"I did not know I was lost."

In addition to our son's developmental delay, he also has autism. This diagnosis was discussed very early on in his life, but for many reasons, he was not formally diagnosed until he was an adult.

Alan was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (also on the autism spectrum) when he was about nine. Because there were so many mixed signals in the process of an accurate diagnosis, it was hard to put a finger on what was going on with our son. Kind of like the forest and the trees. The individual trees (symptoms) were so diverse and myriad, the forest was invisible.

The first time we saw Alan, he was spinning a pair of scissors on the floor, crowing with laughter. His attention was completely on those scissors, and the motion was obviously very engaging. Did he look at us? No, and not for a long time. But he would go back to scissors, or a lid from a jar, or anything that would spin, and be completely enthralled.

There are 14 signs of autism. Alan had every single one of them...

He had a music box, which he would wind up and play, rocking with a pillow that he called "Peedoe". I swear, the thing had a face. You could look at it, and it seemed to be looking back. He has always been more connected with objects that with people. Alan still has "buddies" that he keeps with him, and sleeps with. One of them, Dot, has been with him through through two surgeries, and one month-long hospitalization. Dot has been sat on, snuggled, and washed until she is a little limp, but she is still a good friend.

Alan had no real fear of danger, was and is insensitive to pain, and responded inappropriately to sound. There were lots of challenges (as if we needed more) in parenting him. When he was about 4, he wandered off at a friend's house in a wooded area. Neighbors and family members began to search, calling his name over and over. But what did he do? When he heard his name, he became silent. He would not respond. That same inappropriate response in evident when you need to know something REALLY important. Even if you are in a panic, direct confrontation will get you nowhere. I was was talking to a young mother of a child with autism a few weeks ago about her son's response to direct questioning or conversation. You have to go through the back door. She said "If I thought he had gotten into poison, for instance, I'd have to say (as I was making dinner) 'By the way, did you happen to drink poison today?'"

Alan enjoyed being outside, and I let him explore as much as was safe, but kept a wary eye on him (no real fear...). However, when he was about 11, he disappeared from our home. I looked around, walked up and down the block, no Alan! In a panic, I called my father-in-law. He came over and helped me look, but 20 minutes into it, we knew we would need reinforcements. I called the police, and described Alan to them. They began the search and in about an hour, a police cruiser stopped in front of our house. Alan got out - barefoot, grinning from ear to ear - waved at the policemen and walked calmly into the house. I thanked the officers. They were laughing. They had found him at a construction site about six blocks from our house. He was looking at the building, having a grand time.

I told him he had to write a thank you letter to the policemen. He labored over it for quite a while, then brought it to me. It said:

Dear Police,

Thank you for finding me when I was lost.

I did not know I was lost.



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