‘How did you know?’ My little baby went completely silent, no words, no babble, nothing. There were warning signs, we just didn’t know.’: Mom’s journey with autistic son

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“Autism, the world that changed my life as a mom forever. The word that makes me cry without any warning. The word that makes my little boy ‘different’. The word that has made me who I am today, a fighter.

I often get asked, ‘How did you know?’, and the only answer I have is that I didn’t. I remember the first time someone brought up the word autism to me, I went home, cried for three days, and refused to believe that this could be the path that was laid out for us, for my perfect little boy.

Riley was about 17 months when we started to realize anything. He had words, baby words, like mom, nana, baba, up, the normal ones. All of sudden these disappeared. My little baby went completely silent, no words, no babble, nothing. This was the biggest warning sign to us. As a mom you don’t want to believe it, but it happened, and there was no getting away from it.

Courtesy Nicole Duggan

Looking back now there were other warning signs, I just didn’t know what they were. He never waved bye bye, he never clapped his hands, his eye contact was bad, he hated big crowds and he was so so sensitive to lights and loud noises. All of them could be seen as red flags. I just did not know. Does this make me feel guilty? Of course, it does. As a mom you are meant to know these things, you are meant to protect your child.

I remember going to get his hearing tested, as part of the diagnosis process, and although I knew he could hear a packet of crisps being opened in another room, I secretly hope she would tell me she found something. I was hoping she found a reason why he didn’t respond to his name, a reason why he wasn’t speaking. I was hoping she would tell me there was an issue with his hearing. Because in my head I could cope with that. That would be fine. Looking back now I think of this and I am so angry at myself. It was total ignorance

His hearing was absolutely perfect, and when she told me that I just knew. I knew my little boy was autistic.

After a long, and draining assessment process, Riley was diagnosed, aged 2 years and 9 months. I remember that day, they sat us down and told us he definitely had autism, I didn’t cry. I simply said, ‘I know’. Because at that stage I had accepted it, and I knew I had to fight for him. I could leave this break me down, or make me stronger, for him.

That doesn’t mean that diagnosis was easy, because it wasn’t. It hit me like a ton of bricks, but I pushed that down to get him what he needed. People told me, ‘Ah he will be fine’, or ‘I don’t see it at all’, and the worst of all, ‘Ah he doesn’t look autistic’. And each comment cut like a knife, because they weren’t seeing what I was, an amazing little boy. Autism was just a part of him, be that a big part.

Courtesy Nicole Duggan

It may have turned out lives’ upside down. It may have been the cause of thousands of tears. It may have made me question why him? Why does his life have to be harder? It is the reason I ask would my child ever speak to me? Would he ever be able to tell me he loves me? Would he ever be able to tell me how his day went in school? Would he be happy? Would he ever be independent?

But autism was going to show me how amazing he was, he is. How I wished I could get a moment in his head. It was going to make me the mom I am today, stronger, determined, and happy.

I just didn’t know that yet.

The hardest part for me, as a mom, is how other people react to Riley. How parents have pulled their kids away from him. How they leave him out of play dates. How people ignore him, because he cannot talk. How people definitely treat him differently. This is heartbreaking, but they simply don’t understand. Unless Autism knocks on your front door, you don’t get it.

This is why I love the innocence of a child. Children do not see the difference; they just want to play. Adults, however, do see the differences, and sometimes their ignorance is what hurts the most. They are teaching their children to treat my little boy differently. This should not be the case. He is a little boy. Yes, he cannot speak, yes, he has a lot of sensory problems, yes, he stims, but he should be treated as an equal.

Courtesy Nicole Duggan

I wish all parents understood, and taught their children, that children with special needs are just like them, yes, they are different, but who said different is bad? My little boy is just like theirs, he loves to dance, he loves to play, he loves chocolate l, and he is the best thing that ever happened to me.

Being an autism mom is hard work, there is no break. But would I change him? Definitely not. He is my perfect little boy.

Yes, I wish I could make his life easier, and stop the challenges that are put in his way, but I cannot do this. So, the only thing I can do is stand there next to him and help him to battle through. I know he is going to be amazing. Even more amazing than he is right now, and that is pretty amazing.

There were times when I wished I could change the world for him, and make it a better place to live in. But I have realized, what we need to do is teach people. Help them to understand that Autism is not a bad thing, Autism is an amazing thing. A thing that now fascinates me beyond belief. A thing that I still learn about and will continue to learn about. Autism is now our life. A life filled with therapy appointments, sensory toys, regulation, and a whole lot of love.

Hi, I am Nicole and I am proud to be an autism mom.”

Courtesy Nicole Duggan

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicole Duggan, 31, of Cork, Ireland. Follow her on Facebook here and Instagram hereDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube  for our best videos.

Read more stories from Nicole here: 

‘Do you work?’ My answer was no. I thought about that last night and realized, I was wrong.’: Mom of autistic son reflects on 24/7 job of being a special needs mom

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