literally wriggle away from it. We put the sweater back on the rack and shook our heads in bewilderment.

My son was a little over a year old and we were at a grocery; my husband pushed the cart and made funny faces while I went down the aisle with our shopping list. A song came on over the PA system and I sung along — my son lost it. He told me “no” and covered his ears while simultaneously trying to climb up the front of my husband. I stopped singing long enough to see if there was something hurting him, when I found nothing and he calmed down I started singing again, which lead to him yelling and trying to get away from the sound once more. At the time, we didn’t understand he wasn’t processing the notes I was singing, so we just shook our heads and joked that my singing couldn’t be that bad.


My son was 3-years-old and we were at a birthday party. There were a lot of kids he didn’t know, but there were a lot of games he loved, so my husband and I figured he would be fine. We watched from the sidelines as our beautiful little boy tried his hardest to get involved with blowing bubbles and hitting the piñata, but he almost looked like he was in pain with the whole situation. While everyone else ate cake, he ate a push-pop and stayed in the corner. While everyone else sang “Happy Birthday” to the birthday boy, he put his hands over his ears and stayed in the corner. Everything came to a head when it was time to play “pin the tale on the donkey.” He was completely into the idea until the blindfold came out. There was absolutely no way he was willing to put it on, but he realized he couldn’t play the game if he didn’t. I watched as the birthday boy’s mom let my son pin the tale on the donkey without the blindfold and thanked my lucky stars that other people were trying to help my son during a situation we didn’t fully understand yet.

My son was 4-years-old and we were at home. He had nearly stopped eating altogether and only consumed specifically preferred foods. We were in our “blue phase” with the realization that 1) there aren’t very many naturally blue foods, and 2) our son was losing weight at an alarming rate. My husband and I understood there was something more than “picky eating” in this situation, and after finding a pediatrician who would listen to our concerns, we were given a referral for autism testing.

We had had our suspicions about our son from about the time of the birthday party, but nothing about it had ever felt so real until that moment. Watching our son lose weight and knowing if we hadn’t pushed for intervention he could have ended up in the hospital felt like our worst fears come to life.

We are at home, our son is now 5 and it is a little after 10 pm. Every day we find something new for him, and every day we have a struggle, but that’s how our rhythm is. Some days he can be around other children, and some days it’s hard. Some days he can play at the splash-pad water park and some days getting him into a bath is painful for him. Some days I can sing in the car and some days we can’t have the radio on. Some days he talks just to hear his own voice, and some days he doesn’t communicate with us more than the sign for food or vocalization.

The day autism because “real” for us was the day our son was born — we just hadn’t gotten the memo.

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