CHAPTER ONE - The Sky is Falling
Help! Help! The sky is falling!
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Dr. Veale tilted her head to one side, eyebrows furrowed, observing me and my unusual response, or, lack thereof. I’m sure she expected anger, sobbing, and a multitude of questions.
“I’m fine,” I said.
“That’s a lot to take in,” she added, before she looked back down at her papers and signed her name to them.
She didn’t believe me, I could tell. She was expecting a reaction of some kind; crying, shouting, anger. She looked up and stared at me, giving me a moment to digest the shocking information that I had just been given. Bracing herself.
Facing her in my plastic chair, hands folded on my lap, I nodded my head, slowly. She probably thought that I hadn’t heard right.
“I’m fine, really. I’m just glad to finally have an answer,” I managed. Had my voice started to catch in my throat?
It was true. Mostly. I was happy to have an answer and finally have a name for it. It didn’t matter what it was called. If he had it, he had it. At least I knew what was to blame.
I was fine in the sense that I was not overly shocked to hear the diagnosis confirmed and spoken aloud. All the traits my son had been exhibiting for the past nine months were synonymous with a diagnosis of autism. The incessant hand flapping, lack of eye contact, and failure to acknowledge his own name had alerted my family physician, Dr. Colleen Maythem, that something was awry.
So here it was, my son, Darcy, two years and ten months old, was autistic.
The label that had inspired fear and worry since it’s suggestion in Dr. Maythem’s office months ago, was now forever attached to the little boy who stood at the table in the centre of the room, lining up toy cars.
I could see him in my peripheral vision performing his solo act of play that never involved anyone else, lost in his own little world.
“Have you ever known anyone who has autism?,” Dr. Veale was asking me.
I began shaking my head and looked at the floor, “no.” It was hard to look into her eyes now. I noticed a box of Kleenex on the desk, within arms reach.
The only person I knew who had autism was Rainman. I had watched the movie, starring Dustin Hoffman, for the first time as a teenager who was only looking for entertainment value. The second time I watched it, just a few months prior to this appointment, I could have cared less about entertainment. I scrutinized the characters on the screen. Was this what I could expect? I had become more watchful and skeptical of Darcy’s every move and sound. Was it typical or atypical? If I tried really hard and worked with Darcy every day could I alter this pending diagnosis? Could I stop this from happening? Something, all those months back, had begun to gnaw at the pit of my stomach.
“I am going to put together some pamphlets and information for you to take home and read,” Dr. Veale was saying again. “You’ll want to initiate contact with professionals in your area as soon as possible to start intensive behavioural therapies. Remember that the first five years of age are the most crucial to a child’s development.”
First five years? Crucial. Of course I knew those years were crucial. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation drilled that into my head every time their commercial for Sesame Street played across the television screen. I sat up straighter in my chair and did the math in my head. My heart beat faster and my hands felt clammy. Darcy was nearing his third birthday. Five minus three equals two. Two years left of those first crucial five. I was already behind. Oh my God! I was already years behind. It felt like the starting gun had been fired and I wasn’t even at the starting line while everyone else had sprinted off, leaving me in the dust with this ball and chain of autism around my ankle. I wasn’t conditioned for this. How does one prepare for this sort of race? A race against time. A race to fix my son.