I remember being in what looked like a playroom, strewn with all sorts of brightly colored toys, with my 2 yr old daughter. It was actually my birthday, and she had just turned 2 five days before, but we were here for a very serious reason.
My daughter was being evaluated by a speech-language pathologist (SLP). For the uninformed, this is a person trained in all things communication-related, from problems physically forming words with lips and tongue, to the more abstract understanding of language and communication of wants and needs.
I learned that there is differences in the disorders of communication. One may have no issues understanding what is spoken, or in determining what to say, but in the actual speaking of words. This is where children (or adults, for that matter) have issues with certain sounds, or stuttering, for example. One may have issues saying anything at all, while understanding perfectly. This is the mute child, or near-mute child, that requires help in "expressive" language skills. Then there is the child who can say what they want, but has trouble understanding what is spoken to them -- difficulty with "receptive" language.
Then there was my child. My child who had no discernible physical difficulty with words -- she could say all the sounds, and in fact could make several sounds well beyond her developmental peers -- yet she did not speak "real" words. She had no communication, whatsoever. And beyond that, she seemed to have no understanding either. The SLP was very concerned.
Two year old children should have at least 20 real words in their vocabulary. My child had perhaps 5 words that one could make out, but she did not use them with meaning. Two year old children should understand simple one-step directions or requests. My child did not recognize her own name, let alone any request. Two year old children should engage in "conversation" type interactions, with give and take pauses. My child did not recognize anyone speaking to her, and if someone got her attention, she would respond with a blank stare, and return back to whatever it was that had occupied her before the interruption. Two year old children generally will express their needs with words, gestures, or sounds. They generally have moved beyond the "crying/screaming" phase of infancy. My child.. well my child had several screaming fits every day.
It was at this office that the word "autism" was first suggested. The SLP pointed out not only my daughter's issues with communication, but also several behavioural issues that seemed to her to fit the profile of autism spectrum disorder. She recommended evaluation by an occupational therapist, as well as a pediatrician.
My heart sank, and my mind went blank. Autism conjured up images of children who were uncommunicative, rigid, acted out and showed odd twitches and habits. I prayed desperately, "No, God.. not that!" even as the SLP began to point out to me what she was seeing. Things like running on her toes (an apparently characteristic behaviour of autistic children), the inability to focus on just one item, the lack of "pretend play", the lack of "meeting eyes" or social interaction, and some "obsessive" behavioural patterns.
I could hardly take in what I was hearing. It was a shocking suggestion. I had come to terms with the fact that my daughter wasn't "normal", but I hadn't thought that there wasn't a "fix" for it. I had thought that with a little intervention, maybe some therapy, she'd be "normal" again and we'd go on with life, the way any family would.
This was my introduction to the idea that life.. life with this child might never be "normal"...
To be continued..