At home in 2010, I stumbled onto a television show about children on the Autism spectrum. As the experts discussed the challenges facing Autistic children, I thought, Man, that sounds like my Wyatt.
At the time, Wyatt, now 18, was in the fourth grade and undiagnosed. For the previous two years, he had seen a therapist for behavioral issues, such as tantrums and not listening to teachers.
I told the therapist about the show I had watched on Autism spectrum. He suggested sending Wyatt to a friend of his in Tyler for testing.
A psychiatrist, who had an autistic son, was first to test Wyatt. He detected numerous signs and symptoms related to the Autism spectrum.
I wasn't distressed: I was relieved. A light turned on. I no longer was groping in the dark.
I remember driving back to Grapeland from Tyler, after receiving Wyatt's diagnosis. For the first time, I had a sense of direction about my son: I knew I would have answers that would help me help him be the best he could be.
My relief, however, quickly morphed into frustration. No one in our school district, or community, really understood Asperger’s, a high functioning form of autism.
On the outside, Wyatt looked like he had everything going for him. He was a good-looking, intelligent, compassionate boy with a sense of humor.
People thought he was prone to meltdowns and tantrums because I had spoiled him. They figured his crying, head banging, and ticks were cries for attention.
They didn’t understand he experienced sensory overload, sometimes having full-on anxiety attacks. He would often cry from emotional overload. Kids made fun of him. Some teachers made odd statements in class, such as, “Everyone, let’s clap for Wyatt today because he didn’t have a meltdown.”
There were lots of hard days for both of us.
From the time Wyatt was born, I felt the frustrations of trying to understand him.
My grandmother ran a daycare, so I was around many children while growing up. I knew, quickly, my son wasn’t like them.
He looked perfect: 10 fingers, 10 toes, perfectly round head. He was a handsome baby, but he was different.
Unlike most babies, he didn’t want to be swaddled, but he didn’t want to flail freely either. He didn't seem to know what he wanted.
He never wanted to be left alone. Someone always had to be within eyesight of him. Otherwise, he would panic and scream uncontrollably, until someone re-entered his world.
He didn’t like bright lights or loud sounds.
Wyatt pointed more than he talked, but I didn’t worry. He walked at eight months; developmentally, he seemed to hit all the checkpoints.
Wyatt was prone to long periods of crying and screaming – without an obvious reason. Sometimes, he would throw himself on the ground.
Some days, he would scream so long and loud that I would just scream back. Then he would often take a big breath, sigh, and want to be held.
He's just spoiled, I thought.
As he got older, however, I noticed he didn’t improvise play activities like other children. He liked extreme schedules: The more mundane a routine, the better. He would watch the same movies, in the same order, day after day after day.
New activities or schedules could stress him. For changes to go smoothly, we would need to discuss them in advance, in detail, to avoid anxiety or bad moods.
Eating also was complicated. He wouldn’t eat anything white or mushy.
Even at an early age, however, he could consume large amounts of information. At 5, he knew more about dinosaurs than did most museum curators.
He would answer rhetorical questions and struggled to understand cartoons. “Why is this funny?” he would ask.
He wanted to re-read books over and over and over. I finally came up with a plan: For every three new books he read, he could re-read any one he wanted.
He never liked large crowds and would often want to hide under the table at restaurants so people he didn’t know would look at him.
He also had lots of ticks. I wrote them off as bad habits: tapping his feet and making weird throat noises and eye movements. I would stay on him, until some of them stopped. Others, like foot and hand tapping, he does to this day.
I also noticed he didn’t really interact with other children, or act or process information like other children his age. He was prone to meltdowns, especially when things didn’t go the way he thought they should.
After he was diagnosed, I never permitted my son to use autism as an excuse. “The world will not meet you where you are,” he said. “You will have to work harder to meet the world.”
For us, it didn’t matter what others believed. We knew. And we are better for the knowing.
My son’s autism is minimal compared to some. He's brilliant in many areas but struggles with math and writing. He’s also socially awkward.
We couldn’t get help from the Grapeland school district, but a lack of funding for special education programs is a statewide problem. Our school district failed to recognize Wyatt’s diagnosis, even though we had paperwork, and three positive diagnosis from psychiatrists.
Assisted by Wyatt's father's health insurance, we sought help, privately, from a therapist, therapy coaches, and psychiatrists. We never gave up. We made our diagnosis a road map.
In 2018, Wyatt graduated from Grapeland High School. Elementary school to high school graduation was a long road, but it passed quickly.
My son plays flute and attends Trinity Valley Community College in Athens on a music scholarship. Wyatt lives in Grapeland with me.
We still have our struggles, but he’s doing very well. He plans to become a virologist, a field of bio-chemistry.
Parents must always remember they know their child best. If you think something is wrong, seek direction.
Don’t stop until you have answers. Advocate for your child. Learn all you can about your child’s diagnosis. Follow your map to a better future.