At 4:33pm on October 2, 2009, our precious son John Aidan “Jack” came into the world with a booming cry that made our hearts sing. Though two weeks early, Jack weighed 9 lb. 2 oz. and measured 22 inches long – he was a healthy, strong, beautiful child.
At 6 months old, Jack became enamored with books and would listen to us read to him for hours each day. When he could sit unsupported, he would lay a book across his lap, ensure it was turned right side up, and flip through its pages with his tiny, curious hands, carefully studying each word and illustration. At 18 months old, Jack had a vibrant vocabulary and was talking up a storm. He could identify sounds as faint as a pin drop and delighted in listening to music. At age 2, he could identify the full gamut of colors and animals (everything from maroon to orangutan), count in English and Spanish, recite dozens of books (including their authors and illustrators) and songs from memory, and identify dinosaurs by their Latin names. He had a giggle that was infectious and a smile that lit up every room. He loved to snuggle, hug, and blow kisses to anyone and everyone who came into the warm, welcoming comfort of his precious light.
In the Summer of 2012, my husband and I began to notice some eccentricities and puzzling quirks in our 2 1/2 year old son. Obsessive perfectionism, followed closely by intense bouts of frustration, repetitive noises, and perseverative behaviors became a daily norm. Our sweet Jack began having emotional breakdowns daily over seemingly insignificant matters such as dropping a cheerio on the floor or mommy accidentally skipping a word in a story. Not to be confused with tantrums, these meltdowns were so intense that Jack’s screaming, erratic thrashing, and sheer panic would last for hours at a time leaving him exhausted, trembling, and begging to be held out of fear of not understanding his inability to cope with the world around him.
Though incredibly bright, Jack could not answer “yes” or “no” to simple questions or choose between two objects. He could not go through a diaper change or dress himself without thorough instructions and a great deal of assistance. He could scale a ten foot climbing wall (which he viewed as a puzzle), but could not make it through our house without walking into door jams, bumping his head into counters, or falling out of chairs. He could detail dozens of stories to the letter and count to 100 but could not eat an orange without breaking down because of the texture, nor tolerate any food above room temperature. Jack loved watching other children play but struggled to join them, and the creative art of pretending eluded him. He could recall the logo, name, and location of every store in the city from memory but could not walk into one of those stores without being completely overwhelmed by the noises, objects, and people around him.
Emotions eluded, confused, and enraged Jack. Despite his best and most genuine efforts to understand them he was befuddled by them and would scream while pounding his fists in the air in a confused rage whenever someone “emoted” around him. Jack also developed phobias and fearful fixations. These phobias led to night terrors which scared him to such an extent that he could not get to sleep at night without a rigid and demanding routine, and, eventually, he could hardly sleep at all.
In order to cope with a world that rendered him distraught and frightened, he began banging his head, bouncing on his bed, and rocking in a baby swing repetitively and obsessively each day. He could rock, bounce, or bang his head for hours on end if we didn’t gently coax him to another activity.
After a great deal of research and prayer, we decided to have Jack evaluated by our pediatrician, a pediatric neurologist, and an occupational therapist for behavioral and developmental delays. The resounding answer among the three of them was Autism.
Those who know me well know that I rarely cry, but when we received Jack’s diagnosis, I first cried tears of joy because we had answers to questions which had eluded us for months, but those tears of relief were followed shortly by tears of great sadness. Our beautiful child who was full of so much promise and life was being driven mad by gaps in his otherwise brilliant mind.
This journey is a long and difficult one. Autism is confusing, frustrating, heart wrenching, and sometimes downright infuriating. It is also miraculous, beautiful, illuminating, and faith-building. My dear friends and family, I pray that in being honest with you and sharing the both tender and tenuous strands that knit our precious Jack together we may find healing and see the beautiful design which God has so lovingly stitched for our son and for our family.
I am broken but blessed, and not without hope. The Lord who knows me better than I could ever know myself, and Who knows every precious part of my Jack, gives me that hope. For He formed Jack’s inmost being; knit him in my womb and I will praise Him because Jack is wonderfully made.