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Spring Baby

We had been living in Bloomington, Indiana, while my husband Scott finished graduate school in Classics. Around the time he got his first job offer, we found out I was pregnant. Late in the summer of 1990, we moved to Berea, Kentucky – the foothills of the Appalachians. Scott would be teaching Greek and Latin to young people who were often the first in the families to go to

college. And we’d be having a baby far from our families and friends.

When a new acquaintance asked me about my due date, I answered “February 15th .” And she said, “Oh lovely! A spring baby!” I said, “But that’s still winter!”

She patted me on the arm and said, “By the time your baby is ready to go play outside, it will be spring!”

And in the mild midwinter of 1991, Oscar, anxious to be here, was born about a week early. That was 32 years ago.

Learning to Learn

Oscar was quiet, but bright and interested in the world around him. When he was an infant, I never thought he would have any developmental challenges. That was so far from our thoughts because he was new to us. Everything about him was new and strange and wonderful. 

For instance, Oscar didn’t crawl. Why would he when he had a very efficient one-knee scoot that left his hands free, but still kept him low to the ground? His doctor thought he was fine.

By the time he was 17 months old, he walked perfectly. No falling. Just walking.

Also around that time, he was not talking or sounding out words but would make streams of gibberish and vocalizations as if they were parts of conversations.

He was so upset, plugging his ears when heard the vacuum cleaner.

And he was not making eye contact.

Shortly after moving to Kansas City in 1993, I learned that the public school system could do a readiness assessment for early childhood education. Someone from Parents-As-Teachers came to our apartment and gave Oscar a series of tests of fine and large motor skills. She concluded that yes, he qualified for early childhood education. Early childhood special education because

he was a year or two behind on these skills.

After another round of tests, we were told, “I’m a teacher. I can’t make a diagnosis, but his behaviors seem autistic.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder is different for every individual. But there are some typical behaviors associated with it :

  • Lack of eye contact

  • Sound sensitivity

  • Closely focused interests

  • Repetitive gestures and sounds.

  • Delays in some motor skills

  • Delays in speech

And there are more things that I could list. But these were the most prominent ones that Oscar demonstrated at the time, as we went through the assessment process.

Some thought we should do anything possible to cure him, or that he might grow out of it. We joined The Kansas City Autism Association and attended educational sessions offered by the Northwest Missouri Autism Consortium.

We read books.

Some descriptions of the disorder matched our experience of Oscar’s behaviors. There was a sense of validation, but none of these books promised help or even relief, without heroic or self-and-family-sacrificing actions.

It didn’t matter. We listened and watched our child and he showed us what he needed.

Oscar loves fans. At first his need to spin the blades of a fan was something we didn’t want him to do. I was worried he’d hurt himself on the screen or accidently turn it on while it was plugged in.

And some autism experts at the time thought that obsession and perseverative behavior was bad. Should be prevented at all costs.

But when we took his fan away, he was inconsolable.

So much for the “experts!”.

Fans and other spinning things were the way in.

I took the screens off. I cut the wires and the plug and threw them away. We used the fan and other things, especially beads, as a way to get Oscar’s attention, to be able to talk to him. We could use it as a reward, “First we go to the store. When we come back you can play with the fan.”

And I would sit there with him. If he got tired spinning the blades, he would grab my hand to spin them.

At first, I thought having a child with special needs was like that anxiety dream where you have to take the final exam – and of course you’re not prepared, because you’ve never been to that class!

I like that analogy better than, “You bought tickets for a trip to Italy, but ended up in the Netherlands…” that well-intentioned friends would tell me.

Because your child is not a final exam or a trip you take and when it’s over, poof!

Let’s fast forward and get to spring here and now. 

We’ve been watching Oscar blossom for 32 years. He recently told me that he’s accepted his autism diagnosis. He has respect for other people with autism and other disabilities. He’s got friends and a job he likes caring for the pets people bring to the PetSmart Pets Hotel.

Much of this is thanks to The Mission Project: Transportation to and from work, Personal care attendants,  community building activities and the goodwill of the members, staff, and board.

Oscar’s been in his own apartment since 2015. He’s living a life we could not have imagined for him when he was first diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Our spring baby is all grown up!

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