Autism: One Mother’s Journey, Part II
No mother is ever prepared to hear that her child has special needs. Last week, Ness shared her personal story about her son’s autism diagnosis and how it changed her and impacted her family. This week she tells us about Beckett’s progress and what she wants every mother to know.
He’s Still My Beckett
That was three and a half years ago. A lot has changed since then. A few things have stayed the same.
Beckett is beautiful as ever. He is tall for his six and a half years and still passes out those million-dollar smiles. He has the same keen sense of humor he possessed as a toddler and loves time alone to look at books.
I think he will always be fascinated with vehicles — he uses that term to encompass cars, motorcycles, construction vehicles, airplanes, trucks, helicopters, buses. You name it.
Beckett still sees things in detail. Sometimes I wish I saw the world as he does. He sees the miraculous in the mundane — a butterfly, a plane passing overhead, stars, the moon.
His memory continues to amaze me. He memorizes shows, song lyrics, commercials. Recently I played a Disney movie we hadn’t watched in nearly a year. He still knew large segments of the movie verbatim.
What’s Changed? A Lot.
Within a month of diagnosis Beckett started receiving services — therapy for his autism, occupational therapy and speech. In total 18 to 24 hours a week.
Six months later we enrolled him in a private preschool for autistic children that implemented Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Two years ago we switched to private, at-home ABA therapy, which we pay for out of pocket. Beckett has completed more than 2,300 hours of at-home ABA therapy. His progress astounds me.
We saw his sensory issues worsen. The content baby became an unpredictable toddler. Sensory issues are worked into his curriculum. Beckett worked for weeks to be able to enter the Discovery Museum and enjoy it. We were so proud we celebrated his 6th birthday there.
Two years ago Beckett mainly echoed speech. But today he is talking, going through the same stages of speech as any toddler. He’s working on pronunciation and maintaining a two-way conversation — he converses best with his brothers.
Beckett is assimilating knowledge and skill at the same rate as typical kids. Something we were told is unheard of. He started kindergarten last fall in a general education class with a private tutor for support. He is starting to read! He’s on level academically and advanced in some areas and will move on to first grade next year.
He is much more social and affectionate. He’s sad when I leave, misses me when I’m gone and excitedly greets me when I come home. He cuddles and sits on my lap. He engages and plays with friends at school and at home with his brothers.
Physically he’s made great progress. He walks on his toes less. He loves to jump on the trampoline. He can jump with two feet, hop on one foot and climb. He can now pedal and ride a scooter.
I wish I had understood that the autism spectrum was so wide. I dismissed questionable behaviors because Beckett smiled and laughed and seemed genuinely engaged. I should have addressed those concerns with our pediatrician.
Given that 1 in 54 boys was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder when Beckett was born (today it’s 1 in 42), I wish I had been more mindful of warning signs. Early intervention is key to the best possible outcome.
I wish someone had told me things were amiss. A few friends noticed but remained quiet for fear of offending me, which I understand. But I think friendships would have ultimately withstood such a delicate conversation.
Looking back, I see that many of the milestones Beckett didn’t hit revolved around communication, which I find significant. I observed the following in Beckett:
- Fierce independence as an infant
- Stimming — in Beckett’s case hand flapping, some rocking and moaning, and staring out of the corners of his eyes
- No waving
- No pointing
- Speech delay
- Toe walking
- Isolation, keeping to himself
- Playing with toys inappropriately — for example, Beckett would lie on the floor eye level with his trucks and cars and fixate on the wheels
- No pretend play
Keep in mind that one of these behaviors alone is not indicative of autism. But if your child engages in several of these behaviors, talk to your pediatrician.
When Beckett was diagnosed at 33 months, I’d already given birth two more times. I felt completely overwhelmed at the thought of caring for three children so small, one with special needs — at one point all three were in diapers. But ultimately it’s been a blessing. Beckett has grown up mirroring two neuro-typical brothers that actively engage him. He connects with them better than anyone else, and I think that connection has greatly contributed to his progress.
In the beginning, Beckett’s future loomed in front of me, this nebulous black cloud with no clear picture, and I worried and wondered what life would be like for him. I still cry sometimes. I ache for him. Wish his life were more carefree. Blame myself for not seeing it sooner. But mostly I am more optimistic and less fearful than I was three years ago. I recognize that my son’s autism is mild compared to some, and he is making incredible progress. Many parents of autistic children do not see such results, and that is not lost on me. I am grateful for what I have, and I recognize that we are fortunate.
Beckett is full of surprises — I can’t wait to see what he learns next. I’m a proud mommy.