Monday, February 4, 2013

Just imagine

Editor's note: This is going to contain some swearing and is going to be lengthy, guaranteed. This is painful for me to write about and more than a bit of humility has to go into it. Please understand that ignorance, even when applied carefully, can mask anything. However, even when one is wearing a mask, one knows that mask is just what it is: a mask. Please also understand, I'm giving a very watered down version of events that have happened.

I beat myself up regularly. You see, my son, Morgan, wasn't diagnosed with autism until the summer of 2010. I've known my son to be autistic since 2007, at the very earliest remembrances. So, why the long wait? Lack of services? Please, don't be so quick to judge me. I write this only to get it out of my system and to put it forth as my own "come to Jesus" meeting... with myself and whomever is reading this.

Morgan was born a big baby- 10.5lbs. Looking back, I can see where, from the first, there were clear signs of autism. Morgan rocked as a baby. As in, the night we brought him home from the hospital, I was afraid to put him in the cute cradle because the damned thing was tippy and the child kept mysteriously flipping himself over. NOT KIDDING. I thought it was because of something I was doing. Maybe it was, but my son never stopped moving much, even while sleeping.

He never liked to sleep on his back (anti tummy people, LAY OFF). In fact, by the time Morgan was two months old, he'd completely rolled over and refused to sleep on anything but his tummy. Again, I thought I was doing something wrong.

Morgan began sleeping through the night at three or five months, except for a feeding. "Great, I thought, I can sleep!" Except I really didn't. I remember feeling puzzled as to why my baby woke up in the morning and would lie in his crib and just stare at things- for minutes or hours, if I let him.

When Morgan was seven months old, he was crawling everywhere. Except he still enjoyed being on all four and rocking back and forth.

When he was walking at nine months, he took a screw driver and disassembled every single interior door knob in our condo. Yeah, good times!

We thought we had a genius. We thought our baby was Einstein. He was doing things early. Things like crawling, walking, puzzles, those shape sorters (though I ignored that he had a hard time with getting the cubes into the actual shapes)... then, hand, foot, and mouth disease struck us. More to the point, a 105* fever struck Morgan.

It was right before his second birthday. The fever stayed above 104.5* for too long. Hospitals were too far away in either direction to matter. I did what I knew to do- Motrin, Tylenol, and a room temp bath. The temp dropped lower, but not low enough. Morgan's temp never went below 104 for 30 agonizing minutes. Finally, it lowered itself to 103*. And my son slept. At the pediatrician's the next morning, it was back down toward normal. It was the last time I'd be in a doctor's office in SC and think "normal" ever again with my son.

You see, we had Morgan in a private day care. A wonderful place! I dropped him off one day, about three months after the fever. I'd noticed his words seemed to have slowed down, but he'd picked up a new one, a curse word. I warned them and they asked "Morgan can speak?!" That feeling I'd had in my gut started to blow up. He'd gone there for nearly six months by then and they'd never heard him say more than "bye." I went home and cried.

About this time I noticed that the tantrums that are supposed to be common at that age were explosive. Noises really freaked him out. He'd gone from calling me "Mommy" to "Ma...Ma."  My husband and I estimated that he'd gone from a 60 word vocabulary to 4. Four words. "Mama," "dada," "car," and "kiki" for cat.

That Christmas, we were at my mom's in Florida and Morgan was screaming over going to bed. He'd been just... bad... all day. I was past a breaking point. I remember sitting on the couch and looking at my mom and my bonus dad and saying, "I don't know if it's me or him! It's like he's a bad seed! I'm doing what I know to do and nothing right is coming from it!" I was lost.

So began what we knew of autism, though we couldn't get a diagnosis, but still, we knew.  We got our son into speech therapy. The speech therapist... God, I loved her and hated her. She said everything I knew I should be hearing and everything I didn't want to hear. I was selfish, okay? I wanted my "perfect" child, even though I couldn't see him standing right there in front of me. Morgan and I did a lot of crying in those days. Him more than me, obviously. Family and friends thought, if we just spanked our kid, he would behave. If we spanked him, they thought, he wouldn't freak out over loud noises. Or paper ripping. Or garage doors. Or trick-or-treating. Morgan kept playing with trains and cars. And flapping. And rocking.

