Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Autism or the Terrible Two's

Having one child with autism (Asperger's to be exact), has made us overly sensitive and aware of the signs and symptoms.

And just because a child likes to spin, or is obsessed with Thomas the Train (I mean what 3 yr old boy isn't) doesn't mean they are autistic.   Adding up enough of the symptoms however, and then it's time to discuss with your child's doctor.

Back when the Spencinator was little, there was no autism screening.  Fast forward 8 years later and the Babes had an autism screening at her 18 month check up and will get another one at her 2 year check up.

We didn't answer 'yes' to enough of the questions for the doctor to be concerned, but my husband and I were already seeing some signs so we were and still are concerned.  The interesting thing is that if I had to answer those same questions about my son at that age, I would have answered them the same and he IS diagnosed with autism.

Here is an early autism screening questionnaire I found online that seems most like the questions I was asked:

1.  Does your child enjoy being swung, bounced on your knee, etc.? 
2.  Does your child take an interest in other children?  
3.  Does your child like climbing on things, such as up stairs? 
4.  Does your child enjoy playing peek-a-boo/hide-and-seek? 
5.  Does your child ever pretend, for example, to talk on the phone or take care of a doll or  
pretend other things?
6.  Does your child ever use his/her index finger to point, to ask for something? 
7.  Does your child ever use his/her index finger to point, to indicate interest in something?  
8.  Can your child play properly with small toys (e.g. cars or blocks) without just  
mouthing, fiddling, or dropping them?
9.  Does your child ever bring objects over to you (parent) to show you something?  
10.Does your child look you in the eye for more than a second or two?  
11.Does your child ever seem oversensitive to noise? (e.g., plugging ears)  
12.Does your child smile in response to your face or your smile?  
13.Does your child imitate you? (e.g., you make a face-will your child imitate it?)  
14.Does your child respond to his/her name when you call?  
15.If you point at a toy across the room, does your child look at it?  
16.Does your child walk?  
17.Does your child look at things you are looking at?  
18.Does your child make unusual finger movements near his/her face?  
19.Does your child try to attract your attention to his/her own activity?
20.Have you ever wondered if your child is deaf?  
21.Does your child understand what people say?  
22.Does your child sometimes stare at nothing or wander with no purpose?  
23.Does your child look at your face to check your reaction when faced with  
something unfamiliar?

The instructions for this screening state that
"Children who fail 3 or more items total or 2 or more critical items (particularly if these scores remain
elevated after the follow-up interview) should be referred for diagnostic evaluation by a specialist trained
to evaluate ASD in very young children."

Take the following questions that were part of the autism screening I mentioned above:
1. Does your child enjoy being swung, bounced on your knee, etc.?
3. Does your child like climbing on things, such as up stairs?
I think most parents of boys would answer 'yes' to these questions, but that doesn't mean those boys are autistic.

And what about this question:
2. Does your child take an interest in other children?
Parents of an overly shy child might answer no, but that doesn't mean the child is autistic.

With the increase in autism, these screenings are used as a tool to get qualifying children the help they need as soon or as young as possible.  I am a big believer in early intervention, and the sooner you can help your child (and stop blaming yourself for being a bad parent because of their behavior), the better.

I also think it is harder to diagnose autism or Asperger's when the child is higher functioning.  The symptoms aren't as apparent or can easily be explained away at that age.  But when you child is 5 or 6 and still throwing temper tantrums, which you later learn are meltdowns that he can't control, you know it's more than being a brat or spoiled or acting like a baby.  You quickly learn that the typical methods of parenting aren't going to work for you.  Hopefully you find resources, programs, books, and friends that can help you, but most times it is trial and error.  And just because something works for your first child with autism doesn't mean it'll work for the second one since autism can present itself so differently with each child.

Other autistic behaviors not mentioned in the screening mimic the terrible two's such as:
- an unwillingness to share
- tantrums when things don't go their way
- trying to control a situation or another person
- rigidity, an unwillingness to change, wanting things to stay the same
- obsessed with a particular object (favorite toy or blanket)
-sensory issues such as not wanting to touch certain fabrics/materials

So it's a wait and see game and in the meantime we love and teach our children no matter what behaviors they exhibit.

Anyone else have a child with autism?  Did you know something was 'different', or were you clueless or in denial when the symptoms were pointed out to you?

Things were (and still are) difficult with our son.  When he was diagnosed we didn't know much about autism and had never heard of Asperger's.  When we started reading about it, everything made sense and I felt a bit of a relief.  I wasn't a bad mom, he wasn't a bad kid.  We could now get the help we needed to teach him how to behavior appropriately since the 'typical' parenting books weren't working.