Mister Man is a special needs child. As “normal” as he appears to many, especially at first glance, he isn’t. He’s autistic, although happily he’s very high functioning and we’re anticipating that he’ll grow up to live a “normal” productive adult life, albeit with a quirky personality. He isn’t your typical child, however, and I’ve known that for a long time.
I was part of a playgroup from the time he was about eight or ten weeks old. Most of the moms in the playgroup had children who were a few months older than Mister Man, but they were relatively the same age. Even when he was a year old, however, it was apparent that he wasn’t the same as the other children in the group.
He didn’t play the same way they did, side by side and often interacting. He was off doing his own thing in his own way. As much as I tried to tell myself that it was because he was a little younger than they were and because by that point, he was just about the only boy in a group filled with girls. Of course he was going to be a little different.
As the other children all talked and he remained silent, that little niggle poked at me. As the other children started picking up crayons and wanting to color while Mister Man’s interest in color remained purely walking around with a yellow block in his mouth, that niggle prodded. As they made friends and he didn’t know how to interact with them, I felt it. I knew.
My friends didn’t say anything to me, of course. Who’s going to be the one to ask what’s “wrong” with your child, after all? I could see the looks that they’d give him – and me – periodically after he’d done something that just wasn’t typical. There’s something wrong with my baby, and even when my pediatrician assured me I had nothing to worry about, I knew.
Somehow, the right people are always in our lives. We just have to be open to letting them in. They are the people who you can call in the middle of the night when you just can’t deal anymore. They’re the ones who show up at your house with exactly what you need, even when you didn’t ask them. They’re the ones who call just to check in and offer a shoulder, not even knowing you’d need it.
I was lucky – am lucky – to have many friends like this who appear at just the right times. When Mister Man was just over a year, one of my friends continued to open up to me about her daughter who is a few years older than Mister Man. Her daughter had troubles in preschool, she was challenging for my friend at home, and for years she knew there was something but didn’t have the help or support she needed. It wasn’t until her daughter was four years old that she learned about the preschool program that would be the start of a 360 change in her daughter. Finally, her daughter was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder – it wasn’t that her child wasn’t behaving but that she quite simply only heard a portion of what she was told and it made no sense to her. The therapies she received both in preschool and elementary school made a huge difference for her.
I’d never heard about preschool programs like this – and besides, Mister Man was only a year old, so he wasn’t going to preschool any time soon, and besides, her daughter’s issues at the time were very different from Mister Man’s issues. My friend was the one, however, where I could open up about my concerns regarding Mister Man. She was the one who encouraged me to share what just didn’t feel right to me, even after that pediatrician told me everything was just fine. It wasn’t just fine. He wasn’t just fine. She shared information about the Early Intervention program that exists not just in Illinois but throughout the country in various configurations. She was the one who encouraged me to keep after my pediatrician and ask him specifically about having Mister Man tested for the program – something that the pediatrician initially brushed off saying there was no cause for concern but finally agreed that I could have him tested if it was that important to me. (And I’ve since found out that there’s no need for your pediatrician to a) say you need the testing or b) be the one to initiate the process.)
With my friend’s support that this is something I can do and the reassurance that the earlier I get started the more results we will see, I took the plunge and started the process of having Mister Man tested for the Early Intervention program. To qualify for any therapy, a child must have a 30% of more developmental delay. Although my concern was with his speech (it wasn’t just that he didn’t talk – he didn’t babble), any testing required that they examine at least three areas, which I thought was silly. It ended up not being so silly, as part of his speech issue was relate to his lack of core strength – without being strong enough to sit up straight and support himself when taking breaths deep enough to push through the air required to speak, he simply couldn’t speak. Oh. Thus, physical therapy was added to the speech therapy he began at 17 months old (though we started the process when he was not quite 14 months).
When we heard the news that yes, he had not just the areas of delay that we’d expected but additional concerns, my friend was there again to offer support and help me work through how I felt about it. She was the one who helped me navigate both what to do next and my emotions about it. I wouldn’t have been nearly so stable, wouldn’t have had nearly the sang froid that I did. She was the one who encouraged me with the stories about the changes her daughter was making and what I would expect, too. As I drifted further from the playgroup as he grew older and was more and more obviously different and not fitting in with the other girls in the group, she was there for me, making that break much easier than it would have been otherwise.
But yet how easy would it have been for me to brush her off when she talked about her daughter – not even knowing that first time that I was so concerned about Mister Man? How simply could I have not asked those questions that she so honestly and thoroughly answered for me? It never ceases to amaze me how the right people appear when we need them. The trick is to let them in, as hard as that sometimes is, especially for people like me who are so very used to doing things on our own without any help from anyone.
Who has been your own personal angel walking into your life?
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of the book “Expecting Adam” by Martha Beck as a part of the From Left To Write book club where we don’t write book reviews but instead write posts inspired by the books we read. I received no compensation, and all opinions expressed are my own – as for the book, I’m mixed on it. Parts of it I loved and parts of it drove me nuts.