T.J. was born in 1989 in North Conway, New Hampshire. His dad and I were young parents, and he was our first child. Everything was new.
As his mom, I was home with him the majority of the time, and knew my son inside and out. T.J. always had a love for ‘oddities’. He preferred the vacuum store at the mall to the toy store. He played with tooth brushes instead of cars. He had undying devotion and trust in me but was hesitant with the rest of the world. And then, without any notice, at around two years of age he just stopped. His babbling turned to grunts. His smile became a distant stare into space. I immediately had him tested for everything under the sun. This was before Autism or Asperger’s were household names. Had I not reached out to an Early Intervention Program, and more specifically, to Joanne Kelley, I fear that my son would have never left the cloud he was in. Joanne used positive reinforcement with in-home therapy to find my son’s voice again. It started slowly, and was extremely frustrating, but the two plus years that my son hid behind his personal wall started to melt. His ‘first word’ was ‘Bert’ (for the Bert finger puppet he loved so much). Before long he was not only speaking in full sentences, but was identifying cars on the highway as we drove home to Massachusetts. It was as if while he was in his cloud, he was always paying attention.
T.J. was always a bit hidden in a fog, although he excelled at school. He insisted on wearing his shirts buttoned all the way up, and developed odd ticks. After 911 he became compulsive about drooling for fear that he would ingest a poison in the water. I was a single mom and tried sports and therapists and even connected him with a judge at the Court I worked at where he conducted a mock trial. I would try anything for him to ‘fit in’. He was a very handsome young man, but with the blinking eye and awkwardness, it was difficult for him to meld.
Fast forward to 2014. My son is a 25 year old PhD student in Bio Statistics at Brown University. Until he began writing papers during his undergrad years, I never understood the extent of his OCD. I used to think that it was funny how he would insist on things being organized just so. When he began sharing his papers with me, detailing his counting steps to class, and being late because he would have to recount his steps over and over, I really started to ‘learn’ my son. He studied Psychology so that he could figure himself out. He took a mix of medication to help with anxiety and decided he preferred to ‘deal with it’. He still calls me for some simple questions, but for the most part he is just being an amazing man. He is most definitely on the Autism spectrum, living every day, and excelling. And when people commend me on my boy – I turn to them and say ‘Oh no, this is ALL him’.