Monday, July 1, 2013

Little Joe

Looking back on Joe as an infant, it is easy to see he had autism.  Of course DH and I had very limited experience with babies so to us, he was just "Joe" and if we thought anything was wrong, we figured it was because we didn't know how to handle a baby.
3 trains in one hand - that is a unique skill.

But Joe did not like cuddling much.  He never imitated noises and if you would try to imitate his noises, he would get quiet and listen to you but not make his own.  He ALWAYS had at least two things in his hands at all times.

He would make himself go rigid when he was angry and he went to sleep best by being left alone.  Of course, unlike many children with infant onset autism, Joe also slept like a rock.  He slept through the night at 2.5 months and before 4 months he was sleeping 12 hours straight every night.

We were in a playgroup and I noticed that all the other kids were starting to talk at around 10 - 18 months, but not Joe.  Nor was he pointing.  I started pouring through What to Expect the First Year and couldn't find anything about late talking children except autism.  The description in those days was quite narrow and of course, Joe didn't sit in the corner and rock, he didn't toe walk and he wasn't excessively flappy.  As a matter of fact, my incredibly non-autistic niece did much more toe walking and flapping than Joe!

At 18 months, DH and I were assured by everyone and their pediatrician that Joe would be talking by age 2 and to just "Give it time. Boys take longer."

Needless to say at 2 Joe still wasn't talking.  As a matter of fact, he had about 15 words when he was evaluated by a speech therapist shortly after turning 2 and 5 of them were letters of the alphabet.  He had briefly said "see" and sort of waved in a direction (although still not pointing) but "see" degenerated into "gee" which degenerated into "guy".  Needless to say the SLP that First Steps provided was not impressed and she was the first one that said "PDD-NOS" to us (of course with all the necessary disclaimers "I'm not a doctor", "You really need to get him evaluated", etc.) 

We loathed that first speech therapist for more reasons than just the fact that she was the first one to say "autism" to us.  She had a very hesitant way of speaking, constantly apologizing and never finishing her sentences, and DH and I just looked at her and at each other and thought, "This woman is going to teach our son to talk?"

After her we did get a wonderful speech therapist that we loved and Joe loved, but he still didn't talk.  He actually deteriorated further to where he only had 10 real words, so we finally bit the bullet and took him to a neurologist.  

As with the speech therapist we managed to get the worst neurologist in town.  He had hideous eye contact and stupid boring toys and then said that Joe had poor eye contact and wasn't interested in toys.  Well duh!

Of course the sad thing was that he was correct in his diagnosis.  We were still in massive a bit of denial but we did enroll Joe in a special needs preschool and sign up for a parenting course for parents of autistics.  Meanwhile I read everything I could get my hands on. 

Sometime that fall I read Let Me Hear Your Voice by Catherine Maurice.  The book was incredibly inspirational and really motivated me to get going on ABA.  At that time ABA was not being funded at all through the schools so we were looking at privately paying.  Needless to say, that can get pretty expensive pretty quick so we decided to do something we jokingly referred to as "high chair therapy".  We could still cram Joe into a high chair and it was an easy way to restrain him.  We got a handful of favorite snacks and tried to get him to imitate us or say certain things in exchange for a snack.  

He resisted at first -- big surprise!  In one of the early sessions, DH was working with him and Joe grabbed DH by the cheeks and pulled him in close as though to get his attention.  Then he smacked DH upside the head as hard as his little two year old arm could hit.  As DH said, "He might not have been talking, but he got his point across perfectly!"

Clutching foam letters & numbers at Discovery Zone.
We kept putting him in the high chair multiple times a day for several weeks and eventually this did turn out to be our breakthrough.  He went from 10 words to about 100 in the span of a week.  His pronunciation was still atrocious, but we were over the moon.

About six months after this, we started our home ABA program.  We were privately paying for it so we only did it for about 10 hours a week.  But this was the jackpot.  Joe could have been the poster child for ABA.  

His preschool teacher (whom we didn't tell about the program) stopped me one day as I was dropping him off and talked my ear off about all the amazing progress Joe had made during summer school that summer.  Um, yeah, that isn't to your credit that is due to the fabulous paras we have!  We did tell her at that point though that we had been doing ABA and she helped us to get partially reimbursed by the school district.

ABA was Joe's primary method of learning for a year or more.  One para taught him most of his prepositions in one afternoon by having him get "on" the table, "under" the table, etc.  It was fun for him and yet incredibly educational.  Another taught him his colors in exchange for her French fries.

And of course, DH and I learned so many "foolproof" ways to deal with autistic children that we couldn't fail when we had a second child with the exact same diagnosis, now could we?!?!?!


  1. Oh Julie, this is such a heartfelt post. I can hear the guilt in your writing, though and think it is unjustified. You and DH were doing the best you could with the knowledge you had available at the time. All of us would like to go back to that first doctor/SPT and give him a Joe slap upside the head to get our point across. The bonus? You didn't give up. You kept fighting to get Joe what he needed to be the best Joe he could be.

  2. Hey Julie,
    I love ABA I used it often when working with children with Autism. I was trained in other learning methods. But I found ABA to be much more natural and effective. I'm so glad you found something that made a big impact on your son's development.

  3. Well done you for persevering. Sounds like you were a massive force for good.

  4. Love hearing about your young men when they were small. Also from a mothers heart what she honestly saw from the beginning. Every story is so different but yet some areas similar. The bottom line I always see, hear and feel in your posts is your great love for your boys and all you have done to find pathways for them to become their very best. Now that is inspirational! Your boys are wonderful and your family blessed. Blessings!

  5. I loved reading this - it truly made me feel less alone. We, too, heard from so many (!) family and friends that "he's a boy and will talk soon...give him time." Well, finally when he was 2 1/2 his doctor agreed that he needed early intervention (I had asked at age 2 but just that week, he'd said "truck fell down" - first and last time he's said that by the way and he turned 4 yesterday). We lucked out and have been in an ABA-based preschool program since September. We also preempted that with speech therapy and she did the high-chair activities with my son as well (oh the tears...and oh the eventual break-throughs). I think we were in denial as well (no hand flapping or walking on toes, great eye-contact). To this day, we don't have a diagnosis so I'm not sure whether it's autism or not. But I do know that I believe in ABA and will continue to do everything I can to get as much of it as possible. Amazing, wonderful post. I'm so glad I came by to read it. Thank you.