The Beginning Stages: Part III

Without  making the inquiry and visiting the pediatrician and referred specialists, the question that begged my mind for attention was this: Where is the line drawn between gifted and autistic?

And just like that, my whole perspective on my son’s whole innocence was changed.  I no longer kept him in the protected bubble of merely being an incredibly extraordinary and gifted young prodigy.  Rather, I entered him in the judgmental, worldly realm where a child’s admiration for learning at a beautiful young age is compromised by the world’s view of his ability to achieve learned concepts quickly and with minimal effort. Because at an age where many kids are just familiarizing themselves with the order of the alphabet, he has mastered it with excitement and easy attention to detail and conformity.

And I put him in that realm of autistic spectrum possibility in a matter of measly minutes.

With one simple question I immediately started to look into my child’s mind and behavior and I saw him differently.  I listened to someone else’s evaluation of his mind and behavior and I questioned his brilliance.  He has committed himself to learning basic mathematical equations and tell digital time so he can earn stars and congratulatory remarks from the voices on his iPad games, and I let someone who has never even acknowledged such excellence in him convince me that maybe something is wrong.

Because of that, I began hugging him tighter.  I talked to him with the intention to teach him how to communicate back.  Like I was begging for him to respond differently than he had before I ever questioned his character.  I honestly wanted to know if he was simply okay.  Or was he secretly suffering inside his little body because he wanted so badly to communicate with us more clearly, but simply didn’t know how?

I didn’t act lightly.  I was sad about my own behavior.  I was torn inside about being the mother who couldn’t just shut down my friend and fervently proclaim that KDB is just a beautifully gifted young boy that she should be honored to know and love.

But I couldn’t turn back.  I had to do the responsible parent thing and know who he was and what he may be dealing with on a motor skills, communication skills, and developmental level.  I had to limit his suffering, if he indeed was suffering and having difficultly deciphering how he feels and how to communicate it.  I had to protect him from being labeled as a weirdo because he can do things other kids cannot, and doesn’t look some people in the eyes when spoken to.  I had to keep him innocent even if it meant that I would become the guilty one who questions his abilities, weaknesses and strengths in the search for a definitive understanding of who he was becoming.

I had to forgive myself for asking the questions and simply pray for clarity. Only God knew the true pain of my heart because I was unable to move forward with innocently loving my child because to me that was ignorant to possibility.

I was gifted this amazing child and I had to forgive myself for every questioning his giftedness.

This is KDB’s Story, not mine.  I am just the voice that perceives it so I may protect it.


The Beginning Stages: Part II

In that moment, I brushed off the remainder of the conversation, not saying anything more.  But when I went home that night, it was on my mind.  And in the middle of the night, every time I woke up to nurse my twins, I was thinking about it.  Finally, instead of bonding with my nursing babies, I used my free hand to search the Internet for answers.

It is often a really bad idea to plug symptoms into a search bar and read the yielded results because it is almost always negative.  This is a well-known conclusion I made from self-diagnosing myself multiple times with severe illnesses after inputting cold-like symptoms into Google’s search bar to find out what was wrong with me.  It is no secret my husband thinks I self-diagnose myself all too often.  So, naturally, when I searched the phrase “3 year old obsessed with letters and numbers without making eye contact,” a series of results appeared and none were positive.  Here’s a list of the links that showed up on my screen:

“Hyperlexia: Reading Precociousness or Savant Skill?”

“Could my Toddler Be Autistic?”

“Signs of Autism in Children—Autism Battle”

“Son obsessed with letters and numbers but not really talking…”

Symptoms of Asperger’s Disorder”

“Preschool Behaviors in Gifted Children-Educational Options”

 “Is Your Toddler’s Obsession a Sign of Autism?”

“Gifted Preschoolers| Berkeley Parents Network”

My first thought was this: “Am I a monster of a parent for using the word “obsessed” to describe my child’s adoration for learning?”

Then I thought,  “Oh my God, my child may have autism and I didn’t even notice the signs until now.  Am I too late to help him?”

And lastly, after reading the foreword and content of every link on that page, I didn’t think, I just cried.

Of all of the search results, there were only two that accredited such child behavior as being a “gift.”  Everything else yielded to autism.  And instead of being optimistic and continuing my personal belief that my lovely first born was the gifted type, I was pessimistic and believed he may actually be somewhere on the autism spectrum.

