Since April is Autism Awareness Month, it’s only fitting that my son received his diagnosis this week. It was not unexpected, and I’m happy to have a explanation and target rather than waiting for symptoms to erupt and fighting them one by one. Since we’ve gone down this path, I’ve become very aware that autism awareness is sorely needed. I’d be happy to answer any questions. Here are some questions I’ve received already:
- When did you first notice signs? At four months. It was lack of eye contact when I was close to him. He also sometimes seemed to find my presence over-stimulating.
- Isn’t he young to be diagnosed at 17 months? While a lot of therapies can’t begin until he turns 18 months, the M-CHAT is valid between 16 and 30 months of age. New studies are showing that autism screening could possibly begin as young as 2 months old and, with time, we will be able to diagnose younger and younger children.
- Are you sure he has autism? My son was first referred by his pediatrician to Early Intervention at 6 months. He passed then, but was also referred at 9 months. At that point, he qualified for their services. He’s been seeing an Occupational Therapist on a regular basis since about 11 months and a speech therapist for the past month. His OT sees him for 2-3 hours each week and was the one who suggested the M-CHAT. His pediatrician referred him to a Developmental Pediatrician, who gave the diagnosis. Autism is a spectrum disorder, and it’s possible that, with therapy, he will be able to move ‘up’ the spectrum, but he fits the criteria for autism in this current moment. And that’s after lots of therapy to encourage eye contact and interaction.
- What if he’s just shy/will speak eventually/an introvert? Couldn’t this label hurt him? Most shy and quiet children still show understanding of words and human gestures, such as pointing. The therapies we’ve done are very gentle and basically a form of play to him. For example, to get him to make better eye contact, I hold a ball up near my face and count to three before throwing it. We are currently working on teaching him pointing and we’ve started by offering two separate items to him and having him reach for the item he prefers. If he is on the spectrum, then early therapy is exactly what he needs. If he isn’t, then he will still need therapy to help him with learning things such as pointing anyway. The label will allow him to qualify for therapy services that can be incredibly expensive.
- How can he have autism when he’s so friendly and happy? He’s not like Rainman. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, it can exhibit in a lot of different ways. People with autism can be extroverts and many of them are very happy individuals just like neurotypical people. Like many other children with autism, my son forms strong attachments to his caregivers and loves to snuggle with me. We’ve done therapy to help him adjust to changes in routine and allow turn-taking but, on the whole, my son is a very laid-back, friendly guy.
- Did you give him vaccines/ feed him food with red dye/feed him formula? Stop. Seriously, stop doing this. It’s an updated version of the refrigerator mother theory. Most evidence suggests that autism has a genetic basis. There is absolutely no link between vaccinations and autism other than that vaccines might help prevent autism because autism has been linked to maternal infections. The only difference between my twins was that my autistic son was exclusively breastfeed and put to sleep without CIO while his brother was allowed to CIO and formula supplemented. There’s no evidence that either of those could cause autism or that my actions caused my son to develop autism. I welcome the newest scientific information, but I’m not interested in what some random blogger thinks causes or cures autism.
- I feel so sorry for you. It must be terrible having a child with autism. How do you manage? The hardest part of autism is other people. The ignorance, the blaming, and the general view of autism as this great tragedy. While no parent likes to find out that their child might have difficulties in life, in some ways, my autistic son is easier than his twin! The therapy costs time, money, and his difficulties with change make it hard to do some of what I want to do, but, while I have a difficult path ahead of me, I expect that I’ll be doing way more fighting for my son than fighting with him, because that’s how it has been so far. With my background in anthropology, I view him as an individual with a unique mindset similar to a person from a culture that’s different than my own. He’s different, not broken. My goal with therapy is not to make him like his twin, but to help him more easily integrate into our culture.
- I think my child might have autism. What should I do? Call Early Intervention. It’s free and in every state. They will come to your home and evaluate your child. I had them test his twin because he was also slow in some social aspects, but he’s passed and we’ve since learned that he’s just very stubborn.
- How can I help? You can do little things like make silly faces at him when he looks at you to demonstrate that faces are fun to look at. You can also do bigger things like show patience and understanding when I have to be a little rigid in my schedule in order to help him adjust to strange surroundings. If you are interested in engaging in more therapies with him when we interact in person, then let me know and I can show you other things we are doing with him.
I hope this has helped!