Surprising no one

So I was sitting at the dining room table, feverishly always-sometimes-rarely-nevering, when Paul asked me if I wanted something to drink. “Please,” I said distractedly, gesturing over into the kitchen. “I already have one started.”

I meant the half-finished cup of coffee right there on the counter, but bless that man: instead he brought a half-finished bottle of wine.

The pediatrician had been kind of tenacious about it. “Have you had Charlie evaluated?” Yes, but the verdict was inconclusive. “Have you had him evaluated recently?” No, because we think we know, and we doubt it will make a difference. “Did you ever get the forms I asked the clinic to send you?” Yes, and I set them on fire, if you really must know. Ha ha, that’s a funny thing. See, I think I must have…lost them!

In truth, I’d read them and I got mad. Most of them were standard psychiatric intake stuff, the kind where you read the questions and know what they’re meant to elicit. But there were these two thick packets that made me angry: detailed questionnaires for Paul and me to fill out about each other. Does she enjoy life? Does she drink? Does she have friends? Does she love her child? Can her ass be rolled out of bed most days, with or without a pry bar?

It seemed like an intrusion. Good God, if I don’t talk about my husband to strangers on the Internet, I’m certainly not going to talk about him to a trained professional bound by confidentiality laws.

I resented it disproportionately. It felt like a callback to those years of questioning whether we would make fit parents, whether we wanted it badly enough, whether we had what it took. No matter how much I told myself that these were the standard forms they give all families seeking services, I couldn’t shake my indignation: What does this have to do with it? I’d think as I eyed the papers. Why does how we feel matter? We didn’t make this happen. And then I piled more papers on top of those, and more on top of those.

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In truth, though, I really did lose them. Because when I finally gave in, thinking, Okay, fine, I truly couldn’t find them. “(Picnic, lightning),” I told the doctor. She was unamused.

“You know, if you’d filled them out when you first got them,” she said, “your appointment would be soon. But the clinic runs at least nine months out, so now you’re a year behind.”

Does she feel a sudden crushing guilt? Always, sometimes, rarely, never?

The doctor called in a new referral, and we settled in to wait. And not a week later — last week — we got a call late Tuesday afternoon. The clinic had had a cancellation; could we be there Wednesday morning?

And that’s what had me filling out forms, and Paul passing me the wine.

Always-sometimes-rarely-never. We read the questions, we checked the boxes, and I thought about what we know. I thought about what we’ve seen for the last ten years. When people asked, I’d tell them, Not officially diagnosed, but, you know, we’re pretty sure. So it was no surprise to hear the verdict: Charlie has an autism spectrum disorder.

Practically speaking, at this time in his life, the words mean very little, and I doubt they’ll have any great impact on how we shape his days. He’s already getting social coaching; he’s in a supportive school. We have reliable routines, but we reward flexibility. Charlie’s doing really well — he’s funny, he’s bright, he’s charming, and I’m proud of how hard he works. I’m awed by how far he’s come. And Paul and I have learned, too: We can now power through most moments of trouble with some degree of Zen. “He isn’t doing it to us,” we breathe. “He’s just doing it.”

ASD, autism, or the apparently-not-a-thing-anymore Asperger’s. Whatever you want to call it, we’ve been acquainted with the facts for so long, the words don’t make much difference. What they mean for the future, though, is anybody’s guess.