The Uncertain Footing of Doubts

Before Martin was diagnosed, when we had a hunch something was wrong, we consulted a good friend who works in EI. Our friend visited Martin, and, with her professional insight, discerned immediately what Adrian and I, first-time parents lacking any significant experience with toddlers, could not identify: that Martin likely had autism. She patiently answered our questions and pointed out signs such as Martin’s sporadic eye contact, lack of functional language, and tendency to drift instead of moving with direction and purpose.

She mentioned also Martin’s difficulty descending stairs, which resulted not only from underdeveloped muscles and coordination, but from limited awareness of his surroundings. When Martin walked down stairs, he never looked at his feet to find the next stair; he stepped down and assumed the stair was there. As a result, his footing was unsure and he risked stumbling.

Once we became aware of the stair problem, we started taking notice. It’s been a constant issue in the year since our friend visited.

Martin woke nearly an hour earlier than usual this morning. He’s been doing that these past few days, since he’s been perhaps a bit ill. Waking so early leaves him tired throughout the day, and when he’s tired, he’s not at his best. (We can’t let Martin nap; doing so ruins his sleep for at least one and as many as three or four nights.) We had a bad morning. Martin cried about everything. At one point he sat at the kitchen counter flipping through a board book, oblivious to me five feet away calling, “Martin. Martin? Martin. Martin! Martin,” to no avail, until in desperation I turned to Adrian and begged, “Where is he?”

It was the kind of morning that gives me doubts—doubts about whether we’re advancing and, especially, doubts about whether we’ll ever reach our goal of making Martin indistinguishable from his neurotypical peers. On a rational level, I know how far we’ve come in the past seven months. (Last month I laid the progress out, perhaps more painstakingly than interested anyone but me, in my series of “ASD Recovery Six-Month Review” posts.) On an emotional level, at any given moment when I’m not witnessing Martin perform a new and fabulous feat, the doubts come knocking. Tenacious little suckers, those doubts.

When Martin, Adrian, and I left for church at 10:00 a.m. Martin and I had been awake four hours already, ample time for me to sink into a psychological dumpster. That’s pretty much where I was floundering as I trudged after Martin and Adrian, down the winding flights of stairs from our walk-up apartment.

Halfway down Adrian gave a psst! and motioned to Martin. Below me I saw Martin barely touching the handrail, looking steadily at his feet as he descended, finding each stair before stepping. It was the first time I’d seen him do so for a sustained period. The action wasn’t accidental. Martin was doing what people are supposed to do when they walk down stairs, what happens instinctively for the neurotypical.

Suddenly I was fine again, lifted from the psychological dumpster. I was hopeful. I was satisfied.

It’s a glorious irony, this role reversal. Martin, literally, walks with steady footing now. And I, figuratively, step with trepidation and falter often.

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