This story was written by Avery’s mom.
Don’t all moms vaccinate their kids? That’s what they do, right? No questions asked. We just vaccinate our kids because you’re supposed to. Or so I thought.
My son Avery was born in 2004 and was vaccinated on the CDC’s schedule through the age of 13 months. After every vaccine appointment, the physical and emotional changes in my child were unmistakable. He screamed for hours. Blood curdling, horrific screaming. Screaming so long and so hard he would nearly pass out. After every vaccine appointment, he developed hard, bloody stool. Rashes that covered his whole body. Ear infections. Sensory problems. Refusal to nurse. Refusal to sleep. Refusal to just be.
I was a first time mom and had no idea this wasn’t normal baby stuff. No one told me it’s not normal for your baby to recoil in horror when you touch him. It’s not normal for a baby to start crying the moment a stranger looks at them. At my lowest point, I contemplated killing him, or killing myself, or killing both of us. I look back upon those days with extreme shame, and try to imagine myself being poisoned to the point of losing my mind, how that must feel, how he must have felt, and wondering why no one had ever told me this was a possibility. I feel extreme guilt, extreme sadness, extreme emotions over a period of my life I am least proud of.
“I don’t want to mention the A-word just yet, but…”
…were the words Avery’s pediatrician used at his 18 month appointment. I stared at her, mouth open, wondering how any person could be so cruel. The “A-word”? Really?
Only once I researched it did I learn it was not normal for a toddler to scream for hours on end for seemingly no reason. It was not normal that he had never tried to speak, never waved, never pointed, and spent the majority of his time staring at ceiling fans. Don’t all kids shriek like they are being burned when you set them down in the grass? Don’t all toddlers flap their arms and run on their tippy-toes?
At the ped’s office, he was quickly diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and a speech delay. I did the typical recommended therapies with our local First Steps program. But, he got progressively worse at an alarming rate. Our Occupational Therapist, after another 40 minute screaming session, snarled at me, “What you have here is a very unhappy child.”
One month before his third birthday, I took Avery in for an official autism evaluation. For two days, he screamed and cried and thrashed his way around the evaluation center. On the second day, I finally had a meeting with the psychologist, and could hear Avery wailing in the next room. The psychologist bustled into the room and almost gleefully proclaimed, “They’re just getting him cleaned up….. Don’t be alarmed, all autistic kids throw up a lot!”
Autism. The “A-word.” My mind went to mush. My absolute first thought was for my husband. He’ll never be able to play baseball with his son. In that second, with those callous words of a stranger, his life seemed to be over – before it ever had a chance to begin.
I was devastated. I’ll admit it – I wanted a “normal” child. I wanted kids like my nieces and nephews, all “perfect” and uncomplicated. I cried a lot. I mostly cried in my shower so no one would hear me, letting the huge, mind-numbing sobs overcome me. After that – I got mad! Why Avery? Why ME? Autism isn’t something I signed up for! And after I was done being pissed – I got active. Fine. Let’s do this thing.
At first Avery attended a developmental preschool and made little progress. I left him screaming at the door and picked him back up screaming at the same door. My days were filled with a screaming toddler who wanted nothing and everything and nothing all at the same time. Finally, a friend suggested ABA therapy as a replacement for the school. I told the school I was leaving, and they laughed and told me that ABA was “dog training” and advised me not to do it.
We began ABA therapy at a center. I made the 1 ½ hour drive every single day for 18 months. Almost immediately, we saw a change in Avery. I felt like I could breathe for the first time in his life. We also began an intensive biomedical program with Avery and addressed many of his nutritional deficiencies, which helped open the pathways for the ABA to do its job.
The screaming began to lessen. The obsessive behaviors started to disappear. And within six months, Avery spoke his first word, just a few months before his fourth birthday. It was 6 weeks after we had started chelation to remove heavy metals from his body. As I was sitting on the porch with my mother, he walked up to her, put his hand on her leg, and said “Grandma” like it was the most normal thing in the world. I nearly died in that moment. It was working. He was recovering.
With the help of many biomedical interventions and intensive ABA therapy, I began to realize that I no longer feared taking Avery into the store because of a meltdown. I no longer avoided birthday parties and public swimming pools and only then realized how much of life we had avoided because of the “A-word.”
This year, Avery entered 4th grade in a mainstream classroom with no aide. He’s now completely unassisted during the day. He’s made a special friend there and they have very serious, intense debates about Super Mario Brothers. He talks about his day with me. He tries. Sometimes painfully so. Sometimes I ask him a question and can literally see him formulating the words so hard in his head. I can almost hear him, Please be patient with me, as I try to speak, as I try to figure out this world around me… Please…..I’m trying.
Avery still has more recovery ahead of him. But he’s Avery. He likes video games and his Razor scooter and waterslides. He laughs at fart jokes. He tells me I’m funny.
We have been able to overcome much of what vaccines tried to steal from him. From us.
The Greater Good can’t have my child.