When and why did Donia start to feel concerned about J.'s health and development?When my son was born, I said, “His breathing sounds super-congested.” The doctor said, “Yeah, he probably swallowed a little amniotic fluid. Don't worry about it.” I saw his chest pulling in a little bit when he breathed, and I kept on questioning. (Now, I know those were called “retractions.”) They said, “Don't worry about it. That's normal.” He was born at 35 weeks. We knew that potentially at 35 weeks there could be some minor respiratory issues. But he was six pounds eight ounces. He looked great. His Apgar scores were really good. All the things that we use to measure the typical stuff were good. Then, my husband pointed out that he was not really responding the way our other son had responded 24 hours into being in the world. Bright lights weren't really making him squint. A bunch of things just weren't happening that we thought were normal. (My first son is a healthy, typically developing six year old now.) He also has what I call his “cute” ear, a malformed ear. That was something I also pointed out, and the doctor said, again, “Listen, your kid is healthy. Don't worry about it. He's okay.” My son was born in Jamaica because both my Husband and I had successful careers there. It was a private hospital with a reputation for great doctors. So we thought, “We got this. This is okay. We didn't need to come back to the U.S. to have a baby.” They transferred him to an ICU unit because of his breathing. He had a little jaundice. We were in the ICU unit for about a week. While we were there, I kept on asking questions: “You know, when he cries, I noticed his mouth is a little lopsided.” (“Don't worry about it, Mom. It's not a big deal”.) “His breathing is still a concern to me.” (“Don't worry about it. He doesn't need oxygen. His O2 is fine.”) He wasn't feeding well, and they said, “Well, sometimes with babies it just takes a little time for them to figure out feeding.” They discharged us from the ICU because they had more critical kids. They handed me a syringe and said, “Just keep squirting some milk in his mouth until he gets sucking under control, and head home.” I thought something doesn’t feel right. We went to our pediatrician, and he said, “Listen, I hear your concerns. I can refer you to any doctors you want. Yeah, his breathing looks a little off. Maybe he has something like a PDA (patent ductus arteriosus), which is very common in a lot of kids.” He sent us to a cardiologist who seemed to be rushing. She said, “He has a minor PDA. It's nothing to worry about.” My husband said, “Listen, this is actually good news. It's not like he has a major heart condition.” But again, something felt off. We went to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor). They said, “Everything looks great. His airway is perfectly normal.” I thought, okay! But again, he still wasn't feeding. We just kept on pushing and pushing. It was constant: “Mom, you're freaking out too much. There's nothing to worry about. It just takes time.” But while this was going on, he was losing weight. I could see it. I mean, I could see it. He was the most miserable baby as well. My other son was such a happy little baby. I know kids are different, but there was just something about it that didn't feel right.
When and why did Jeff start to feel concerned about S.'s health and development?Our son (nicknamed S.) is an interesting case. If you were to ever see him, you might think he was two years old, not his actual age of three-and-a-half. Not only does he model some immature behaviors, though he's well-behaved, but he's very small for his age. He wears size-two clothes still. He is getting a little taller, and he eats like a horse. But he just stays very thin. He’s not even 30 pounds. He has a little sister who is 10 months old who is catching up to him in weight. She's close to 20 pounds. She’s right around the 50th percentile for everything. He's still around 4%. On his growth chart, he has been less than the 5th percentile his whole life. And then speech-wise, he's actually more like a nine month old (not a three-and-a-half year old). For whatever reason, again, we can't figure it out. His expressive delay is huge and he does not talk. I would say that what he understands is a lot closer to a match for his physical size (of 2 years old). If we say “Hey, slow down,” if we're outside walking around, and he gets a little too far ahead, he'll slow down. If we say, “Okay, we're about to cross the street. We’ve got to hold hands,” he puts his hands up. He knows we're going to cross. If I say, “Alright, you’ve got to sit down in your chair.” Then, instead of standing up, he sits down. But he can’t talk. He's so small physically, and that has got to be holding him back in some way. I'm probably wrong, but I feel like that in my heart. Our son was born with a couple of strikes against him. His mother had a two-vessel cord during the pregnancy . He was basically always very, very tiny, through the entire process. To the point where we even got geneticists involved. And they were telling us it could be some kind of skeletal dysplasia. It could be this. It could be that. They were telling us a number of things that it could possibly be. When S. was born, he was supposed to go naturally. We ended up trying to induce early. I think it was three-and-a-half weeks early. That didn't work, so they did a caesarean. When we went home from the hospital, he was actually below five pounds. Then, right away, he had an inguinal hernia, so he went through surgery. As well as that, he had digestive issues. He was allergic to milk. It took us a little while to figure out what was going on. As he grew, we noticed that he wasn't hitting a lot of his milestones, whether it was movement, or speech, or others. He finally started crawling around a year old but he was not very good at it. And he didn't walk independently until he was just about two. We started to notice when he wasn't developing language. He also has a little bit of a lazy eye, which I think is genetic. I had the same thing when I was a child. These were all little things that we knew were somehow contributing to what was happening. Those were our first indications when we started to put together these puzzle pieces.
When and why did LH start to feel concerned about M.'s health and development?In utero, we already had a few challenges that came up. We found out about clubfoot at one of the early scans. It was a non-issue really, in the scheme of things. When M. was born, he had left clubfoot and torticollis. Those were the only issues of note. We started seeing a physical therapist right away for torticollis at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. My dad, who is a retired physician, noticed that M.’s eyes were non-reactive to light at about three months old. (It wasn't the pediatrician who noticed. It was my dad.) That is where I would say our journey really began. Then, one by one, other issues started to crop up over the years. For his vision, we saw an ophthalmologist. We went to one ophthalmologist when he was still three months old. This is one of those stories: The doctor was like, “Well, he could be blind.” We thought, “What? What are you saying to us?” So that guy was out. We switched to another doctor. And actually, M.’s eyes just kind of caught up to other kids. He was diagnosed with cortical visual impairment years later, and he wears glasses, but his eyes did catch up to a degree. Some of my friends have a similar story, too. You end up seeing a lot of different physicians to get all the information you need. But after this, M. wasn't really meeting the expected milestones. We had gotten into Early Intervention early. He must have been six months old. He needed physical therapy because he wasn’t rolling over and the torticollis was unresolved. Then, at 12 months, M. wasn't really verbalizing at all. I think one of the main reasons M. was given an autism diagnosis early on was because of his visual impairments. It's the way he used vision: when he's thinking, he looks someplace else. When he's walking, he doesn't look and instead he uses his feet to feel. He wasn't he wasn't making eye contact when you were talking to him, and then he also wasn't speaking. The autism diagnosis is definitely not correct. It helped us get therapy early on, but it also was not accurate. Later on, that diagnosis also didn’t help get other kinds of support. I always knew it wasn't autism because of his social engagement. M. was always so sweet and engaging. He was also given a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified). I don't think they give it anymore. It was a catch all: “We don't know what's happening here, so we’ve got to give you something.”