Does my child have autism? That is an upsetting question that many parents ask. If you are among the concerned parents who worry about the potential of having a child diagnosed with a pervasive developmental disorder, the first step is to call your child's physician. It also helps to look at real-life examples to see if you can relate to the scenarios.
Does My Child Have Autism?
The simple fact that you are asking the questions speaks volumes:
- You are somewhat familiar with pervasive developmental disorders
- You are observant and sensitive to your child's needs and behaviors
- If autism is a factor, it is likely to be mild (severe cases are unquestionable)
- You are taking the first step in getting your child the help that he or she needs
Descriptions about autism and related pervasive developmental disorders are often clinical in nature, but it can be extremely difficult to remain objective about your own child. Following are two real-life scenarios with fictitious names.
Jeremy's parents had suspicions that something was unusual about him when he was a baby. He would stare at the ceiling fan for long periods, perfectly content watching the movement. He was a "good baby" who didn't cry very much but he seemed a little limp in the arms and the legs.
When Jeremy was 16 months old, his parents took him to a family gathering that piqued their concerns. His cousin, who is three months younger than Jeremy, said "chair" before sitting, clapped in excitement, and followed simple instructions like "put your arms up!" Jeremy did none of these things.
By the time he was 20 months old, Jeremy was saying very few words and many of the words that he previously used disappeared. His parents noticed that he would use a word once or twice but he didn't seem to make a connection between words, objects and actions. He didn't seem to hear what his parents said and it took considerable effort to get his attention.
Shortly before his second birthday, he began having tantrums on a regular basis, especially when out in the community. He would sit on each step as he descended and he stopped before stepping from one surface to another, which was noticeable, as he would stop before entering the kitchen or bathroom and when he would sit on the pavement, he resisted stepping onto the grass. Play was unusual, too. Cars did not drive, horses didn't gallop and Little People didn't walk. Instead, Jeremy would align toys in slightly curved lines all through the house. He became upset when the toys were moved. In addition, he seemed more interested in parts of objects rather than their uses. For example, he would hold a play telephone upside down, repeatedly pushing the buttons without putting the phone to his ear.
"Stims" involved flapping objects or his hands in front of his eyes. He would shift his weight from one foot to another, swaying in front of the television. He was more interested in watching the credits at the end of the movie than in the story itself, following the words with his movements.
After ruling out hearing problems, his parents took him to a developmental specialist who diagnosed him with PDD-NOS. He didn't meet the requirements for classical autism because he showed interest in others and he made good eye contact.
Freddy is the younger sibling of two children on the autism spectrum, one with severe autism and the other with mild autism. He had difficulty tolerating riding in shopping carts, and he still wasn't walking at 18 months. He responded to his name, played with toys normally, and showed great interest in others. When another person pointed or looked in a direction, Freddy failed to follow, looking at the person instead of the object of interest. His parents had him tested at 17 months old, using the Mullen Scale for assessment. The results were as follows:
- Gross motor development scored at 10 months
- Fine motor development scored at 17 months
- Receptive language scored at 9 months
- Expressive language scored at 15 months
- Visual tracking scored at 17 months
Freddy's parents followed up with an evaluation with a developmental specialist who found that he does not meet the criteria for autism or related pervasive developmental disorders. However, he did require physical therapy, sensory activities, and speech therapy.
Consider some of the following resources as you learn about the spectrum.
- Autism Symptoms Checklist
- How to Detect Autism in an Infant
- How to Know if Child Is Autistic
- Autism Screening Questionnaire
- DSM IV
- Grieving a Diagnosis of Autism
- What to Do if You Suspect Your Child Has Autism
Don't Wait and See
Taking a "wait and see" approach isn't advisable because early identification and intervention are critical to your child's success. The earlier therapy takes place, the sooner you will see results. The focus is on your child and the question "Does my child have autism?" is reason enough to follow through with an evaluation. Keep in mind that interventions are behavioral in nature; it isn't likely that any medications will be prescribed.Here's a typical progression of the follow-up of a suspicion of autism:
- Meeting with the child's pediatrician to discuss symptoms and concerns
- Hearing test
- Speech evaluation
- Developmental evaluation
- Develop a treatment plan
- Follow through with therapy
Make the appointment for the evaluation with the developmental specialist on the same day you make the appointment with the hearing specialist. It can take a few months to get an appointment. If a hearing problem is the cause of the delays in communication, you can always cancel the session with the developmental specialist.