In the meantime, we welcomed Bailey into the mix. I was scared. I didn't know about this autism thing. I didn't know if Bay could have it. I didn't want it in our lives because I was afraid of it.

The ST kept saying that Morgan lacked imaginative play. Hmmm, well, he lined up cars perfectly. Ah-ha! I thought, he was playing "traffic." He lack "modeling behavior," practiced "echolalia," and a host of catch phrases that in that past five years, I've grown uses to as autism related jargon.

However, it couldn't be autism because the state of SC wait-listed my son. For over 18 months. This is what private insurance looks like, folks. Before autism insurance reform, anyways. It takes a while for that sort of thing to be cemented.

In the meantime, I had friends help me out. Great friends! I didn't completely realize it, but they had me doing ABA on my own with Morgan. I took everything the ST was doing for 30 minutes a week, twice a month (it's all we qualified for) and replicated it at home 5 days a week, at least 6 hours a day. I figured out that flashcards could double as PECS, I made my own version of social stories. I read every single fucking thing about autism I could get my hands on. Sensory play. Sensory Aversion. Nonverbal Communication. GFCF diets (yeah, not happening again). PECS. Learning to bide our time. Learning to count down on a wait list that wasn't getting shorter. Watching our son be left out of kids playing on the playgrounds. Hearing him be called a "retard." I cried. I yelled at people. Morgan kept playing with trains and cars.

The miracle happened over time.. Morgan talked. I mean, he talked. Not just echolalia. But sentences. They were odd, most were scripted, but all were beautiful. But still, the meltdowns continued. But still, potty training took forever. But still, Morgan kept rolling trains and cars back and forth, back and forth. But still, family members and friends thought we just needed to discipline our child better. 

 But still, it wasn't autism.

We moved to Tennessee when Morgan was four and a half, too old for TEIS (Tennessee Early Intervention Services). We allowed time for him (and us) to settle and try to be "normal." What a laugh. That was when, we learned, that "normal" was just a setting on the dryer.

We sent Morgan to a Christian-based preK. First day, the teacher, now a friend of mine, told me sternly, "Your son wrote like THIS. THIS is the level I expect out of my students!"  Scared the hell out of me! I explained to her that, honestly, we'd been so focused on getting him to talk that we hadn't spent a lot of time on writing. We were sending him to preK for that. The next day, Morgan got in trouble for "sitting on, frightening, and LICKING" students. That would continue. Well, SHIT.

This continued, but Morgan eventually learned to write his name. His social skills? Well... he didn't lick so much? He did get an award for best manners. Echolalia RULES for learning manners!! Please understand, this is sarcasm.

But still, there was no play dates. Morgan didn't interactively play. He was content to play with cars and trains. Unless it was his brother, there was very little interaction with other children. I would sometimes see him look longingly, I thought, at the other kids playing that summer before kindergarten. I kept waiting for him to jump in. He never did. I even facilitated play between him and some kids quite a few times. The other kids were mean, I took my sons home and cried.

During this time, I brought up ASD to my pediatrician over and over. He kept telling me, "Jessi, ain't nothin' wrong with that boy! He's gonna play football! Look at how big he is!"  This was usually over my son screaming, "No doctor, no doctor, no doctor!" Or calling all medical staff doctors because, in his mind, if you worked in a medical office, you must be a doctor. That summer, it took me, five nurses, and a technician to hold Morgan down to have blood drawn. He was five.

Kindergarten would have been harder, I think, had it not been for Morgan's wonderful teacher, Mrs. V. She was, and is to this day, a teacher who has a genuine passion for her students. When we were called to the "horrible meeting" to discuss why my son didn't socialize, she sat next to us, not "them." When the county shrink got out of hand, Mrs. V was wise and ended the meeting for us. She made Morgan feel secure. She pointed out to me were Morgan's strengths were before she ever pointed out his weaknesses. She was always quick to say that she had to grade him based on state protocols. But she watched. She listened.

