Cameron has been a blessing in my life for over five years now.
Some days, I think “Surely, it has been longer than that” and then there are days like today. Days, where as I look over to see him sleeping and I can’t believe how quickly the first five years of his life has passed.
Cameron is a bright, charming, extremely funny and entertaining child. This is how I see him when he smiles, laughs, even spends time watching the clock and saying “Tick tock, tick tock”.
But there is another side to Cameron…
One that is willful, angry, frustrated… I know this sounds like any normal child at times, but Cameron is not normal. After many years, it is a relief to be able to say that and not have everyone accuse me of being a hysterical mother. For, you see… Cameron is autistic.
I study him sometimes. To sit back and observe as he plays or watches T.V., it’s an odd experience. Sometimes, you can see exactly what he’s thinking, how he’s taking in an experience and then suddenly… it’s as if the light dims. Sometimes it’s for a brief flash, like he’s stepped into a shaded area and at other times, he’s gone completely.
If you have never had a special needs child, you couldn’t possibly understand how it feels. That gut wrenching feeling you get when your child disappears and you are unable to pull him back into the real world. Sometimes, like now, the thought and memories of those moments brings tears to my eyes.
Cam’s condition has many stages, or degrees. Luckily, Cam would be considered to be at one of the least severe degrees of autism. It is quite possible he can eventually grow to function as an adult and no one would be none the wiser to his condition. But, sadly, he will never grow out of his condition. He will always be autistic and while he may learn to function as what we see as “normal”, he will never be normal.
Please, don’t assume I mean Cam is abnormal. On the contrary, I see Cam as extraordinary. He has a love for numbers and words, as well as music. I believe he is truly a very intelligent little boy and I’m excited to see how he will fair in school.
I suppose our biggest obstacle in his development is his echolalia. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, it means “the automatic repetition of vocalizations, made by another person”. In short, he mimics. I know what you are thinking, children mimic all the time. But, unless you have seen Cameron over the past few years, it’s hard to explain the situation. Perhaps, I should rewind a bit and explain about Cameron’s language issues.
Cameron started talking at 7-8 months, much like a normal child. He was developing in all aspects much like any normal child. By 15 months, he was asking for juice, cookies… etc. But suddenly, and almost quite instantly, he stopped. It was almost as if his speech development hit a mountain peak, and instead of going over, he rolled straight back into the valley below. He began babbling, almost as if he were a baby again. But, after some time, we noticed, there was actually some sense to his babbling. Certain things were in reference to myself, our cats, stuff on TV…etc. It was upon this discovery that I dubbed his speech, “Cameronese”.
I, almost immediately, recognized Cameron’s decline in speech development for what it was. But the doctors were reluctant to even consider my concerns. After all, who was I to diagnosis my son with Autism. They had years of medical training and it was only from an online Psychology course, I had taken when he was 8 months old, that I knew the early signs of autism.
I suppose everyone assumed I was being a hysterical mother… assuming her child had something wrong, when he was just having a delay. But, I’ll tell you. The day his doctor finally realized how long he’d been seeing him, and how I might actually be correct… I cried. It’s hard to explain why I cried. I cried out frustration, for all those times I had claimed something more was wrong and no one would listen. I cried for the loss my child had endeared that until that day, only I had recognized what it was.
No one is sure what causes autism. Some suspect people are just born this way, while others believe it from the shots children are required to get at young ages. I, truly believe, I know the cause of Cameron’s condition and that cause has a name.
“Who is this?”, you are probably asking yourself.
This woman had been a friend of mine several years ago. While in the Navy and pregnant with Cameron, she and I became friends after being placed within the same assignment as we waited out our pregnancies. While I was a single, unwed mother-to-be, Sherise was married, but her husband was currently deployed.
At one point, Sherise came to live with me in my two bedroom apartment, shortly after Cameron’s birth. My younger sister, Jessie, had also relocated to Virginia and was stay with me as well. Things were fairly normal… until Sherise gave birth to her son.
I didn’t notice the change in her behavior right away. I was busy raising my son, driving him back and forth to visit with his father and standing my watches at my new temporary duty assignment. In fact, I rarely saw Sherise. Her son was a fussy baby, (okay, I’m being nice. He cried ALL the time) which was an odd contrast to Cameron’s extremely quiet nature.
Yes, that’s correct. I had been blessed with a quiet baby. Cameron slept eight hours the night he was born, and very rarely cried. Usually, his cries were so he could be fed or changed. We often joked about Sherise’s fussy baby, about their “love/hate” relationship, but slowly, I noticed Sherise wasn’t Sherise.
