Zoey is not Autistic. There was a time, however, when I was worried she might be. At eight months old, Zoey still had not laughed. Of course, she would giggle if we were tickling her, but she had never once laughed just at the sight of something. At eighteen months old, Zoey still showed zero interest in music. It was as if she didn’t even hear it, even though we knew her hearing was perfect. I would watch other babies, as young as six or eight months, bob their heads, clap their hands, smile and laugh when they heard music and realized Zoey had never done that. I tried playing a singing and dancing clip from Glee for her and her face lit up. She ran over to the TV and clapped her hands. Then, just to see, I tried the same thing with the sound muted. I got the same response from Zoey. It wasn’t the music she was responding too, it was all the bright colors and movement. I tested this same theory – in many different ways – and always saw the same result: fascination with color and movement, zero or no interest in music.
Then there were all the other sensory-ish things: the way Zoey hated swaddles and would scream like we were torturing her, the way her response to us buckling her into seatbelts (car seat, stroller, it didn’t matter where) would make the swaddle screaming look tame, the way we had to convince her it was ok to put her hands in the sandbox or the finger-paints and get them dirty. And the way she hated snuggling. Even as a small baby while nursing, Zoey would stiff-arm me, pushing her body as far away from mine as possible while still breastfeeding. Also, the sensitivity to light. At her eighteen month checkup the doctor was amazed and somewhat taken aback to hear Zoey declare that the room was “too bright.”
There was also the social thing. When we would get together with her PEPS pals each week, I’d watch the other kids all fight over the same toys, moving together in small packs because the most interesting toy was always the one someone else was playing with. It was still mostly parallel play, of course, which is normal for babies and young toddlers. Zoey, however, would find a toy no one else wanted – or sometimes no toy at all – and just sit on the sidelines. She would watch everything going on, and I’d swear she was studying and categorizing, just like a little scientist. She wasn’t shy or sad; she never clung to me or cried or seemed upset in the slightest. In fact, she was quite content to not interact.
There were so many little things over time that I couldn’t help but worry. Over the past two years I have mentioned each of these “quirks” to the doctor as they came up. A couple weeks ago I added one more: when Zoey is really upset or frustrated she flaps her hands. As I said before, we know Zoey is not Autistic. She makes eye contact, she laughs and now interacts with her friends. After a lot of effort on our part she now sings songs and acknowledges music, although most of the time she still asks me to “turn it off please” if I turn on the radio or play a CD. She no longer screams in the car seat and even asks for hugs. She is fully functional and, bottom line, that’s what matters. Our doctor said yes, Zoey does appear to be somewhere on The Spectrum. At some point we will probably get evaluated just to learn some extra tips to help us and her learn to cope when her emotions overwhelm her. That’s as bad as it will get for us, and I am so grateful.
For many, MANY other families, every day is so much harder. Every step, every decision, is a struggle, a battle. April is Autism Awareness month. Show you are aware and, more importantly, that you care. Help us Light It Up Blue all across the world this month.