"Why doesn't my child do that?" You think to yourself as you watch the other kids play together at the birthday party.
Your stomach twists into a knot and you try and dismiss it. You've already discussed your fears with your pediatrician. Children reach milestones at different times and he believes your child is fine. But you're a Mom. Something is wrong! You can feel it in your gut!
You get on-line, looking for reassurance that your child is fine. The more you read the more confused you get. In some ways, your child appears to be developing typically. But in others he's totally off base. As you search the strange behaviors your child sometimes exhibits, the word suddenly pops out at you...AUTISM.
The blood drains from your face and you feel like you're about to faint. The pit of your stomach feels like lead. "It can't be autism" you think to yourself. "He's far too smart. Besides, don't people with autism rock in a corner all day?"
Frantically, you begin searching on-line for the word "autism." Other words keep appearing like "pdd-nos", "Asperger syndrome" and "hyperlexia." This is overwhelming. "A simple definition, that's what I need," you tell yourself.
And you find one. In fact, you find hundreds and they all say the same thing. Terms like "stereotyped or idiosyncratic language" and "persistent preoccupation with parts of objects."
You stare blankly at the screen. What on earth does all this mean? Tears begin to roll down your cheeks. "I just want to know if my child is OK. Why can't there be a simple definition? Why isn't there something that will tell me right away if my child has autism?"
Every child is unique but we'll do our best to help. The following descriptions portray some COMMON behaviors in children on the spectrum. It's unlikely that your child will display all of these. However, if you're concerned enough to be reading this and you can relate to some of the descriptions below, I recommend you get an evaluation right away!
YOUR CHILD AT PLAY
Your child has an unusual method of play. Toys are played with in the same way and there is very little imaginative play. Your child might repeatedly make his train go around the track and then crash into a tree. Any suggestions to alter this are usually rejected. Even though your house might resemble a mini Toys 'R Us, it strikes you as odd that your child prefers spinning the stroller wheels to all his toys. You might also find that he spends large amounts of time lining things up. Cars go next to each other, side by side. Crayons are lined up together, sometimes in size order. Stuffed animals are arranged in a row. Disturbing any of his arrangements can cause extreme distress and your child will insist on fixing it.
Your child is happily playing with his train. While a typical child will constantly turn around to see what you think, your child is interested in his toy, not your reaction. Typical children constantly bring you things, point to things and show you things. Children on the autism spectrum might bring you a toy because they want you to wind it up constantly, but they're not interested in what you think about it. They are simply getting their needs met so they can continue their game.
Children with autism typically have delayed speech. They might not be verbal at all, saying very few words and making sounds. Some children might have a lot of words but not use them in a typical manner. You might find your child "echoing" words that you say. He might repeat lines from movies over and over. He might label objects but not string words together. For example he might say words like "juice" but not "I want juice." Your child might understand exactly what you are saying but isn't able to express what he wants. He might drag you to the fridge if he's thirsty rather than ask you for juice. He may get pronouns mixed up and when asked a question like "Are you hungry?" might respond by saying "You're hungry"" rather than "Yes, I'm hungry."
YOUR CHILD PAYS ATTENTION TO SOUNDS
While most people don't pay attention to the number of airplanes that fly over their house every day, your child might notice every one of them. He is either fascinated by the noise or he blocks his ears because it's too loud. You've also noticed that he has selective hearing. He often doesn't seem to hear his name or look up when you call him.
There are many more common symptoms that will help you detect if your child has autism.