This post has been sitting in my Drafts folder since October 26 of last year. The note said, “I keep thinking I will open the teacher’s report and it will say, ‘Never Mind! He’s fine!'” For the last two years, I’ve been waiting for someone to study my son and his behavior and pronounce: “You have just been imagining this! Never mind!” or “Wellll…we thought we saw something, but turns out…Never mind!”
“Never mind” wipes out the whole problem. It never existed. But I couldn’t bring myself to write about my dream of hearing “never mind” because I kept hearing “Can you come get Carlos from daycare? He’s throwing chairs and hitting the teacher.” For months, I flinched every time my phone rang at work. I saw how he kept to himself in his classroom, while clusters of kids playing nicely together swirled around him. I cringed every time he had a full-on screaming meltdown because the toilet flushed automatically at McDonald’s or the brakes on the school bus hissed and squealed.
His pediatrician, the one who first said we should get him evaluated for autism, told me “I don’t thing he has it…but get him evaluated.” The first psychologist said, “Well, if he has it, it’s not too bad?” And another one said, “Can’t rule it out but can’t quite put my finger on it.” When I took Carlos back to the pediatrician and confessed that I was feeling overwhelmed with it, he said, “We don’t run from this.” I knew what he meant, but all I could think was, “What exactly am I running towards?”
I gave up on hearing “Never mind” and started assuming we would hear a “Yep, that’s what we’re looking at.” I wanted to know exactly his coordinates on the spectrum and what we could do based on those coordinates.
He started Pre-K and those behaviors disappeared or diminished. He sits quietly on the rug and listens to story time. He wears headphones around loud noises and they don’t bother him. He even has a friend at school. His special ed teacher stopped me a few weeks after school had begun and said, “I’m not seeing the behaviors that are mentioned in his IEP.” I braced myself to finally hear it, for her to wave her hands and say, “Never mind! He’s fine!” Then she said, “Welllll…actually, yeah, let’s keep these goals. I’ve been seeing a little more now that he’s settling in.”
ARGH. We had gotten THIS CLOSE to “Never mind!” and it slipped away.
A label shouldn’t matter–he’s still my kid. I know him better than any other person in the world knows him. Still, I wanted something to Google, something to put a check box next to all these worries so that I could tell myself, “This is The Answer. Now you can rest a little.”
So almost 2 years after this journey started, we finally got The Big Evaluation at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta. We submitted pages and pages of answers to every question about every distant cousin who had so much as a snaggle tooth. We sent in school forms, audiologist reports, IEP evaluations.
For two hours, the chipper autism expert talked to us about Carlos and watched him as he played. Then she spent time interacting with him–blowing bubbles, taking turns, quizzing him about letters, asking him to draw, telling jokes, giving him bottles to open, tapping his knee with a hammer, looking in his ears, giving him a rubber snake to play with, cajoling him into sitting back in the little red chair for few more minutes–and all the while scoring his responses on her sheets of paper. After a while, he got so used to the routine that when she asked him a question and he answered it, he pointed to her sheet and said, “Put a check mark!”
We all laughed at that. He got a lot of check marks.
Finally, she tallied up a few columns and typed a little into the computer. She turned to us and said, “We’re not looking at anything on the autism spectrum here.”
“Any difference that he has is really not that significant. He’s 56 months old and on these verbal inventories, he’s scoring at about 51 months, so he’s making great progress since his last evaluation.”
G and I just sat there staring at her. Carlos pressed the button on the yellow school bus toy over and over.
She talked more about pragmatic speech (the meaning of what’s being said) and he seemed to be absolutely fine in that aspect. Fluency, the ease with which we produce speech, appeared to be the root of Carlos’ speech delay. And he’s catching up on fluency.
G asked if we should get more speech therapy than what he’s already getting and school and she shook her head. “If he regresses in any way, come back to see us, but short of that…I don’t think you need to worry about it.”
You mean, “Never mind?”