But still, Morgan played with trains and cars. But still, my pediatrician insisted nothing was "wrong."

I lost all patience that summer after kindergarten. I realized one day that a great majority of what my son was doing was scripted, by rote, by memory, whatever you want to call it. By writing this down, it makes it even more shameful to me. I failed my son.

The day after I and my husband finally, finally said "Screw the professionals, this IS autism!"  I made an appointment at Morgan's pediatrician. He finally said, that yes, I had made my point. But still, it could be something else. He ran tests for everything. Fragile X was the scarier and one of the most expensive ones. He referred us to a developmental pediatrician whose specialty, it seems, is to not let a single child out of his practice without a diagnosis- bad form, by the way. I already knew what Morgan's would be. He spent five minutes with my son after his nurse had spent two hours and gave us a diagnosis of high functioning to moderate functioning autism, possibly Aspergers. I clung to Aspergers like an idiot thinking, "this isn't real autism, right?"

Before a month was out, I was an "expert" on autism. I'd spent every waking moment that I could reading and reading more. I knew the IDEA act cold before our first meeting with the staff at Morgan's school. Morgan had his first IEP. He had services through the school. Finally, my son was going to learn coping skills and learning skills from someone other than me. Not that I'm complaining, but when you've been stressing yourself to the gills for years and have illnesses of your own, autism wears you down. A diagnosis is a relief, to an extent.

We were schooled in what it is to have private insurance deny you in a state without autism insurance reform- twice, really. You see, our insurance was able to deny us basic "rehabilitative services" for our son because we couldn't prove that any of the services weren't "restorative in nature at the onset of therapy." We were shocked. We thought that the hardest part had been gone through, the diagnosis. Instead, we were now fighting the insurance company AND the school on a weekly basis.

This brings me to today. If you're still reading, thank you. I know this was long. The reason I wrote this is to display the holes in some states systems. Autism insurance is important. Services are important. Had the full extent of Ryan's Law been ratified when we lived in SC, Morgan would have been diagnosed and services would have been obtained- when he was 4. Instead, Ryan's Law does not include self-funded insurers (my husband's company). We switched insurance companies when he transferred jobs to Tennessee of that year.

In Tennessee there aren't real autism insurance reform laws. There is the The Autism Equity Act of 2006. It states that children up to the age of 12, with an autism diagnosis, must be covered for speech and occupational therapy (OT). However, that's usually covered/offered in schools from what we could see, it's what we were told we could get- after our private insurance flat out denied us. OT and speech aren't the end all, be alls. Thousands of children are discriminated against every single day, just as my son was. Plus, there is a serious lack of providers (non quacks) in eastern Tennessee. This post would have been five times longer if I had railed against insurance companies. Just throwing this out there, but where there is no or little autism insurance, there is bound to be very few providers of autism related therapies. Like Occupational Therapy. Developmental psychiatrists. Or Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Take your pick.

Many of you reading this either know me personally or are blogger friends of mine. Imagine going through what my family went through. Imagine not being able to obtain a diagnosis and then services for your child due to lack of knowledge in the medical community. Imagine it. Now, get mad. I still am. We moved across the south in order for our son to have a better life, with insurance. This month, he qualifies for state residency and his autism Medicaid waiver. My husband's work is not self-funded and is under 50 employees, so we're good.

Morgan will be able to gain coping skills that will, hopefully, enable him to live an independent life one day. One day, maybe I won't mentally flog myself for him not being diagnosed at age three instead of age six. One day, maybe he'll go to college. But today, I'm still mad and I still cry. Because it wasn't right.

1 comment :

  1. You are such an amazing momma! I also had pediatricians telling me everything was fine for a long time! When Alex was 4 I told our dr that he seemed to have an "anger" problem that was really getting out of control that I couldnt seem to help. I will never forget that I was told "Well, unless he's talking about killing animals, I wouldnt worry about it"....I still hate that doctor for blowing me off about my concerns!