Does this describe your child?
- 2.5-3.5yrs old
- probably male, probably firstborn
- delayed language; doesn’t put words together yet
- doesn’t use Yes/No correctly– can cry/temper tantrum easily
- doesn’t call for help
- doesn’t use Mommy/Daddy/own name well
- very detail-oriented
- walks on tiptoes
- walks in circles, sometimes jabbering to self or no-one
- spins car wheels, pokes blocks off, or otherwise repetitive play behavior
- repeats your questions/statements
- repeats sounds or scripts ad nauseum
- easily distracted
- bad eye contact
- can’t answer comprehension questions
- no gestures or pointing
- few independent skills
- doesn’t understand taking turns or people skills well
- won’t drink milk, eat fruit, etc.
- constipated all the time
- difficult sleeper
Congratulations! You have a fine, well-adjusted NON-AUTISTIC child! No, I mean it. Your child is likely a finicky, driven, bored and distracted little boy. He doesn’t care about language, isn’t able to pick it up easily, and is therefore a tough cookie who is behind in some areas that he wouldn’t be if he had better language skills. But for now, you have to suffer in the world of preschool, playgrounds, and other life adventures that really do require more English and social skills than your child has. And guess what? This is totally normal! Stop worrying that he is on THE SPECTRUM because life doesn’t seem to fit his developmental timetable, and just hang in there until he’s 5. Get a lot of structure and routine that works for you, adopt a rigid discipline ethic if necessary, and have faith that once the language kicks in, he will make up for lost time pretty much right away. His behavior will also become less erratic.
How about this child?
- 1-4 yrs old
- picky eater
- messy, clumsy, can’t dress self well
- cries easily
- strange phobias– water, vacuum, dirt
- anxious behavior
- taps or scratches self, has repetitive stimulatory behaviors (i.e. may still suck thumb, fidget with socks, etc)
- seems lost in a group, or plays alone
- deep, focused play skills; strange attention at times
- doesn’t like to engage others
- avoids conflict, checks out
- can talk but doesn’t initiate or sustain conversation; people might not even know how well they speak
- may speak to privileged individuals, in-depth about their favorite subject/question
- unusual talents, or way ahead in an adult area
- retreats to specific activities; self-soothing repetitive play
- takes things apart to study
- handles toys or household objects in peculiar (non-functional) ways
- sensitive to smells, sounds, touch
- “freak out” or “shut down” behavior
- low muscle tone
- allergies or inadequate nutrition
Congratulations! You too have a sensitive, fearful, NON-AUTISTIC child! Most people would like to diagnose your little guy with Asberger’s or Autism Spectrum, but more likely you have a misunderstood, sensory-sensitive little person. This profile is less commonly complained about than the very first profile I outlined, but it definitely represents a portion of toddlers who are very quickly seen as at-risk for autism and usually packed right off to a specialist for a neuropsychological exam. Whereas the first profile I listed above is likely to see the child put in special preschool, perhaps with an ADD-type medication, this second profile is more likely to be medicated for childhood depression, anxiety, OCD, or reactive detachment disorder. But kids come in all colors! There is no need to panic because your little person isn’t the extraverted, sensible preschooler. He/She may be an “old soul” or grumpy type who doesn’t fit in with the flashy world around them. He/She probably needs a little extra nurture and coddling, as well as some occupational therapy or one-on-one play/floortime with a loved one. Resist THE SPECTRUM curse!
** Note: Of course I am not against true autism diagnosis. And I am not against checking out whatever symptoms worry you about your child. I am just making light of the fact that “normal” is a wide range, and MUCH wider than we are told it is. Usually we are told to worry, from experts, parents, or friends, because of the developmental scare climate out there. Yet there is no reason to push the Panic Button just because your toddler or preschooler has some delayed or anti-social behavior. Attention and special education might be necessary…as it always has been, in the case of small children who have individual tendencies and weaknesses. But usually these are things you can do on your own or with limited intervention. There is no need to put small children under a microscope and ship them off for multiple diagnoses so they can receive services from the state until they’re 21 because we’re afraid they’re all high-functioning autistic.**
How about this?