Exhaustion takes over as I drag my sons into their paediatrician’s office. They loathe seeing the doctor, which gives me yet another reason to doubt my parenting skills. As a result, I hate these days too. My third trimester with baby number three is well underway, so I need my husband here to pick up whichever boy will surely end up in a tantrum on the floor.

For the first time, they don’t put up a fight about being weighed and measured. I perk up with a little confidence. Maybe I’m hitting my stride with this mom thing, and having a third was a good decision after all. I apologize to my husband for requesting he leave work for this. Much to my surprise, they’re doing so well!

We make it to the exam room and as the doctor discusses growth charts, she casually slips in that she thinks our son is showing a lot of signs of autism. I have a deep inner knowing that she’s right, but I’m not ready to face it.

My body is flush with heat. My forearms tingle like the circulation has been cut off completely. The ounce of confidence I gained at the scales dissipates. “Umm… autism?” is all I’m able to choke out. “It’s nothing to worry about. Autism isn’t as scary as it once was.” she assures me.

Her flippant response silently enrages me. What could she possibly know about my child? She sees him for a few minutes every six months. Maybe even less! How can she drop this bomb on our family and act like it’s nothing?

We leave the office with only questions. No answers, hope or direction. My husband holds me in the parking lot as I try to hide how distraught I am from our sons. He takes our oldest, but our youngest refuses to join his brother and dad for the drive home. He’s so attached to me, if he had autism wouldn’t he be indifferent? Though I know I should, I’m unable to hold back my emotions.

“Besides,” I think to myself, “if he really is autistic he won’t know or care that I’m upset anyway.” Shame washes over me. How could I have overlooked this? What kind of mother am I? Where can I find a new paediatrician?

Months pass and we get a call from the specialist’s office the doctor referred us to. Our son had just turned four at the time of her autism suggestion, so time was short. Early intervention is imperative, and we had failed him by not having him diagnosed sooner. She urged them to push him to the top of the list. They asked, did I agree?

Absolutely not.

“My son doesn’t have autism. He doesn’t need a diagnosis, all he needs is time. Since that check up he has started preschool, and is thriving. Once he gets more socialization, he’ll come out of his shell and prove her wrong.”

Thankfully the person handling the intake was gracious enough to hear my insecurities without making me feel like she had the slightest hint of them. “Sure,” she said, “We’ll take him off the list, but if you change your mind, he goes right back on it where he is now. Stay in touch, ok?!”

Even though I resented the idea, I couldn’t let it go. Autism consumed my thoughts. I Googled. Agonized. Compared.

Then that spring, I attended Family Day at my son’s preschool. The kids were excited to share the bright, cheery classroom with their parents.

“Let’s make a puzzle daddy!”

“Come read a book, mommy!”

My son said nothing. He didn’t rush me inside, tug at my hand or point to his favourite activities, desperate to include me in them.

Despite months of being in the same class, he could not keep up. He didn’t sing, or play. He couldn’t write his name, cut with scissors or sit criss cross apple sauce. He seemed totally uninvolved, despite the kind children who encouraged him to play along.

The sharp contrast between him and his peers, my postpartum hormones, the weight of motherhood on my shoulders and an infant car seat on my arm, broke me. Autism was staring right at me and I was forced to meet its gaze.

Tears quietly streamed down my face. In front of all the sweetest four year olds, their parents, the teachers, everyone. Determined to hide, I leaned into my daughter’s bucket car seat. I wiped my face with her swaddle blanket, but it didn’t matter. They knew, and I knew. My son is different. His doctor is right, and it’s time for me to stop playing pretend.

I called the specialist’s office, and we were in the following month. We received the diagnosis I could no longer deny.

Autism Spectrum Disorder. Severe.