Leonardo was born on October 19th, 2017 at a whopping 9lbs 8oz. When I was first becoming a parent, I was like anyone else. Horrified, glorified, happy, excited, scared as hell. I was very protective of Leo in the early stages of life, and for good reason.
He was everything my heart didn’t know I needed. When I took Leo home, I was so afraid. Not the kind of fear you feel when you hold such a small human in your hands, Leo was a tank and held up his own head since he took his first breath of oxygen. I was afraid of being a Mom, but I knew we had each other and that was all we needed. About 2 weeks after Leo was born he developed “colic”. Leo’s colic was unlike any definition google read for colic. This colic was the type of colic that would leave you crying on the bathroom floor thinking you are the worst parent in the world and your baby hates you. Actually, it felt much worse and morbid than that. Leo would cry, all the time. He would cry when he was being fed, cry during burping, cry when I sat down, cry when I stood up. There was no “witching hour” or “colic hours”. There was crying all day, and crying most of the day. The only time Leo was not crying was when he was sleeping, which I was lucky and he began to sleep through the night around 8 weeks old. Don’t envy me, it didn’t last long. After countless pediatrician changes, rushes to the office to make sure he was OK, formula changes, colic drops, bottle and nipple changes (every bottle and nipple known to man was purchased), anything you can think of, I tried to help this poor baby overcome his colic. I finally found our current pediatrician’s office, and I was finally being heard. The doctor ordered tests, referred us to a specialist that we saw once before, who at first brushed us off like we were crazy, and I finally learned my son was so miserable and so unhappy at feeding times because he was aspirating his formula. This took about 3 months from our first time trying to get a doctor to hear me that our child is not ok. I let out a huge breath of relief and thought we solved our son’s misery. Little did I know, we only solved one of many other parts to his misery. After we found his aspiration issues and addressed them, my son began to cry less and feed better, much better. However, he was still not the happiest kid on earth. He always had trouble falling and staying asleep. The sleeping through the night only lasted until about 10ish months old, with the normal sleep regressions in between, and that was wonderful and worth the 30 minutes to 2 hours of rocking and loud music to get him to fall asleep. After he started waking at night frequently, things began to take a toll. Leo would arch his back and require deep pressure or us swaying or rocking to calm him, he showed sensory issues long before we first heard Autism, and we had no idea. Leo was never an easy baby. We had good days and bad days, just like anyone else, and I thought to myself that everything my son was going through and felt was normal for babies. Until I started experiencing other babies and hearing my mom and other moms tell me they never experienced the things I described with their kids. I accepted that my son was just difficult than the average kid. Most people say your first child is easy and the second is the tough one. I got the tough one first, so I always thought. By this time, I was neck deep in postpartum depression that I hid from everyone. I thought I fooled my then husband at the time and my mom, but they both told me they knew once I finally came out about it. Leo grew and became more manageable, I started to see a fun, energetic, and happy little boy blossoming right before my eyes. Leo was always early with his gross motor milestones. He sat up early, crawled early, and walked early. Once those chunky legs started going, they never stopped. Leo said “momma” and “dadda” early as well, if I remember correctly. He also learned to wave and say “bye-bye” around 12 months. When Leo turned one, I started to vision life with a toddler. Play dates, park fun, toys, games, movies, friends, and learning to talk and behave. Shortly after Leo turned one, I saw a shift in him. He stopped smiling as much, communication was non-existent, we always had a hard time understanding Leo and what he wanted, but he at least had joint attention before. That was gone. He would not respond to his name, he began playing by himself, isolated from everyone unless there were unfamiliar faces doing crazy things to get his attention. He no longer said “bye-bye” or “dadda” and “momma” was just blurted out with no apparent meaning. He had quirks before that I never noticed until it was pointed out to me. His hand twirling, flapping, putting his hands over his ears, odd movements and repetitive behaviors. I always had an explanation for every quirk, I just didn’t know the truth yet. Leo would always be so happy when his dad got home from work. He would see him walk through the door and immediately run to the gate with a huge smile on his face and arms wide to get his loving from dad. The hardest and most heartbreaking shift I saw was when Leo stopped doing this. He no longer noticed when people walked through the door, until he noticed it was someone unfamiliar to the house and he would have a meltdown over it. When his dad would get home, Leo would look over with a blank face and then continue what he was doing. All the excitement and joy was gone and this