In honor of April being National Autism Awareness Month, Sheletta Brundidge shares the first of a two-part story chronicling her discovery that three of her four children were on the autism spectrum.
My son Brandon was two years old when our autism journey began. He was playing with a couple of toys in the restroom while I was nearby bathing his then-one-year old sister Cameron (I was pregnant with their soon-to-be-born baby brother Daniel at the time). She was splashing around in the tub having fun and I guess he decided he’d look for a neighboring body of water to splash around in, too.
Brandon made a beeline for the toilet and took a nosedive. Being a germaphobe I yelled out, “Noooooooooooo!” before sprinting over to pull his head out of the bowl. His face was wet, his hair was damp and he was as happy as he could be.
I immediately took Cameron out of the tub and put Brandon in, scrubbing him as hard as I could trying to get those toilet germs off his face. I remember looking at him in the eye and pleading “Son, don’t play in the toilet, okay?”
He looked beyond me with a blank stare, as if I wasn’t standing there. I knew instantly something was wrong. The light that had been in my son’s eyes was dimmed ever so slightly.
He couldn’t figure out what I was saying to him, and worse yet, he didn’t know how to respond. He began babbling and looking around as if imaginary butterflies were capturing his attention. He couldn’t give me direct eye contact.
“Oh no,” I thought, “Something is wrong with my baby!” Then I wondered, “How long has this been going on?” I blamed myself for not noticing sooner. How could I not see that my son was slipping into darkness?
I was working full-time, raising a growing family, being a mom, a wife, a daughter, an employee. I was busy keeping my house clean and too preoccupied with chores to have a handle on my child’s mental development.
I hadn’t taken a moment to notice —until my son dunked his head in a toilet — that he wasn’t behaving like a normal two-year-old.
He was lining his food up and not eating it. He was still drinking from a bottle.
He wouldn’t make eye contact. He was babbling instead of talking. He didn’t respond to his name when I called for him. I missed all the warning signs. I ignored all the clues.
My. Son. Had. Autism.
I cried. I stopped eating. I got down to 96 pounds. I was curled up in the fetal position under the table, unable to do anything except feel sorry for myself. My momma had to come and take care of my kids. I couldn’t even fold laundry or brush my teeth, because, of course, I made it all about me. I’m a narcissist after all.
Somehow I thought I had failed as a parent and caused my son to have autism. So, instead of getting busy finding help for my child, I cowered in fear of what life had to offer a Black boy with special needs.
Since he couldn’t speak, would the police shoot him if he didn’t respond to their commands?
Would he ever be able to get a job and support himself? What about college? Without words, could he find a wife?
All the dreams I had for little Brandon were taking a nose dive out of the freakin’ window.
I had decided, that at age two, my son’s life was over and there was no hope for him.
But God reached down and snatched me out from under the kitchen table and said: “I chose you!” My spirit awakened and I realized this was a blessing: Of all the women in the world, God picked me to be Brandon’s mother. What an honor that He selected me to be the shepherd of this little life.
I had to get it together for my baby, so he could live out his God-given destiny and reach his full potential. It was all on me to get it done.
First I went to the folk closest to me for assistance. But since I didn’t have friends who had kids with special needs, nobody could tell me what to do. I tried to call on my family but that quickly backfired.
My momma brushed off my suspicions about Brandon having autism as just me being dramatic. “Ain’t nothing wrong with that damn boy. You just looking for attention; he gon’ talk when he gets ready. Your cousin Meme didn’t talk until she was 3.”
My grandmother outright blamed me for everything, “If you had just got an epidural during your pregnancy,” she quipped, “the boy would be fine now. But you wanted to do that natural childbirth [expletive]. He probably ain’t get no oxygen to his brain. That’s why he ain’t talking. It’s your fault, Sheletta.”
Since family and friends wouldn’t come to my rescue, I turned to the professionals.
Everything that I read about having an autism diagnosis said early detection and intervention is the key to success. So I made an appointment at a children’s hospital to get Brandon evaluated and tested for autism.
After three hours of checking out my son, the doctor stepped out of the room and declared, “Yep, you were right, your child has autism. Have a good life.”
Now what? What do I do with my special needs child? Does he need a prescription to keep him from flapping his hands? Or some speech sessions a couple times a week to help him learn how to talk? They didn’t give me one damn referral — not even a tip on what kind of therapy he needed or how I could go about getting services for Brandon.
I didn’t know what to do or where to turn, but I kept hearing God say, “I chose you!”
I knew this was gon’ be a “Roll up your sleeves — against all odds — me and my baby against the world” situation. So I went to my husband Shawn and asked if I could quit my job.
Without the worry of working every day, I dedicated my life to learning more about autism spectrum disorders and looking for ways to heal my child.
I didn’t want to get help for him. Forget help! I wanted Brandon healed from this autism diagnosis, so he could grow up to be the man God designed him to be without deficit or deficiency. I prayed for God to send the answer and He did.
But in the meantime, both Cameron and my newborn son Daniel were diagnosed with autism as well.