At almost three years old, Gio did not speak.
He did not play and engage with other kids.
He did not look at people. As a matter of fact, he seemed to look right through them.
He carried a baby blanket everywhere he went.
He sucked his thumb all day.
He always stared off into the distance, his mouth hanging open.
I clearly recall the time when I knew something was not right with Gio. He was a little over two years old. We were at my brother- in-law, Dan’s house, and I passed by his room. He laid in bed watching tv in the dark with the volume turned down inaudibly. He hugged his blanket tightly around his neck.
I said, “Hello Gio! Hi Gio, what are you doing buddy?” No response. I walked into his room and stood right next to his bed. “Hi! How are you little guy?! What are you doing? Whatcha watching?”
“Do you want to play outside with Alex?”
I can tell he heard me and that he tried very hard to ignore me. He avoided eye contact when I sat on his bed, purposely blocking the tv.
I asked him what was wrong. Tears started to bubble up and out of his eyelids. He didn’t scream or tell me to move out of the way. He craned his neck to see the tv behind me. He sucked on his thumb harder. His eyes and mood seemed sad, but his face did not wince in emotional pain. Actually, his facial expression showed no emotion at all. While the tears pooled around his eyes, Gio pretended he was okay, but his body language clearly showed signs of emotional discomfort. He was anxious.
I said, “What’s the matter? Can I carry you?” as I rubbed his back?
He continued to ignore me and it was very clear that he wanted to be left alone. I kept trying to talk to him but there was nothing I could do to console him. I did not want to upset him further. I left his room feeling uneasy about his strange behavior.
Gio was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum disorder at nearly three years old. After I was able to get a copy of his medical records, I saw that he had scored very low on all the questionnaires and tests administered to him, based on observations at home and at a specialist in San Francisco. His maternal grandmother took him to that appointment. She wished to be wrong but all of her suspicions were confirmed.
Today, he is in transitional kindergarten. He has made a lot of progress in the last 7 months he has lived with my family. In a matter of weeks, he stopped sucking his thumb. He no longer carries his blanket around. He loves to play with my kids.
He is behind his peers. He has a speech impediment. He needs a lot of continued guidance. I am continuing to work on getting him behavioral therapy that will help motivate him to learn, pay attention, be more helpful at home, and better at socializing with his peers outside the home. He will continue to have many challenges ahead of him. It will not be an easy road.
But one day at a time.
Today, he smiles, laughs and is so easy going. Just like a kid should be.
Silver lining: As Gio is learning this new world around him, we are also learning his. Learning is growing.