A few days later I had to break the news to Brandon’s pediatrician. She was shocked. She had no indication since Brandon had met his milestones and was verbal before the last few ear infections. He was very social, loved his Gymboree classes, and interacted with everyone in the family. Truly, he was a little ham.
The timing of Brandon’s diagnosis was interesting, never coincidental. The next night happened to be the PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a nice way to put autism) Parent Support Group meeting. At this meeting, newbie’s like ourselves had the opportunity to go into another room and receive information regarding autism and the next steps we could take. At the same time, the “veterans” had a discussion group on another topic of interest. It was the first comforting step we had taken since Brandon’s diagnosis. There were people to help and guide us through this… new journey. The next day I got on the phone and called everyone. I needed to understand what autism was specifically and how it affects my son and our family. Secondly, I needed to know how to help Brandon. I was determined not to let any dust fall on my shoes. The one thing I established from my research and conversations was that early intervention is the key, so I had Brandon involved in therapy within a couple of weeks.
Timing again… A few nights later as Norman and I lay in bed staring at the television in despair, a St. Jude’s special came on. The two-hour program was to help raise awareness and money for an organization that assists families with children who had cancer. When Norman and I had started watching the show, we were in despair. During the show, we realized that at least Brandon is not in pain and he is still with us physically. It was our first breath of fresh air since his diagnosis. Yet again…timing. A week later we had an appointment at Texas Children’s Hospital, where Brandon would start occupational therapy. We had to use all our strength just to walk in the front door. We walked in with a dark cloud hanging over our head, dripping dark drops of “your child is autistic.” When we looked around, we saw a seven year old little boy with burns over a major portion of his body. We saw a typical little boy climbing up stairs. We saw a little girl with cerebral palsy who could barely hold her head up sitting in a wheel chair. We saw many more children who humbled us. When we walked into Texas Children’s, we walked in with feelings of dismay, thinking, “Poor us our child has autism.” We realized while watching these other children, that there are some who have far greater challenges than Brandon and some who have less. Nonetheless, this should not be our focus. “How can we help Brandon?” should be our focus. It was our first moment of acceptance and healing.
Our next step was to share Brandon’s diagnosis with my immediate family, so I called a family meeting. Everyone was staring at me with this little smirk. They were remembering the last couple of family meetings, each time someone announcing a pregnancy. However, this time it was different. As I started talking, my brother and his wife had huge smiles on their faces, waiting with anticipation. “Brandon has been diagnosed with autism and they say it does not look good,” I said and then watched like a camera going across the room, taking still pictures of the look on each person’s face. The huge smiles and glittering eyes slowly faded into disbelief and shock. I briefly explained what autism was. The once glittering eyes flooded with tears, sorrow, and anguish; then the comforting hugs started. I remember my brother saying enthusiastically, “We will beat it!” I thought to myself, I would be happy to, I am just not sure what autism is. Additionally, the reality was, the more I read the less others really seemed to know about it too. The best reference the “EXPERTS” could give us, was to watch “Rainman.”
The “EXPERTS” also told us the best thing we could do for Brandon and ourselves was to place Brandon in an institution, walk away, forget him and go have a healthy child. This was the kind of recommendations the “EXPERTS” gave. Of course, autism was not cool then. It was only 1 and 10,000 children that were diagnosed with autism with a higher ratio in boys. As opposed today, 1 and 60 children being diagnosed with autism.