Between the ages of 1 and 3, my son began to exhibit rather unique responses to sound, change, and his environment. I had the pleasure of being the stay at home parent for his first two years while I finished my doctorate and my lovely wife pursued her career in academic advising. (In other words, and at the risk of coming across as a dirtbag male chauvinist, I had a sugar mama, and it was as good as advertised).
During those first two-years, while I attempted to grind through a dissertation, at my computer station in our front room, my son had more or less free range in that baby/toddler proofed area. Even so, I must have wrote nearly all the dissertation with my son in my lap. Fond memories.
During that period, we lived in graduate student housing at a flagship state university, in the Southeastern US, where loud noises – of all sorts – are the norm. My son was especially sensitive to thunder or the exceptionally loud bang following the rather clumsy return of a large metal refuse receptacle, by a city garbage truck, to the asphalt not 30 feet from our front door. These sounds were regular occurrences given that an afternoon thunderstorm was the standard weather pattern, punctuated by the occasional tropical storm or cyclone, and the necessary bi-weekly removal of refuse at a graduate student housing facility of several hundred units. His reactions included uncontrollable crying, banging his head against the nearest object, wall, floor, and flailing on the ground.
Notably, I have four younger siblings and dozens of nieces and nephews. Two-year old tantrums are not an unusual experience, however, my wife and I were concerned about the head banging, especially in response to loud noises. Later, this behavioral response was exhibited in response to sudden unexpected change in his and our daily routines. Perplexed is how we felt. We inquired with our pediatrician who informed us that the head banging may or may not be a symptom of something – I don’t recall him specifying. He did advise that time would tell.
We pressed forward, noting when our son exhibited unusual responses to stimuli. My wife and I both have advanced degrees with specific training in scientific method for investigating the respective phenomena for which our academic disciplines are specialized. We did what any similarly trained individuals would do – we researched. A number of possible hypotheses were developed, for a short time, we seemed to coalesce around the notion that our son was just a “strong willed child” that required a certain parenting approach. Problem was, we could not agree on a parenting approach, in large measure because I remained somewhat dismissive. I was a strong willed child, according to my parents, and I turned out OK. Of course, having a strong will can be both blessing and curse. My wife, equally or more strong willed, was unwilling to allow time to tell while I was willing to give time a chance. We remained at odds.
Other behavioral exhibits or symptoms soon began to be observed. We observed that our son seemed to be developing at a slower pace than his peer group in terms of walking, talking, and communication. Our pediatrician noted that while our son was developing at a slower pace, he was within the range of normal child development. Albeit, at the low end almost borderline of the range. Again we inquired if our son needed additional testing, if there was something about our son for which we lacked information and knowledge. Our pediatrician encouraged and reminded us that time would tell. We continued to lack unity on how to proceed.
Again, I remained less concerned than my lovely wife, in large measure relying on the opinion of our pediatrician – a trained scientist specializing in human health. This confidence in scientific training of our pediatrician was combined with the narrative – promoted by my parents in their family, comprised of me, them, and siblings – that I was spoiled rotten. This (specious) conclusion was based on the fact that I did not speak until almost age 4, because, they (parents and older siblings) asserted that I was waited on hand and foot. All I had to do was point and grunt and they jumped, or so goes the family lore.
Of course, this narrative, repeated often, shaped an identity of me held as fact among my older siblings, younger siblings, and parents. This identity, not of my own choosing, has been a source of much contention among my older siblings, younger siblings, parents, and I over time. As for how this identity informed how I viewed the communicative plight of my son, I was regrettably uncompromising. Sure, he may have been talking and walking late, so did I, and I turned out fine. Time would tell, I repeated to my wife.
Fortunately, I am married to a fiercely independent, strong willed, and intelligent person. Plus, for me, she is freaking hot – love the curves and naturally curly hair! My wife continued to forcefully advocate for her position. Ultimately, I conceded, finally recognizing that my wife felt strongly about her view. Sometimes, in marriage, one must support your spouse solely on the basis that your spouse feels strongly about a particular course of action. Or, she had the Sun Tzu strategic patience to wear me down. The latter is likely more plausible. She was unwilling to let time tell and I could not abide without those curves.
Nearing age 4, our son was still struggling to communicate, his lack of social skill was readily apparent, and his fine motor skills remained underdeveloped. He did enjoy lining up letters and numbers even his small cars and would react with much emotion and physicality if disturbed while doing the activity or if his finished work was altered. Combined, my son’s oddness, in the sense that his behavior did not comport with the prevailing behavioral norm for his peer group, led my lovely wife to pursue admission for our son to a speech therapy program, at the local elementary school. It would be cost-free. Beginning a career in academia includes low pay relative to your education. We like cost-free – anytime.
Preparing for our son’s speech therapy at the local elementary school, included undergoing a series of tests, for which we did not pay, to determine his communication capabilities, social, and motor skill development. From these initial tests, data was obtained as the basis for developing an individual education plan (IEP) for our son. This IEP has been crucial to obtaining services and access to therapists we would otherwise have been unable as our son has entered elementary school. He will soon be completing his fifth year on his IEP.
Our son’s IEP is focused on speech, social, and motor skill development without any reference to Autism Spectrum Disorder. Yet, the IEP addresses specific speech, motor, and social skill development that a typical Aspie is going to experience, exhibit, that can be detrimental to their social experiences, and thus, their sense of self. Importantly, this IEP travels with you in the event one must change location due to a change in employment or for some other reason.
As soon as you can, obtain an IEP for your child if you have any suspicion that your child needs additional support during their formative years. Even if you do not have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, any child, regardless of diagnosis or the status thereof, struggling to develop communication, social, and motor skills at an average pace needs all the support they can receive. Life is competitive, it can be nasty, and brutish (to parrot a favorite philosopher) as much as it can be filled with joy, love, and satisfaction. Waiting for time to tell may not be the optimal strategy. My parental duty and obligation is to prepare my child for life experiences. An IEP supports my effort to fulfill my parental duty and meet that obligation.
In hindsight, how grateful I am that my lovely wife felt so strongly about investigating what services in the community were available to assist our son’s communicative, social, and motor skill development. Rather than be at the mercy of time, my wife would wrestle time and me into submission. By the way, I have no problem being wrestled into submission by my wife. Though, the next set of experiences gave me pause.
To Be Continued…