March 31st, 2008
11:31 AM ET
By John Dear
CNN Media Operations, Sr. Media Producer
I remember distinctly it was December 2006. My entire family became sick at the same time. Our two boys, my pregnant wife and I had projectile vomiting. It was unusual not because we were miserable simultaneously, but because Jonas (18 months at that time) never seemed like himself after everyone else got over it. He no longer wanted to cuddle with us and would not respond to us when called. The eye contact disappeared, and he started tapping with his fingertips on anything he could find. We bought a set of drums and a keyboard thinking he'd be this great musician with his new obsession. Up until that point he had been developing normally, but now the few words he knew were no longer there and he was completely non-verbal.
We approached our pediatrician with these concerns several times over the next six months while bringing Jonas in for various ear infections and tantrums that would wake us in the middle of the night. We were told that he was just like other boys who may be a little slower in developing and a hearing test might give us some answers to his indifference to his environment and his numerous ear infections.
Jonas Dear developed signs of autism after his family was ill.
We started doing our own research after Jonas' refusal to cooperate with the hearing test. We quickly discovered that all the signs pointed to autism.
We were somewhat prepared for the diagnosis by the child neurologist our pediatrician referred us to. It took him minutes to confirm our worst fears. It was not the official diagnosis or the fact that our former pediatrician missed these early signs that shocked us most. It was the single Post-it note that contained all the information we left his office with that day. In barely legible penmanship it listed the Web sites of a few treatment facilities and a suggested book in response to our question about where we could get help and treatment for our autistic son.
We quickly learned in our mad dash after the diagnosis that the treatment needed to possibly mainstream Jonas would cost tens of thousands of dollars a year. Insurance would not pay for applied behavioral analysis, or ABA, which, from what we were reading, appeared to be the most successful and costly treatment. It was a no-brainer that we would spend every last resource available to see that Jonas would get the early Intervention that he desperately needed. The clock seemed to be ticking faster as we kept hearing from top institutes and centers: There was a six-to-twelve month waiting list just for evaluations.
We felt as if we'd won the lottery when Emory Autism Center said it had a spot just open in its toddler program, even though the neurologist had told us that was improbable. That was eight months ago. Jonas has now been enrolled at the center for nearly seven months.
About a month ago we had one of those moments that would make any parent melt. We always give our kids hugs and kisses right before they go to bed and tell them "I love you. ". Jonas as usual hugged us, but this time he looked straight into our eyes and said in a soft voice "I wuv you." He's done this every night since. Priceless.
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