I’m looking down at the keyboard as my fingers are about to type, and I can’t help but be completely overcome with emotion. February 28, 2011 will forever be the most indelible date in my life. Yes, my wedding date holds unparalleled happiness, and yes, the birth of both my girls, Cali and Ava, mark treasured moments in my heart, but February 28, 2011 opened my eyes to a whole new world. On this day, Cali was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Shortly after Ava was born, Casey’s parents made a trip down to meet this new little gem. Rather spontaneously, Casey’s mom asked if I had noticed Cali’s lack of speech. Honestly I hadn’t. Our life was changing pretty drastically with an exciting move to a new home and the birth of Ava. Not to mention Cali is my first child, so I did not have much to compare. My mother-in-law suggested getting Cali’s ears tested, which seemed wise to me considering how she had a very difficult time responding to her name. We made the appointment with an audiologist and in my mind we were on our way to a quick fix. The appointment day came and her hearing was absolutely perfect. My next thought was, ‘Okay, she has a speech delay. Let’s get her in with a speech therapist.” Not wasting any time, she began seeing a therapist once a week and again, I was relieved to be on our way to a quick fix. Speech therapy started around late September. I can vividly remember thinking how impressed our families would be at Christmastime when they would see Cali again and hear her speaking in complete sentences as a result of her time in therapy.
But then, October rolled around and the speech was not moving forward at all. At this point if someone would have mentioned autism I would have been completely dumbfounded. Well, someone did and I was completely dumbfounded. My younger sister called me one evening and started the conversation something like this, “I’ve been debating all day whether or not to bring this up, but I think if I didn’t I would regret it for the rest of my life.” She then went on to relate to me what she had recently been studying in one of her classes at SMU, the signs of autism. As she was going through the list I could not deny all the checks Cali was getting. No eye contact: check. Outrageous fits: check. Delayed speech: check. No back-and-forth sharing of sounds and facial expressions: check. No back-and-forth gestures (i.e., pointing, showing, reaching): check. The list went on. At this point I was still completely calm because of course while she had some signs, she was definitely not going to have autism. The main reason my sister felt a nagging urge to call me was because of the professor’s strong conviction in early intervention. Every day spent without therapy was, in the professor’s mind, invaluable time lost. Our conversation ended and I immediately went to tell Casey. Honestly I didn’t know what to think, so I was hoping he would give me some answers. Not the case. His thought was I needed to relax and, if necessary, we would get her tested. Why did I need to relax? Because, in his mind, just like my initial thought, Cali was fine and she would not have autism.
November came and each new day brought stronger evidence of the signs. Or maybe it was my new awareness bringing them to light. Either way we could not deny reality and would not deny help to Cali. I contacted Autism Journeys to set up a consultation. After the consultation, we had a three-part evaluation; a meeting with a speech therapist, occupational therapist, and psychologist. The psychologist was the final evaluation, so the previous two (which were done on separate days) were almost a prep for what was to come. Sort of…
February 28th came and we were unknowingly starting a new, undiscovered, twisting and turning road ahead. The psychologist had a two-hour session planned with Casey, Cali and me, but obligations pulled Casey away after an hour so Cali and I finished together.. Tests were administered, questions were asked, and very quickly the therapist had an answer. Cali had autism. With my throat closing and eyes welling up, I was wishing I could go hide and cry like an absolute baby. Instead, all that came out of my mouth was this, “Are you always this upfront with families? How do most people react to this news?” Questions are normally asked in order to get an answer, but I think I was just spitting out words to cover up my true feelings. My mind is blurred as to what transpired between asking those questions and getting in my car. I do, however, remember very vividly what happened in the car. My wish came true.
The crying was definitely due to some sadness, but the tears did not seem to pour down until I looked up into my rear view mirror and saw Cali. Minutes before, I had just been told that this beautiful little girl had autism, and yet in that moment I had never loved her more. My heart was so full. So full in fact, that when I called Casey no words would come. I was completely silent. I hung up and texted him: I’m crying and can’t talk. Can you meet me at home? After 30 minutes of crying, I didn’t have any tears left. We made it home and Casey was there ready for the news. No, let me correct that. Not ready, waiting. “Well, Cali has autism,” I said. He sat leaning back in a chair with a straight look. No emotion really. Or maybe he was just like me with his throat closing up, not wanting to let his true feelings out. Although no words were spoken, I knew one thing for sure. Cali was and is his world and he loved her.
A year and a half has passed since that diagnosis and I find myself more secure and confident with this new reality. Casey and I didn’t waste a second delaying any therapy for Cali. We went full force and never looked back. It was a hard thing emotionally and mentally because we never had time to sit and digest all that was happening, but our minds were made up. We would give Cali every possible chance to succeed and close the gap. That was that. Period. No questions. And what do you know? The gap is closing. I can’t help but dream about her future and honestly when I do I see this…
Cali excelling in school, having a best girlfriend she giggles with over boys, going to college, and marrying the man of her dreams! Lofty? I don’t think so.
We love you, Cali.