When I am talking with other moms and the subject of my son’s autism diagnosis comes up, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “How did you know?” Well, the answer is, “I didn’t.” I sensed that there was something not quite right but just assumed that it was because I was struggling so much as a first-time mom.
Although I had heard over and over that each child is an individual and that the lists in the baby books were just rough guidelines of what to expect, I still constantly referred to the developmental milestones to see which skills I could check off. It was very confusing because some skills he had mastered were well ahead of his age, while others were lagging quite a bit behind. I didn’t know whether to say yes to things that he had done once or twice, even though I had never seen or heard them again. I have since learned that inconsistent development is one of the hallmarks of autism.
We were quite fortunate that my son’s pediatrician advised us at his two-year checkup to contact our local Early Intervention program. My son was shown to have significant delays and began receiving both speech and occupational therapy and was also referred to a developmental pediatrician for an autism evaluation. Over the next few months, I learned a lot about the red flags for autism.
Within a diagnostic category such as autism, there can be a lot of variations in the characteristics presented by each child. Many of the items on this list from the Autism Society of America applied to my son to some degree:
- Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
- Difficulty expressing needs, using gestures or pointing
- Preference to being alone; difficulty mixing with others
- Little or no eye contact
- Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
- Sustained odd play, such as spinning objects
- Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
- No real fears of danger
- Noticeable physical over-activity or under-activity
- Uneven gross/fine motor skills
- Non-responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf although hearing tests in normal range
My best advice to any parent who is concerned about their child’s development is to contact their Early Intervention program and arrange for an evaluation. Whatever the outcome, it is good to know where your child’s development is and what you can do to help them progress. Do not let a doctor, friend or a well-meaning family member telling you that “she will grow out of it” or “boys develop more slowly than girls” stop you from listening to your gut. Earlier is always better when it comes to addressing developmental delays or disorders. And, through it all, remember that your child is still your child – an evaluation or diagnosis does not change who he or she is.
Note: This article appeared originally on Root & Sprout, a parenting ezine which is no longer available online.