Written by Janet Kibler
Edited by Becky Tankersley
Braxton was a typical baby. His birth was healthy and not out of the ordinary in any way (a typical C-section delivery, hardly uncommon these days). As new parents, we worried about all the usual things…how to get him to latch properly, how to get him to sleep through the night, and so on. He hit every milestone on time or even early. He was an extremely outgoing and flirty baby. He babbled and did anything to get the attention of the room. I was head over heels for the little guy.
Sometime between 11 and 12 months of age things began to change. Right before his first birthday, Braxton suddenly rejected all of the finger foods he had been enjoying and only wanted the smoothest of pureed baby foods. I heard the term “regression” before in connection with autism and other disorders and panicked, calling my mom. She suggested he might be teething and would be fine once the worst of the pain and soreness passed. It sounded plausible to me and I didn’t want to overreact, so I accepted it. It was better than the alternative and besides, he was still a happy little guy who was learning to walk right on time.
Then other unusual things started popping up. Braxton got quieter and didn’t really babble much anymore. I didn’t hear “dada” or “milk” (which was his first word). He played very busily and didn’t like to be interrupted. He developed an obsession with pulling up grass and sprinkling it from his hands. He never got tired of it. It was cute at first but after a while became concerning. At 14 months he was the ring bearer in my sister’s wedding. As I stood beside my sister as her matron of honor and watched Braxton being led up to the altar, I noticed instead of looking around at all of the guests, Braxton stared up at the lights the entire time. I thought, “That’s odd!” At his 15 month appointment I asked the pediatrician if he was concerned to see Braxton acting so busy and not making eye contact with him. My pediatrician felt I was overly nervous and reading too much into things. He gave me the screening questionnaire to pacify me, but between him and my husband, I felt pressured to adjust some of my answers. Is he making eye contact? Well, not NEVER, but I felt like he should have been making a lot more. I checked the yes box anyway. At 16 months he was still not talking, but I was a month away from giving birth to our daughter and couldn’t really deal with anything more. I decided to keep an eye on things and gave myself a deadline of 18 months old to see if Braxton started hitting milestones again.
About two months later we were all relaxing together as a family. I was nursing Ainsley and watching Braxton play. He was standing at my dresser flicking the handle over and over. My heart suddenly sank and I just knew Braxton was nowhere near where he should be for his age. Something was definitely up. I turned to my husband and asked him to call the pediatrician immediately and get us an evaluation. He protested, but as I listed all the reasons for my concern I could see his countenance drop as he began to realize what I said made sense and was not an overreaction. Children at 18 months are pointing at things and watching their parents’ faces to take social cues from them. They find pleasure in animals or pictures of recognizable things and can usually identify them by name or the sounds they make. Braxton didn’t care about any of those things. In fact, he only cared about the flashing lights on his toys, not comprehending their larger meaning. He smiled up at the foyer light as if it was his best friend.
We arranged to have him evaluated at Kennedy-Krieger Center. We completed the phone interview in November but the first available appointment was February 10th, my birthday. I didn’t care--I just wanted answers.
We started the waiting game. We prayed, we researched, and we tried to convince ourselves it wasn’t autism. I have been a Christian since four years old. I tried my best to keep faith, but I bounced between faith and anger. I questioned God’s will…a LOT. I was angry with him many times and told him so. I told him I didn’t think that it was fair to put this on us after going through all the fertility treatments to conceive Braxton. We had paid our dues up front and deserved a break. It was wrong to make Braxton struggle with this. I told him many things. But God is merciful and loving. He can handle our true feelings, including our anger, and wants us to be honest with him. He knows what we are thinking anyway, so why try to hide anything from him? He would much rather help us carry our burdens than have us pull away. Despite my struggles and faltering faith, He sustained me.
During this breathless time of waiting, something miraculous started to happen. I suddenly had an enormous burst of energy and began trying anything I could think of to break through the darkness that settled over Braxton. Between caring for an infant, I talked to him all day long… non-stop. I paired it with sign language. I tried all sorts of social games to get him to interact and make eye contact. I played with him hand-over-hand to show him how to properly use toys, what they do, and how they relate to real life. It was extremely intense.
At my mom’s suggestion, I began to jot down any type of progress on a yearly calendar she gave me. I did anything I could to help us stay positive. Then it was February 10th, my birthday. After a long trip to Baltimore and an even longer evaluation, the doctor told us he was confident Braxton would fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. When we finally got back home, we shared birthday cake with my parents, but it was pretty quiet and somber. We were all in a daze trying to absorb the news.
Numb and filled with grief, we asked my in-laws to take the children for the weekend so we could take a little time for ourselves. It truly was like mourning the death of a child. You have this little boy who you know and love and suddenly he is replaced with a total stranger. That Sunday morning in church, I sat there like a stone. I didn’t hear a word that was said or have any idea what was going on. All the possible implications of the diagnosis were hitting me. What if Braxton never learned to speak? Would I ever hear him say he loved me? Would he ever be capable of affection? Would we ever be able to make him understand what it means to have a relationship with Christ and walk in His ways? As I sat there grieving, I felt what could only be described at the presence of God stealing over me like a gentle embrace. I knew the Holy Spirit wanted to comfort me. His presence grew stronger and stronger until I became aware of this all-consuming desire… to worship! I could think of nothing else. My whole situation faded away as it was replaced by a powerful sense of the sovereignty of God. By this time, the pastor was making the call to prayer. I flew up to the altar and fell face down praising and worshiping the Lord. I couldn’t stop! And as I did, the Lord spoke scripture after scripture to my heart and assured me Braxton would be able to fulfill the purpose for which he was created… to worship the Lord and enjoy him forever. I went home filled with incredible peace and ready to face the challenge.
I knew the Lord would do one of two things:
A. He would give me the grace to handle whatever this diagnosis meant.
B. He would heal Braxton.