Autism is one of those words that seems to strike fear into a parent's heart. It's like "cancer". An incurable disorder, that means a less-than normal life.. something every parent dreads.
It was first brought up at that first fateful meeting with a speech-language pathologist, two years earlier. Now going on 4, my daughter was making leaps and strides ahead in her development, but there were still niggling oddities in her behaviour.
Our appointment was set for May. It was in a city that was an hour's drive, so her father and I loaded up our baby and our daughter, and left our other two with his brother and sister-in-law. It was a gorgeous day, but I could hardly enjoy it. Honestly, I wasn't sure what would be worse -- to find out my daughter was autistic or to find out she wasn't.
I know that seems odd, but you have to understand. Finding out she was, in fact, autistic, while devastating, would at least give a reason, an answer to the questions of what was wrong, and why was she like this and why did she do this. It would allow us to move on to the coping and healing and fixing stage. Finding out she wasn't actually autistic, while relieving, would also leave me despairing of ever finding out "why" and then.. how do we fix this? How can you fix something or treat something when you don't know what the cause is?
It was time for the appointment. I took my babies into the building and met with the clinician. I was told that first they wanted to observe her for about half an hour, before coming in and doing more formal testing. So we were led to a well-appointed play room, and left alone.
30 minutes isn't really a long time, but when you're anxious, it seems to go on forever. My daughter puttered around, chattering to me about this and that, while I nursed my infant daughter, and when she was done, I got down and played with my older child. When the clinician finally came into the room, she played with Z, asking her a few questions, talking for some time with me and then left again to consult with the doctor.
In total, it was about 2 hours that we were there. At the end, the doctor and clinician returned. They sat down and their report was.. No. It seemed unlikely that my daughter was autistic. They explained that while she actually did, indeed, have many characteristics that were typical of autistic children, autism was considered primarily a social-behavioural disorder, and my child's social skills were simply too advanced to say that she was autistic. I was both relieved and alarmed by their report.
I was relieved to know that my daughter's problems were not autism-related. However.. the fact that she had many autistic tendencies was scary. I was also left feeling lost. Where do I look now for the answers I wanted.. that I needed?