Friday, March 23, 2012

Forever Changed

How to start.... well, at best let me start at the beginning of our sometimes crazy but usually fun journey. My husband and I met while he was stationed in Germany. At the time, wow that was more than a decade ago, I was a student at University of Nuremberg in International Business Management. Back then I never imagines the twist, turns, joys and sometimes heartbreaks life has in store for me. I imagined myself as a successful Business woman in some big company ...

Instead, I married my husband after dating for just under a year ... to be faced with monumental changes in the months that followed ... switching Universities and majors, moving to a Military Installation, deployment, adjusting to the "American way of life", protocols, military etiquette, sharing an apartment with someone for the first time ... it made my head spin and adjusting to all this was not always easy . But fortunately I met a number of wonderful woman that I now call friends to guide me through all of this and who were always there to lend a hand, give words of encouragement and to set my head on straight. I think it also was helpful that I am not afraid of change and challenges- an attitude that has served me very well in our subsequent 5 moves.

Fast forward to the 2nd of May 2011:

Diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Classic Autism

Reaction: shock, disbelieve, relief and certainty

In December 2006, my son was born. Quite a large baby, but perfect in every aspect, blond hair, big and bright blue eyes that looked curious into the world. Almost exactly one year later, our little girl completed our family with her large brown eyes, wispy brown fly-away hair and her gentle disposition. By the time our baby boy was 3 years old I had noticed some things that seemed a bit off, but when I asked the pediatrician about them, he was diagnosed with a slight speech delay due to being raised bilingual, no referral for further evaluation was given. We had just arrived in Korea, the 3rd home for my kids and the 5th for me as an Army wife. I was told not to worry and moved on, at least temporarily. about 6 months later, somewhere around September 2010 I noticed that my son did not try to engage others like his sister did, I did not think much of it since he was always pretty independent, happiest playing alone, never "craved" being held, usually friendly but a bit distant. What did alarm me however and what I somehow had put out of my mind was the fact that his speech was not advancing like it should. This was pointed out by my mom who is a teacher and it alarmed her greatly. Having not seen our little boy in 5 months or so she thought that in fact his speech development did not advance at all and encouraged me to get to the bottom of it ...

After fighting the same pediatrician for another 6 months without results for a referral for further evaluation, a family practitioner made me aware of a developmental pediatrician who "visits" Korea a few times a year to evaluate all the Army kids that have suspected delays. So we got on the wait list for the next visit in February and went in for the 2 hour appointment on 2 May 2011. My husband was supposed to accompany us, but had to cancel the night before due to demands at work (not a big deal really, I am so used to that and really did not count on him being able to go in the first place).

So off I went for the 90 minute drive to Seoul with both of my kiddos in tow, thinking that I finally would be told that yes my son has a speech delay and yes he needs speech therapy and we would go from there. Never ever had autism at that point crossed my mind!! So we sat down to speak with the Doctor, he interviewed me for about a half an hour, milestones, behaviors, problems etc. Then he just interacted with both of my kids and tried to engage my son specifically, he wasn't having any of it of course. He was just interested in playing with one specific truck and would not share or play with the Doctor or his little sister. Nothing new, totally expected. In the last 45 minuted of the appointment the Dr then proceeded to question me about more specific behaviors:

"Does your son line up things?" *yes*
"Does he like to see things spin?" *yes*
"Does he get upset when there is just the slightest change in routine?" *yes*
"Does he repeat certain body motions?" *yes*
"Has he difficulties sharing?" *yes*
"Problems relating to others?" *yes*

I saw a pattern there and after the 10th or so question I asked him straight out: I know you suspect something, just tell me please! the answer floored me: "Your son shows all the classic signs of Autism." *Deep breath, don't you start crying now! But he doesn't rock back and forth... and he does speak...breathe, don't you loose it now!* and then I snapped out of my thoughts and started to hear the Doctor again when I heard the word high functioning and I had to ask to repeat...

The last 15 minutes of the appointment are a blur in my memory. I just know that I came out of the meeting with 3 handwritten pages of notes about what to do next and on top of that list was to get back to the USA. In Korea the US Army does not have the capabilities to provide therapies or appropriate support for my son.

I don't think I will ever forget that day, with the tearful calls to my husband, parents and friends. But I will also remember that this day brought me so much relief and certainty about what is going on. No more guessing what it might be, a direction to go forward and the clarity of mind that there are a number of things that I needed to do for both of my children.

2 May 2011 was the day that changed our family forever ...

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I just would like to make clear that the views I express here are my own and do not necessarily reflect my husbands or the Army's point of view. With this I would like to remind every reader to freely express their opinion, but to respect my husbands safety and Operational Security as a whole. I reserve the right to delete any comment, link or expression without notice or comment. Thank you very much for contributing to my page!