When I think about my daughters’ early years, it felt like I lived at the pediatrician’s office. I think about all the times I sat in confined spaces looking at old magazines, while my toddler licked every surface…I might even become nostalgic. On the other hand, I don’t miss the screaming, crying, snotty noses and smells of vomit and antiseptic.
Not that all doctor’s visits are awful.
There were certainly joyous times when milestones were reached and my girls had excellent bills of health. I think the thing I dreaded most about the visits was the unpredictability−That sheer terror that I faced as an autistic mom when venturing into the outside world. Will my child, my autistic child, be able to handle the uncertainty that comes with life outside of our home environment?
At home I tried my best to keep things very predictable and scheduled.
I really didn’t deviate much in our day to day lives. This is also because my own autism really liked to keep things nice and predictable. Life became unsure when I had to take all three of my little ones out of our comfort zone. Not only am I autistic, but two of my three daughters are as well. Anyone who has tried to wrangle three toddlers into a car and to the doctor’s office has experienced stress levels that are unparalleled.
Once we actually arrived, that’s when things were out of my control.
I didn’t know how long we had to wait, if my daughters were going to have a meltdown, or if I was going to have to make small talk with nurses and receptionists. Then there was always the worry of the other children and parents in the waiting room. Would I have to talk to them? Would they notice that my children were different? Would I compare my girls to other children? What if my two-year-old wasn’t potty trained? Wait, was that three-year old reading Harry Potter to himself?
It all seemed too overwhelming.
The bright lights, the noise, the germs. Then there was always that glorious moment when you heard your child’s name being called by the nurse. Hooray, I’m a winner! Although the only prize was a possible sticker of an obscure cartoon character at the end of your voyage. I would round up all my little chicks and half the house that we dragged with us, just in case, and proudly enter that heavy door that always locked when shut. This is usually when things started to go awry.
It was as if suddenly my little ones realized they weren’t in Kansas anymore.
It started with the terrified look on their sweet little cherubic faces. Then they would emit this high-pitched whining sound that I’m sure broke glass somewhere in the building. By the time we made it into the exam room, the floodgates opened. Typically, all three of my children were hysterically crying as soon as the nurse shut the door. If you understand the autistic mind, then you will understand that we have fantastic memories. This being said, as soon as my daughters knew where we were, they knew what usually happened at doctor’s appointments. Shots, strep tests, finger sticks, they had those images burned into their brains. Nothing I said or did would convince them that some awful calamity wasn’t about to occur. By the time my girls were toddlers, we were well known at the pediatrician’s office.
In addition to their agonizing screams, they would also hyperventilate, break land speed records sprinting toward the door and struggle, kick and punch in an attempt to escape any visits from medical professionals. It wasn’t surprising to me when the nurses started drawing straws to see who would attend to my daughters. I once had a nurse threaten to get a security guard to assist with a strep test if my daughter wouldn’t hold still. (I wish they were better trained to work with autistic children, but that’s another story.)
I used bribery as a tool.
I’m not ashamed to admit it. If we made it through a doctor visit without any major incidents, they could pick a toy from the $1.00 aisle at Target. Yes, Target has saved the day more than once. I wish I had some sage advice to help other parents through trying pediatrician appointments, but I never discovered any clever techniques.
In spite of it all, my three daughters have made it from toddlers to teens. The best advice I can give is that everyone, parent and child, will make it through those years. I look back at those times now with a grin and a tear in my eye, realizing just how far we’ve come.
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