April is Autism Awareness month, and hand-in-hand with Autism is Early Intervention Services. Early intervention (EI) is getting the therapy and the help for your child ASAP. The earlier the better, and I can tell you, it will be the first thing any parent will hear about when their child is newly diagnosed with a developmental disability like Autism.
Our daughter, Athena, first began EI for delayed speech when she was 18 months old. We knew she wasn’t doing the same things other children in her age group were. By that age, a child should have some single words, and Athena did not. She didn’t say ‘mama’, ‘dada’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, or communicate anything, really. Instead, she was perfectly content to entertain herself, and be alone rather than try to gain anyone’s attention for anything. I thought maybe she was just incredibly independent, and I wanted to give her more time to achieve these milestones on her own. I didn’t think we needed any outside help, and honestly, I’ll admit I was just plain scared.
I was scared that I would be judged. That Athena would be judged. It felt like I was asking a perfect stranger to come judge my child, my baby girl. The feeling did not sit well with me, and I was angry at my husband for suggesting we get the evaluation. I knew he just wanted the best for our daughter. It took a couple weeks and a few arguments, but I finally stopped fighting him and we got the meeting scheduled.
I was surprised (and relieved) to find that the evaluation was much less dramatic than I envisioned. Nobody poked and prodded, and no one sneered or looked down on us. It was just a couple of women watching Athena play in our living room while they asked us questions and tried to interact with her. Totally harmless, maybe even pleasant. At the end of the evaluation, they suggested seeing a speech pathologist.
The pathologist came to the house about once or twice a month for an hour. She played with Athena, read books to her, and asked her to participate in games. She showed me functional ways to work with my daughter on her speech and development. I also did homework…literal workbook homework that I handed back in each time we met with the pathologist. And the results were worth it.
Athena was flourishing in ways she hadn’t before, and I was excited to see the little improvements. She was finally letting me into her world to interact with her, and it felt like our relationship grew stronger every day because of these simple, small exchanges. We connected through her growing interests, like learning things and facts. She was barely two-years-old, and already knew her alphabet, numbers 1-10, basic shapes, and a lot of animals. She loved flash cards, so I made a large collection of them. But even though she could say single words like diamond and elephant on sight, she still wouldn’t tell me when she was hungry, thirsty, or in pain.
In January of 2015 Athena was 2.5. We had been doing EI for about a year, and things were progressing slowly but surely. She still did not answer yes or no questions, but could repeat verbatim the things we said, or what she heard around her on tv, in books, and songs. At one of the home visits, our speech pathologist mentioned that she thought Athena was on the autism spectrum. We spent the next few months researching and finding uncanny similarities between her and other children on the spectrum. By her third birthday Athena was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Like most people, I didn’t know much about Autism. Even now, almost a year later, I feel like I have barely even made a dent in the wealth of information there is about Autism. The spectrum is as wide as anything could be. Personally, I think it might come full circle, and that all people are on it somewhere, but that’s another post for another day.
Athena started Special Education pre-kindergarten last fall, after she turned three. Between her teacher’s help, speech therapy, the therapy in classes at school, and all the work we do at home, she is freely communicating so much more! She has completely blossomed with EI’s help, and I don’t know how I would have done this on my own. As scared as I was to reach out and ask for them to “judge” us, it has turned into the best decision we have ever made for our daughter. Getting that evaluation for Athena wasn’t taking us off the path I had dreamed for our family, it just took us on a detour to get to the same destination. Best. Detour. Ever.