wrecked us. When someone new came into the house, Leo would immediately begin to head bang. This was the earliest self-injurious behavior I can remember. At Leo’s 15 month well check, the pediatrician we saw was new to the office. Our regular pediatrician was booked out and we had to get in for vaccine updates and his milestone check. The doctor spent almost 2 hours in the room with us. I assumed that he was new and wanted to get to know Leo. He talked to him, observed him, played around with him, asked me questions and tried talking with Leo. All leading up to the statement that changed my life forever. The words “early signs of Autism” were said and I don’t think it sank in entirely, and my medication I was on at the time for my postpartum depression made me emotionless and feel like a zombie. We left the office with a referral to the Center for Autism and many questions. I immediately began researching the topic and watching videos on Autism. I told my family and waited. I think I knew in my heart he was autistic after my extensive research. Everything that came up under “early signs of Autism” was my son almost exactly. I accepted it and immediately started reaching out for help, before we even got the evaluation. I set up early intervention through my county and saw a speech therapist. No one really every mentioned Autism to me through this process, and everything was almost sugar-coated. I think I started to believe maybe he didn’t have Autism and I was just freaking myself out. So we went on with therapies and intervention, since he scored low on his early intervention screenings and was diagnosed with severe expressive and receptive language disorder by the speech therapist. Still, I kind of thought this was just a fluke, and maybe he does have some sort of disorder, but it wasn’t that bad. I was also told by many people “well, if he is Autistic, at least he seems like he would be high functioning!”. No offense, but don’t say that to me. Don’t say that to any parent going through the Autism evaluation process. Leave that to the experts and just don’t try to sugar-coat it. If I have learned anything from the evaluation process, it’s that you want the truth and anyone that tells you that he seems fine or normal, will only make the diagnosis more difficult to accept. You may think the child seems fine, but you do not see them as much as the parent or caregiver does, you do not know what it is like for that child, unless you can read minds or something. Those types of statements are just annoying, and can eve give false hope. Trust me, I was fed a lot of bull shit before I finally just ignored it all. Anyways, Leo was evaluated and we had a set date to receive his diagnosis at the center with the psychologist that did his first part of the evaluation. Leo’s 18 month well-check was scheduled for the Friday before the week of his diagnosis day, and I did not expect to hear any news at all about the evaluation until his diagnosis day. So when my son’s pediatrician came in the room and started talking about some of the notes from the evaluation in his chart, I was shocked. I asked, “What notes? Do you have his evaluation results?!” I was so surprised, I didn’t think the center would have put the notes in his chart before they spoke to me. I wasn’t mad about it, I was just taken by surprise. Leo’s pediatrician looked at me a certain way, and I just knew. I felt a wave of heartbreak and tears began to fill my eyes. He said he didn’t know the exact diagnosis, but that it states that his suspicions were validated by the psychologist who did the evaluation and she has reason to suspect an Autism diagnosis would be likely. I was so confused about what that meant, but all I got from it was that my son was Autistic. The doctor asked if I was doing ok, and I just immediately started crying uncontrollably. Holding Leo in my arms with tears just flushing down my face, I said I was actually doing great! It was a lie, and he knew it. So, there I stood just clenched to Leo. I couldn’t take my eyes off him as I cried and tried to catch my breath. It was the first time I cried in months. The last time I cried before this was in October of 2018 when I found out my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and I got help for my depression. I hate crying in front of others. I feel so stupid and weak. I can usually control the tears, unless it is something big. This was big. It was the first time I actually realized my son was Autistic. The doctor felt terrible, I could tell he was so upset that I was unaware of his evaluation results and he just kept apologizing. I was actually very happy he told me, and that I was able to cry with just him, myself and my son in a small room that I was familiar with. He was the first person to point out the possibility of autism in my son, and I was happy that he was the one who told me the results. That man is one of the most caring and empathetic doctors I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I am so grateful and happy that we crossed paths with him. He is truly the dream pediatrician, very personable and caring. I couldn’t say enough good things about him. After he broke the news, I left the office with a heavy heart. I knew my son was still the same boy, and I would never think otherwise. There were a lot of tears that day. Once the day was over, I curiously looked into my son’s chart, and saw the diagnosis with my own eyes.