“When did you first notice these behaviors?” asked Dr A.
“Age 5. We didn’t fully realize them until he was in a school setting,” I responded.
“Yeah, he’s an only child,” Jeff said. “We have no other children to compare to.”
“Did he present any repetitive behaviors before then?”, the doctor asked.
“No” was about to slip off my tongue, when Jeff answered, “Yes, he was obsessed with opening and closing doors.”
“Oh, how could I have forgotten that?” I said, my mind racing through what else I might have shelved in that place containing long-term memory of phases we’d already moved through.
I remembered the times he lined up his Hot Wheels cars in meticulous rows, telling me what each car was after he’d done it. His memory had always amazed me. Mine obviously wasn’t as good.
Dr. A looked at me. It was my turn to contribute.
“He also started having major meltdowns around age 2,” I said.
“In what way?” asked Dr. A.
They were coming now, flashes of memories I didn’t want to relive.
“Middle of the night, full-out, intense meltdowns. I thought they were night terrors, because apparently he had them,” I said as I pointed to Jeff, needing an excuse, but not meaning to imply blame.
“How long would they last?”
Jeff and I looked at each other, as we often did when trying to jointly recollect the facts. It’s amazing how many bits one of us remembers and the other doesn’t.
He responded first. “Sometimes 15 minutes, sometimes as long as…”
We finished the statement together, “…an hour or even longer…”
“What would happen during these meltdowns?”
“He would scream, cry, hit, throw things,” Jeff said.
“He was inconsolable,” I said. “Nothing I could do would help; nothing could stop it.” I took it on, always. There wasn’t a “we” in my failure as a mother to console my child.
“How did you work through the meltdowns?”, she asked.
I laughed. “You don’t. You ride them out and hope you all get to the other side in one piece.”
“Do you restrain him?”
I was aware that we were now talking in the present tense.
“We’ve had to, yes.”
I don’t remember in which part of the session I began to cry, but at some point, in almost every one of these conversations in the last year and a half, narrating my son’s life with autism in sessions with professionals, the tears always come.
First, I try to blink them back. Then, I look at Jeff and non-verbally ask him to take over the conversation while I regain my composure. Sometimes, I’m successful. Other times, the tears flow. I always say “I’m sorry.” They always say “It’s okay.”
Dr A, with her kind, loving eyes, said, “I understand. This is a tough diagnosis and with it arises feelings of guilt and blame.”
I nodded, smiled at her compassion, and reached for the tissue she offered.
Kane asked, “Daddy, what’s wrong with Mommy?” as he always does each time I exhibit any kind of emotion involving tears. He tries to deduce if they are tears of joy or sorrow.
I looked at his furrowed brow, trying even harder to regain my composure, the lump in my throat full and round. I mouthed the words that I couldn’t mutter, because if they came out so would the tears:
And I believed it. We weren’t done, because there is no done with autism. But I know that no matter what, we will figure it out together. And it will be okay.