My son Reece is featured in the recent commercial from Autism Speaks about the importance of early intervention and I couldn't be more proud of him. He is a happy, well-liked at school, deeply empathetic, - and very intelligent 15 1/2 year old - who didn’t speak until he was almost five.
When I look back on home movies, I am actually stunned at myself that I didn’t realize how unnaturally quiet he was (it wasn’t until I had twins, two years after Reece, that I realized just how loud babies are!). We always knew something was different about Reece, though. He was incredibly agile and was running by 10 months old, but all he was interested in was climbing into the sink to play with the water facet or opening and closing all the kitchen cabinets. He was constantly on the move and seemed hyper focused on how things worked. “Oh my goodness, you have a future engineer on your hands” was something I heard over and over again… but he rarely spoke a word or even made sounds for that matter. After the hearing tests came back okay and we knew that wasn’t the problem, we embarked upon a two year journey into finding a diagnosis for him….and it was not easy to get.
These days, if you hear the work “autism”, chances are you either know someone affected by it or have at least a basic understanding of what it is….but this was not the case back in 2001 when Reece was finally diagnosed. It was a hot August day in Pasadena, CA and I had a horrific headache throughout the entire meeting. “Moderate to severe autism”…”may never speak”….”special education”… I heard bits and pieces and felt as though my insides were being vacuumed out of me at an alarming rate, along with all the air in that room. After searching for so long to find an answer, I thought I would be relieved or at the very least, READY, to hear it. I wasn’t.
I immediately threw myself into finding out everything I could about autism and both my husband and I vowed to do every single thing we could to make sure Reece had a fighting chance. A very well respected neurologist at Children’s Hospital in LA told me he would probably never talk, and if he did, maybe not very much … and to make sure I got him into a good special education program. She spent about 10 minutes with us and came to that professional conclusion. I later had a psychologist tell me that “kids with autism don’t get better….he must not actually have autism” after seeing how Reece showed such a HUGE improvement from age five to age nine. Then there were the teachers who told me he wouldn’t be able to learn math because he couldn’t memorize his math facts. I’m a very, very stubborn woman… and I don’t take no for an answer very often. There was always something inside me that kept pushing me to find answers… and so we tried many, many different therapies, treatments. Some worked, some did not. An insane amount of money was spent and long hours of therapists in my home for four years were endured. There were times I felt we were making huge leaps and then Reece would cycle back, as most kids on the spectrum do.. and he would regress and then we would start all over again.
But there were so many pieces of awesome along the way… I vividly remember the day he spontaneously told me he loved me. He had barely been able to string together 2-3 words but woke up one morning after climbing into bed with us in the middle of the night because of night terrors, and smiled that AMAZING smile and said “I love you, Mom”. He held my gaze for a good 20 seconds and I walked on air for months after that.
Today, Reece not only speaks (a LOT), he builds computers from scratch, is teaching himself code and how to program, earns money for doing tech support for people in our community, has already designed the logo for his “green tech company” that he one day will own that will, in his words, “change the world”, has a deep love for other human beings and is trying to figure this whole “girl” thing out. (THAT’S been interesting!) He astounds me on a daily basis… I am literally stunned by things he tells me and how much he just “knows”, and I’m very excited to see where this next phase of the journey takes us. SO proud of this young man!