Oliver didn’t talk for a long time. He still doesn’t talk that much, and 80% of the time it’s gibberish. When I hear him say “Mama” or respond to a question, I’m still in amazement at how far he’s come.
I want to say that around his two year check-up is when we discussed with his pediatrician that he wasn’t talking. He’d make some noises, but no mama, dada, baba, nothing! He was exhibiting some other signs of autism, but I’ll touch on this in a moment. So we were referred to the speech department where I had to answer a ton of questions about what Oliver’s skills and capabilities were. From there we got a referral to a speech therapy center in Irvine, and we met with his speech therapist, Elaine (or “E” as Ollie later referred to her). We’d take him there once a week, in the evenings for an hour. Chris and I would sit in the lobby while Oliver worked with Elaine. It was Elaine who brought up that she thought Oliver might be on the autism spectrum.
At this point I wasn’t surprised. I’d been doing some Googling and Oliver had been doing “odd” things like hand flapping and spinning around in circles a lot. He also had an obsession with cars, or things with wheels. He wouldn’t play with cars like you’d think. He would just run them back and forth while he bent down to watch the wheels spin. He also was (and still is) an extremely problem eater. It’s not so much textures, but I think it’s colors. He really only eats orange, beige food: Goldfish, unfrosted Pop Tarts, chicken stars-but only from Carl’s Jr., applesauce, yogurt, graham crackers, etc. He has no interest in trying other food, and if you put something on his plate that he doesn’t like, he’ll either scream “No!” or just take it off his plate. I’m a picky eater, but this is nothing compared to me.
A lot happened all at once, so I’m bad at remembering exact timelines, but around this same time we had placed Oliver in a KinderCare a couple days a week so we could get him around other kids. Well, it wasn’t working. He didn’t care much about being with other children, he just wanted to play by himself and with the toy cars. I took him out of daycare and the director of the facility, Polly, told me, from experience, to call two places:
- Our school district, to get him into their childhood center that offers Special Education and Related Services for 3-5 year old students with special needs to meet their individualized needs.
- Regional Center of Orange County to get additional assistance.
Oliver wasn’t three yet, so he couldn’t start with the school district yet, but I could get the process going (evaluations).
Also, we were going through formal evaluations at Kaiser to determine if Oliver had special needs. I took him over for a two hour (I think) long appointment where he was evaluated by a number of different people who watched him play and asked him questions. Afterward they all got together to make a determination and Chris and I were called back over at a later date to hear the results. Yep, Oliver fell on the autism spectrum and they recommended speech therapy (which he was already receiving), occupational therapy (OT), and ABA services. In addition to seeing Elaine once a week, we’d also take him to OT where he’d work with Kris on playing with textures like shaving cream, brushing his arms and legs, swinging on a swing, etc. We also began the process of getting evaluated for ABA services through Easter Seals, but by the time they finished the paperwork and got back to me with their recommendation of 25 hours per week, he was about to start going to school at the school district five days a week from 9:00am – 2:00pm and I didn’t want to overload him.
Oliver started school at the end of August 2016. We stopped taking him to speech and OT because he’d be receiving those services at school (for free, might I add!). He’s in a small setting classroom with nine other kids just like him, one teacher, and three aides. It’s December now and I can’t even list all the improvements I’ve seen in Oliver. He has met all of his short term goals that the school put together (his IEP). He’s talking so much more now, I’ve lost track of all the words he uses. He asks for help when he needs it. When he plays with his toys, he actually pretend plays. Oh, he still is obsessed with cars and trains, but he’ll play with other toys as well! He is doing better with playing with the other kids, but he’d still rather just watch rather than engage. Food is still a big issue. The school district doesn’t help with eating, so we’re doing our best at home. I give him Pediasure just so I know he’s getting some nutrients.
Our next obstacles are potty training and his meltdowns when Piper cries. I’m not that worried about potty training. When he’s ready, it’ll happen. I’m not going to force it. I attended a seminar the school had, but he’s not showing signs of being ready. Baby steps…His extreme meltdowns when Piper cries are just the worst. And it’s not just with Piper. If another kid is crying, he’ll hone in on them and start crying as well. He becomes inconsolable. I’ve videotaped him, but I can’t post it on here because I’m cheap and don’t pay for that service on WordPress! If we take the kids in the car someone has to sit in between them to keep Piper happy/entertained/fed so she doesn’t cry. It’s been exhausting. We’ve (his teacher and I) have determined that it’s not a sensory issue. He doesn’t mind loud noises. It could be a jealousy issue with Piper, but he would cry if he saw another kid cry before Piper was even born. I just don’t know.
And that’s the thing. I just don’t know. I don’t know what will be next for Oliver. I’m hopeful that he’ll continue to be successful at this school and when it’s time for Kindergarten that he’ll be able to join as a regular student. I keep telling myself that eventually he will talk, eventually he will eat, eventually he will be potty trained, just so I don’t get myself worked up. But it’s hard sometimes. He’s so tall and he hangs off the changing tables when we’re out and about. I see other kids, younger than him, having full on conversations. Or you hear about someone’s baby who eats everything they put in front of them. To those parents I would say, be extremely grateful. Don’t take it for granted. To other parents who may be struggling, like me and Chris, and perhaps don’t know if their child is autistic, I encourage you to speak to your pediatrician as soon as you can! I have been told many times that it’s wonderful that we got ahead of this so early (he was just a little over two when we first started with all of this). If you’re in the Orange County area, please feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions. I have a lot of resources now and can point you in the right direction! Even if you’re not in the area and would just like to talk, I’d be more than happy to be there for you. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to start this blog, to share my experiences and help other parents out there!