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I think any mother first looks at her newborn son, all pink and soft, and dreams of his future. Maybe he’ll be a doctor, a lawyer, or a teacher. President, perhaps? Well, I knew my Dominick was meant to be something greater.
My son was born with severe torticollis and even had to wear a helmet. Fortunately, with physical therapy and chiropractic care, he improved. He hit all his milestones: smiling, clapping, waving, crawling, walking, and even some speech. By comparison to his twin I thought “Well Dominick is not behind, Jonathan is just a little advanced. Besides, he had to go through all that therapy and wear a helmet!” I never put that much thought into it until I noticed he wouldn’t make eye contact, respond to his name, and sometimes he would bang his head on the floor. He suffered from frequent ear infections, so my first overly protective, motherly assumption was, “Oh my God, he’s deaf!” I immediately scheduled an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat doctor.
The ENT doc did a hearing test, which he failed. He said, “Let’s try to put tubes in and relieve the pressure.” This sounded logical to me, so it was done the following week. A hearing test three months later confirmed his hearing was normal. Okay, we eliminated that possibility, but he was still doing all those strange things. Only now it was arm-flapping and an obsession with cords. I thought, “He’s my little birdie, or he’s going to be an electrician.” Silly, naive mommy.
I finally sought out the help of a neurologist. He wanted to do an EEG to see if Dominick was having seizures. All was clear there. He then started asking questions about his bowel movements and his diet. I thought, “Okay dude, where are you going with the poop questions?” So I allowed him to test Dominick for celiac disease. Again, totally normal. Then along came autism.
The doctor’s office called and said they wanted to speak to me as soon as possible. I sat there thinking, “Every test you’ve run was normal, now what do you want to rip my insurance company for?” I wish it was that simple. He shut the door, put his hand on mine and said, “Dominick has autism.” I got up, offended. “What do you mean? He is walking and babbling. Don’t those kids hate being in new places?” He said, “That can be a symptom. Yours has all the symptoms of a low-functioning child with autism.” I started to cry. “Well then test him!” He looked at me with sorrowful eyes “I can’t,” he said. “There is no test for that. All I can do now is give you information for a support group and a counselor to help you with his future.” I was angry. “His future! What do you mean by that?” He lowered his voice “You need to think about when he gets older; who will take care of him if you can’t? There are many institutions…” “Okay I need to call my husband or my mom.” The doctor left the room, and I quickly reached for my cell phone. Of course neither one of them answered. I looked at my baby in the corner who was sitting in the middle of a pile of toys, and instead of playing with them he was throwing them over his shoulder repeatedly. I remember kind of yelling at him, “Just play with the toys! This is a truck! Vroom, Vroom! Why can’t you just play?”
The nurse came in and said the doctor wanted to see Dominick in three months. I said “Well then what happens?” She said, “He’ll just talk to you about his progress.” I held back tears “Isn’t there medicine or treatment for this?” She looked at me sympathetically and replied, “No, but I can try to find a speech therapist for him in your area.” I thanked her and walked out the door with a lump in my throat.