Our Family’s Introduction to Autism

We are an American, expat family living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Daniel is originally from Janesville, Wisconsin, I (Roslyn) was born/raised in Oklahoma City.  In 1999, we met as volunteer English teachers through the Peace Corps in northern Kazakhstan (aka – Siberia).

Together, we discovered a mutual love for teaching, children, international travel (and each other). What a wonderful way to live and raise a family!  Daniel & I married in 2001, and proceeded to live and teach in places such as South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Peru, and now Saudi Arabia.  Daniel is currently our school’s 8th grade Social Studies teacher, and I am the Secondary (Grade 6-12) Learning Support departmental coordinator.

Gabriel, our oldest son, was born in Seoul in 2004.  He was the big, beautiful, blue-eyed baby boy we’d always wanted, and most milestones were normal – he rolled over, crawled, smiled, cooed, laughed, snuggled, walked, etc, etc. on time.  One massive milestone was missing, however – he wasn’t talking.  He babbled, but everything was nonsensical.

Being first-time parents and living abroad the way we did, we didn’t have the usual safeguards around us when it comes to schools raising red flags when milestones aren’t met.  Additionally, my mother always told me that I didn’t talk until I was three years old, and so we assumed Gabriel was following my lead.  We did take him to a psychologist and speech therapist in Abu Dhabi, and they both led us to believe he was just a late bloomer, and perhaps the fact that we often watched movies with him was hindering his speech. (Knowing what I know now, I would never recommend these “professionals” to anyone).

Gabriel’s third birthday came and went, with minimal progress in his expressive language. We kept waiting, praying, hoping – but then we’d hear other kids his age chatting it up with their parents and friends, while our little boy played by himself in the corner – and we knew in our hearts that something was wrong.  We finally had him assessed, and he was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), or otherwise known as atypical Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

We were stunned, but not as upset as you would expect.  I think more than anything, we were grateful to finally be able to put a name to the mystery behind his silence.  In retrospect, we had no clue what was ahead of us.  We knew nothing about Autism.

By the time this happened, we were already pregnant again, with another beautiful, big baby boy, Noah Christian, for whom we worked very hard.  After zero problems getting pregnant with Gabriel, we desperately tried for two solid years to get pregnant again, with no success. We tried two artificial inseminations, and finally went through IVF.  I had three embryos implanted in me (which I was able to see on a TV screen right before they put me under for the procedure), and our little Noah was the one that survived.  It’s so cool for me to have seen Noah as a little embryo (although I’ll never know exactly which one of the three he was).

So, we prayed and hoped for Noah to be neurotypical, but this time we were much wiser and knew exactly what to watch for.  Sure enough, Noah developed in exactly the same manner as Gabriel.  All milestones were typical, but at around one and a half years old, when he still hadn’t said his first word, we knew.

Daniel was a rock of optimism and hoped for the best.  I cried for an entire day.  But that did it, because I was OK after that – and proceeded to contact the correct people to begin an early intervention for Autism.

After this, we assumed we would not have any more children.  With the troubles we’d had getting pregnant with Noah, we assumed further pregnancies weren’t possible, and that was fine.  We were ecstatic with our two little boys; Superman pajamas and Batman cartoons from here on!   However, there was an underlying feeling that we both had. Something deep in our souls that we couldn’t explain.  S-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g was missing. We’d look at the family pictures we’d taken, and somehow felt that they weren’t complete.  But we knew better than to try again; seriously, two children with Autism?  We had our hands full.

In retrospect, I believe God was trying to tell us something – kind of like a preview of coming attractions.  But over the next couple of years, we ended up having two miscarriages.  Both were heartbreaking, but further proof in our minds that we probably weren’t meant (or able) to have more children.  Yet that “something’s missing” feeling persisted.

Around this time, I also decided to go back to school and pursue another teaching license, but this time in Special Education (my first one was in Elementary).  We knew we wanted to live and teach abroad, and having figured out that there were very limited resources internationally for children with disabilities, I figured if we couldn’t find the help, I could become the “help.” This decision allowed us to secure jobs at the American International School of Jeddah (AISJ), where Daniel started out teaching Elementary and I would be helping to build a developing upper-Learning Support program.  Best of all –  they had Learning Support services in place for our boys and were willing to accept them.  Perfect.

Then, February 2012 came around, and we’d been in Jeddah six months.  New country, new home, new job – the “nesting” conditions must have been optimal.  We found out we were pregnant again, but were very ready for yet another disappointment, and thought at this point, we should probably invest in some permanent birth control method to prevent us from going through the pain of miscarrying a child too many more times.

But nope – this one was a fighter.  🙂  Super stubborn.  Not one to be ignored or denied anything he wants.  The very same then, as he is to this day.   Enter our beautiful third boy, Samuel Lawrence.  We finally felt “complete.”  He was what had been missing.

And, long story short, history repeated itself a third time. Samuel was evaluated and wasn’t concretely “diagnosed” with Autism but the doctors wrote in his assessment that they “strongly believed” Autism was present and recommended he be re-evaluated in a couple of years.  It was all the same to us – in our hearts we felt certain that he had followed in his brothers’ footsteps.  The day we received this news, I cried, drank wine, and did yoga on a balcony in the hot, Florida sun.  Daniel watched generous amounts of baseball.

And the next day, we mentally pulled ourselves up, took a breath, and thanked God for giving us three beautiful, loving, physically healthy boys.  In spite of the numerous known (and unknown) challenges both behind and ahead of us, we would do our best to give them every opportunity we could afford to experience life, the world, different cultures, and eventually become independent enough to successfully pursue their dreams.