I have found it interesting how much mentally easier things have been since my son Jack got his autism diagnosis a couple of years ago. I spent a year trying to convince the school system Jack was autistic before I took him to the National Institute of Mental Health where he was finally diagnosed. During that time, I spent a lot of time pointing out his flaws. Now that he has been diagnosed, I get to focus on his positive attributes.
While working toward his diagnosis, I studied Jack’s behavior to take note of things he did that fit an autism diagnosis. I watched him carefully to see if he was stimming—using repetitive body movements. I took notes about his sensory-seeking behaviors and added them to my mental list. I carefully considered his obsession with space and the Mars Rover and cross-referenced it with the fact that he used mostly scripted speech.
I spent so much time micro-analyzing everything he did to figure out whether it was “autistic” behavior, or that of a regular 3- or 4-year-old.
It was such a relief to get the diagnosis so I didn’t have to itemize those behaviors anymore. With the autism diagnosis, I didn’t have to worry as much that Jack would be denied services. I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore.
I could set about getting Jack whatever help he needed, without worrying about an agenda. I stopped searching for “autistic” behavior and started looking for “typical” behavior. With the diagnosis, I was able to stop obsessing over his quirky characteristics. I was able to just accept that he had quirky behavior and go from there. Because I didn’t have anything to prove anymore, I could focus on accepting those behaviors or helping him to cope with or overcome them.
Of course, those times when I needed to produce bullet lists of deficits would arise again when we needed to get some additional services from the school system. But these were lists of mostly behavioral issues, not issues at the core of Jack’s identity.
It is as if the year spent seeking a diagnosis was a time I spent anxiously searching for a map. Once he had the diagnosis, I was able to finally start following a path. And while the map isn’t entirely clear, and there are many side trips and dead ends on it, it is good to be on the road.