Sentinel Progress

A mother always knows — except when she doesn’t

When my oldest son, Ben, went in for his 2-year-old routine well baby check-up, all of our lives were turned upside down. I remember the date exactly — Feb. 3, 2014 — because it was the worst day of my life.

We went into the pediatrician’s office without a care in the world. My husband even debated coming with me because it was supposed to just be an “in and out” kind of thing.

It wasn’t.

Instead, we left the office in tears and headed to the library to pull every book they had on the disorder we had just been blindsided with: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD.)

Ben’s “official” diagnosis at the hands of a developmental pediatric behavioral psychologist wouldn’t come for a few months, but it was that original appointment that changed everything.

Just three days prior, we had celebrated Ben’s second birthday with family and friends. Now, when I look at the photos from that day, it makes me incredibly sad.

I am taken aback at how naive my husband and I were and how much we took everything for granted. I see our happy faces in those pictures and I just want to tell them, warn them, to savor this moment — because everything you think you know is about to change.

We didn’t know anything about ASD and frankly, it wasn’t even on our radar.

We didn’t know words like “echolalia,” “stimming” and “apraxia.” Now, there’s an entire glossary of medical terms that get tossed around in everyday speech.

ASD therapy jargon have become a second language to me and I speak it with the same fluency as my mother tongue.

In the years since Ben’s diagnosis, we’ve had our ups and downs, triumphs and failures. I have learned his progress can only be measured against his own charted data and that it does absolutely no good (to anyone) to expect traditional milestones to be met at the same rate as typically achieved by neurotypical (NT) children.

For every child born today, there is a 1 in 68 chance they will be diagnosed somewhere on the Spectrum. 1 in 68.

But here is where it gets really scary: if you already have a child with ASD, the odds for future siblings change from 1 in 68 to just 1 in 5.

My youngest son, Sam, just turned two. He is going in for his “routine well baby check-up” next week. And I am a complete wreck about it.

One would think I’d be a bit more practical about this — after all, I certainly have plenty of experience with ASD at this point. If something was wrong with Sam, I’d know.

Except, I didn’t know with Ben.

There were a ton of red flags waving frantically at eye level and I missed them all. I wasn’t kidding when I said my husband and I were blindsided at that appointment three years ago. We had no idea that there was anything amiss.

It wasn’t until we began to look back that we recognized all of his odd behaviors for what they were. You know what they say — hindsight is 20/20.

So what if it’s the same with Sam? What if he’s displaying all kinds of warning signs now and I just can’t see them?

As a mother, I’m supposed to know my sons better than anyone else and yet it took that doctor less than 20 minutes to see plainly in Ben what I had missed for years. Years.

I failed my son that day and the guilt is almost unbearable.

What if I did it again?

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Strickly Speaking

Kasie Strickland

Kasie Strickland is a staff writer for The Sentinel-Progress and can be reached at kstrickland@championcarolinas.com. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the newspaper’s opinion.