Ultima Actualización de Nicaragua: Diagnóstico

I still remember the first time I was asked if Martin had a diagnosis. That first time, it came as an indirect question. It was November 2010. Martin was two years and four months old. We had no official diagnosis, only my high-school friend’s assessment: “I know this isn’t easy to hear, but based on what I’ve seen, Martin has autism.” Martin had stopped pointing and started posturing, squatting to crunch the pain in his gut. He’d also lost eye contact. He’d done more than lost eye contact. He was aggressively avoiding eye contact. Whenever he perceived a face near his, he thrust his eyes sideways.

“Yeah, what is that? Is something wrong?” A friend asked. Martin, bundled in winter gear and strapped almost immobile into a stroller, was still managing to turn his head, move his eyes, anything to avoid looking at her. Unprepared, I fumbled an answer, “Um, technically, I think some people might call it ‘high-functioning autism,’ but we’re still figuring things out. Probably it’s fine.”

Here is my last post on Nicaragua (this year, at least): I can’t remember, since November 2010, ever going two whole months without being asked, “Does he have a diagnosis?”

Thank you, Nicaraguans and ex-pats. Thank you for not caring about a diagnosis.

Picture Shock

My laptop’s “sleep” mode is set to play a rotating photo montage. We got our first digital camera to take baby pictures (kitten pictures?) of our cat Levi, early in 2004, which was 11 years ago and, you realize, also one million years ago. That was the advent of digital photography in my and Adrian’s life. The thousands of photos stored in my laptop have been taken over the past decade or so, including during Martin’s childhood before autism.

When I take a two-minute break from working and return to find pre-autism Martin on the screen, my first feeling is usually sadness. My son at twelve months, fourteen months, sixteen months, looks directly at the camera and smiles naturally. He shows us what he’s doing. In one beautiful photo, he’s lifted high on Adrian’s right arm as both of them point toward me, the photographer. Within six months of that photo, Martin got lost in himself. His eye contact, pointing, and connectedness disappeared. He stopped meeting milestones for social development. The repetitive behaviors began.

I try to use the sadness from seeing those photos and turn it to resolve. Slowly, Martin is returning. By now he points again. His eye contact is not as sustained as it should be, but it’s there. He wants to connect, not only with me and Adrian, but with peers. We have come a long way.

Yet we still have to far to go. When I think about that, I become angry—angry at all we have to do to reclaim that easygoing little boy, anger at a toxic world that stole him.

Maybe I should change my laptop’s sleep setting. But no. There’s no use in avoiding reality.

Thinking Inside the Box

Earlier this week, Martin entered the apartment with me and discovered that I’d left a box on the kitchen counter. It was nothing special, just an Internet purchase I had not opened since it arrived that morning.

Martin poked the box, looked at me, and asked casually—note that I try to avoid adverbs, so if I’m using one, read it in emphatic italics: So help me, he asked it casually—“Mommy, what’s in this box?”

The question was spot-on. It was relevant, directed (including eye contact), and succinct. He even got the intonation right.

Not impressed? Get a kid with autism.

Martin’s verbal skills are outstanding these past couple weeks. Like any parent of a recovering child, I’m digging through my notes, supplementation charts, lists of interventions, and so forth, trying to pinpoint what underlies the improvement. As usual, I have no idea.

Still, I love it when something’s going right.