Saturday, June 9, 2012

Asking the hard questions

My son was a fat baby. There- I said it. He wasn't solid. He wasn't husky. He wasn't chunky.

He was FAT.
At 4 months old, he outgrew his infant carrier. I used to prop him up in the cart at Target or Publix with blankets and my purse until he could sit up on his own. At 9 months, he weighed 31 pounds. That is the weight of an average 3 year old boy. 

But I had my mommy-goggles on when I looked at my sweet baby boy. I wish I had a dollar for every time I said, "He's just solid." (It would have helped pay for all of the formula he was chugging.)

I can look back now and see his resemblance to the Michelin Man, but I didn't want to see it then. When people, especially strangers, called my baby fat, it bothered me. Not enough to make an issue out of it but it bothered me that when they looked at him, that was all they saw. 

What about his awesome hair? His sweet little laugh? He was the happiest, low maintenance baby in the world. According to “What to Expect the 1st year/The Toddler years”, Jacob was right on track developmentally.  The only “red flag” I had when he was a baby was the odd way he wouldn’t look you in the eye if you held him too closely. You had to hold him at a distance if you wanted him to look right at you. My sweet boy with the spiky blonde hair & chubby cheeks was just perfect.

And then he turned 2.

Jacob didn’t speak in full sentences until well after his peers. He stopped eating almost everything he once loved. He didn’t like to touch the sand or the water at the beach. Walking barefoot in grass was torture. He never wanted to play with the other kids. He went through stages where he would be completely obsessed with different objects and ignore the rest of his toys: sticks, strings, soap bottles. We had to force him to go down the slide at the playground. I could write a book on potty training, as I have now read every book, article, and blog on the subject during the 2 years it took to PT my son.

There were lots of excuses we had for the way our now 3 year-old behaved.
  • He’s a boy. Boys aren’t as verbal, as easy to potty train, etc…. as girls.
  • He doesn’t have any brothers or sisters to copy.
  •  He is the youngest in his class.
  • Maybe he is just shy.
  • He is just very cautious.
  • Every kid goes through stages.
  • He is just a late bloomer. Everyone develops at their own pace. 
  • And even with all of his little quirks, he was happy, silly, affectionate, etc... 

Some of them came from his teachers.  I remember talking to his teacher when he was 2.5, and pointing out that his speech was much less developed than his peers. His sentences were much shorter and even the quality of his speech sounded younger than others his age. She said, “Yes, and his gross motor skills are not as developed. But he is the smartest child in class- he knows all of his letters, shapes, and colors, and can count to 10. And he is the youngest!”

She was right. He was very smart. We waited until he was almost 2 until we let him watch TV and he quickly became a fan of Sesame Street. I’ll never forget driving behind a Fedex truck when he called out, “E! E!”, pointing to the truck. It occurred to me that E had been the letter of the day on Sesame Street. I wondered how many other letters he had learned, so when we got home, I drew the other letters from that week on his magna-doodle. He had 
learned a handful of other letters all by himself! My child was a genius!

Five days before Jacob turned 3, we had the biggest excuse yet for his increasingly challenging behaviors: Emily was born. This sent his potty training into total regression. After spending my entire 3rd trimester on my knees with M&M's and sticker charts, this was a crushing blow to my patience and post-partum psyche. He also became depressed. Being separated from me during my hospital stay totally traumatized him... and he really didn’t like his sister.

After an entire year of waiting to see if it was something more severe or just the result of being the youngest, shyest, most cautious BOY in his class, whose world had been upset by the arrival of a sibling, my husband asked his wonderful teacher the difficult question:
                                          “Do you think that Jacob has autism?”
                                      And that was the beginning of our journey.

                                                                  End of part 1.

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