When Moe was approaching 2 and still not speaking, we were, of course, concerned. Autism was in the back of our minds, but we didn’t really believe that would be the diagnosis. Maybe it was just denial, but Moe did not have a lot of the characteristics that we, not knowing any better, believed were typical of very young kids on the spectrum: he loved peek-a-boo, was a great eater and sleeper, and was the happiest little baby.
In fact, when Moe was first evaluated through the regional center, he was not given an autism diagnosis. I now realize that they are quite stingy with that diagnosis, lest they are forced to provide more than the minimum services. We had to pursue a private diagnosis, then go back to the Regional Center to request more appropriate services.
We were also optimistic that Moe would not be diagnosed with ASD because my husband Jeff was a late talker. My mother in law had told us that Jeff didn’t talk until he was three. So I held out hope that Moe would simply follow in his father’s footsteps and talk at three. Moe is now almost four, and still not talking. Jeff also did not have the motor delays that Moe has, and, according to his mom, Jeff’s receptive language skills were also not (or less) delayed. So I learned to not rely on the fact that Jeff was a “late talker.”
Recently, however, my mother-in-law came across some old notes indicating that Jeff perhaps didn’t talk until he was closer to four and a half. It still seems as if his receptive language skills were stronger than Moe’s, but memory is a funny thing. And despite myself, I feel another round of hope welling inside me that perhaps Moe is just like his dad, and that by this time next year Moe will be, as the old notes about Jeff said, finally “talking beautifully.”
An acquaintance of mine recently contacted me to ask if I knew how to go about getting a diagnosis for her husband, who they suspect has Asperger’s. (I did not, but used my network to find a qualified therapist.) It is hard to have a real sense of what Jeff was like at Moe’s age, but my friend's question got me wondering about whether Jeff would have been diagnosed on the spectrum if he were a child today. After all, we grew up in the 70’s, when the kids diagnosed were those with “classical autism,” what we today might consider on the more severe end of the spectrum. It was also a time when kids didn’t go to preschool at three or even two years old, where a teacher might notice that your kid is developing differently from the others his age. I do know that Jeff did not have any early intervention and did catch up on his own. I don’t believe he was a late reader.
I am not saying that I think my husband has autism, nor do I have any way of knowing if he had traits as a child and is now “recovered," for lack of a better term. I am also not saying that I think Moe has been diagnosed incorrectly; he now very clearly has autism with speech delays just one piece of his puzzle. I am also not saying that early intervention is not necessary. It is vital and Moe has been receiving services since even before his "official" diagnosis. However, I do wonder if some people may be no worse off for never having been diagnosed. Some development may just have to happen, and no amount of early intervention is going to cause a child to just start talking if his or her brain is not ready for it (though therapy may help speed this process along).
Moe's story may not be at all like his father’s. I’m thankful that I’m raising my son at a time when autism awareness is high, that his delays were caught early, and that excellent services are available in my area. But regardless of how he gets there, I do still hope that Moe follows in his father’s footsteps to becoming a wonderful, smart, loving man.