It was the brightest corner in the office and the saddest moment in my life. It's been nearly an hour and my son was still in with the psychiatrist. I desperately wanted to be a fly on the wall. I got up to ask the receptionist how much longer but before I could, the office door flung opened. Joel ran out like a hurricane. His eyes were dark, full of anger and rage. Joel’s howling screams brought the receptionist to her feet. Joel came at me with both fists flailing about his head; suddenly, with the speed of 5 Tasmanian devils, he turned his anger towards the Psychiatrist.
The Doctor was no match for my son. I wanted to run out of the office but I’ve seen this side of Joel before. I leaped over the small coffee table, knocking the magazines on to the floor. Instinctively, I grabbed Joel's shirt with one hand and covered his mouth with the other. I could feel Joel's teeth in the palm of my hand. The doctor raised his eye brows and stepped back as though struck. I lifted my son and buried my face in his chest. This gesture seemed to mean something to Joel. He lost his strength in my arms. Exhausted, he wrapped his arms around my head and began to cry. The Doctor compassionately put his hand on my forearm and a tear fell down my cheek as I told him of my struggles.
Joel and I were curled up on the sofa, playing. Brightly colored toys, puzzles and books lay on the sofa and on the floor in front of us. I'd slowly sound out words. I repeated this process for several minutes at a time. But my boy doesn't respond. He stares blankly at me. My heart flutters at the thought that Joel is almost 3 and hadn't uttered a word. Ever!
My solution was simple; keep at it. I moved closer to face Joel, my mouth inches from Joel’s eyes; I slowly repeated the same word over and over again - Mama. Joel grows anxious. He kept fidgeting. I straighten out his body and tried again. He put up a good fight. I gave in. He bolted to his bedroom, faced the mirror and began to scream and cry at his reflection. I felt the sting of Joel’s pain. I was stuck in this scary place, numb with fear. My perfect little boy wasn’t perfect any more.
I was determined to find the cause and cure of my son's frustration. Our appointment with his pediatrician was scheduled for later that day and Joel was in a great mood. The drive to the sitter’s house was uneventful. Joel sat quietly in the back seat. I felt optimistic about this new babysitter. She was an experienced sitter. As I approached her house, I felt a surge of emotion; optimism and dread. After carefully explaining Joel’s short comings and the fact that SHE was sitter number 18 and he had an appointment later that day, I paid her a week in advance and she agreed to give it a try.
When I pulled into the parking lot at work, my boss had been waiting for me at the front door. This is never a good sign. The sitter was on the phone sobbing uncontrollable. And before I could say another word, my boss pushed me out the door. I took a deep breath, got into my car and drove. I leaned far over the wheel, clutching it tight, praying Joel and the sitter were OK.
The paramedics were already there. I closed my eyes as my heart sunk. I feared the worst. The front door was open and I could hear Joel's cry and the muffled groans of a woman. It was the sitter. The paramedics were working on her wound. My face softened with concern and guilt. The sitter turned her head towards me and waved her hand in dismissal. I grabbed Joel's hand and held on tight. The sitter shifted a bit and angrily explained how Joel's behavior changed from unresponsive to disturbing. And within a flash, he attacked her, latching onto her stomach, teeth first.
Sobbing, I called the pediatrician and she referred me to All Children's Hospital Medical Center just a few miles away. As I entered the hospital, I felt battered and raw inside. Unable to face anyone along the way, I briskly walked along the corridor and signed in.
It would be on this day that my son was diagnosed autistic. The psychiatrist's words sounded so sharp, I felt stabbed by them. The pain literally took my breath away. It took a moment to make sense of it all; I had found the cause of my son's frustration but there is no cure.
I love you Joel.