Back to Blog Home

Diagnosis: Just Different

March 13, 2020


Hello!  If you are reading this, in all likelihood, you have a child on the autism spectrum or know someone who does.  If you are looking to find clinical answers, then stop right here!  This author does not have that kind of knowledge, and none of what is written here is authoritative.  I am a middle-aged mom with two quirky kids (who are nothing alike!) on the autism spectrum.  What I share, I have lived, and survived (sometimes just barely.) All of it is written from my heart with the hope that it can inspire, encourage, comfort, or validate you. At the very least, some of my stories will cause you to chuckle and bring a much needed and deserved smile.

I happily disclose that both of my children (Sky, age 16 & Cary, age 14) receive ABA/behavioral therapy through Solving Autism.  The owner, Alyson Shaffer, has worked with one or both of them for nearly 7 years.  Alyson entered our lives when things couldn’t be worse for my son and dramatically changed his behaviors and our world.  She diligently worked to restore peace in his life and our home. While autism cannot be cured, it can be managed through understanding and therapy.  Much of the growth experienced by my children is the direct result of her efforts, and we remain forever indebted to and grateful for her.

Cary was diagnosed with autism when he was only 3.  Honestly though, we knew something was “different” the moment he was born.  Cary entered this world screaming, breaking my tailbone on his way “out.”  He popped out of me so hard and fast that he surprised the doctor, who almost missed catching him!  His piercing scream seemed shrill enough to shatter glass, causing my husband and I to look at each other with fear and to ask, “What’s wrong with him?” This was the first of many times we would wonder what is “wrong” with Cary.

I love that Solving Autism uses the puzzle piece as its logo.  Autism is puzzling, often frustrating.  Cary didn’t sleep through one full night until we medicated him at age 5.  Why?  He wailed incessantly and inconsolably every time he woke from a nap.  Why?  He never played with toys but happily shook two colored shoelaces (one in each hand) with great joy.  Why?  He mainly made vowel sounds when he spoke.  Why?  He hit children in play groups.  Why?  He often failed to respond when his name was called.  Why? We had so many more questions than answers…until we received a diagnosis.

The first diagnosis, an articulation delay (age 2½), led to the second, sensory processing disorder (age 3).  His occupational therapist said the same thing as the speech therapist.  “I think there is something more going on here.”  Finally, we had some answers (which led to even more questions) when Cary received his autism diagnosis.

Having said all this, let me tell you that nothing is “wrong” with my son (or my daughter).  One of most important things that I have learned about both my children (thanks in large part to working with Solving Autism) is that while their autism makes them different, there is nothing “wrong” with them.  I couldn’t figure out how to explain to my kiddos that their brains were wired differently from mine and their father’s brain. I read an excellent analogy and used it to help them understand the differences.*  I explained that most of the world was born with a “toaster brain” which works perfectly for making toast.  They were born with a “hair dryer” brain, which doesn’t work as well for making toast, but can do some amazing things that toaster brains cannot. Unfortunately, the world revolves around toaster brains and doesn’t understand or recognize hair dryer brains and their utility.  Our goal, I tell them, is to teach them how to survive surrounded by toaster brains, and to thrive using their unique hair dryer brains, which can do some “pretty cool” things that toaster brains can’t do and sometimes wish they could.  Sometimes when they are sad or frustrated, I jokingly commiserate with them and say, “What do you expect from an ordinary toaster brain?”  Sometimes they laugh. Sometimes.

While diagnosis did not provide answers to all my questions, it helped me understand the most important thing:  My kiddos are different and they need help.  If you ask me whether I think diagnosis (a label) is important, I will tell you it’s imperative. For our family it helped us begin our journey to finding answers to so many frustrating questions.  More importantly, because of the diagnosis we sought professionals (speech, occupational, psychiatric, play/social, behavioral, ABA) to provide the interventions our kiddos desperately needed to survive (and hopefully thrive) with dryer brains in this toaster-oriented world.

« »