Ethan’s early signs
We noticed my son’s developmental delays early on, when he still wasn’t crawling or sitting up at 9 months. His range of motion was very limited. It worried me deeply, while my husband kept reassuring me that the milestones would come. A friend mentioned that delayed crawling might be a sign of a disability. I freaked out. When we moved to our current residence, within two days of moving, my son, all-of-a-sudden sat up and crawled at 13 months. He did it without warning and he did it fast, like most of his other milestones that came later. My anxiety would resurface when it took him a long time to walk, which eventually happened at 21 months. Between all these milestones, I was furiously googling, wondering if any other parent had similar experiences. When I saw my nephew on Facebook, who was five months younger, waving, smiling and sitting on a truck toy at 14 months, the realization hit me. My son’s developmental delays were way out of range. We would realize later that these were early signs of autism.
Discovering early intervention
Some googling introduced me to the words “early intervention program,” and I spoke to my son’s pediatrician. I discovered a pediatric therapy preschool program for my son. I found another pediatric therapy clinic that would do one-on-one therapy and I was referred to the regional center. The first assessment was scheduled and my son was diagnosed with global developmental delays. The waitlists began (I would learn later that waitlists are the norm in the world of pediatric therapy) and my son went to his first physical therapy session in July 2018, just right when he learned how to walk. When he took his first eight steps, I felt that a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Because my son is challenged in all areas of development, each sign of progress is met with rejoicing and relief. When Ethan first put something in his mouth, we were amazed. When he first put a fork in his mouth to feed himself, we had a long conversation about his great progress. When he first started interacting with kids by running and laughing alongside them, I was ready to cry. He hasn’t learned how to hug or kiss, but I was kissing him on the cheek the other day, and he then repeatedly but his cheek next to mine. To a mom of a child with autism, any sign of affection is pure gold. After 6-7 months of physical therapy, my son is also endlessly climbing furniture, running merrily in the backyard and climbing and ascending stairs by himself. It was amazing progress.
When he uttered his first word approximation, I felt like he had just been admitted to Harvard. He said “bus.” He also uttered his first sentence by imitating his therapist, saying, “I got it!” When he hummed “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” his first song, I was ecstatic! My son may not adhere to timelines and developmental rubrics, but he develops at his own time and often reaches a milestone out of the blue. It’s almost like he’s telling us “I will do it when I am ready.”