After three years of heartbreaking infertility, our miracle baby was born in January of 2012. I had never seen such a beautiful baby. We had wished for this child for years, and he was finally here.
I had plenty of questions and choices as a new parent, but I never questioned immunization or even thought of it as a choice. It’s just something that you do. I waited too long and cried too many tears to bring this child into the world; I certainly didn’t want him susceptible to preventable diseases. I brought him faithfully to all the well visits, held his hand, and comforted him when he got all his shots. It seems that they were harder on me, as a mother, than they ever were on my son. He never cried for very long afterward, and while he sometimes got sleepy, cranky, or slightly feverish after receiving his scheduled vaccines, he never had any severe reactions to any of them.
My little boy seemed to be meeting all his developmental milestones. He rolled over when he was five months old. He learned to crawl by the time he was nine months old, although for months, his “crawl” was more of a strange frog hop than a crawl. His first word, around 10 months old, was “dada”. He could say our dog’s name (“Dude”), ask for a bottle (“Baba”), and even repeated the phrase “I love you.” He started walking around 13 months old, and he even did this cute little stutter–step stomp when he was excited. We called this his “happy dance”.
I didn’t think much of it when my son “lost” words. His speech regression wasn’t anything that happened overnight. By 15 months, he wasn’t using any words to express his needs. He made sounds, but none of them were words. We had mentioned our concern regarding our son’s language development to his pediatrician at his 18–month check up, and also with friends and family, and they all reassured us with variations of the same thing: “Boys develop later than girls,” and “some kids just take longer to talk.”
At this point, though, I was starting to become concerned. Our friends have a child who was born the day after my son. I saw a video of this child online speaking full sentences, and my son didn’t say any words at all by this point. He was becoming increasingly frustrated, too, because he couldn’t voice his needs. He had several extended meltdowns per day, particularly on days where our schedule changed from the expected to the unexpected. He melted down at the grocery store, at the family barbecue, in the car, and pretty much anywhere but home. When my son was 22 months old, I mentioned these behaviors plus his loss of speech to my friend, and she said that her autistic twins had much of the same behaviors and experienced the same gradual speech loss. My little happy boy couldn’t be autistic, could he? He didn’t seem autistic. He was so affectionate. He had good eye contact. He was happy and engaged. It couldn’t be possible, could it? I took the MCHAT online, and my son came back as “low risk” for autism, but my friend convinced me that it couldn’t hurt to have the school district come out for an early childhood evaluation. Three months later, my son was diagnosed with classic autism. In retrospect, the signs were all there. While he didn’t have some of the more obvious autistic traits, like lack of eye contact and avoidance of physical contact, he was always easily over–stimulated as a baby. His “happy dance” was actually something called a “stim” and helped him feel his body in space. He loved to line up his toys. He struggled with speech and became upset with anything that happened outside of his routine. There were plenty of small hints, but his loss of speech is what ultimately led to his diagnosis.
I was out of my element. I had only a basic...