From Dad: Five years of autism and love

He turned five last month.

It's been five years since that strange, sleepless night where I nervously made a wrong turn on the way to the hospital. Five years since I learned how to hold a baby, change a diaper, fall asleep in a rocking chair. Five years of so many firsts.

And it's now been more than four years since we saw the "60 Minutes" special on autism. The one that made us wonder why he didn't look up when we called his name; why he didn't clap; why he studied his little plastic toys so intently, so close to his face that we feared he would go cross eyed.

It's nearly four years since we stood in the parking lot outside the specialist's office, after being told that John is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum but a little too young to know for sure. Although the doctor didn't know, we did. The world of autism is full of surprises, but the diagnosis, when it finally came, didn't raise an eyebrow. About the same time, John uttered his first word. After tickling him so much I was afraid he'd lose his dinner, he pulled my hand to his belly and mimicked me - "ticko, ticko, ticko."

In a few months, it will have been four years since his sister, Abby, was born. When we brought her home John studied her for a moment and hugged his mom. We had wondered what he would do, how he would react. He reacted like he does with so many things - a brief period of interest followed by a preoccupation with the toys and books and things he cares so much about.

About the same time, the therapists and service coordinators entered our lives, so many I can't remember all their names, but all with a seemingly genuine adoration for our little blue-eyed boy. And it's nearly three years since he started school - first at Bernice Wright and then at Jowonio - where he's worked intensively with therapists and been exposed to other children, developing ever-so-slowly the social skills that are so hard to come by.

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