By Mandy B. Fernandez
She was crying, again, my daughter. Red-faced, scrunched up nose, piercing scream crying into my ear. Once Vivian began her fit, I knew it would be at least ten minutes before she’d stop. The noise from the gym could not overshadow my daughter’s tantrum. Other parents and children were now staring. Wailing and arms flinging, my two-year-old was not happy with my decision to move her to the side. She kicked and shouted her entire body spread across the bare floor, becoming even louder. I could not hold in my emotions anymore, my own disappointment for another failed mother-daughter outing. I sat down next to her and began to cry. Why can’t we go anywhere without this happening? Why can’t I comfort her or make her happy these days?
This kind of incident was happening about ten times a day, every day. I was exhausted. My two-year-old seemed exhausted too. I loved Vivian with my entire soul and being, sure. But I didn’t like her very much lately. Who was I kidding, I didn’t like myself much either.
A few weeks later was the play date I’d never forget, at the home of a mom I was just getting to know, with two other mothers and their kids. The other children seemed to play well together with the pretend kitchen, the puzzles and the games. My daughter, however, wasn’t interacting with them. She didn’t want the other kids near her, and she had trouble sharing toys. Vivian had several meltdowns as soon as we’d arrived.
The hostess of the group, a woman I had barely known, watched my daughter’s outbursts. Forty minutes into the visit she asked, “Has Vivian been tested for autism?”
I had several moments of panic… Autism? What? Because of a few outbursts from my child? I never responded to the question. The mom didn’t seem to care because she turned to the other guest and began a normal conversation with her, like what she had asked would have no lasting effect on me.
I looked at my girl—my beautiful, wild-curly haired daughter crying. There is nothing wrong you, with my child! This could not be true! Before I cried in front of the hostess and other mother, I gathered up our things and said we needed to leave for naptime.
With my daughter protesting, I struggled to buckle her into her car seat. And sobbed all the way home agonizing over that mom’s words. Could my child have a form of autism? No, that could not be. How dare she say that to me! She doesn’t even know my child! Then I let her question seep in, and a sense of intense worry followed. Is there something wrong with Vivian? So what if she doesn’t like loud noises or tags on her clothes? Or that she’s not crazy about certain textures of foods. She makes eye contact. She smiles. She hugs. She’s perfect, a little quirky, but still perfect.
I called Jen, a friend of mine, a teacher, someone I trusted, that I felt truly knew my child. I replayed the scene for her. Jen said I should not listen to those crazy words.
“Don’t be ridiculous! Vivian is just fine. She’s played with Sarah with no issues. Maybe Viv didn’t like those kids or perhaps she was just tired.”
I talked to my husband. He too agreed. That I had overreacted to this woman’s ignorance.
Still I made the appointment with our pediatrician to have Viv examined. If for nothing else, for peace of mind.
“I do not think your child has a form of autism. She is particular and perhaps a bit quirky about certain things but Vivian is within the normal behavioral range,” Dr. Wolff’s told us after performing a series of written, oral and physical exams.
He added, “She will probably outgrow her sensitivity to sounds, and textures, but if you want another opinion, have her tested by the county.”
So we had Vivian tested. My husband and I watched as she spent close hours “playing” and answering questions, forming sentences and following directions. The testing lady scribbled notes onto her clipboard.
Vivian didn’t protest, or ask for a snack or even inquire about the bathroom during the assessment. Instead she was just a kid trying to figure out what this grown up wanted and how she could have a little fun.
A week later, we received the official test results. The academic and behavioral exams came back “normal” within the standard range.
I glanced at the notice, then tossed it in the trash. I didn’t need a piece of paper telling me what I had already known, deep down. No one was going to mislabel my kid.
To this day, over three years later, Vivian still has “quirks” as the doctor put it. She can control her feelings and does not have tantrums anymore. But she still doesn’t like loud noises, especially cries from her sister. She still insists on removing the tags from her t-shirts and dresses.
She is my perfect little girl. This is how I choose to label her.
Mandy B. Fernandez is a freelance writer living in Pensacola, Florida with her husband and two children. She writes creatively and professionally on topics such as education, business, creative arts, health, family life, parenting and natural foods. You can learn more about her at www.writtenbymandy.com.