When We Knew

People often ask me if there were signs of autism when Thomas was a baby or “when we knew.” I can’t remember when we officially knew. I remember the day we got the official diagnosis from the specialists, but I know in our hearts we knew before that day. I do remember in the beginning, I was very resistant to the concept, even getting mad at friends and family members for suggesting it.
But why won’t he talk?
Thomas was born via c-section in April of 2005, normal delivery, no complications. He was a beautiful, chubby, happy, baby who made all his milestones – except for language. An otherwise typical toddler, except he wasn’t saying any words at all by 18 months. By that age babies should have at least 10 simple words in their vocabulary; such as “up,” “ball,” “dada,” “mama,” etc. Thomas couldn’t say any of those. At two- years-old, Thomas he had no language at all. And he also had no receptive language, meaning he didn’t understand simple words others said or simple directions. He couldn’t recognize any words or say any words.

Thomas in the bath. Not so happy with mom!


Two-year-olds are a challenge when they can talk and when they cannot, frustration builds until it erupts into a temper tantrum. In our house we call these episodes meltdowns, which is invariably accompanied be a volcanic eruption of emotion. By age two, Thomas was having a temper tantrum over everything. He melted down over not getting his way, over not being allowed to do whatever he wanted, about leaving, about staying, about haircuts, about food, about toys, about being told “no” and about anything that didn’t follow our daily routine.

Trying to understand in a world without words.
Without words, Thomas was unable to understand the reality of the phrase, “mommy will be right back.” If I had to leave to go to the grocery store or get a haircut? Oh man, watch out. I would try to explain it to him before I left, but he would completely melt down at the sight of me leaving. My poor husband, who was as patient as could be, would be left with a screaming, crying toddler in total distress. And it wasn’t just a short meltdown that would last for a few minutes and then eventually resolve itself. There was no distracting him out of his behavior. He would literally scream and cry the entire time I was gone. I would come home from wherever I was for a few hours and he would still be red-faced and teary-eyed and completely exhausted from crying the entire time. Babysitters were completely out of the question. It was exhausting for the entire family.
Looking back, I can imagine now that life made no sense to him if our daily routine was different in any way. If things were out of the ordinary, Thomas completely lost it. I would beg my husband to allow me to mow the lawn in the summer because I was home alone with 3 boys under the age of 8 and I needed any reason to get a break. I would put my headphones in my ears to listen to my favorite tunes and look forward to enjoying the hot Virginia sun for a while. But whenever I left the house, even if I was right there in the front yard, Thomas would stand at the windows and cry the entire time. I would see him run from window to window as I mowed from the front of the house to the back. I tried to concentrate on my music, I tried to zone out for a little while and relax, but I could see him, out of the corner of my eye, completely red-faced, screaming and crying as I pushed the mower through the yard. Despite the fact he could see me. I had gone through the “terrible-two’s” with two other children. I knew something was different about Thomas; I just wasn’t sure yet what it was.
So there were signs. There was a severe language delay and there was this incredible anxiety that I attributed to the fact that he couldn’t understand what we were saying to him.
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