As a mother, I knew Jack wasn’t a typically developing child. To some people he appeared like other kids, only a bit bossy and loud, as he tore around the playground yelling directives to his peers. He lacked social awareness and spoke freely without a filter. We had a laundry list of diagnoses and a file box filled with evaluations, but inside of me, I felt something was missing. I believed my family thought I was on a witch hunt for something that wasn’t there. But, intuitively, I knew.
Speech delay. Sensory Processing Disorder. Dyspraxia. ADHD. Anxiety. Depression.
Jack had been diagnosed with all of these labels, but underneath these diagnoses, his autism was undetected for years. Jack was considered “high-functioning,” so when I shared with people, other parents and even family members, that he was on the spectrum I was often greeted with a look of surprise. I have heard, “really? he doesn’t look autistic.” more times than I can say. And truth be told, I didn’t recognize his lack of social awareness as a red flag for autism. Even being an early childhood professional, I didn’t understand it was one of the characteristics. Autism is a spectrum; a communication disorder. One person with autism can be non-verbal, while another can be like Jack, loud, demanding and not listening to anyone else’s opinion.
When Jack was finally diagnosed with autism, I was relieved. Now we had a full picture and could implement interventions and tools suited for his learning disability. By utilizing the best teaching practices for children on the spectrum, we were able to build a foundation where Jack could not only learn about himself, but he could take another person’s perspective. By providing the proper supports for Jack, his anxiety and depression subsided. His explosive behaviors diminished, as he found balance within his emotional and physical body.
So often, I had justified or dismissed what I intuitively knew. I am grateful Jack demanded to be heard, holding us all accountable and to listen to his discomfort. “There is always a reason for behavior,” my educational advocate said to us at our first meeting with her. This statement was life changing for me. Underneath Jack’s behavior was autism.