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  • Stacy Van Tassel

The day I learned my son had Autism.

"Don't be surprised if people start mentioning the possibility of Autism."


The date was Monday, February 2nd, 2015, the day I now vividly remember as the day I found out my son had Autism. I remember the date, because it was the day my new baby turned exactly two weeks old.


My dear friend Aimee was visiting for the first time since my 4th child was born. My new daughter Lainey, two weeks old at the time, was chilling in Aimee's arms while our other kids ran around tearing up the house like they always did.. My then 19 month old son Cody (my third), had been having some issues we couldn't explain back then. We couldn't quite put our fingers on it, but Cody was just different than his two older siblings. Thinking his recurrent ear infections might've caused hearing problems, we'd recently done the tubes thing, but Cody's concerning behaviors persisted. When we called his name, he rarely turned to look at us. When people came into our home, he didn't turn to look and see who it was. He tended to go off and play on his own, rather than gravitate towards what the other kids were doing. He didn't talk, and in fact, didn't even have any sounds we could point to that he was using to communicate.


After Aimee and I had sufficiently ooohed and awwwed over little Lainey, our conversation shifted to my concerns about Cody. He was due back for his first ENT follow up after his tubes were put in, and Aimee and I started talking about possible next steps and the various issues that might explain what we were seeing. Could Cody be deaf? That seemed unlikely. He might not answer or respond to his name, but you better believe he'd come running into the living room if he heard his favorite Disney movie. After floating a few other theories, all of which seem pretty hilarious to me knowing what I know now, Aimee finally said those fateful words I remember so vividly to this day:


"Don't be surprised if people start mentioning the possibility of Autism."


How sweet of her, I thought to myself. Being a nurse, and having a sister herself who's on the Autism Spectrum, Aimee must be thinking that someone might bring it up. Even though Cody clearly couldn't be autistic, I thought, she's just looking out for me and making sure I'm prepared to talk about it. After all, Cody was a happy baby, and he smiled and laughed and loved to be hugged and tickled, all things I imagined autistic kids didn't do. I thanked Aimee for the heads up, and honestly didn't give her comment another thought for hours.


Later that night, after things had quieted down and the family hopped on the couch to watch TV together, I started replaying the events of the day in my head. I remember thinking about how nice it'd been to finally see Aimee again after a couple weeks apart while my family got situated with the new baby. My thoughts shifted to our conversation about Cody, and once again I thought about how awesome Aimee was for giving me a heads up about the possibility of tough conversations to come. Then, like I'd literally been hit with a ton a bricks, the thought dropped in my lap and caused me to sit upright and say out loud to my husband Jay, "I wonder if Aimee was trying to tell me that she thinks Cody might ACTUALLY BE Autistic."


I immediately pulled out my laptop and started frantically Googling Autism for the first time, and as I read I knew immediately that Cody was on the Autism Spectrum. I'd never read anything about it before, and I just didn't realize what it actually was. My only knowledge about Autism came from seeing bits and pieces of the movie Rainman, and Cody as a toddler definitely didn't match up with that visual. As I read about what autism really was though, I just knew in my heart that Autism was about to enter our lives forever. Of course, I had no idea that my little two week old daughter who was sleeping in my arms that night would ultimately be diagnosed with Autism too.


Thinking back to that day, I'm still overwhelmed with gratitude for Aimee who had to know that what she was about to tell me would be really hard for me to hear...even though it took me a little longer to catch on than she probably planned. How long would Cody have had to wait for his life changing therapy to begin had my sweet friend not said anything that day? How long would it have taken us to figure it out on our own? I look back on that day as the beginning of our journey, and though it was hard to hear, and even harder for Aimee to say, it was the word that finally pointed us in the right direction. Both of my autistic children are now getting the things they need to help them thrive, and it all started that day with my friend Aimee.


As I thought about ways to kick off this blog, a space to talk about my family's special needs journey, it seemed fitting to start with the person who first pointed me in the right direction. I've been contacted by so many other Moms who have concerns about their special kids, and I can see in their faces and hear in their voices that same fear I had that night as I read about Autism for the first time. As I welcome you to Castle Van Tassel, I want anyone reading about Autism for the first time to know that it has changed us, but we wouldn't change a thing! There is real joy and appreciation for the things that matter most in life on the other side of a special needs diagnosis. Don't be afraid to find your path or the answers to your questions. The truth can be scary but it can also set you free and put you on the path to start helping your kids thrive too.





Our first family of six picture attempt!