Even Before a Diagnosis, a Mother Knows

Autism -- Before the doctors told you, did you already know somewhere in your heart? What was your deepest fear at that moment?

Part One of a Five-Post Series about one woman’s experiences with her son who has autism.

I will forever remember the day…

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and my 3-year-old twins and I were off to a birthday party for one of our closest friends. When I pulled up my heart sank…it was at a duck park.

To most the location would mean nothing, but my stress factor rose immediately. Mikey and Tommy got out of the car, and Tommy immediately ran over to the ducks. Mikey’s attempts to convince his brother to join the other kids proved fruitless.

My friends saw my angst as I was pulled in separate directions. They took Mikey under their wing for the millionth time. For more than an hour, Tommy chased the ducks, over and over. My heart sank with every time I tried to get him to join the party… these were his friends – what was going on?

Deep inside I knew. All my worries about Tommy ran through my head… his barely having any words, lack of eye contact, extreme picky eating, tantrums, complete ignorance when someone was speaking to him, twisting his wrists, focus on certain toys, his knowledge of our driving routes and the anger when we did not go the way he wanted…

And most of all, the way he hugged me.

As the day went on, Tommy left the ducks once and joined the kids for some play with musical instruments. I was elated, but just as I sighed to myself, Tommy grabbed his ears and dropped to the ground in the midst of the crowd.

My heart sank and tears welled in my eyes as I ran over to pick him up. Tommy immediately ran back to the ducks and remained there until the end of the party.

In that instant, I knew without hesitation Tommy had autism.

Autism had been on my mind since Tommy was about one year old and cried through his first birthday party. The word was that needle in my stomach telling me the twins were developing differently, but the doctors would tell me… He is a twin. He is a boy. You need to discipline him. Don’t worry.

As I look back there were always signs. Since he was mildly affected, it was easy to dismiss the warnings. Looking back they were there, and I was just not ready to see them. Mothers with kids on the autism spectrum always talk about mother’s intuition and how they just knew. I think it comes from the bond between a mother and child.

And you can feel it in the way they hug you. Tommy was reluctant to hug, and when he did it seemed as though it was without feeling and for mere seconds. While Mikey would throw his arms around every person who crossed our doorstep, Tommy would back away from friends and family.

The lack of hugs is the one thing that always pressed on my heart. That is one of the parts that is so difficult for parents… you are just looking for that huge hug and the “I love you moment,”… and as you feel them pull away from you as you hold them closer, a piece of your heart is pulled away, too.

A hug with your child with autism is like standing at a crossroads with a door between you. When you learn your child has autism you wonder… how do I unlock that door?

Before the doctors told you, did you already know somewhere in your heart? What was your catalyst moment that made your heart realize what was going on? What was your deepest fear at that moment?

Published on: June 29, 2008
About the Author
Photo of Kelly Austing

Kelly is a 36-year-old single mother of twin 4-year-old boys, Mikey and Tommy. In 2001 Kelly landed her dream job as an event producer at In Style, a leading fashion and lifestyle magazine.

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