Progress Schmogress…….The Autism Progression Myth 

It’s been a REALLY long time since I’ve done one of these. I’ve been busy writing my book (and having some fun in between) and I finally got some ‘blog inspiration’ today.

Sometimes reading other people’s blogs about autism will strike a chord in me and make me want to expand or dispute that particular topic. Todays topic was something like, “What is the hardest part about autism?” This particular writer said that her big thing was ‘other peoples’ perceptions and misconceptions about autism in general, and how autistics have not been accepted into society as a whole. I 100% agree, and this issue is a biggie for me too. However, it made me think about what bothers me the MOST about having a child on the spectrum, and that answer was easy. Unfortunately I can’t sum it all up in one sentence, but I will try to narrow it down:

Most people, even the autismly uneducated (I just made that up, but I like it), know that all children on the spectrum are different, and have different abilities and disabilities. But with that also comes the assumption that all autistics will improve with early intervention and therapy. THIS IS MY HARDEST PART!!! Because they don’t!

I can only speak for my own experience with my son, but to explain a little about my precious Keegan, he has always been on the spectrum in my opinion, even since birth. However, a lot of his milestones were just slightly delayed. Even though he wasn’t saying “mom” or “dad” before he was two years old, he was counting to 20, naming every single color he could see, along with every shape, including the dodecahedron (yes, that is a thing–It is 12 sides). Sure, most of it he learned from Muno and Brobee on Yo Gabba Gabba, or Geo and Bot on Team Umizoomi, but he was learning, retaining, and demonstrating. We started occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, ABA therapy and every other therapy before he was two and a half. We were also seeing a developmental pediatrician, chiropractor, and a psychiatrist. Plus, we started strict diets and nutritional supplements. We read it all and did it all (and I’m not even listing everything). Luckily we could afford it, so my husband worked for it, and I drove Keegan all over for it.

Jump ahead 4 years………..Keegan is almost six and a half. He cannot count to 5. He is still not potty trained. He still can’t say “mom” or “dad”. He lost most of his speech. He lost his concentration and focus for almost everything. He has zero interest in absolutely everything (besides dribbling a ball–he can do that like nobody’s business). He says ‘orange’ when he really means ‘blue’, and calls the letter “D” an “F.”

Somewhere around 30% of autistics will regress around age 2-3 (and no, it is not because of the fucking MMR shot!! JS!). I’m not sure on the percentage of those who gain those skills back, but my child never did. Did we give up on him? Hell no! Are we going to give up on him? Absolutely not! He is still attending ABA therapy daily at the Marcus Autism Center, and has for over a year. He is still getting speech and occupational therapy, and many more treatments and therapies that we have added and/or never stopped.

Another annoying assumption that I get asked all the time is “when will he get better?” There is no answer to this. He might get better, but he might not. I didn’t think he would regress as much as he did. I also thought he would at least gain some of his skills back by now, but he hasn’t. Therefore, I have no idea if/when he will ever get ‘better’.  If I knew when, I would put that expected “better” date on the calendar and have the biggest fucking party when the countdown ends. I would do so much more and stress so much less. But I don’t know and I may never find out.

I guess this regression issue hit hard yesterday when I received Keegan’s new scores for the VB MAPP (verbal/behavioral milestone assessment). He had little to no progress in most areas since his last assessment in 2014. That feels like a super strong punch in my gut. Also, his IEP is coming up next week, and they are talking about a new placement/new school for him, and that has me hurting inside, too. And to top it all off, I went to see the new movie, The Accountant, last night. It’s about a high functioning autistic, but I won’t give away the story. Anyway, these kind of movies always get me thinking about how others will view autism based on a certain character. I know many parents of autistic children hate the movie ‘Rain Man’ because of the stereotype it portrays. Well guess what…Rain Man does exist whether you like it or not……..he is my son.

Just like all autistics can range from the low functioning ‘rain man’ to the high functioning assassin/’accountant’, all autistics can improve/regress on all different kinds of levels. Sure, therapy should help, and most of the time it does. But sometimes it just doesn’t. I read a study once about two very similar autistic children who received the exact same treatments and therapies at the exact same time and the same frequency from the same person. One child progressed significantly while the other did not progress at all.

So, please don’t stop asking questions, even if I may not like the question. More importantly, you can ask even when I don’t like the answer I have to give you. Just remember my favorite saying….”If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism”.

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The Lone Surviving Autism Mom

Sitting in my living room, I can hear Keegan screaming and crying downstairs. I can’t do anything about it because he is with his ABA therapist, and I know what they are doing. I know she is making him sit at a table for a certain period of time, when all he wants to do is stand up and stim, jump up and down, or dive into his swing. I know she is holding his little legs down in the chair so he can’t get up. I know they are not physically hurting him, but I still cry. I cry because of everything we put that poor child through on a daily basis to hopefully make him “better”. And he’s not getting better.

