Last Monday was a terrible day for us. We went as a family to Nathan’s fifth-year check-up but the whole system quickly unraveled and morphed into a case study into what happens when your child doesn’t want to focus on the eye test and for some inane reason does *not* want to take off his clothes for the examination, when outside the confines of the doctor’s office, he shifts out of his clothes in nanoseconds. Nathan struggled against me when I tried to take off his clothes, the doctor watched the whole time as he wiggled and clung to his hanes socks and shirt, which is the perfect thing to do in front of someone who can call child protective services.
Nathan’s doctor asked me some more questions about his eating (mostly carbs and cheese; veggies are a U.N. negotiation) and then asked me about how his speech therapy was coming along. I told him about his preschool and daycare teachers and how excellent they have been. The progress Nathan has made since starting in both places in September has been monumental. He still has difficulty with “sl” pronunciations, still says he needs to “sweep.” But he is talking, repeating, mimicking, making jokes, laughing until his whole body reddens and quakes because farts are very funny, especially when his mother protests that he didn’t inherit that from her side of the family.
Then his doctor asked me about his social skills, how he connects with other children. That’s the gray area. He plays well with his daycare friends and comes home with tales about his preschool classmates. But I’ve watched him retreat from a group of other kids, preferring to play by himself rather than join in a game or activity. Even at his own birthday party, instead of dancing with the mouse, he wanted to sit at the table and eat pizza, despite our urging him to join in. I see that. I’ve seen that. But is it autism or is it shyness? Is his speech delay autism? Or is it just what it is: a delay?
I have never considered autism because of Nathan’s emotional charge, how much he tells me he loves me, how much he laughs and plays. But then he has done things like repeat stock phrases when he was younger or become easily overwhelmed by noise and sound. But is that autism?
He suggested that we get him checked for mild autism and that Mike and I would be able to learn some skills to handle Nathan’s obvious impulsiveness. I wasn’t going to argue with him because I really trust this doctor. He’s the third doctor that Nathan has seen and the only one who has treated both of us with kindness.
I took home that information and have been chewing over it since. Where is the line between being five years old and being autistic? What is the difference? I told the doctor this, I’m not a specialist. I’m just a mother who wants her son to be equipped to handle this world and I didn’t say this, but also be able to battle against all the jerks who aren’t understanding. All the marginal people who won’t love him as much as I do, who will stare with their stupid faces as he melts down in the grocery store. Those people who rubberneck and gawk at a little boy being a little boy. I want the best for him. I want him to move through the world without any pain. I would gladly absorb all of that awfulness for him.
And then on Friday I got the referral letter:
I called up the Autism clinic right away and was told very nicely that there was a waiting list. A SIX MONTH WAITING LIST. A six month waiting list of 1,400 children. Well, 1,401 now. So that’s where we are, in limbo, in wait while I hold my son very tightly and repeat until he pushes his mama bear away: I love you, I love you, I love you.