Our Autism Journey | The Early Days | Written by: Melissa Custalow
Hi, my name is Melissa Custalow and I want to share our journey of raising our son, Eli, with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I was 27 years old when I carried Eli and thankfully my pregnancy and delivery with him was uncomplicated. We joyfully welcomed our sweet boy at 39 weeks, 2 days at a healthy 7 pounds, 5 ounces and 19.5 inches long. His eyes were brown and he looked just like Daddy!
Being new parents and all, every experience with our happy and healthy baby boy was all-new to us. We didn’t know what was normal, abnormal, delayed, advanced or anything in between. The only thing that mattered to us was that he appeared so happy and the doctor reporting he was healthy at each check-up appointment. Currently, our sweet boy is 10 and a half years old and as I reflect back on these early days, I see so many signs of Autism that I didn’t see then.
A typical day with Eli during his infant months were he and I at home or out shopping. He was a very quiet and content baby. I thought, oh how lucky are we to have such a good, quiet baby! This was probably our very first sign of Autism. I wasn’t aware then that he should have been babbling, cooing, and making sounds. Naturally, he laughed when tickled, cried when hungry, and smiled when I would play patty-cake with his hands or feet. But other than this it was very, very quiet in our home.
When Eli was about 7 months old, I started to feel like something was different about him. I couldn’t explain it and I didn’t know why, but my instincts were telling me that he is just different somehow. Not a bad different, and not an awful feeling something was terribly wrong. But just a feeling I can’t explain. I tried to tell his pediatrician at his 9-month checkup that I had hunch that he may be delayed. My concerns were dismissed and the doctor assured me that everything was fine. Afterall, Eli did speak his first word, “Mama”, at 8 months old and was able to roll over and sit on his own.
Some exciting developments came along as we neared Eli’s first birthday. He crawled!!! Oh, what a relief that was to this Mama who has been waiting for this day! I reported this new skill to his pediatrician at his 1-year checkup, and I mentioned again my concerns that I felt this new skill was a bit late and I still had this nagging feeling that he had delays. But as usual this feeling was dismissed.
It wasn’t until his 15-month checkup when this all changed and my concerns were heard. It was because Eli had only 2 words at this age, Mama and Dada. Other than these rarely spoken words, our home was still very, very quiet. Being a new parent still, I didn’t think to tell the doctor that Eli preferred to play in one spot, with one toy for much of the day. This was probably the second Autism sign that I didn’t see. He was perfectly happy to sit quietly playing with a cabinet door to open and shut over, and over, and over. But I can tell you, finally having my concerns heard, I had such a sense of peace and reassurance that my feelings were validated. Since our doctor suspected there was a speech delay, he referred us to our local Early Intervention services department.
Please join me next month, for the New Year, as I will share more of our journey with you and the amazing, positive impact Early Intervention had for our sweet baby and our family.