I Used to Hide my Son from the World

I used to hide my son from the world.

That sounds terrible, I know. But there was a brief period of time that I felt better by keeping him cooped up. In my house, I didn’t need to feel scared. I didn’t need to compare. I didn’t need to constantly think and ponder and wonder what the future held. In my house, he was my perfect, beautiful child. There was nothing wrong with him. He was happy and that’s all that mattered.

I remember the first time I realized something was off with my son. It was at his first birthday party. I went all out – all things “Yo Gabba Gabba”. Cakes, balloons, decor, you name it. I had it all.

Declan was still on antibiotics for his 5th ear infection since he was born – yes, he had 5 in his first year of life. He wasn’t in the best mood – but I chalked it up to him being sick. He didn’t want to play, he didn’t want to visit with his family members. He just crawled around and whined. But I just kept saying, “He’s sick. It’s normal.”

Then my friends showed up with their kids. One 3 months older, one three months younger than Declan. And I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I watched their children in amazement. Look at how much she smiles?! Look how he follows his parents directions?! They were so interactive. They looked where their parents pointed. They played with toys appropriately for their age. They responded when their parents said their name.

And in the middle of my son screaming bloody murder while we sang him Happy Birthday…..it hit me.

My son is NOT like these kids.

He’s not playing with toys. He doesn’t look at me. He’s not babbling. He “ignores” me when I call him.

As a teacher, I felt so aware of all the signs of autism. How could I have missed this? How could this be happening to my baby? My perfect, beautiful, precious child?

I went into immediate action mode. That’s how I am – act first, feel later. I set up evaluations with Early Intervention. I bought books. I read countless articles till way late (or early) in the morning. I shared my concerns with friends and family. They just laughed it off like I was paranoid. But I knew. Deep down, I just knew. It was autism. And it was going to consume my life.

Therapies started almost instantly. Speech, OT, and DT each week. I was already working full time, and Declan simply consumed all my thoughts. I kept expecting to see immediate progress. And it wasn’t coming. And I felt more and more defeated.

So I stopped going out. It was too painful. I couldn’t take any more dirty looks at the store. I couldn’t take the anxiety of trying to plan ahead for every possible cause of a meltdown. I couldn’t bring myself to bring Declan around my friends and their “perfect kids”. Though they listened, I knew they didn’t understand. It’s like my dad said about the war, “Unless you’ve been in the trenches, you have no idea what it’s like to walk a mile in my shoes.”

For almost a year, I didn’t take my son out. We didn’t meet up for play dates. We didn’t go to the library or the zoo or the trampoline park. We did therapy, therapy, therapy. And I kept him hidden. I didn’t want to answer questions. I didn’t want to talk about autism. I didn’t want to compare and lose hope as the gaps got further and further.

Fast forward a year, and my son is still not talking. He has a few signs but that’s it. He’s made some improvement, but not at all where I thought he would be after a year of therapy. And something just switched in me and I knew that I had to get over myself and start thinking about letting my child experience everything life has to offer.

We went to the park. I helped Declan socially navigate playing with other kids in anyway he could. We went out to dinner. We met up with friends. And the more I got him out the more I saw him blossom. My son may not understand social interactions that well, but he certainly loves being around other kids. And the day I stopped caring what others thought of me was the day that Declan started making the leaps and bounds I always hoped for.

He started imitating. He started playing with toys. He started to recognize people. He started giving hugs. He started showing empathy. It just all started to fall into place.

Declan is now 4. He spoke his first words when he was 3 1/2 years old and he hasn’t stopped talking since. He still needs help figuring out how to ask kids to play, but he’s getting more and more comfortable with being around his peers. He still freaks out and melts down when there is a fly in the area. He still melts down when we have to leave someplace he doesn’t want to leave from. He still freaks out when I wash his hair. And he still flaps his hands when he is very excited.

But he is so happy. He is always pushing himself out of his comfort zone in order to enjoy what life has to offer. He’s the most resilient kid I know. And I am so blessed to be his momma.

All our kids are so uniquely, wonderfully made. My son has many hurdles to overcome and so many challenges to conquer, but he deserves to live life like the rest of us.

I still get weird looks at times when I’m carrying my screaming child out of a store or event. But I’m okay with it. You all should be too.

Life is all about the experiences. I’m going to make sure Declan has them all he can.

Written by, Katie Patty

Katie is a single mom to one beautiful boy, and a dedicated teacher of young second grade minds. She enjoys wine, a good book, and sleep. Her whole life revolves around making sure her son enjoys everything life has to offer.

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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