By Joanne Kehoe
I have four children. Anthony, my oldest, has autism.
When Anthony was a baby, I used to think about milestones and when he would reach them. He sat up really early. He started rolling over and crawling early and got right up and started walking and running right on time. His teeth came in when they were supposed to, much to my chagrin as a nursing mother. He ate food from a spoon at six months.
I don’t know when I thought it strange that he wasn’t talking. I mean, he DID talk — a little. He could count pretty high with me signing the numbers. He could say colors that I would sign. I have a video of him saying, “E, I, E, I … ho,” while playing with a tractor that played the Old McDonald song.
At 18 months, I took him to the pediatrician for his well-child checkup and explained that he wasn’t talking and that other kids in playgroups who were his age were flying by him. The doctor said to me, “Look how smart he is. Keep reading to him and keep talking to him.” So, I did. I read a LOT. I talked to him a LOT. I remember walking with Anthony around the block by our house after it snowed, and I thought to myself that if I fell and bonked my head, I would be in trouble because Anthony isn’t going to call for help. He never called, “Mommy!” from his room. That was one thing I thought was strange.
Finally, we started Anthony in First Steps, the early intervention program. Three therapists came one morning to evaluate him. That was the first time I looked at Anthony as a stranger might see him and it didn’t look good! They said he should have developmental, occupational and speech therapy. They were throwing the book at him. At the end of his involvement with First Steps, and before he moved on to therapy at the public school, he was diagnosed with autism. By then, we knew it was coming, but it still sort of stung when the psychiatrist asked, “Has anyone ever mentioned autism to you?”
That was almost six years ago, and we have undergone a lot of attitude adjustments since then. Anthony has had to get used to three little sisters, one louder than the next! We have had to adjust our attitudes and our expectations. We still celebrate milestones with Anthony – so many I couldn’t even begin to count. They are just different than the milestones that I thought we’d be celebrating, and, Lord knows, they are sometimes later than I thought they’d be reached! But he is so smart, and so wonderful, and we all love him so much – and I don’t mean just his family, but all his therapists and everyone who comes in contact with him. And those milestones mean just as much and probably more than the milestones that I thought he’d reach all those years ago when I was narrating my life and waiting for that first word.
Joanne Kehoe is a mom of four, including Anthony, a learner at Little Star.