Dennis’s Story. He is 32.
Watch the reading of Dennis’s story from the Facing Autism Event.
I’ve come a long way in overcoming my fears from that first moment of Luke’s diagnosis when I thought he would never be able to fully participate in organized sports and feel a part of a team; when I thought he would not ever speak. While he is still not mindful of his own space, he is able to understand direction from his coach, and he is able to communicate.
The predictions of the doctor at Riley were dire. He had a four in seven chance of having mental retardation. He likely wouldn’t speak beyond what he was at that time. . .which was not at all. I wanted to jump across the table, to shake the doctor, to tell him he was wrong. “My son can’t be autistic! How will he ever be able to play T-ball or run track or do any activity where he must take direction and communicate?”
I refused to believe the doctor. After all, I was at Riley in the first place only because my father urged me to have my son tested for his lack of speech.
Prior to Luke’s birth, my father, a State Representative, was a member of the Statehouse Autism Committee. He was knowledgeable about the symptoms and what to look for. He didn’t come right out and say to me, “Son, I believe Luke is autistic.” Instead, because Luke was completely non-verbal at the time, Dad urged us to have his speech tested. We called Riley to get an appointment for the testing, and it was set up for six months from the day of our call. Six months! We couldn’t believe it. But, luckily, Dad pulled some strings and got us in within two weeks. Without his intercession, we would have lost an entire six months of therapies.
At that first diagnostic appointment, the doctor asked us the question, “What do you think Luke should be doing at this stage of his life?” When we stated what we believed he had accomplished, the doctor assured us that Luke was not exhibiting behavior typical of a three-year old. We left that appointment and cried; I cried tears of anger, of frustration. However, I decided that we were fortunate. We had a diagnosis; one that wasn’t as dire as I had first thought it could be. My son wasn’t wearing braces; he wasn’t going to be a teenager wearing diapers.
We had a label we could work with.
That label, however, could be a double-edged sword. Yes, he was now labeled as autistic, but that label could work to his advantage by offering him help, as needed. I used to stress about thinking of what would happen to Luke if something happened to my wife Becca or me. I still stress on occasion, but I now firmly believe he will be fine. He will have enough resources and enough help to see him through any situation.
Another issue Luke has to overcome is that he is just too darn cute. Because he is so cute, people have a tendency to help him, which quite quickly turns into enabling him. They often won’t let him do for himself. He isn’t allowed to work through his quirks without others coming to his aid. This can be a hindrance to progression.
Even though he is quirky, Luke is wicked smart. He can talk to you about any type of shark that exists. Ask him about dinosaurs and he can talk about them in detail. If he is interested in a subject, he embraces it whole-heartedly.
When he began kindergarten, I had many fears for him. Would he make friends? Would he be able to play with the other children? Would he be picked on? Would he even know it if he was being picked on? The list of the fears I had for him goes on and on. His second day of school, I left work early so I could stop in at the school to see how he was doing. As soon as his teacher saw me, she said, “He’s going to be just fine.” I immediately burst into tears! Many of those fears on my list now have been deleted.
Last summer, we had a defining moment in his progress, or maybe I should say in my progress. While participating on a T-ball team, Luke, the son who I feared would never play sports, hit the ball and ran the bases. As he crossed home plate, he looked up at us in the stands and gave us a thumb’s up. I knew right then and there that while we might not always experience positives, that, at that particular moment in time, Luke was experiencing a feeling of happiness and of gratitude and of a sense of belonging. And I was too.
My son will be just fine.
As told to Cheryl Williamson by Dennis Lee Tyler.
Cheryl Williamson is in her 31st year of teaching high school French and English and still enjoying it! The chance to interview parents of an autistic child and writing about it has helped her gain some insight into some of her own students.
If you connected with Dennis’s story, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dennisltyler.
To hear more stories like Dennis’s, be sure to check out the Facing Autism in Muncie Monologues on November 2nd at Civic Theatre.