Sunday, August 2, 2009

mile markers

The passage of July into August makes me think of the road trip that prompted us to get Martin an autism evaluation two summers ago. We planned a three-week travel extravaganza. We drove from Ohio to Minnesota, where we stayed for a week so I could do some archival research. My husband and Martin spent the days at the house we were staying at, which belonged to my good friend's parents. It was perfect. They spent lazy days by the pool and having a great time in the Minnesota summer. From there, we drove to Winnipeg, Manitoba to spend a week with friends that live there, along with two other families. It was a sort of grad-school reunion. That's where the trouble started. Martin was miserable. He had to share toys with kids he didn't know very well. There were planned outings that he didn't enjoy. (I'm hoping the Winnipeg Zoo has forgotten about our trip there.) Other people were cooking so he didn't get to eat what he wanted and when he wanted to. He got increasingly upset by the day. We drove home over four days, stopping three nights to camp and one night at my parent's place in Indiana. He was intrigued by camping, especially about toasting marshmallows. But it was, again, too much new stuff. The second night, at a beautiful campsite on Lake Superior, he woke up screaming around 2am. We put him in the car and drove him around the campsite for over an hour until he calmed down. We were at the end of our ropes.

It's tough to determine when your kid is within the boundaries of normal and when they are something else. We knew that Martin's speech was somewhat delayed, but figured it would catch up. His childcare providers didn't seem worried. He made it through the annual pediatric checks with no real problem. But the road trip showed Martin's almost total inability to adapt to new situations and make friends. It showed how far behind his language was (there were two other 3-year-old boys in Winnipeg). And yet, it was really hard to make that doctor appointment.

At the suggestion of one of our friends we saw in Winnipeg, we started some internet investigations about autism. While we saw some similarities, we also saw some differences, which fuelled my resistance to a diagnosis. Martin does not "stim," which means rapid, repetitive body movements to relieve stress. More than 80% of kids on the spectrum do it. And Martin's really affectionate, which also went against the diagnosis checklists. But there was a lot of overlap. We went to the doctor the next week. Halfway through the long list of questions, the doctor looked up at us and said, "Do you know where I'm going with this?" I'm afraid we did.

That same week, I started my second year teaching at a small college and I also found out I was pregnant with kid #2. I look back on August 2007 with a sort of amazement. Did all of that really happen in a month? Did we really choose to have another kid in the midst of not knowing what was going on with the one we already had? Why did I think I could do a demanding job in that situation?

August 2009 has already been good. Yesterday, Martin and I made a calendar so he could cross off all the days until kindergarden starts. Things are getting better.

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