Managing Editor's Note: Cathy Jameson is on a well deserved summer sabbatical with her five kids - so it's not really much of a sabbatical is it? :)
By Cathy Jameson
I have problems. They’re not going away.
I’m an addict and I’ve been in denial for many years. I hide behind labels while retreating with internal pain. I’m trying to change but it’s something beyond my control. Who am I? I am a parent of a child who falls on the autism spectrum disorder and I am scared. I am also tired. Somehow I am able to remain hopeful.
Several years ago, my son Ronan started to change. If I could rewind his early childhood years, I’d bring myself back to the summer of 2003. Ronan was seven months old and gorgeous. He was developing typically. Ronan lit up a room with his smile. He was chunky, tan, content, normal. He nursed well, ate even better, played and laughed all the time. That summer was the last summer I felt things were normal for both of us. A friend captured Ronan’s beautiful being on black and white film. It’s those baby pictures I love dearly as they remind me of who this child of mine was and should be.
The summer of 2003 was spent at the beach with stopovers to friends along the east coast. We relished the idea of having time off together, of being a typical family, living the good life now and having thoughts of us growing old with our kids. The only agenda we had was find time to see friends, relax, and watch our daughter Fiona, then 22 months, and Ronan play. We had new playgrounds to explore, different tastes to discover and the ocean air to breathe in. It was the perfect chance to watch time go by. Ronan learned how to roll and get into things like all normal babies do while Fiona found her love of dolls. We enjoyed two months of vacation and none of us wanted to go home to the regular routine of things. Toward the end of the summer, I slowly started to pack our bags, say our goodbyes and make plans to get back to real life. I had a list of things to do with one task I wish I’d never completed.
I’ll never forget the phone call I made just a few days before we left the beach. I called our local pediatrician to schedule Ronan’s next well-baby visit. He was nine months old and I clearly remember asking, “He’s due for his next round of shots, right?” I was a doting mother doing only what I had been told to do: I had a shot record for each child and had to fill in the boxes. I remember talking to the nurse, letting our small-town practice know we were on our way home and to please schedule Ronan in the following week so he could catch up on his shots. As we left the beach, heading south, Ronan was about to leave us mentally and physically.
Ronan’s health and development started to change, and not for the better. I had no idea what caused these changes but I recognized they were not normal. I knew the phrase “boys develop later than girls” could only explain a fraction of what I witnessed in my child. Over the next year, Ronan began to develop gastrointestinal problems, food intolerances, sleeping problems, language delays, gross motor/physical issues just to name a few. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, had eating problems and started to have behavior issues. He was no longer the happy, contented, play-appropriately-with-toys child I once knew. He was an irritable, slow-to-do-and-learn blob. Something changed my child and I needed to know what it was.
Back then when it came to the Internet, I knew the simple basics and how to email. I visited only a few websites, none of them medical or health related. Beyond that, I had no interest in technology. The drive to find out what was wrong with Ronan turned me into a computer nerd. I had no idea what a search engine could do but I quickly found out how important a site like Google was. I was able to start thinking like a medical student, probing and hypothesizing and later researching every ailment children have. None of them fit Ronan’s profile.