I noticed a few weeks ago that babybot doesn’t babble the way she used to. There’s a concentrated humming now instead of random sounds. She does it especially loud when she’s focused on something interesting. Like the back of her hand. We started calling it the “finger meditation” because she looks like a crazy old monk sitting crosslegged humming a continuous “om” while staring crosseyed at her fingers. The nanny called it her “thinking song.”
She also doesn’t laugh. She smiles all the time, squeals with joy, and makes a sort of silent breath-giggle, but no actual sounds. At three months old she started laughing in her sleep sometimes, but she never did it while conscious, and it stopped after only a few weeks.
I work with medically fragile children, so I naturally got a little paranoid about my own. When she was born I secretly checked her over for things like simian creases and sacral dimple. I was still trying to do Apgar scores in my head when they handed her to me. They asked me what her name was. I told them I needed a few minutes and they thought I was still trying to think of a name. I was actually trying to remember all of the items for the Apgar, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t. Imagine that, my academic self was malfunctioning due to childbirth.
I read somewhere, years ago, that the only conclusive things researchers could correlate with autism were whether mother used tylenol to treat fevers during pregnancy, and whether the pregnancy was wanted or not. Of course my pregnancy was neither planned nor wanted, so I was extremely concious of that little fact for the entire duration. I never actually looked it up to see if it’s still considered reliable. If there are indeed conditions like autism that can be linked to my stress hormones, she’s definitely high risk. Mommy was a mess. Seriously.
The first time my mother met babybot she was impressed by how social she is. The smiles, noises, demanding to be held. At one point she blurted out “she sure isn’t going to have that autism, is she.” I froze. “You know, Mom, it doesn’t show up right away. They start out fine then suddenly regress. That’s why people blame vaccines, it’s the only big thing they experience around the age they get diagnosed.” She looked more quizically at babybot. She didn’t respond.
I still silently watch for things like toe clubbing and red reflex in her eyes. I compare her to every other child I meet in her age range. I study babies at the bus stop and try to guess how old they are. I know my milestones inside and out. She’s doing what she’s supposed to do, and most of me knows it. I crack up when she goes crosseyed at a spoon coming toward her mouth, or every time I brush her hair. But I think I’ll always be hypervigilant about “diagnosing” stuff. Especially if she keeps humming at her fingers.