Franklin and I were alarmed and confused. We tried talking more, filling in the silence with empty chatter in the hopes of motivating Jake to start talking again. But nothing happened. Then we tried talking less, thinking that maybe Jake needed more space to express himself. Still nothing. Jake stopped responding in general, not even looking at us when we called out his name. The affectionate boy who freely gave us hugs and kisses was gone. Now, Jake's whole body stiffened whenever we tried to hug him. He could no longer tell us what he wanted -- not even by pointing. Jake would shake his whole hand in the direction of the kitchen cabinet to let us know that he was hungry. We'd end up pulling out box after box of cookies, crackers, and snack foods to try to figure out what he wanted. Sometimes his grunting indicated that we'd found the right snack. Other times his sobbing indicated that we hadn't, usually after we had emptied out the entire cabinet. We just couldn't figure out how to give our son what he wanted -- whether it was food or anything else.
"He's a boy. Boys develop later than girls," our family pediatrician replied when I expressed our concerns. For each of Jake's symptoms, he had an explanation. Jake didn't speak because he was either shy or obstinate. He didn't play or behave like other children because all children are different. "You should stop being so competitive by comparing him to other children on the playground," he told me. When I was concerned that Jake's tantrums bordered on hysterics, the pediatrician said, "Move the furniture so he won't get hurt." He repeatedly told me not to worry, chalking up Jake's behaviors to the "terrible twos."
But I did worry. Something wasn't right with Jake. He was drifting further and further away from us.
For months, I listened with gnawing uncertainty to the pediatrician. Then, one day, I stopped listening. I was Jake's mother, after all, and I knew my own son better than anyone -- including the doctor. That's when I started listening to what my instincts had been telling me for months. I took Jake to another doctor and another one after that. When I finally got to the bottom of it, when I finally found the right doctor to tell me what was the matter with our son, I heard the words that no parent wants to hear: "Your son has autism."
At that moment, I wished nothing more fervently than that our family pediatrician had been right all along. ...
The Many Faces of Autism
His parents called Nathan their "gentle giant." At age six, he was big for his age but wouldn't hurt a fly.He appeared to be shy and fearful at all social activities -- from playing with other kids to looking his mom and dad in the eye. Nathan's favorite activity was jumping on the trampoline all by himself in his backyard. He seemed to live in a world of his own and had never uttered a word in his life.
At age four, Michael could tell you everything about the life cycle and migratory patterns of the monarch butterfly. He'd even taught himself about photosynthesis. Although clearly intellectually gifted, Michael could not hold a two-way conversation. Instead, he preferred to lecture nonstop about a subject with which he was obsessed, such as butterflies or train schedules.