As parents, we hear all the time how horrible it is to let your kids watch copious amounts of television. But what if, through television we are able to cross the border of no words to talking in sentences? My son, Tristan, has Autism. At 17 months old, he stopped talking. He used to say words for milk, Grandpa, eat, various colors and shapes, letters, animals and their noises, plus many other things. I remember taking him Trick or Treating at 15 months and he would say his version of “trick or treat!” at each house followed by “thank you.” Both of these words were very mispronounced because he was so young, but the point is…he said them. Then at 17 months, all language stopped. He wouldn’t sign the few signs he knew either. He wouldn’t say “bawk bawk” when we gave him chicken for dinner or “Gra Gra” when his Grandpa walked into the room. But 17 months was the same time that his brother, Graham, was born. So we pushed the language backsliding to the back of our minds. “He doesn’t want to talk because the baby doesn’t have to” we’d say. It sounded right.
At almost 3 years old, Tristan still wasn’t talking. We started to notice that he avoided eye contact with strangers and ignored other kids. I had an itch at the back of my mind when I read an article about Autism. The itch said “this is Tristan.” After a brief questionnaire at his pediatrician’s office, a speech evaluation, and finally an Autism eval, we had a diagnosis. Autism. The itch had been right.
But Tristan started talking. It wasn’t anything we said. It was from Disney movies. He would sing “Beethoven’s 5th Symphony” from Fantasia 2000 when they put it on Netflix. He even sang it at his special Pre-K teacher to get her attention one day. Now, Tristan says sentences that the characters say and then looks us in the eyes so that we repeat him. Progress. I don’t know when I would’ve heard Tristan say “Happy Birthday” if it weren’t for the Disney short films collection that is on Netflix right now (Anna sings happy birthday to herself in the Frozen short). Now that he is in therapy 32 hours per week, plus 4K (half days), we’ve been hearing more and more. He has even begun repeating us when we say things! It’s amazing!
I truly believe that Netflix and Disney have helped him get this far.
Now, we just received news about Graham, who will turn three on December 5th. Graham has been in the Birth-3 program since he was two. He never spoke as well as Tristan did before he was 17 months and we wanted to help him as soon as we could. But Graham is the exact opposite of Tristan, so we never dreamed that we would receive the news from his IEP evaluation at his soon-to-be school. Educational Autism. This means that although Graham doesn’t have a medical diagnosis of Autism, he is showing all the signs, so the diagnosis is given so they can begin treatment when he starts school after his 3rd birthday. Can you imagine getting this news? Again? Luke and I can and it’s definitely a punch to the stomach at first. We know that Graham hasn’t changed. He is still the same amazing and lovable kid. I know this. Luke knows this. But Luke still tried not to cry in front of the evaluators giving the diagnosis and when he called to tell me. And I still felt my heart jam up into my throat as I tried not to sob all over my keyboard at work. People tell me it’s ok to mourn what could have been. Or not to feel guilty. That it wasn’t anything we did.
I get home that night and give my kids a hug. Nothing has changed for them. We are watching the Disney shorts again and the one about Nessie comes on. The boys like the part where the friend of Nessie says “Only wee babies cry…” and then coughs all over the place. They look at me to say the line with the character. Tristan repeats what he can. And Graham copies the character’s ragged cough and grins at me.
I grin back.
It’s going to be ok. Because the boys are right. Nothing has changed.
I also want to thank my gigantic group of online mommy friends (you know who you are). You helped me get through my initial freak out over the whole thing this week. I don’t know what I would do without your love and support through both good and hard time. I love you all!
I am not affiliated with Netflix or Disney in any way. I just really like them.