She stopped trying to take care of herself. She nearly always refused to leave the house, even refused to make her appointments for her post-delivery checkup. She became untidy, even stopped bathing properly. I had sat her down several times and told her I thought she was depressed, urged her to see her doctor. I even reported her condition to our command, who promptly informed me, there was nothing they could do.
Life wasn’t easy… but it wasn’t unbearable either during those first few months of Cameron’s life. But that all changed in early November…
I had been moved to stand barrack’s watch, upon my return from my maternity leave. two days on, two days off, with a three-day weekend every other week. My watches were 11 pm – 7 am, unless it was the Saturday or Sunday, in which I would stand watch from 7 pm – 7 am.
On November 3, 2006, I was frustrated to discover my car, had broken down again. For the life of me, I can’t even remember what was wrong with it. I believe that time it was I needed a new battery. If you can’t tell, my car obviously broke down quite often. My neighbors were a Chief and his wife and step-daughters. The teenage girls would often babysit Cameron for me while I had watch. Luckily, the Chief gave me a ride to watch and the watchstander I relieved offered to give me a ride home in the morning (we lived a mile from base, so it wasn’t too inconvenient).
I was annoyed when my relief showed up over two hours late. The Saturdays I had watch were always hard for Cameron and I. I had less time for sleep and he was up during the day. Sherise had watched him the night before, which she sometimes did. He slept through the night as usual, which made me leaving him at 10:30 easy on her, she merely needed to keep an ear open in case he got hungry.
My neighbors, usually watched Cameron those Saturday mornings, in order to allow me at least six hours of sleep. But that morning, it seemed everything was going wrong. After being relieved late, I stumbled over to my neighbors, to discover, they had ran out to do some errands, assuming since I hadn’t brought Cameron over sooner, I wasn’t in need of their help. Grudgingly, I asked Sherise if she minded watching over him while I slept. She agreed and I stumbled into bed and proceeded to pass out. Within an hour, she came into my room carrying a screaming Cameron.
Exhausted, it didn’t fully dawn on me how unusual this behavior was for him. I tried to comfort him, feed him, even placed him in his bouncy chair in hopes of calming him down. Nothing would work. Eventually, he relaxed and Sherise offered to take him once more.
I was surprised to be woken up before my alarm by my neighbor’s thirteen year old daughter. She had Cameron in her arms and was asking if he could stay the night. I was so exhausted, I didn’t even realize how odd this request was. I also didn’t register how odd it was that Sherise was tagging along behind the young girl. They followed me as I made my way around the house.
Thinking back… there were so many signs that something wasn’t right. After much insistence from the girl, to double check to ensure her step-father could give me a ride to work. I dressed in my uniform and walked over next door… I wasn’t prepared for what I found when I got there.
The girl’s mother sat me down and informed me that something had occurred during the day. A few hours before I awoke. She and her daughter had been sitting outside and they heard a baby screaming. The mother wasn’t as familiar with Sherise’s baby, like her daughters, and she automatically assumed it was him. Her daughter recognized the sound to be Cameron.
She walked over to the apartment and opened the door, (it usually was unlocked during the day, because it wasn’t uncommon for the girls to come and go as they pleased) to find Sherise shaking Cameron and yelling at him.
*Let me just say, this is a hard memory to relive. I don’t know how I slept through the noise and the fact is, it haunts me to this day, that had I heard something, I could have possibly protected my child.*
The girl took Cameron from my roommate and proceeded to return to her family’s apartment. It was there they discovered a huge knot forming on his head and they worried because they were unable to calm him for several hours.
My world turned upside-down that night… the night my child became a statistic. As I took him into the ER, I was horrified at the response I received there. Though I had witnesses and proof that it was another woman who shook my child, the nurses and doctors treated me with disgust. Child Protective Services as well as the cops were called. They arrested my roommate and she stayed in jail for several days. But, I will never forget how awful that weekend was.
Seeing Cameron, hooked up to machines… being monitored constantly. Practically unable to touch him, because the nurses would shoot Cameron’s father and I dirty looks if we tried. He was released Monday morning and after putting in an emergency leave request, we returned to North Carolina with his father.
I lost a son that weekend. Cameron was never again the same baby he had been before. The knot to the right side of his head was still present for over six weeks. Though nothing else seemed to be wrong with him, his personality… his habits and behaviors changed.
So yes, my son’s autism has a caused and while there is no way to prove it, I, as his mother, know her name.
The judge dismissed the charges against Sherise. He claimed she was merely a new mother who had been overwhelmed with two babies. But as we all looked back on her behavior and her son’s behavior, there wasn’t a doubt in any of our minds… Cameron wasn’t the only child she had been hurting. He was just the reason she got caught.
I seem to have strayed further than I intended. So I think I will go ahead and end this here. I need to wash my face and spend my day with my beautiful son.
Until next time,