Today is World Autism Awareness Day, which kicks off the month of April as Autism Awareness Month. Of course, every month is designated as awareness month for a great many causes, interests, or communities. Autism happens to share April with Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness, National Distracted Driving Month, Mathematics Awareness Month, National Car Care Awareness Month, Jazz Appreciation, and Stress Awareness Month.
I plan on celebrating by taking my car in for an oil change and being completely distracted on the way there by my autistic child scatting math tables in the back seat until I become so stressed that I cramp up and crap my drawers.
But I suppose as one of the preeminent (and not at all delusional) writers in the autism parenting space, I should have something else to contribute to the awareness-raising. One of the main goals of Autism Awareness Month is to encourage early diagnosis and intervention by making new parents aware of the symptoms and red flags that could be indicators that their child has autism.
I think I may be able to be of some help there. You see, when I first suspected that my daughter wasn’t developing as she should, I pored over the internet looking to have my fears assuaged. If you Google “autism”, you get 78 million results, and I’m pretty sure that I visited every one of those sites looking for checklists of symptoms. Not so that I could educate myself, but so that I could rationalize each and every one of them away and continue my reign as Queen of Denial.
So for those of you that are consulting those checklists and having the first seed of a thought enter your mind that your child might have autism…but would really like to squash that seed into fine powder, here are some of my diary entries circa the fall of 2005:
Poor eye contact
She looks at me all of the time. She’s looking at me right now. What?
Unfortunately for her, she takes after my husband who has the communication skills of a railroad tie.
Seems to be hearing impaired/doesn’t respond to their name
See above re: husband.
Lack of non-verbal communication, e.g.: pointing
She points at pictures in books. Doesn’t that count? I’m sure that the distal pointing will come. Being first-time parents, we’re too quick to cater to her every whim and don’t make her work hard enough to get her point across.
Give me a break. Who isn’t bothered by the sound of a vacuum cleaner? So she melts down when she hears another kid cry. I read in What to Expect – The Toddler Years that children start to develop empathy for other children right around this age. Hurray! She’s going to be the most empathetic kid ever, I think, as I picture her in some faraway land wading through the hungry crowds, passing out handfuls of rice to the children as they strain to touch her flowing robes. Like Mother Teresa, or maybe even Angelina Jolie.
Lack of empathy/difficulty understanding others’ feelings
I told you already. She’s too empathetic. She gets this from me. Now $@#% off.
Lack of interest in other children
Who wants to hang around with children? Better she figures it out sooner than later that children suck.
Rarely imitates expressions
She always does this. See, I spend most of my day red-faced and puffy-eyed from sobbing and bawling my eyes out, and she does it right back to me!
Repetitive/inappropriate toy play
Every kid has favorite toys that they play with ad nauseum. What parent doesn’t have a story about their most hated toy? Especially those musical ones that make all kinds of noise or play some obnoxious song over and over again so that it is ringing in their ears as they try to fall asleep at night.
As for her throwing toys inappropriately, like the shapes from the shape-sorter or the rings from the stacking toy, she is either too young and needs to be shown the correct way to play with them, or she has already mastered them and they are now completely boring to her. One of those. I haven’t decided which.
Need for sameness and routine
This does not make her autistic. It makes her a genius. When we are in the car, she melts down when we don’t make a certain turn that takes her to a preferred destination. What other eighteen-month old do you know that can navigate around her neighborhood better than her parents? It’s so cute. She’s like my very own little GPS system! Sure, she gets upset when we go to the mall and the play area is closed for cleaning or the merry-go-round is broken, but what kid doesn’t? What kid doesn’t want to do things that they like over and over again?
Again, it’s all in the way that you look at things. Is it weird that she acts like the world is coming to an end when a music CD is shuffled or when Disney Junior runs a Phineas and Ferb marathon out of the blue rather than the usual Little Einsteins - Mickey Mouse Clubhouse - Handy Manny lineup? Or does this make her, not to keep bragging, extremely astute for picking up on the anomaly?
Lining up objects
She doesn’t do this one at all! That proves it! She is totally not autistic!
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of anyone else on the face of the earth. If your child is exhibiting any of the above symptoms or you suspect they may have autism, please scrub everything that this crazy lady says from your brain and consult your pediatrician.