This time of year is a bit melancholy for me. In a way, March marks one of the most wonderful events of my life: Sam was born two years ago this week. But it was in the days following Sam's birth that I opened my eyes and saw, really saw, Oliver. I had wondered before that time about his speech -- it was not developing as I thought it should. We were speaking two languages at home and I tried to reassure myself that it was just taking him some time to sort it all out. There had been a time after Oliver turned two when I asked a lot of people about language development in bi-lingual children. I think I even did some Internet searching on the topic but I don't remember ever feeling either relieved or more concerned. Still, at that point life was, overall, pretty good and somehow I let go of my concerns and focused on other things. I was really enjoying my pregnancy, for one. I hadn't been sick a single day the second time around and I was excited that I had finally committed to giving birth at home, as I had wanted to do with Oliver. I was also pretty busy at work organizing a rather large conference that was planned for mid-February. So the long and the short of it is that when I reflect back on this period of time, two years ago, I feel like I failed Oliver. Because there were other things I could have picked up on. Like the fact that play dates never really worked out because Oliver spent the whole time playing by himself as far away from the other children as he could get. And he absolutely could not be convinced to share a toy or to take turns. How much better would it have been for him if I hadn't been so self-absorbed and had followed my instincts? We'll never know, I guess.
I will never forget my great disappointment when Oliver returned from my mother's house soon after Sam was born. We were all crowded into my bedroom cooing at the baby and Oliver wouldn't even look at him. I had wondered before I gave birth if he really understood the whole concept -- that there would be a new little person in our house. I read all the books to him I could find and took him around to meet every new baby I knew. But I wasn't prepared for this total and utter lack of interest in (awareness of?) his new brother. Oh well, I tried to console myself, it is just his way of dealing with a bit of jealousy. Honestly though, he didn't seem all that jealous. It wasn't as if he were competing for my attention. That I would have understood.
Nik went back to work soon after Sam was born and I was left with my two small people. I had really looked forward to this time during my pregnancy. How wonderful, I thought, to get to spend all this extra time with Oliver before returning to work. It wasn't long though -- two days? Three? A week? -- before I really saw Oliver for the first time in months. I spent one whole day just watching him. There was a toy cupboard that my grandfather had made my mother when she was a child and Oliver had recently inherited it. The only thing Oliver wanted to do, it seemed, was climb this thing. It was sitting in front of the window and I was terrified that he would get entangled in the cord for the blind, fall and strangle himself. Every day I told him ten, fifteen, fifty times to get down. He ignored me and I pulled him down. Over and over again. I tried explaining. I tried yelling. I probably even tried spanking him, which I don't believe in but I was becoming infuriated. Nothing seemed to phase him. He didn't listen or care.
When Nik got home that afternoon I started to tell him what I was seeing and, as so many other people had done half a year previously with the language thing, he told me I was over-reacting. I was judging him too harshly, comparing him to other children. Everyone develops at their own pace, he told me. I wanted to believe what he was saying but then I started listing all the things that had been troubling me. Not only was he not talking much anymore but he used to know all his colors and the shapes and some letters and could name all sorts of vehicles but I didn't even hear those words anymore. "How can I teach him things if I don't even know what he knows", I asked. Plus I couldn't tell if he was hungry or thirsty or cold. I just had to guess at those things. I couldn't take him to the park anymore because I spent the whole time chasing him down and dragging him back to the children's area. And, I pointed out that he just completely ignored us most of the time. I was growing fairly upset at that point and standing over Oliver as he piled block on top of block, with Sam in my arms, I started yelling his name. Actually, I screamed until my throat hurt. I was about two feet from his head and he never once looked up from his blocks. He was two and a half.
A friend who has a daughter a year older than Oliver had told me some time previously that speech language services through the school district were free. She was concerned about her daughter's speech and so had taken her in for an evaluation. This, I suggested to Nik that day, might be just the thing for us to do. Somebody who knew something about language development would hang out with Oliver and then they would tell us that he was just taking an extra long time to sort things out but that in the end he would benefit from knowing two languages. We just needed to be more patient. Nik agreed and I called the next day.
That phone call set in motion a whole series of evaluations that went on for a couple of months. I sort of knew after the first one at the school that we were talking about something a bit more serious than I had imagined. But still it hit me like a punch in the stomach when the classroom aide in the trailer where I had taken him for observation casually said to me: "I'll bet it's autism." When I left there I dropped Oliver off at my mother's house, returned to work, googled autism and sat staring at my computer screen for the rest of the day in disbelief. The utterly dismal picture of autism that I saw before me bore no relation to my beautiful, joyful Oliver. She was wrong, of course. And yet. ... I couldn't deny that the more I read the more things about him were starting to come into focus.
We've come so far since that time two years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago but at the same time still very fresh. It took Oliver more than 7 months to acknowledge Sam. And by that I mean even look in his direction. Today he tolerates him. But Sam is very persistent and adores both of his brothers. And he always puts Oliver first. If I give Sam a cookie he also demands a second one and then races to give it to his older brother. If I tell him we are going to the store or the park he always says: "And Oliver, too!" I often wish that the two of them had a more traditional sibling relationship. I really want that for Sam. But I can see around the corner and I know that there is a special power in their relationship and I will always be so glad that they have each other in their lives.