My son Mateo was diagnosed with autism in 2006 at the age of 2.5 years.
At the age of two he could repeat words, but had very few of his own. When Mateo was 18 months old he could work the DVD player all by himself but would not say his name or respond to me when I would call him. My husband and I were worried it was his hearing. In 2006, autism wasn’t in the media as much as it is today. Pediatricians were not conducting the screenings they do now and really were not even as knowledgeable as they are today about autism.
We voiced our concerns with our pediatrician who ordered hearing tests for Mateo. Of course, he passed all of them. We were relieved but we also knew that there was something else going on. Our pediatrician told us that his sister probably just does most of the talking for him, not to worry some boys are just late talkers. She said, “Let’s wait until his two year appointment and see where he’s at.” But the signs continued. He refused to wave, he would wander away with no concern of where I was, he would repeat sayings he heard over and over, he would sit in front of the cabinet in the kitchen and repeatedly bang the door. But he also smiled a lot and looked me in the eyes, he would build really cool train tracks across the house, played pretend and laughed at silly faces. He was happy unless he was trying to communicate something he wanted, and then he would cry huge tears of frustration.
I took one of those autism screenings online, but the answers were mixed. He had some traits, but not all. I eventually learned that autism grows with your child. Traits that weren’t there yesterday would appear in the blink of an eye. New behaviors would appear out of nowhere and they continue to do so.
When he was finally diagnosed, it was still shocking. I cried a lot, I worried so much for his future and I wanted to know why. Why did this happen to my sweet little boy? I wanted someone to blame, something to blame, some sort of answer. And of course I started googling like crazy.
“What causes Autism. . . ” “Autism Cures” . . . “Autism Therapy”
And of course the word “vaccines” started popping up over and over again. And I sat and I thought back to 18 months and when the signs started, and I went back further to one year, to 6 months. And there were always little signs of autism. He wouldn’t point to pictures in books or come excitedly share his toys with me like his sister did. He was delayed in some things and advanced in others. I never thought vaccines were to blame. But many parents did, many still do.
The debate continues on any autism site you go to. Any autism Facebook page I visit has parents completely torn on the vaccine debate. All are seeking something to blame for autism, all looking for some sort of answer. And I understand that I really do. I know that when the psychologist told me Mateo had autism I really wanted something to blame.
But more than something to blame I wanted something to help my son. I wanted something to help give him words and a way to communicate with me. And with his diagnosis that was so hard to hear we got all of those things. He immediately started speech therapy, ABA home therapy, occupational therapy and PECs (Picture Exchange Communication). And my husband and I learned what we could do to help give him those words, how to give him squeezes to help calm him, how to encourage imaginary play and distract him from banging cupboards.
My son is now 9 years old and happy and healthy. He has had every recommended vaccine and knowing what I know today I wouldn’t change that. I really worry about children whose parents have been so misled. Parents are putting their kids at risk because of a fear of autism. My son does struggle at times. I is not always a walk in a park. Autism is hard, but it’s nothing in comparison to the pain of losing a child to a preventable disease.
It angers me when I see celebrities and politicians still saying vaccines cause autism even after so many studies have been conducted and proven otherwise. I would love to hear politicians and celebrities talking about the accomplishments of people with autism. I would love to hear them talking about the lack of services for teenagers and adults with autism. I would love to hear them talk about ongoing support for families and the cost of having children diagnosed with autism. I would love to hear them talking about the rise in autism and the decline in services provided by the state and by health insurance companies.
Instead of putting more children in danger and spreading diseases by focusing on vaccines, we could turn the conversation into what we can do to support individuals on the autism spectrum and truly make a positive impact! One amazing organization that has truly helped Mateo is called Skate MD. Volunteer skateboarders of all ages come out and teach kids with special needs how to skateboard. Other sports are challenging for Mateo, but coming together with his peers and learning to skateboard has helped him with his confidence and his balance. So grateful for Skate MD and the amazing people who put it on. It’s free to families and completely run on donations and volunteers. The people in this organization support Mateo. We need more focus and energy put into positive help for these kids, and less time spent talking about discredited theories of causation.