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Autism Diagnosis Keeps Mom On Her Toes

You're never given more than you can handle, right?

April is Autism Awareness month. Did you know that approximately 67 million people in the world are affected by autism? If you don’t know someone who is on the autism spectrum, would you even give this fact a second thought? Quite honestly, I’m not sure I would if I didn’t have a son that was diagnosed with Aspergers, an autism spectrum disorder.

When E was 2 years old, his daycare contacted us to set up a meeting. We were shocked when the director gently suggested we should have E evaluated for autism. Some of their observations included the way he would not interact with his friends while playing—choosing instead to play alongside them rather than with them. He also had a certain way of lining up the trucks he was playing with. He didn’t use them the way they were “supposed” to be played with. He also wasn’t very verbal, preferring to point at the things he wanted.

MJ and I were obstinate and refused to believe that anything was wrong with our son. He marched to the beat of a different drum, and that was fine by us. We decided to do the evaluation to get the daycare off our backs. After a long day of testing, the doctor looked at us and asked, “What did the daycare see that made them think he needed this evaluation? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with him. If you want him to talk more, take away his pacifier.”

We left with E’s clean bill of health, our vindication, which we were eager to slap down on the daycare directors desk. Even after we thought the issue was behind us, MJ and I began to notice things that were a little off. E was obsessive about certain toys or subjects. He would watch nothing but Thomas the Train videos over and over and methodically line up his toys. He would get very upset if you tried to move them or play with them. When I took him to the park, he would run screaming across the playground at kids he wanted to play with. Again and again I pulled him aside and told him how to walk up to them and introduce himself and ask nicely if they wanted to play—only to see him tear away and run screaming into the middle of the group sending them scattering.

The trouble in school got worse. Daycare, preschool, and kindergarten are a blur of phone calls and school visits due to disruptive behavior and emotional breakdowns. First grade was a turning point: E was diagnosed as having ADHD by his pediatrician. After a ton of research and soul-searching, he started his first medication to help with his attention and hyperactivity. E was still having meltdowns— sometimes over the way his socks felt, or the tags in his T-shirts. I Googled until my hands cramped and discovered a whole new set of foreign terms such as “sensory integration disorder” and “occupational therapy”.

It took us another year before we found our current pediatric psychiatrist who finally diagnosed E with mild Asperger’s Syndrome. E was 7 and we had him on medicine for ADHD and in a variety of therapies: occupational, behavioral, and play. Since then, I’ve devoured any book or website that will give me as much information as possible on Aspergers.

We’re lucky. E is mild. He’s social and engaging, he just needs a little help learning how to read social cues from others and controlling his emotions—things most people develop on their own as they mature.

According to the Autism Speaks website, there are certain red flags for autism. If you notice your child is displaying any of these behaviors, have them evaluated as soon as possible. Start with your pediatrician who can direct you to a specialist.

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by 6 months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by 9 months or thereafter
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • No response when the child’s name is called by 10 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling, or social skills at any age

We’re still a long way from where we would like for E to be. Everyday it’s two steps forward, one step back. But we are making progress, and there’s one thing that’s certain: we are not alone. There is no cure for autism, but early intervention is key to improving the outcome and helping them lead as normal a life as possible.

abbe gates April 18, 2011 at 10:37 PM
Having a son who now is 18 years old and just finishing first year college....looking back at our journey, what I would say to parents, is to take one day and sometimes on hour at a time. There are so many different types of "Autisms" , you son or daughter will have their own issues and their own challenges and also their own strengths.....it is hard, very hard, but you will make it and so will your child. Get involved with a group, even on facebook, there are thousands of parents with kids with autism to share their stories and strategies with you....do not face this alone, for there will be many times you will feel alone.....but you aren't!!! Abbe soccerdog.ca
Holly Hunt April 19, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Abbe- your comment is so uplifting! Hearing that your son is finishing up his first year of college fills me with so much hope. Some days can be a struggle, but at the end of the day, I love my son and I know I'm his biggest advocate. Thank you for the advice and sharing!
Anthony Wayne Nutter April 19, 2011 at 11:27 PM
E is a very forunate child, seeing how he has a strong supportive mother and fahter. He will succeed because the two fo you will refuse to let him fail. Find a support group or start one of your own. Interaction and sharing is vital for your sanity and the sanity of others who are facing the same things with their children.
Sara Kendrick April 20, 2011 at 06:12 PM
For parents of children with mental or physical disablities life is not easy..You and your husband seem to be doing a great job..Sometimes with some disablities being that caregiver is more than just a short time of one's life devoted to the child but it becomes a lifetime job..So take care of yourself and pace everything out so that you can remain strong and healthy so that you can be the best you can be when caring for your family.. Sara Kendrick

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