When Tate was an infant, he behaved much like my other babies had. Occasionally I would scratch my head over something that seemed odd, but there were no sirens going off in my head or anything like that. I do remember Tate getting very upset when I changed his diaper from day one. The other babies had cried sometimes when I changed them but not to the degree Tate did. He got panicked anytime I had to remove his clothing or take the diaper off. I thought he was feeling unsafe or cold but I had no idea that these kinds of sensory issues could be indicators of autism.
Tate never learned to nurse, although I had planned to feed him as I had my other babies. He just didn’t want to put forth the effort it took but he would take a bottle. I eventually gave up and used the bottles. I saw him as a baby and as a toddler ignore a growling stomach many times if it took too much work to satisfy his hunger. Once when he was a toddler and had a sore throat, he went for three days without eating and two of those hardly drinking anything. Just before I was going to take him to the ER and request an IV, he began to drink again.
Tate cooed, smiled, laughed and jabbered on time. He later learned words and began to talk on time. He actually had a pretty good vocabulary with some big words before he began to lose them around age two. As a matter of fact, Tate learned, almost, too quickly and was interested in learning things that were not age appropriate. He learned the alphabet when he was very young and he recognized numbers and the spelling of his sibling’s names as a toddler.
One indicator of autism is that a child will not play with toys appropriately. That might have been one of the first big things I noticed. Had I known that was a symptom of autism I would have began to suspect something a little sooner than I did. Tate enjoyed ribbons and he loved the ties on his crib’s bumper pads. He would play with them instead of the toys I gave him. My mom sewed some long strips of material so he could have them to play with outside of his crib. We thought it was funny, sweet, a little quirky, but still no sirens were blaring in my head. Later, when he could crawl, I would often find him running his fingers up and down an electric cord. His favorite cord was on the vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cord was round instead of flat. Tate was terrified of loud noise and hated the vacuum if it was turned on but he could not resist the vacuum if it was quiet. I used to say he had a love affair with the vacuum. There were a couple of times I remember shaking my head and saying “maybe he has autism.” The only thing I knew about autism was that kids with autism had strange interests and performed repetitive behavior. It was not until Tate was two and a half that I learned what autism was and wished I had paid attention to what must have been my uncomfortable feeling that something was wrong. Saying “maybe he has autism” was probably my way of voicing my concern.
One of the most unusual behaviors Shawn and I noticed and discussed, long before we knew it meant anything at all, was Tate’s limpness. He was just “there” when we picked him up. He didn’t hold on, he didn’t move to situate himself on our arm. He didn’t lean into us. He didn’t even adjust his weight or grab hold of us when we went around a corner. We had to do all the work. We wouldn’t have known this was “different” except we had five babies before him. We knew that babies hold on to a shoulder or lean into the one carrying them and they are not nearly as hard to carry as Tate was. He was like a sack of potatoes; and a sack of potatoes is a lot harder to carry than a typically developing baby or toddler. Tate didn’t seem to have a sense of WHERE he was in space. He also didn’t figure out how to move his body to make himself (and others) more comfortable. Not that he would have CARED about making others more comfortable because he also was not learning that people around him were not having the EXACT same thoughts and feeling he was having. But THAT is another topic for another day.
That spatial awareness has plagued us for a long time. You cannot learn to ride a bike if you cannot balance yourself and adjust to movement. Then there is something as simple as giving a hug. Hugging Tate is like hugging a big beanbag. He just doesn’t know what to do with his arms and if we can get him to put his arms around us he doesn’t put any oomph into a squeeze at all. He does try because he knows that hugs make me happy but he is almost eleven years old and I’ve never really gotten a good hug from him before. It is like he is trying to hug me but his arms have been shot full of Novocain so he cannot make them do anything but hang. He might want to exert some kind of pressure but he doesn’t know how much force to exert because he doesn’t feel things the same way we do. One of the best presents I could ever get in this lifetime would be a hug, a real hug, from my boy Tate.
Another post you might like: Look into my eyes
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