Early Warning Signs

Our concerns about our son Gabriel began before he was even two years old, with his speech delays. At the time, I was working in an early childhood program and social services so I had access to developmental information about young children.

My gut was telling me something wasn’t right. I would bring home screenings to try to figure out what the issue might be, but I’d stop when I didn’t like the results. They were scaring me.

I later found out that was normal. Denial is one of the most common reactions, especially in African-American and Latino communities, where anything to do with perceived “mental illness” still carries a taboo.

The Possibility of Autism

Despite my strong feelings of denial, I continued to advocate tirelessly for Gabriel. I had him observed by professionals, who diagnosed “sensory integration disorder.” This is actually a big piece of autism, but because no one ever used the word autism, we focused on this disorder.

I got recommendations for speech therapists and a referral to a developmental specialist, and got Gabriel into an early intervention program, which included speech therapy, occupational therapy and developmental therapy. Early intervention is key, but it taps out at age three, so you really need to start advocating early for your child.

When Gabriel was 27 months old, a developmental pediatrician told me bring Gabriel back at age 5 to test for autism. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I sat in my car and cried and cried. I began to question myself mercilessly. I kept asking over and over, “What did I do wrong? Did I eat too much sushi during pregnancy, or drink too much caffeine?” It took a long time for me to realize that this wasn’t my fault.