My personal journey with undiagnosed autism actually began not quite 54 years ago. I was born very early one rainy morning, according to Mom. She had suffered hard labor pains for many hours. My childbirth was so traumatic that she vividly remembers the labor and delivery even today. "That was before they had C-Sections, "she said. Almost all in this account is based on what Mom has shared with me.
My mom was sixteen when I was conceived nine months earlier. She had hoped that a pregnancy would cement the bond between her and her eighteen-year-old boyfriend. My bio dad. Instead, when he learned that his girlfriend was expecting, he reacted! Trying, I guess, to perform a “natural abortion” on Mom, he had kicked her in the abdominal area. Mom remembers her pregnancy with me as “just awful.” She had to stay with the parents of my bio dad, and she was not happy staying there. Because of the family situation at her own home, her Mom, my late grandmother, did not let Mom stay there to prepare for me or to give birth. “I just hid,” Mom says. Far more stigma was attached to teen pregnancy than is the case today.
I cried nonstop as a baby. “It was not normal infant crying,” Mom says. So how could even the label of colic explain it? She tried to nurse but says, “It did not agree with you.” She has little recall of the kind of infant I was behaviorally. Both my walking and my speech were delayed. Past records acknowledged my speech delay but blamed it on Mom’s “overprotective parenting” and stated that I showed a “capacity to talk.” I had to walk with twisters and Mom took me to a local children’s hospital, which treated children from low-income families, regardless of a family’s ability to pay. I was diagnosed with “mild cerebral palsy.” This affects me this day in my feet and legs. I have dealt with bunions since even early adulthood. As a toddler, I experienced my first seizure, and was diagnosed with epilepsy. Other than these things, little about my first four years can be remembered. As Mom was only seventeen and just trying to survive, she no doubt was not looking for any of those infant traits that are linked to autism today.
At age five, Mom enrolled me in kindergarten. It was a disaster! The teacher counted me as an “impossible child” because I could not follow instructions and no doubt, did not interact with the other children. When Mom came to pick me up when the time was up, the teacher told her, “You have the worst-behaved child I ever saw.” Both she and I responded to this by crying. This is the first time that Mom remembers any behavioral issues or differences. She regrets beginning me in kindergarten then. “Some kids are just not ready, she says. This is the time when the autism traits in many children begin to show up or intensify. At that time, Mom took me to a to a professional at the children’s hospital, I received a psychological screening and I was diagnosed with “obsessive-compulsive neurosis.” MY records state that Mom was concerned with my “distance in human relationships.” These misdiagnoses point to the existence of undiagnosed autism, with my obsessions and my dislike of social interaction. Yet the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) did not exist back in the 1960s.
Mom enrolled me in a special class setting. It was a class for children with “emotion problems. I detested the “emotionally-disturbed” educational label that I was to carry for the rest of my school career. It made me sound like a freak or a dangerous person, not someone that you wanted to have around! Yet with nothing else to explain my differences and with no diagnostic tools that made any sense, the labels I wore growing up had to do. Mom also attributes my differences, which she calls my “problems,” to my brain not getting enough oxygen at birth, and in my very early childhood, to her accidentally dropping me where my head scraped the pavement. I have a pronounced bump on my hairline, over the top of my right shoulder. No professional whom I have shown this bump to can offer any explanation.
I can remember only bits and pieces of my very early childhood. Just like Mom. Yet like all the rest of my years, what I remember and what I have been told, have left me with enough questions to lead me on an energetic pursuit for this explanation since my daughter was diagnosed with an ASD many years later. Yet thanks be to God that due to professional confirmation of the presence of an ASD in my past and present, I finally have an explanation. I praise God and I thank my beautiful, precious daughter, without whom this would not have happened.