It’s true what they say…that hindsight is 20/20. It is easy to look back now after 10 years and notice all the little signs and clues that now seem so blatantly obvious.
Back when Zach was born, I was a fairly new mom-Zach is my 2nd, and my oldest was only 18 months old. Zach was a very easy baby-especially when compared with Liz-the oldest. He was content, always happy to be around family. He was soothed by the white noise of the dryer-nothing too unusual, but when added up with other things, I guess that would be one of my first signs.
My husband Brian coached high school wrestling when our kids were small and I took Liz to all the meets when she was little. Zach was born in the height of wrestling season; so needless to say, his first match was when he was around a year old. I still remember the first time we walked in to the gym-the JV match was going on, and it was pretty noisy. He screamed. And I mean screamed. Here again, another sign. As a result, we didn’t go to very many matches because it was just so miserable for all of us.
Fast forward a couple of years-Zach was now 3, and I was ready to go back to work. I am a school teacher-I teach special education. Anyway, his first day of daycare arrived, and I brought him to his classroom. He froze. Literally froze behind me. I chalked it up to his shyness, but every day was the same. He was always very hesitant and timid, and I could never quite figure out why. As kindergarten approached, his teacher expressed concerns about his handwriting. He was a leftie, and it was not coming very easily for him. Here again, another sign, but I attributed it to his reluctance to do puzzles and play with legos.
When he started kindergarten, we enrolled him in a private school so he could be in all day kindergarten, since I worked all day. After about a week and a half, the school called and told us that we needed to have a meeting. My husband and I went into the meeting and were met by the teacher and the principal of the school. They proceeded to tell us, in front of Zach, that he could not continue to go to school there because they felt “he had autism and just did not fit in”. We were in complete and total shock. To this day, I dread any sort of meeting at school.
We pulled Zach immediately and enrolled him in our public school, where I began to request an OT to meet with him to deal with his handwriting issues. The school stonewalled a bit, but finally, by the end of the year, Zach was placed in special education for speech issues. Finally, finally, I thought we would get him some help. First grade began, and Zach was in the worst possible setting (once again, a benefit of hindsight). He was in an old classroom where you could hear the pipes in the walls. Every few minutes, you would hear a loud knocking sound. I think most students got used to it, but of course, Zach never did. About midway through the year, I took Zach to a private OT. He diagnosed Zach with SPD (auditory and visual over-responsivity, proprioceptive under-responsivity), and it was like a light had turned on. Finally, I had answers. Finally, things made sense.
Things at school continued to grow worse, however. I shed many tears and spent many sleepless nights worrying about him and what we were going to do. After 1st grade, I got a new job at a new school and we took Zach to the STAR center in Denver-an experience that I will be forever grateful for. We enrolled him in another school-one that was closer to my school.
Finally, things began to get better. Zach was now in a school where he could blossom, and blossom he did. At our first parent meeting, the teacher told us how much she loved Zach, and I cannot tell you what a relief it was to finally have another adult appreciate Zach for what he can offer.
We still have our challenges, but we have grown closer as a family, and we have learned a lot in the process. Zach is an extremely insightful kid, and it is sometimes heartbreaking to hear him give voice to his challenges.
Our favorite “Zach-isms”
“Sometimes, I feel like a computer that has too many windows open”
“I don’t have sensory problems, I have sensory gifts”
“Sometimes, I wish I was an ordinary kid that didn’t have to worry about OT and how to stay focused in class”