I read through this list of “Possible Signs of Autism in Toddlers” and of the 31 possibilities, KDB’s behavior was among 15 of them.  But with each matching behavior, I could easily talk myself through an explanation, too.

“Is a very picky eater, [eating] only three or four different foods.”  (In his defense, we actually limited his food selection after several hospital visits in his early years of being introduced to food and discovering he has food allergies.)

“Learns to read at age two or three (or has a very strong interest in visual symbols such as letters and numbers), but has difficulty communicating with others in a meaningful way.”  (Yes, he could read very well by age 2, had a very strong interest in letters and numbers, but what exactly is the definition of meaningful communication? And who are the others we are talking about? Is talking to family and ignoring other adults he doesn’t see every day a problem? What level of conversation are we to expect? Independent conversation, randomly coming to us and telling his innermost thoughts and feelings, or responsive conversation, answering questions prompted by those he is comfortable with? And if he doesn’t answer, is it because he can’t express himself or because he doesn’t know how, or because he’s not developmentally ready, and that’s okay?)

“Repeats what he/she hears rather than using words on his own.”  (Yes!  Yes, he is a true copycat.  But is that not normal for children? Is it not normal for them to repeat the words and phrases they hear among their most beloved characters and humans? Cartoon characters, parents, grandparents, and siblings?)

“Memorizes and quotes long scripts of favorite TV shows, sing entire songs, or label lots of objects, but he/she uses very few ‘real’ or meaningful words to ask for things or participate in conversation.  (Again, he does every single one of these.  He could practically be a child actor the way he can read, memorize and recite a script.  Hell, maybe that’s what he would be good at, acting.  But what kind of conversation should he be participating in? Adults surround him all day, but should I feel bad about that?  About being able to save money by not having to send him to daycare because he has both sets of grandparents alive and able to care for him during our work days?)

“Spends a lot of time lining things up or putting things in a certain order, and gets upset if this is disrupted.”  (Cars.  Trucks. So what? He has taken these same objects and created the shape of letters to spell words, it is really quite fascinating.)

 “Shows unusual attachments to toys, objects, or schedules.”  (Clean or dirty, he carries around the same green blanket he’s held since birth, handcrafted by his Nana.  And his favorite furry friends are all dogs, Scout, Puppy, and Fluffy.  They go everywhere, the car ride, bedtime, and even couch sitting.)

“Seems to prefer to play alone.”

“Seems to be in his/her ‘own world’.”

“Is very independent for his/her age.”

“Shows very little interest in other children.”

(Yes, sorta.  But, he has also been almost like an only child since his sister lives with her mom now. He kinda does have his own world.  But when we go to the park he tries to play with other kids, but they are usually much older and when they run away, he thinks it’s because they want him to chase them.)

“Does not consistently respond to his/her name.” (That’s our fault.  I mean the kid has so many nicknames.  Gingy.  Gingerbread.  Manny.  Manuel.  Nene.  Just to name a few.  There’s a possibility he is confused.)

“Cannot tell you what he/she wants with words or gestures.”  (If I say, “May I have,” he finishes the sentence by telling me what he wants followed by please.  I taught him that is how to ask.  But he doesn’t do it on his own in a sentence.  He will just say the word alone.  Like, milk.  Cheese.  Watermelon.  If I give him a few options, he will pick one.  Like, berry juice or apple juice.  So he gets his point across, just not the same way I would.  But I am a 30-year-old attorney…he’s a 3-year-old inquisitive young boy.)

“Doesn’t follow directions.”  (Maybe not at first.  But, eventually.  And besides, he’s a toddler!  He listens when he wants to, right?  Isn’t that how they are supposed to be?  But he can get his own pull-up and wipes, when asked.  He can get his own shoes, but needs help putting them on.  He puts his arms in his shirt and legs in his pants when instructed.  He cleans up his letters off the floor when he knows he will get the iPad.  He puts his own trash in the garbage when told.  He can pick out a book before bedtime.  He knows the proper location and direction of the kitchen, his bed versus his Mom and Dad’s, and the front door where he lives.  And if you tell him to close his eyes, he will go to sleep.)

“Has odd movement patterns…especially when excited.”  (He does do this strange thing with his hands and eyes when he is excited but I can’t describe it.  I always thought he was just being silly.)

 “Throws intense or violent tantrums.”  (Haha.  What toddler hasn’t done this?  No, but seriously, he does throw a tantrum but what makes it intense or violent?  I’ve never seen a toddler do a tantrum “softly.”)

