I believe that autism is an epidemic.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, Rosalind, I read everything that I could about pregnancy, caring for an infant, childbirth and more. You probably read more than you should, stacking stories of hellishly long labors like little poisonous snacks.
Amongst the Lacey Peterson murder, the old wives’ tales, scientific articles and Dr. Spock, the only thing I remember reading about autism is that it occurred in 1 in 300 kids and was 4 times more likely to appear in boys than girls. I dismissed it because by that time I knew I was having a girl and there were so many other things to worry about, like vaginal tears, strep B, neonatal conjunctivitis and other wonderfully weighty words.
She was born, as beautiful as I imagined. Her skin was the color of hazelnut cream and coffee, pearlescent, with chubby starfish hands. We developed a symbiosis early on. Within a month, she was sleeping through the night, nary a drop of colic, and gained weight like a champ. She hit all of her milestones early, literally skipped crawling, and began to speak a few words. I began to idly daydream of private schools and dance recitals.
On her second birthday my mother called to sing to her and I was shocked to hear Rose sing back most of the song. Little did I know that would be the last time I heard her string together a real sentence for another two years.
Watching her over the next few months, I tried to repeat the success with words that my mother had had. Gradually, she spoke less and less until the only thing that she held onto was the alphabet. It was as if I was standing on the lawn of a long lost friend’s house watching the window shades being pulled down one by one.
I called the doctor. He mentioned autism and I froze. I remember thinking, “What the hell?”
Then it was off to the computer for much googling and Kleenex. The statistic was now 1 in 166 children. My heart sank with each and every symptom as I realized that the fearless, mysterious creature that I knew as my child was reduced to psychological jargon.
Autism is a brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication and causes restricted and repetitive behavior. Repetitive behavior such as self-injury, arranging objects in a certain way, hand flapping, head rolling, or body rocking.
I stand here today telling you that Rose, her papa and I have worked for the last two and a half years on her speech and connecting her to the world. You would not be able to tell her from any other normal child. I can’t tell you how ambivalent I am about writing that last sentence.
Today she generates original speech, tells us her emotions, explaining to us if she’s hot or cold, or feels pain. She can read, and count, add and subtract. She shrieks when I tickle her round little belly.
I have learned everything I can about autism, it’s multi-faceted layers and I hope that my little one will one day stop being a statistic.
But today, that statistic has now become 1 in 150 and I want to cry.
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