I like to joke about the first time I met Lane. The story becomes more verbose each time.
I like to say that Lane’s mom came running out of the bathroom with her pants barely buttoned, waving a pregnancy test around. I also like to say I had to duck to avoid being sprayed with stuff flying off of it.
Kristen did come running from the bathroom and I did back away in fear that the test had residual “specimen” on it, but her pants were on and my best friend’s pee did not end up anywhere on me.
Also, I was the first to know. Her husband came in from the garage and I was all, “Hey Travis, your wife’s knocked up again…by you!” I quickly added, in case he was concerned. He thought I was just coming over to hang out.
I was honored to be there for that moment.
It was Oct. 5, 2005. My oldest daughter was 364-days old and took her first steps in Kristen’s living room that night.
And that night I met Lane; a purple line under the window of a pregnancy test.
None of us knew then that the journey of Lane’s life would be painfully arduous at times.
Or so utterly beautiful.
Lane is autistic.
His diagnosis didn’t come easily; the road was fraught with sadness, denial (Kristen’s the first to admit that) and, eventually, a certain sense of relief.
It was also a journey that I was afraid to take; I recognized Lane’s “red flags” when he was about 15-months old.
Telling Kristen that I suspected Lane was autistic was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
Lane did a lot of things that concerned me, but one of the most obvious happened when he was about 24-months old and I was babysitting him. By then he had a baby sister so including my children, there were six kids at my house. The older ones were running around. It was loud and they were having a lot of fun.
Lane sat in the living room alone, rocking back and forth, playing with a string on his shirt. He did that for over an hour. There was total chaos all around him and he was completely unaware. I called him over to me. He walked about half way and stopped. There was a quarter-size spot on the carpet and he didn’t want to walk over it. He was so upset by the spot that it took me several minutes to calm him down.
Adding that to other things Lane did regularly, I was afraid he needed to be assessed.
How do you tell your best friend that you think their child is autistic?
On one hand I feared our relationship would be destroyed. What if I was wrong? What if she was offended?
On the other hand was Lane. If he was diagnosed, he would begin therapy and I knew the longer I waited to share my concerns, the greater the likelihood that some of his red flags would never go away.
The process was slow. I took baby steps until eventually, I ran at Kristen full-force.
For a couple of months I’d take her lead.
“Lane won’t stop playing with feet,” she’d say. “My feet especially, but other people’s too. Is that weird? It’s like he’s obsessed with toes. When I pull him away he screams and screams.”
“Hmmm, I don’t know if that’s totally normal,” I’d say tentatively.
After a few weeks I took the silent approach, hoping it would speak volumes.
“I wonder if Lane has something wrong with him,” Kristen would say. “He doesn’t respond to his name, ever.”
My husband would ask me regularly whether I’d told Kristen my concerns. I’d tell him I was trying, but couldn’t.
Then Kristen took Lane to his pediatrician, who asked her a few diagnostic questions.
In denial, Kristen played down his symptoms. Now she regrets it. At the time she was just trying to make it go away.
Or she’d say something like, “I just have a gut feeling that he’s going to be fine.”
To be honest, it was maddening.
When she arranged to have Lane assessed, I was relieved.
When the report came back that he was fine, I’d had enough.
“Kristen I love you and I love Lane, but I really think that report is wrong,” I told her. “The organization didn’t send people with enough experience. They didn’t even spend that much time with him. The report says, ‘mild red flags.’ What does that even mean?”
Lane was reassessed by a well-trained team of experts and was definitively diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He began therapies right away.
He has a great sense of humor.
He loves to go to the RC track with his dad.
He’d live on peanut butter sandwiches if his mom let him.
He has good mornings, like this morning.
He can have horrible ones too, like yesterday.
“It’s days like yesterday that drag me down,” Kristen told me on the phone earlier today.
He gets mad. He shuts down. He says whatever’s on his mind. Right now he’s especially fond of telling strangers what he thinks about their weight.
I want to take him to see all the mean girls from my high school years so he can express his opinions to them, but I don’t think Kristen would go for it.
He has friends. He also thinks a lot of people are “boring” and he’ll tell them that.
He’s just, Lane.
Kristen’s faced with issues I’ll never have to face; Do we medicate or not? Do we mainstream or not? Do we request an aide or not? What’s the safest way to hold him when he’s angry? Do we explain his behavior in public by telling people he’s autistic?
Travis and Kristen have taken it in stride. They fought the diagnosis, now they fight the stigma. They’re advocates. They’re parents.
The CDC estimates that 1 in 110 children in the United States has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Those statistics are staggering.
Know the signs and symptoms. If you recognize them in your child, do something. If you recognize them in your best friend’s child, please don’t wait to compassionately and gently say something.