 So that’s that. KDB’s 15/31 signs of autism according to this article I read.

I will say that all the articles were in agreement about a few very important things.  If you are concerned, you should have your child evaluated sooner than later.  And if they fall on the spectrum, then there is help for them and they can be offered assistance as they grow into their educated years.  And of course, just because a child has shown several of the listed signs, doesn’t mean they are autistic at all.


The Beginning Stages: Part I

“Have you talked to the doctor about him?”

It was the first time I had ever heard the question from someone not an immediate family member.  And it was only the second time I heard it at all.

It was Halloween and our family had just finished trick-or-treating.  KDB had just turned 3 years old at the end of August and he was developing into a handsome, smart and silly little boy who had a strong love of music, outdoor play, and reading.  Although he was prevented from eating any of the candy he collected that evening, except for dum-dum lollipops due to his food allergies, he still thoroughly enjoyed dressing up as Disney’s most beloved character and walking around the neighborhood with his friends and family.

There were many signs that KDB was “different” at an early age, but none that we had given negative attention to. He enjoyed putting his toys in a specific order, lining up cars and trucks for example.  Any disruption would send him into a hissy, not to be confused for a tantrum, because before age 3 he had never really had one.  He was a very well behaved and mild mannered child who I could take anywhere.  I made sure to read books to him every day, even if it was a passage from my law school texts, as I was finishing law school when he was 21 months old.  I was always excited to buy a new book whenever we were at the store because he was never interested in having me buy a new toy. He began recognizing letters and numbers before age 2.  Alphabet recitation was all too boring because he had done it so easily and counting to 100 was a thing of his past.  These milestones were unbelievable but it wasn’t until he started spelling words with his wooden letters and reading books independent of our story-time sessions that I believed him to be gifted.

Between ages 2 and 3, his interest in book selection took him from baby books to those intended for children aged 5-6, maybe even older.  To be honest, he was reading better than his 6-year-old sister.  He could spell words like “hilarious,” “sunshine,” and “underneath” without assistance and enjoyed spelling his first and last name.  Brought quickly to a smile whenever his family acknowledged his accomplishments, KDB was exceeding every expectation I had ever imagined for my first-born.  I believed him to be extraordinary.

When my husband and I learned we were going to become parents to fraternal twins just after KDB’s 3rd birthday, we were thrilled to add them to our family.  But a common topic of conversation between us was what are they supposed to be like?  Now, excuse us for sounding uncommonly ignorant for parents of a toddler, but the truth was we found KDB to be so unlike children his age that we weren’t sure what to expect for the newbies.  Would they love letters and numbers at an early age too? Read multitudes of books and spell big words they understood?  Maybe it was pretentious of us to even ask, but we wouldn’t be the first parents to wonder what the next child, (or in our case children), would be like.

KDB’s journey from age 2 to 3 became even more entertaining when we noticed he was memorizing nearly every commercial he saw on television.  We went to Arby’s once to get cheese sticks and after seeing the sign he shouted, “We have the meats,” which just so happened to be their tag line at the time.  He could recite episodes of Henry Hugglemonster during playtime and could listen to a song a handful of times and know the melody, title, and lyrics when finished.  He could hear the same song from a distance and name it and state the artist without hesitation.  And we aren’t just talking about radio songs, but Zumba songs and Spanish music from his Nana’s playlist and oldies but goodies including the Temptations from Poppy’s playlist.  But he also required the same song be played every day before his nap and before bed—John Denver became his best friend and would serenade him to “Sunshine on My Shoulders.”  It was the only song that could get him to stop crying as an infant so naturally, he wanted it played during car rides even as a toddler, but I finally had to start telling him no because let’s face it, my husband and I needed a break to maintain our sanity.

So what about all of this behavior prompted me to even question his development as abnormal?  It was that one single question at the start of this story and the activity that prompted the questioner to ask it.  Our family friend is a teacher of young children and is the wonderful mother of two boys, ages 4 and 2.  She said she tried talking to KDB and having conversation and couldn’t seem to figure out why he would avoid eye contact with her.  Maybe it was premature for her to ask, or maybe she had other reasons for questioning his communication deficits but she was afraid to talk to me about them because I was 2 months post-partum with twins and still battling being a new mom again with three children under age 4.  Whatever her reasoning, by asking me why KDB avoids eye contact and by asking me if an inquiry had been made to his pediatrician, I couldn’t help but tell her, “I didn’t know something was wrong.”