Three weeks after I enrolled my youngest child in a neighborhood nursery school in Brooklyn, I got the call. An administrator and my child’s lead teacher urgently wanted to meet with my husband and me.
Our daughter, it turned out, was wandering out of the classroom. She wasn’t making eye contact. She didn’t respond to her name. She couldn’t carry on a conversation with her teachers or classmates. She had poor fine motor skills. She didn’t play with toys like others did. Most alarmingly, she wasn’t socializing well — or at all — with other children. In short, it was impossible to teach her in a regular classroom setting.
We were baffled. Those observations didn’t square with the ebullient, extremely verbal child whose pediatrician had never raised any red flags about her social or emotional development. But at the school’s urging, we had her evaluated through New York City’s Department of Education. Looking for a diagnosis — something the DOE doesn’t give for preschoolers — we also sought the advice of a developmental pediatrician, who confirmed what no one else would tell us: Our daughter was on the autism spectrum.
This is how, in the winter of 2019, I was thrust headlong into the world of autism and all that it entailed: figuring out what the diagnosis meant, learning how to navigate the overwhelming bureaucracy of parenting a special-needs child, wondering anxiously what her future might be like. Statistics I uncovered were deeply disturbing — fewer than 16 percent of adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder were employed full-time, for example.