Saturday, March 12, 2011

I Have A Secret

Pssst.  Hey you.  Yeah, that's right.  Come over here.

I have a secret.  You'll want to know it, trust me.

Shhh... ready?

I think your son might have autism.  You should check it out.

And this is where I wake up from my dream before the guy in question punches me out or otherwise inflicts extreme physical violence.

Having read a lot on autism and spoken to many clinicians, I have a little autism detector in my brain I can't turn off.  I can't help myself... I screen every child I run into.  I'm no psychologist and do not pretend to be able to diagnose autism, but there have been a few times where it is so obvious to me it's like the kid spray painted "I HAVE AUTISM" on the wall.

For example, let's take today.  I was at a playgroup with Tyler.  I saw a Dad with his 2.5 yr old son.  I said hello to the son.  He was not interested in looking at me or responding to me at all, even when I was quite annoyingly persistent.  While he was verbal, his speech was limited to one word phrases and the articulation was unclear so he obviously had a speech delay.  He had no interest in the other children despite repeated attempts by his Dad to get him involved.  He played very independently - using many toys appropriately, but was very quiet and generally ignored any attempts by his Dad to join him in his activities.  At one point, he decided opening and closing the door was quite fun and when his Dad removed him from this perseveration, become quite upset and told his Dad "No".  He joined the rest of the kids for bubbles but was very focused on the bubbles and again ignored the children.

I said to the Dad, "Wow, your son plays so independently."  He replied, somewhat embarrassed, "yeah, we are trying to socialize him but he's not getting a lot of opportunity."  I left it at that... perhaps I would have had more of an "in" with Alanna there.  Perhaps I weirded him out by trying to engage his son so much.

To me this kid was likely on the spectrum.  He may not have full blown autistic disorder but he definitely had red flags for ASD.  But I couldn't tell this first time Dad, could I?  I debated it.  I really did.  But in the end it wasn't my business and I know so many parents struggle with denial.  

How would you react if a stranger said, "Excuse me but I think your child may have autism.  You should get him evaluated."  Assuming you even knew what autism was, you might be very angry with this stranger.  Perhaps someday you would be thankful, but at that moment you'd be angry.

Perhaps I am just chicken.  I worry that this child will not be identified until he is four if he doesn't attend pre-school.  But it really isn't my business, is it?


  1. I don't have an answer or any advice for you, but understand how you feel. Like you I screen every child I come into contact with as well. I cannot help it.

    We have a family member, a single mother with a 2.5 year old and I saw the flags from 6 weeks. I wasn't certain at 6 weeks it was Autism, but knew there wasn't something quite right and as he has got older I am certain he is on the spectrum. I still haven't worked up the courage to say something out right to her, because the mother is the kind to stick her head in the sand and/or abuse me. So I just drop subtle hints when I am around her, hoping and praying that someone picks it up in time before he get's to school.

  2. That's a hard one. Obviously you just want to help, but parents get so much criticism under the guise of "helpful advice" anyway that often they're really defensive. I think that all you can do with people that you don't know very well is be subtle and gentle and hope that your comments help them to see the truth. Ugh.

  3. My "A-dar" works all the time, too. Knowing whether or not to speak up is always a challenge to discern.

  4. I find myself in the same situation at times. Friends of ours have a little boy who's almost two and is showing several signs (no eye contact, no gesturing, no language, difficult to transition). I'm not sure if they suspect autism but I told them it wouldn't hurt to contact preschool speech and language when they shared their concern about his lack of language. The mom told me that they've already contacted preschool speech and language and are on the waitlist. I then told her not to wait and to find a private SLP. I figured that speech and language issues are common and framing the issue in those terms is less presumptuous...well at least I hope so.
    The same friends don't bring up the topic anymore so I may have overstepped my bounds....i hope they weren't hurt by my comments.

  5. Thats my kid. (or my kid at 2.5). Just tell them to get it checked out. Its not a swear word, its just autism. Better know now than later eh? They may always hate you (and love you at the same time) but thats not what matters.

    Like the doctor who diagnosed my son and said ABA was the only thing that worked (yes a doctor in the uk said those words!! Unbelievable as people there hate ABA and dont accept it mostly in the medical field). Anyway, I hate him because that day forever is the day when the rest of my life sort of started, but I also THANK GOD for that man everyday!

  6. Tough one, for sure. I "had" a friend who's son exhibited symptoms of autism. He could not walk up or down stairs properly, always hanging on to the rail, and stepping to a step, having both feet on the step before proceeding to the next one. Waiting in line, he would bump his head into my arm repeatedly, threw temper tantrums, and had a hard time making friends. He was very smart though and did super well in school. I suggested she have him checked out, and all of a sudden, she wouldn't speak to me. Apparently she had him seen by a family doctor who said there was nothing wrong with him, and now I'm the enemy :(

    I would do it again though. My son is 9, and too old for services. We won't see the strangers again, and it's the child that matters. Early intervention is key.

  7. I agree with Stranded , Just tell them to get it checked out. Its not a swear word, its just autism. Better know now than later eh? They may always hate you (and love you at the same time) but thats not what matters.
    As a person just learning about this I am realizing ,there are a lot of people in denial but most are just ignorant .

  8. I think when it's a stranger you should say anything. I certainly wouldn't thank a stranger for diagnosing my child without any prompting or any professional qualification. I may eventually realize they said it for the right reasons, but I think you ultimately did the right thing.