Nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble. Pass all the pebbles in your path and you will find you have crossed the mountain." –Unknown
When the world says, 'give up,' hope whispers, 'try it one more time.'" -Unknown
The word “regression,” when used in connection with Autism usually describes a group of children who develop age appropriate language abilities and social skills for approximately the first 18 months of their lives, and then lose those skills and abilities, typically around the age of 2. It can be contrasted with early-onset autism, where the child misses developmental milestones without a noticeable regression.
In our house, we often use “regression” in a different way. We use regression to describe those days, or periods of days, which occur without a predictable pattern, where the Little Man loses skills and abilities that were previously believed to be mastered.
If you have or have been around a baby, do you remember those days when the baby would cry and you would have to guess the cause for the tears? You start with the usual suspects: hungry, thirsty, tired, diaper. You know you guessed right when the crying stopped. Eventually, the baby develops the communication abilities to tell you what it is he or she needs – a point, a gesture, a smile, and ultimately words.
Well for us, Autism intervened to thwart the development of those communication abilities. It took us a very long time, and a lot of hard work, to get the Little Man to communicate his basic needs to us in a way we could understand and act upon. In the early days, when we wanted to know if he was hungry, we needed a visual prompt, such as a box of waffles, or the use of sign language – accompanied by the words: Do you want a waffle?
Slowly over time we were able to remove the visual prompt and eventually the Little Man developed the ability to come to us on his own when he was hungry and say “I want a waffle.”
There are literally hundreds of examples of these successes. Successes where you think he mastered a skill and you are lulled into a false sense of security. If he is hungry, he will tell us, right?
Then came regression day!
My wife and were startled to hear the Little Man downstairs screaming in tears. What happened? Was he hurt? No physical signs of injury. Are you hungry? Do you want to go downstairs? Do you want to watch TV? Do you want to go outside? These are all things he can ask for, but we received no response, no indication.
And the guessing game began.
Perhaps a shower will calm him? Nope. A TV show? Nope. A car ride? Nope. Two tearful hours passed with no indication of what was wrong. We were ready to call the doctor fearing it was something internal. In a last ditch effort, we decided my wife would take the other kids, who were visibly shaken, out of the house while I tried a few more things. As she was leaving, my wife left a bowl of Cheerios on the table and took the other guys out for a much needed respite.
I saw them off as the Little Man stopped crying. Three bowls of Cheerios, two waffles and a bowl of pretzels later, we discovered the problem: he was famished.
After weeks, months and years of progress, where he was able to communicate his basic human needs to us, why did he suddenly lose that ability? That, my friends, is a question for someone more intelligent that I. It is just a cyclical thing that happens from time to time in our Autism reality show. Fortunately, the cycle goes back in the opposite direction and just, like that, he is back to himself, telling us what he wants – when he wants it.