There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my son, Ryan. Yes, I have two other children who I love very much, yet Ryan enters my mind almost every hour throughout the day. You see, Ryan is autistic and because of that, I strive to see the world through his eyes as often as possible. I think he has made me a better father, a better doctor, and certainly, a better person.
I remember when Ryan was born. It was one of those normal deliveries that I have been doing for the past 20 years; nothing out of the ordinary. He was our second-born and by this time, my wife and I had the routine down pat. Ryan came into the world like any other baby; pink, crying and perfect.
During the first year of his life, Ryan seemed to be developing normally, meeting all the milestones that you would expect a healthy child to meet ― he even had my appetite! But as he approached the age of 2, I began to notice something special about him. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the thought of him being classified on the autism spectrum never entered my mind.
Everyone thought I was crazy, but I decided to have him tested. When the results came back all the health care professionals overwhelmingly agreed that he had a pervasive developmental delay. Even though I knew something like this was possible, and it was my hunch that something was going on, I was still in shock. Second and third opinions came and went, and everyone agreed.
I was frightened ― not for myself ― but for Ryan. I was angry because as a doctor who delivers babies for a living, I felt there must have been something I could have done to prevent this. Why didn’t I see it coming? But that’s the greatest mystery about autism; no one sees it coming.
We began a journey with multiple therapists around the clock, some of whom were very intensive and painful to watch. Ryan was not talking, and clearly his frustrations were mounting. Then one day ― just like that ― one of his therapists called me at my office, and through tears of joy and amazement, told me Ryan was talking.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life ― a feeling most parents could only understand as comparable to watching their child’s lungs fill with their first breath of life. But my happiness began to fade when I started to think about his future. You see, I had never wanted Ryan ― or any of my children ― to feel pressure to become anything more than what they dream of becoming. But my hope for all three of them is that they get to experience love, a good conversation with an old friend, and to have the ability of expression so they are able to communicate and achieve their dreams.
Today, we know that thousands of children are born with autism in the United States each year. The numbers are staggering, and they continue to grow. I have interviewed dozens of experts, both in the field of cognitive development, as well as researchers who are constantly looking for better treatment and attempting to link the diagnosis to a specific cause. I am optimistic that one day we will understand this complex problem, and in the future we will be able to prevent it and treat it more effectively.
These days, I am not frightened; I’m proud of Ryan and excited for his future. At 12 years old, he’s able to express himself in ways I could only dream of. He does not view himself as being anything but equal to his peers and his outlook on life is a refreshing break from the trials and tribulations we face each and every day.
I’ve finally learned what it really means to look at the world through Ryan’s eyes, and I’ve realized how lucky he is because of the purity of his mind. He’s able to look at the world with pure joy, pure love and pure hope ― something that many people never get to see.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.