This is the most common question I get asked when someone learns that my son has autism. “How did you know?” The pat answer is that he was presented with a severe language delay at 18 months. But, like all issues with children, the real answer isn’t as easy as that.
Most parents worry about autism. They hear the news reports about the “Autism Epidemic” and they read about anguished parents desperately searching for a cure. And most parents want to know the same thing. How do I know if my child has autism? One way to find out is go to the source; the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The DSM lists out the diagnostic criteria for all psychological and behavioral disorders. You can see their criteria for autism here: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/hcp-dsm.html If your child seems to fit the criteria, then talk to your Pediatrician or call Early Intervention (the AAP has recently added a screening test to the 18 month visit called the M-CHAT). But, sometimes all that psycho speak is hard to understand. Like, what is stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language anyway? It’s like you need a B.S. in Psychology just to read the thing.
For us, and my son, it was a slow awakening. He had amazing abilities, like stacking and sorting far above his age. He had a photographic memory, and he got upset if anything was out of place in the house. He never looked at my face. We thought he was deaf, because he was completely unresponsive. He never played with or looked at his big sister. He never lost a toy. He would only eat food that was round. He was happiest when he was in his crib, alone. That one really stood out to me, because our older daughter stayed in our bed until she was a preschooler.
So, where is the line between typical toddler behavior, and autism? Every parent who has a toddler knows they are just a little bit crazy. It’s part of the charm of the “terrible two’s.” Some kids will only wear yellow. Some kids scream hysterically every time they see a cow. Some kids end every sentence with “RIGHT NOW!!” Thankfully, those kids are my sister’s and not mine, which is what I am thinking every time I’ve sugared up my niece and nephews (whom I love to pieces) and sent them packing to their mama. But those are all typical behaviors, and autistic behaviors are so extreme that they keep the child from learning and doing other things, such as playing a family game. If your child doesn’t try to communicate with you, spends a lot of time alone or playing the same thing for hours, then you may have cause to be concerned. However, autism isn’t the end of the world and I’ve always considered myself to be very blessed to be the mother of my autistic son.