Friday, August 6, 2021

It Was a Kindergarten Teacher, Not Doctors, Who Helped With Our Son’s Autism

Autism is such a complex word. I never thought it would be a part of my life.

My first born baby changed my life. I became a mom, and experienced LOVE like I never had before. Like most moms, my baby instantly became my everything. I knew being a mom would change my life, however, I never imagined my life would take a 180 degree turn. 

As my son grew and developed, I knew something was off. But I could not pinpoint it exactly. I did not know anything about autism, but in my heart I felt something was different about him.

Most of the time he would not give us eye contact, nor answer when we called his name. When he began to walk, he would run in circles or pace. These were some signs I brought up to his pediatrician during his appointment. However, the doctor always seemed to have a rebuttal. For example, when the doctor would call him by his name he would answer. Then when I asked about running in circles, he said my son had lots of energy and we should try to take him outside more. So although we noticed signs, the doctor always redirected our focus to whatever milestone my baby was hitting. This made it easier to ignore my intuition.

So I listened to the doctors and continued ignoring my inner voice all throughout his toddler years. There were times I thought about his behavior and felt he was different, but I always pushed my thoughts away. I told myself it was just my imagination, especially since the doctor kept telling me everything was normal.

I felt a lot of fear during those years. I was afraid that if something was actually wrong with my son, I was not going to be able to help him. I was afraid of what people would say. I was also afraid that maybe I did something wrong during my pregnancy, something that had harmed him. 

Five years went by. It was time for my son to start kindergarten, a milestone full of mixed emotions.

I still remember his first day at school and hold on to this memory for various reasons. When it was over, I went to pick him up. His teacher was at the gate, waiting to speak with me. My heart sank. Deep down I knew what it was about. This was the first time I actually heard the word “autism” in relation to my son. I felt devastated, scared, confused, and lost. For the first time, I did not know what to do. 

The long process of getting him help began. It took a whole year for him to get accepted to have an individualized educational plan (IEP). I will always be thankful to his kindergarten teacher because although she was not trained to deal with a kid with his condition, she was so helpful. She kept him in her classroom and supported him. I wish all teachers and administrators were as caring and nurturing as she was and continues to be. People in education should have a passion for working with children. It would make it easier for them to show empathy, and do what is right for all of their students. 

This was also the start of an ongoing battle for a fair and equitable education for my son. It was then I knew I could not do this alone. I have met the most amazing moms going through the same tough battle. We give each other much-needed strength and courage, something I thought I did not have. I learned, I am not alone.

An original version of this piece ran on La Comadre.

Esmeralda Ruiz
Esmeralda Ruiz was born in Colima Mexico, and raised in San José, California. Esmeralda has two children, Carlos, who is 7 years old, and Jimena, who is 4. Carlos was diagnosed with high functioning autism at the age of 5. This changed their family forever. Their main goal is for Carlos to have an equitable education, and live a healthy and happy life.

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