Guest blogger: Julie Hornok
When my daughter, Lizzie, was eighteen-months-old and still not able to speak a single word, I blamed myself. I was so busy catering to the every need of my demanding three-year-old that I often left Lizzie playing contently alone. She was the easy child, and for that I was grateful. But now, I worried I hadn’t played with her enough or praised her for her accomplishments. I worried she didn’t feel the love I had for her or know how I adored her.
Lizzie started to become more distant from us when she was about nine months old. It was small things–she stopped crawling around the room after her big brother, didn’t answer to her name, wouldn’t look me in the eye, and mindlessly flipped through books for hours.
I was sure that I just hadn’t spent enough time or focus on her. I knew that with enough effort, I could get her to start talking. I called my mom to take care of my son and with a picnic basket in hand, we walked across the street to the neighborhood pond. I had all day long, and I was going to make Lizzie talk. This little girl did not realize how stubborn her momma was, and we were not leaving that pond until she said, “duck.”
My plan was brilliant! I was going to command her full attention, we would break the simple word “duck” down into even simpler parts, and I was prepared to wait her out. I would bribe her with treats, withhold her favorite toys and do whatever it took to make the talking happen. And when she talked, this was going to be a great story to tell at her high school graduation party someday.
Me: “OK Lizzie. Today you are going to talk. Listen up because all I am asking is for one simple word out of your mouth. Lizzie, say duck. Say duck Lizzie.”
Me: “OK. OK. Maybe I am rushing you a bit. First, let’s just look at the ducks. Lizzie, look at the ducks. Lizzie! Lizzie! Over here, just look at the ducks! Lizzie, what is so interesting about the grass? Why won’t you look up?”
Me: “No problem. You don’t have to look at the duck to say duck. In fact, let’s just start with the d-d-d sound.
Lizzie, say d-d-d.”
Me: ”Lizzie, say d-d-d. Come on, you can do it. Say d-d-d.”
Me: “No? Okay, I can be flexible. Why don’t we try it Helen Keller style? I will press on your hand and you say d-d-d.”
As you can imagine, this went on for quite some time. Not only did Lizzie not say duck or even d-d-d, she never even looked up at me or the ducks. Not even once. She was fully concentrated on picking the grass the entire time we were at the pond.
Finally, with tears streaming down my face, this stubborn momma gave her daughter a hug and told her she loved her anyway. I packed it in, headed home, and picked up the phone to call Early Childhood Intervention. It was not easy to ask for help, and it was not easy to admit something was really, really wrong with my child. It hurt my heart. Shortly after that, Lizzie was diagnosed with autism.
With intense therapies and support from friends and family, about a year later, Lizzie did learn to say duck. Then another two years later, she began to reconnect with the world around her. Now, at fifteen years old, she is mainstreamed in school, on the high honor roll, is a cheerleader, was voted on the homecoming court, and has held a paying summer job. I learned autism is not something that can be fixed, but I could help my daughter become the best version of herself as she learns to thrive in the midst of it.
Julie Hornok is an author, speaker and advocate for autism. Her writing has appeared in Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine, AutismSpot, Thrive Magazine, Literary Mama, Chicken Soup for the Soul series and many more. Her first book, United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum, will be released in October 2018.