Every child is different so it is incredibly difficult to know when your child’s behavior is abnormal. You think that your child is going through a phase, the pediatrician says your child will outgrow it, and your family says that your child’s behavior is similar to you as a child. So how do you know what is abnormal and an autistic tendency? Parents know. I knew something was wrong. Your gut is screaming at you that something is wrong here. When your child is screaming all day long and up at night too, something has to be wrong. This is not normal. Pediatricians are reluctant to send your child for testing and evaluation although parents know this child needs it. It is common and the reason why most children are not evaluated until they are much older and missed those critical first years of therapy. If you have an inkling that your child may have autism, don’t stop trying to get him help. What you do now for your child with autism will make a difference.
Most children with autism have a condition called sensory integration dysfunction. This may be what you are seeing on a day to day basis when your child can’t tolerate touch, sound, and movement. All children with autism are different. But I am here to tell you that I can pick out a child with autism out of a crowd as I see the similarities between my child and the other kids with autism! The child who fights their parent every step of the way over the smallest of things. The exhausted parent trying to hold on to a child who only wants to hide under the table away from all stimuli. The child who hits anyone who comes near him. A child covering his ears and crying, blocking out the sounds that are upsetting him.
Sensory integration dysfunction, not SID as that is too close to SIDS but DSI for short, presents as a child who can’t tolerate so much that typically developing children can. My child is so nervous about being off balance that she refused to climb our porch steps, three steps leading up to the porch. Sounds bother her so much that she would go into a angry frenzy, attacking whoever was closest…and she still does this to this day! It took years of occupational therapy before someone could hug my child, her little body was so oversensitive to touch that she would scratch at people who tried to touch her. It was obvious that something was going on with my child. I might not have known what but I knew in my gut that this child was exhibiting abnormal behavior. It was no one’s fault, she can’t help that she was born this way and I was the best parent that I knew how to be.
Children with autism can have speech delays. Sometimes a child with a different form of autism which is called aspergers can actually be ahead of their peers in their speech development. Some children, like my own, have no speech for many years. Once in speech therapy and they are learning to talk, you will find that their speech is different than other children. These children have to be taught what other kids just pick up from being spoken to. For example, my daughter would speak in the third person for the longest time and would get confused on whether she should use I, you, him, her, or they.
Fine motor skills can also be delayed and you will find your child not being able to do age appropriate things like buttoning their clothing or turning a door knob. Occupational therapy can help with this as they play games to teach children how to improve their fine motor skills. My child would get so frustrated and have meltdowns as it was so difficult for her to use her fine motor skills. Now her gross motor skills were fine after she started walking. She was afraid of falling or would not have been delayed at all on gross motor skills. She could do it but was too afraid to move her little body!
Children with autism can need very little sleep and this is where most are misdiagnosed with ADD or ADHD regularly. It is common for autistic children to not rest well and not need as much sleep as most. This will change as they grow up. Little by little, you will notice your autistic child sleeping a little more each year. Those first years are really tough though. Get some help during the day so you can nap and refresh after a sleepless night. From my own experience, don’t drive when you are exhausted from a sleepless night! It isn’t safe.
Your child may exhibit little need to interact with anyone besides you. It may seem at times that your child may not even notice you. Some children with autism seem in their own world. You may need to tirelessly attempt to capture the child’s attention and keep them engaged or they will go back to daydreaming or staring off into space. I would continually talk to my child with autism to keep her engaged and stop her from melting down as everything upset her. When we went out, I walked on eggshells and held my breath…hoping no one would touch or try to speak to my very cute little girl and cause a meltdown.
Children with autism will play with toys differently. You may notice the child lining up their blocks instead of building with them. My child enjoys laying all of her crayons out on her floor, side by side. Books don’t line her bookshelf but instead I find them lining the wall in her bedroom. A child with autism will enjoy watching the wheels of a toy car go round and round but won’t push the car to watch it go. Imaginary play may seem foreign to them. Occupational therapy may use a lot of pretend play to teach this.
Ask for a referral from your pediatrician if you suspect that your child has autism. If he refuses, go ahead and schedule assessments on your own. Assess your child’s speech and fine motor skills. Seek out a specialist called a developmental pediatrician to assess if your child has a form of autism. Remember there are many forms of autism from low functioning to high functioning. The sooner that your child begins therapy sessions, the sooner his daily living skills can improve. You really want this to happen before your child enters elementary school.
Personal experience living with an autistic child and caring for an autistic child