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  • Writer's pictureSarah Swindell

"It Can't Be"

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Dawson at 13 months old, and about 6 weeks before his regression.

As autism awareness month comes to an end, living with it never does. I thought I would share a portion of the book when our fear was starting to become a harsh reality. Our lives were about to change forever and the end of normal was just around the corner.

This is for all the other parents who have lived this same chapter in their own lives. Our stories are frighteningly the same and for many, didn't have to be.

I counted the minutes until I got to sit all alone on an airplane with a good book and a plastic cup filled with all the wine it would hold. I was a tired mama in dire need of a break, and alone time with my husband was just what I needed. He had been on a road trip for almost a week and could not wait to meet him in San Diego.

Any fear that something might be going on with Dawson subsided during that hectic week before I left for my trip, but as soon as I sat in my seat, my thoughts drifted straight to him.

When I returned home a few days later, I was anxious to see the kids and was all rested up and ready to be a mom again. I put my bags down and immediately walked into the playroom where Dawson was quietly and intently sitting on the floor watching a movie.

“Dawsie! Mommy is back!” I cheerfully exclaimed.

His back was to me, and while he turned to the sound of my voice, his face was a complete blank, as if he had no idea who I was. The first thing that came to my mind is that maybe I was gone too long and he momentarily forgot about me. I could not imagine that being gone for only three days could make my baby forget about me. I picked him up to snuggle and suddenly had this chilling feeling that something was not right; what was it? Maybe he still was not feeling well.

“Mom?” I asked, “Has everything been ok with Dawson?” Has he been acting like he might be getting sick again?”

“Not that I have noticed, sweetie, but I have been a little busy with those active girls of yours since the minute you left!” She said with a little laugh. “But he has been a little off now that I think about it. Maybe he is getting more teeth.”

A few days later we were back at the pediatrician's office because sure enough, he was sick again. We were now going on two months straight being on antibiotics that just never seemed to relieve the ear and respiratory infections. The bowel issues continued as well, but I figured it was from all the medicine wreaking havoc on his GI tract. But most of all, he just wasn’t himself, he wasn’t Dawson, something was wrong.

I told the doctor how he wasn’t interested in his surroundings anymore, was fixated on certain toys and would sit and spin the wheels on toy cars or anything that had similar parts. It was like he was locked into his own little world when he was doing those things, and nothing could distract him. When he wasn't locked in on a toy or the TV, he was having out of control tantrums like I had never seen before.

I called my mom after I got home to tell her about the doctor visit. She then said something that changed everything. “Do you think he might have autism?”

I immediately and defensively said, “No way, it can't be!” He was perfectly fine a month ago, other than being sick. Plus, you don't just develop autism out of nowhere I thought. But her comment haunted me, and I couldn’t shake it. It also jolted a memory of the morning after his routine vaccinations. Was the vomit that was in his crib from a seizure or some kind of an adverse reaction? My body was frozen in time. Frozen in the memory of that morning.

That evening after all the kids were in bed and Greg was at the ballpark, I looked up “Symptoms of Autism” on the computer. I stared at the screen, for what seemed like an eternity as tears formed in my eyes. This could not be true! Dawson had almost every single symptom listed and my entire body was suddenly filled with sheer panic.

Sarah Swindell's memoir, Rounding Home, is now available here!

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