In the center of our kitchen my son screams. He turns his hands over repeatedly and looks closely at each one, holding them out as if they were poison. I quickly pull a paper towel from the roll and dry his hands. The screams subside and he bounces contently from the room. The screams experienced here are evidence of sensory deficits. This account is one of many episodes that occur with my son as he struggles to deal with his medical condition.
My three-year-old son was diagnosed nearly two years ago with PDD, otherwise known as pervasive developmental disorder, borderline Autism. Michael wasn’t always like this. Until the age of eighteen months, there had been no indication of any abnormal condition, and certainly not PDD.
Having raised another child before him, I was well aware of the milestones to look for as proof of how well he was doing. All the normal achievements were present; some were ahead of their time frame. Michael rolled over at the proper time, he crawled by ten months, and he walked prior to age one. There was no evidence to support anything other than normal growth.
At eighteen months, I realized something had gone wrong. There was a lack of words in Michael’s vocabulary. His attempts at conversation were not with normal child-like gibberish or jargon. Basic childhood words like, juice, cookie, bye-bye, and even Mommy, were not a part of Michael’s daily interaction. In addition, Michael was more at ease playing alone rather than with other children.
Concerned, I took my son to his pediatrician. His doctor was not disturbed, and informed me that some children do not acquire words as quickly as others. He encouraged me to wait for words to appear. I did wait-no words came. This warranted a second trip to Michael’s physician. This time my concerns were addressed and he referred us to the Sparks Center.
The specialists and therapists at the Sparks Center ran numerous tests, the results of which gave weight to my suspicions. Michael was diagnosed with PDD. PDD can manifest itself in numerous ways. The symptoms are as varied as the individual.
In Michael’s case, this disorder alters his perception and causes him to have aversions and intolerance to certain stimuli. Many of the things you and I take for granted, are not so commonplace to my son. This condition complicates Michael’s verbal and sensory skills, but also inhibits his ability to interact socially.
On the social scale, Michael is well below the average toddler. Social situations are challenging for us, so we avoid the social scene as often as possible. The smallest amount of interaction: a smile, a hello, or a pat on the head from a stranger, can send Michael into a screaming episode. Those watching assume this reaction to be one that requires a disciplinary co-action, so it is not unusual to receive a negative comment or sharp looks from observers. Those who know the symptoms are sympathetic.
I recall one incident in particular at the supermarket. A cashier attempted to start a conversation with Michael. Although this interaction triggered an episode, the cashier did not abandon his conversation, which sent Michael into an even deeper anti-social spin. When Michael would not calm, the cashier proceeded to pick him up. Michael’s limits had been reached.
He tried to escape and hid himself behind my knees. When I did get Michael calmed down, I asked the cashier to give him some space and Michael soon regained his composure. This caused an enormous amount of frustration for all involved.
Although the cashier had done what he thought was best, his efforts had made things worse. Situations like this one remind me of how much work is yet to be done to help my son. Michael is presently undergoing Speech Therapy. To increase his social skills he engages in one-on-one and group occupational therapy on a regular basis. He has made huge strides since the onset of these therapies and now speaks many words and phrases too. His screaming has decreased somewhat as he adapts to the social scene more readily.
This may seem trivial to some, but to us these accomplishments are tremendous achievements. Sometimes I feel so alone, as if no one understands or even cares to. At times it is difficult to explain Michael’s condition. It takes a tremendous amount of diligence and prayer, and will require even more energy from our family before my son is beyond this.
I hope in what I cannot see right now. After all that is what faith is all about. I will continue to strive to get beyond the barriers this dysfunction causes. The rewards well outweigh the obstacles: watching my son play with other children at the park, or observing him as he shakes another person’s hand at church. Each achievement affords me the strength to conquer the next hurdle. However, each day brings with it a new set of roadblocks. We have learned to set attainable goals.
There are yet occasions when I’m overwhelmed with the extra effort required to insure that my son processes and comprehends all the necessary information. There are many concerns and questions. I choose my battles. It brings me great joy to see Michael smile and exchange eye contact now, something he was unable to do initially. This is proof our efforts are paying off. Because of the my diligence and of others, we can now relish in one of Michael’s greatest successes: calling me Mommy!
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.