My two and a half year old, Eli, is in the super cute phase of sentence building and thought sharing. I told my husband the other day I wish I could freeze this time, when his voice is so sweet and his face so innocent. Even his bossy demands amuse me, with his stern little toddler mean face expressions and his grumpy arm-folding across his chest. I was trying to recall memories of Haiden when he was this age, and felt guilty that I couldn’t remember what his voice sounded like. But that’s because when he was this age, he didn’t have a voice. Crazy to think that my chatter box, my kid who talks nonstop, who uses a vocabulary far above what kids his age should be using, was once non-verbal.
I didn’t realize at the time that Haiden was different. I knew that he had a language delay, but at two years old it wasn’t cause for alarm. When he was three and he still wasn’t able to communicate in full sentences, I knew we had to do something. We enrolled him in a special needs pre-school where he received his first IEP (Individualized Education Plan). His diagnosis at that time was Developmental Delay. Over the course of two years there, he made great improvements in language skills, but still struggled a lot with social, cognitive and behavioral issues.
The first time he was able to answer a question in a full sentence will forever be with me. He was about four at the time. We were driving home and I looked back at him in the rear view mirror and tiredly asked, “What would you like for dinner?” To my surprise he answered: “Chicken nuggets, french fries, Sprite.” (This was a foreshadow for what has become his all-time favorite meal, much to my chagrin.) I was so overjoyed. I choked back the lump in my throat as my eyes filled with tears and I took him straight to Mickey Ds.
The next phase he went through was called Echolalia. Basically he was a skipping record, saying the same word or phrase over and over and over and over. So you can imagine how much fun that was. He also adopted a variety of odd (but characteristic of autism) movements: rocking back and forth, flapping his hand, a lethargic gait when he walked. Little idiosyncrasies that would come and go, get better, get worse. There was nothing I could do about it. They were waves that I just had to ride out every time they swelled and rolled through our lives.
When he was four he started at a new daycare. He never wanted to play with the other kids. I would often pick him up while they were outside on the playground. He was always off by himself, Mayor of HaidenLaLaVille. Other kids would point and whisper. Once a kid asked me, “Are you his mom?”
“Yes,” I replied.
My heart broke when I realized that other kids were starting to notice that there was something off about him. And I couldn’t fault a kid for being brutally honest. My consolation at that time was that Haiden didn’t notice- HE didn’t realize he was different and he certainly didn’t know others thought he was. He had no concept of taking another’s perspective. I was glad that he wore this protective cloak of oblivion and that he didn’t hurt over it the way I did.
Now, at nine years old, I think he realizes a little more that he isn’t quite like his fellow classmates. But I don’t think he cares. I love that he doesn’t try to act a certain way to get people to like him. He’s just very authentically Haiden, and if you don’t like him he just doesn’t give a shit! He has a group of good friends who have known him since kindergarten and they all get along great. As long as anyone wants to listen to him chat non-stop about his most recent obsession (last year it was Legos. Now it’s Minecraft) then he’s just happy as can be.
And I couldn’t be happier for him.