My Journey in Wearing My Autistic Child

My Journey in Wearing My Autistic Child by Kaytee Crawford IBCLC, CD, CST 

To celebrate Black Babywearing Week this year, I want to tell you the story of my third child. This story is about his neurodivergence and our journey to discovering his diagnosis through babywearing. Full disclosure, my story is unique to our experience and will not be everyone’s. A friend once told me that if you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met just one person with Autism, because everyone who is Autistic is so unique and individual to their journey.  

This story begins in 2010, surprisingly. That’s when I was pregnant with our first and at my baby shower, I got a baby wrap. I didn’t know much about it as a first-time parent, but I was determined. I remember watching loads of YouTube videos trying to figure it out and when I did, I felt UNSTOPPABLE. My first was born in the Spring of 2011 and we were a babywearing duo. I mostly wore him in the wrap and never looked back. By the time he was one, I stopped wearing him often because he was such an independent toddler and if you have one, you know. Come Winter 2012, we were welcoming our 2nd and again, I pulled out my trusty baby wrap and that’s where the baby stayed. However, this journey also included a Beco Butterfly (the OGs will know). One of my dearest friends gave it to me and I used it SO much with my second. The wrap was cast aside for this bulky and clunky Beco. While it looked more confusing than the wrap, in retrospect, the stretchy wrap was always the easiest for me in that early parenthood time.  

In April 2016, our third was born. He was not planned, but so welcomed and he was the balm our family needed at that time. I was slowly learning more about babywearing and I ended up winning a ring sling and I never looked back. I learned about how to use my ring sling and then I learned about woven wraps, then Meh Dais, then back carries including torso carries and hip carries. I was OBSESSED with babywearing at this time. Looking back, it felt almost instinctive to wear him. I had a yearning to keep him close. I didn’t know why I had that feeling, but now I do. That instinct was to help him develop in the best way possible before we even thought there might be something different about him. And yes, he is different, but in the best ways possible and I think that’s what makes everyone unique and interesting…our differences.  

Wearing my third was constant. Part of it was a necessity because I also had a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old and my husband was back to work by day 3 in our postpartum journey. The other part was because my third was always most comfortable in my arms. He wanted to hear my heartbeat and he wanted to be close to me as much as possible. I remember holding him in my arms almost every night because that was the most comfortable for him. He wasn’t an unhappy baby, quite the opposite. He was the happiest baby you’ve ever met and he’s still the happiest kid you’ll ever meet. However, I could tell when he was uncomfortable and needed that closeness which was more than my older two had needed as babies. At the time, we thought he might be our last kiddo, so I wanted to soak in those last baby milestones. I was also exclusively breastfeeding, so babywearing made that easier for me as well.  

I feel like the current fad is to talk about all the ASD signs folks saw in their babies. People ask me what signs I saw in our third and to be honest? We really didn’t. Again, he was the perfect baby and I fervently believe that babywearing actually masked a lot of those “signs” in a good way. A lot of sensory kiddos and ASD kiddos need deep pressure (mine included) to feel regulated. I think because I wore him constantly that he was always well regulated, so we didn’t think anything was different about him or that may need more support and help. Plus, we had a lot of family telling us some of my concerns were normal for a third baby and that they’re always late bloomers. If your gut is telling you something is off, trust it even if people are telling you not to. 

The first year of our third’s life was probably 75% worn on my body, 20% in arms, and 5% in a pack n play (usually for funsies lol). I also started volunteering with my local babywearing group and still have friends from that space. He was affectionately known as “The Back Wrap Baby” by the group and my friends because of his love for being worn, especially in a back carry. He could literally have just woken up from a nap and then put on someone’s back and would fall back asleep after cuddling in. The tighter, the better for this kid. It wasn’t until he was about 2 years old that we started to see more signs of something different from our third. 

At first, we kept waiting for him to talk or to look at us and interact with us more. I didn’t know what was going on with him and why this was happening now. He was regressing and he’d been doing so many things that he couldn’t do now. He was still completely happy and calm and wasn’t having any outbursts or big stimming moments. The only thing was that I wasn’t wearing him like I had been before. We got his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in the summer of 2019 when he was newly 3 years old and about a year into not wearing him constantly.  

I’ll be honest, I blamed myself a lot in the beginning. It was a hard thing to hear that your 3-year-old had the cognitive and verbal abilities of a 6–9-month-old. A punch to the gut. Also, I didn’t know much about Autism, just the horror stories you hear in the media. I started searching more about it and learning along with our third in his various therapies. During this period, I learned more about his need for deep pressure and things started to click. The deep pressure was regulating him and that’s why we didn’t see those signs earlier (again, this was my experience, and everyone else’s experiences can and will probably be different). I started wearing him more again. I was now a Babywearing educator, so he would come with me to meetings, and I would wrap him all the time. Wrapping a 3-year-old did have some challenges (he’s always been a tall kiddo), but the benefits definitely outweighed those. Besides, babywearing doesn’t have an expiration date, just weight limits. 

The next year was spent navigating my 4th Hyperemesis pregnancy and Covid. Our 4th was born in the fall of 2020 and because we were still sticking to our bubble and quarantining, I threw myself into babywearing even more. I think there was also a little fear there, looking back. I wanted to wear our fourth as soon as possible because I wanted him to have the regulation that our third did in case, he was also neurodivergent. The difference was that our 4th was and is neurotypical and didn’t like to be as tight as his brother did or be worn all the time (and I tried…there’s a lot of video proof). He was also content to lie by himself and just be. It was a weird shift, but I was still wearing our third even though he was now 4.5 years old. I also did a lot of tandem carrying which was fun to do since I did it a lot with my second and third together.  

Even now at 8 years old, I wear our third sometimes. We have a couple of awesome carriers that have weight limits into the 60s and 70s, so we have a bit of wiggle room. It’s still his long legs that get in the way, but as soon as he’s up, I’m teleported back into those early years with him as he snuggles into my body. Except now the fears of the unknown and the blame of myself is gone because there is nothing or no one to blame. Autism isn’t the end of the world and the more I learn about it in my kiddo (and myself…working on a diagnosis) the more I realize how much of a superpower it can be. He’s blossomed through his therapies and our care. I sometimes do wonder if we’d be having more struggles if I hadn’t worn him so much in the beginning. I wonder if wearing him and giving him that constant regulation for 2 years allowed him to flourish in his early childhood years. “What ifs” are normal, but I’ll never truly know. I’ll always be thankful to babywearing for the bonds it allowed me to cultivate with all of my children, but especially my third. If it weren’t for babywearing, I’m not sure where we’d be in our journey with kids and honestly? I don’t want to know. 

Kaytee Crawford