I think that the tears and the ‘woe is me’ attitude is in full effect today because of a dream I had last night. You know how sometimes a good or bad dream can influence your mood all day long. I dreamt, for a very short dream, that I woke up and everything around me was in shambles. Just like in the movies when everybody is dead and there are only torn down buildings and dirt, and the lone survivor is walking around wondering where everybody is, and why everyone is dead. I quickly woke up with my heart beating fast, wondering why the hell I was dreaming THAT, and why I was the one who had to be the lone survivor. Then, as I was getting Keegan’s breakfast ready, I realized maybe I had that dream because deep down that is exactly how I feel. Just like a lone survivor……….Alone. Sad. Frustrated. Confused. Chaotic. Beaten. Nobody there to talk to, or to understand me. Nobody who relates to me.

This is the life of autism.

After dropping Keegan off at school earlier this morning, and not getting a “good-bye, mommy” as usual, I decided to go to a nearby consignment sale for kids. As I was rummaging through clothes, I heard a familiar voice nearby. It was an old friend who I had lost touch with over the last 4 years. She had a son who was born the exact same week as Keegan, so we bonded during our pregnancies. We promised to keep in touch after the boys were born and after they moved, but you know how that goes. I was getting ready to walk over to her and say “hi”, and to rekindle the friendship, but I stopped. I decided not to say anything because I didn’t want to hear how great her son was doing, and how wonderful her life was. But more than that, I didn’t want her to feel sorry for me when I told her how poorly Keegan was doing and how much we struggle on a daily basis. I’m not one who can lie and say “I’m fine”, when everything is not fine.

As I am trying to avoid running into her, I start to wonder why this part is so hard. What would be so bad if we talked, and then hung out with the kids sometime? Well, simply because kids don’t want to hang out with Keegan, and I don’t blame them. And, most adults don’t want to hear me whining, and I don’t blame them either. It’s not that Keegan is annoying or mean, he just doesn’t like to play with anyone. He is literally in his own world all the time, and doesn’t allow anyone in most of the time. So, this is why I chose not to say hi.

I was recently at a play date (if that’s what you want to call it since Keegan doesn’t reciprocate the play), and I overheard the child tell their mom that they didn’t want Keegan to come over anymore. Thankfully he wouldn’t even understand if it was told to him, or if he heard, but it hurt.  Now, I don’t want that person to feel bad if they are reading this, because trust me when I tell you—I get it, more than you know. But even though I understand, it still hurts. It hurts that most people are not willing and/or able to see the purely sweet heart and soul that Keegan possesses. However, if I was a little kid, I wouldn’t want to hang out with Keegan either.

My husband has been battling with the ‘losing friends because of autism’ thing. He doesn’t understand why others do not reach out, especially ones who were close. I, on the other hand, understand why some friendships end after the autism diagnosis. I believe people struggle with what they are supposed to/not supposed to say and do. They have no idea what that family is going through, they can’t relate, and they don’t want to say the wrong thing (my opinion, anyway). And, I know we could do some of the reaching out, but it’s hard when everything in your life feels negative, and you don’t have anything to contribute to that relationship because all of your energy is given to this one little human being.

As I am feeling sorry for myself, listening to Keegan cry with his ABA therapist, I realized that maybe I had the crazy dream last night because of something I thought about before falling asleep last night. I was in bed thinking about the fact that I had not prayed in a very long time. I used to pray for others who were struggling, and rarely what I wanted or thought I needed.  I would always tell God (or whatever higher power is up there) thanks for everything he has given to me, and allowed to happen to me, to make me who I was. I felt very blessed, and tried so hard not to take things for granted. When Keegan’s struggle began, I think I prayed every night. I prayed he would sleep more than 6 hours, I prayed he would start talking, I prayed he would look at me when I called his name, and I prayed that I would be the best mom I could be while he struggled so much. The list of prayers went on and on.

When nothing was improving, and none of my prayers were answered, I stopped praying. I stopped relying on the higher power to help me through, and realized I was in this alone. However, on the flip side, I also feel that God has made me a person who can deal with this lonely and frustrating battle. I realize that maybe this is my “calling”, and my fate. Maybe I’m supposed to be that ‘lone survivor’ who somehow saves the day, even though she has to do it all by herself.  And as much as I struggle with it, I am OK with it, and I accept it. I have to. I just wish some days were easier and not quite as lonely and frustrating, for me AND Keegan.