I am the grandmother of an autistic grandson. My grandson Kaler is now 21-years-old. The journey for our family has been a rollercoaster of emotions, sometimes heartbreaking, aggravating, challenging and confusing. But, more often than not, the adventure has reaped its rewards because of this young man's inquisitive mind and the way he looks at life is often different from our own.
Kaler is my daughter's second child, and unlike the first, the pregnancy and delivery were hard and traumatic. My daughter was sick through most of the gestation period. There were minor problems during delivery, which would later make us wonder if that had anything to do with his condition. He weighed 10 pounds at birth and looked like a three-month-old.
He was a precious little baby with big blue eyes and I couldn't wait to get my hands on him. My daughter lived close enough that we could spend frequent times together. To my dismay, as Kaler became more aware of his surroundings he refused to let anyone but his mother hold him. I was disappointed. However, it did not occur to me at that time that there was more going on than a baby that preferred to be coddled by his mother.
When he was unable to sit up on his own at the appropriate age, we attributed it to his rather large head. We joked that the weight of it was too much for his little body to sustain. Eventually there were other signs that he was not developing on par with other babies his age. My daughter, however, didn't seem to notice. I shared my concerns with her father and we both agreed I should say something.
I dreaded the day, but I knew for Kaler’s sake I had to have the conversation. I didn't know what was wrong, but if my grandson needed help, it had to be done. But how do you tell your daughter that her "perfect little child" may not be so perfect? I gently voiced my concerns and to my surprise my daughter took it well. She didn't break down and cry or tell me I didn't know what I was talking about. Instead, she asked what she should do.
First, she took Kaler to his pediatrician who referred her to a neurologist. After examining him, the doctor stated there was nothing to worry about. Kaler checked out on all of his tests. We were all relieved. I felt sorry for possibly over-reacting. (Please note that in today's world where the medical community is much more aware of autism, I believe the doctor would have been more in tune with Kaler's issues.)
As the ensuing months wore on, Kaler's lack of skills began to once again nag at me. I could not engage him to make eye contact. He didn't respond and giggle like my children had at his age. There was something wrong. I felt it in my gut. So I dared to approach my daughter once again. This time, she wasn't so convinced, but she promised she would discuss it with her husband. When I inquired about his response she told me he was angry and it was best to let it go. He didn't think there was anything wrong with his son.
Finally, when Kaler was two and one half years-old and his speech wasn't advancing normally, my daughter approached the school district for speech therapy. They directed her to the Regional Center where an evaluation was made, followed by home visits and exams through the Center. My daughter also found support from the teacher of her Mommy and Me class. Sometimes what we say as parents can go unheard until it is expressed by others. I never took offense to this. The African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," is especially true when the child has special needs.
Recently my daughter, Kaler and I were enjoying a day on the beach. While Kaler strung rubber snakes through a laundry basket, something he has done since the age of seven, my daughter and I had a chance to discuss those early days. I expressed that maybe I should have just butted out and let them find their way. She was adamant that I had done the right thing. She reminded me that as a parent we don't see those flaws in our beautiful little children. She acknowledged that my persistence helped her on the journey of discovery.