Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Parlor Game

A popular parlor game among special needs parents is "Find the Autism."  To play this game, you look through your child's baby books and look for the earliest hint of trouble - the sign you "should have seen" at the time that is totally obvious in retrospect.  It's an exercise in futility, but it's almost impossible to resist.

Week One: "Reflux.  Doctors recommended soy formula."  Should I have suspected the dairy allergy?

5 months: "Very vocal, very happy baby.  I hope he's always this easy-going."  Jinx.

6 months: "LOVES his teddy bear mobile, ceiling fans, things that spin."  He likes watching things spin - is this early stimming?

9 months: "Putting more things in his mouth - except for food!"  Why isn't he putting everything in his mouth?  Why is he totally safe around traditional choking hazards?

10 months: "Tremendous personality - in a group, Ryan approaches each person, grins at them, as though making everyone feel welcome is his job."  This is one of those items that points out how "normal" he was.  Oh, he was totally outgoing!  Where did we go wrong!

11 months: "Enjoys eating finger foods, but not with his fingers.  He's never been big on putting things in his mouth, except fabric and sticks, so the idea of picking up a Cheerio and putting it in his mouth is totally alien.  Ryan learns by doing - through experimenting, and not so much by imitating.  If the other babies are playing on a blanket, he's heading to the other side of the park to watch the big kids."  Should I have been more aggressive when I asked the pediatrician about the not-putting-stuff-in-his-mouth thing?  Should I have recognized this as a motor planning problem?  Should I have been concerned that he wasn't imitating?

13 1/2 months: "FINALLY FEEDS HIMSELF FINGER FOOD"  See, he's just a late bloomer.  Right?
"Banana ('nana') means all foods."  Obsession with bananas has not waned.

15 months: "New hobbies: flipping light switches, spinning the globe."  Totally textbook autistic obsessions.

19 months: "Threw his bink into the penguin pool at the zoo.  I had to fish it out."  I recognize this is not a sign of anything - I just relish the opportunity to tell you that I had to fish around in the penguin pool.

21 months: "Obsessed with trying to spell his name, often with fun results.  R, Y, N.  R, Y, Duckie.  R, Y, Mommy.  R, Y, Ten.  Short sentences, like 'Found bear.'  FOUND is the primary verb."  Look how smart he is!

22 months: "R, Y, Bear.  R, Y, Daddy.  R, Y, Circle.  R, Y, Yucky.  R, Y, P."  Why is he still stuck on this game?

23 months: "Knows all his letters, counts to 15."  As some therapist later said, if he's capable of learning the alphabet this young, he should be able to have/interested in having a conversation.

2nd Birthday: "Ryan spent much of the party playing alone in his room and hiding under the kitchen table."  He's just a little shy, right?

28 months: "Closer to real sentences."  He's not there yet?  Red flag.

32 months: "Closer to sentences."  He's STILL not there?  Red flags, flares, blinky lights.

33 months: "Teachers are slightly concerned about his level of language development.  Considering testing."  Hey, someone saw the blinky lights!  Better late than never.


  1. Annie Ruisi BruienneAugust 27, 2009 at 12:01 AM

    Ok, I'm going to chime in here with my own experience, even if it's no use at all :). The weird thing is, the hindsight works both ways... there's foresight that's way off with this stuff too. My son was speech delayed, barely had 5 words at two. Lots of whining, grunting, and using the same 2 or 3 words/sounds for everything. He was also referred to by friends as "The Doorman" because of his affinity for constantly opening and closing doors... toy doors, real doors, emergency exits...etc. After 6 months of speech therapy he started to get enough words to disqualify him from further services. Then the obsessions with maps, roads, and elevators came... the tantrums in the car when we wouldn't drive home using a specified series of roads and turns. After his 4th birthday, after our first cruise was nearly ruined when he had a meltdown every time he didn't get to push the elevator button and visit a certain series of floors, I was convinced he had to be on the spectrum, no matter how many times he wasn't flagged in the past. I half-joked for years that he had to be on the spectrum, I even asked his preschool teachers, when they praised him for making such a lovely trail of orange road cones, "Come on, he's on the spectrum, right? Who am I supposed to call?" And they just laughed and said no way. I took him to the pediatrician and laid it all out on the table and she said to save up for MIT. So I tried to relax.

    It turns out he's not on the spectrum, or if he is, it definitely has not been officially or unofficially determined. He's doing fine, he's really smart, and he's just a complete eccentric weirdo geek. You can look back and have missed stuff you think you shouldn't have missed, or seen stuff you thought was important, but was just part of what makes your kid special. Ryan sounds like a sweetheart, Meredith!

  2. That's very strange, Annie. Ultimately it doesn't matter what label you put on the kid, as long as you can help him get along with his peers and not freak out in the supermarket.

    And I'm sure half the students at MIT are similarly geeky, however they self-identify. :-)

  3. Look, things fall under the radar all the time. It's no reflection on the parent. We can't all be PHD's on the topic, and even for those who have a PHD, they've told me that it's hard to be objective when you are emotionally attached to the situation. Those same children's books list a normal range for development, but what do you do if your child has indeed fallen into that range of "normal" development even though it was on the later end? Then suddenly your side swiped with a problem that no one else saw, but it became suddenly obvious, and when you research it (which is what we do as a parent), you find the words you didn't want to read. You go to the professionals for hope, and hear the words you didn't want to hear. Everything temporarily collapses. What do you do? Move on, rebuild, and do everything you can to help them meet their maximum potential. From my experience, I found that they will get there, just on a different route than you originally planned.

  4. Meredith -- Thank you for sharing this. I think all parents watch for signs of trouble as their children develop. Hearing it from your side is an interesting perspective.

  5. Liz, knowing you have read any of my little blog has made my day. I feel like a freaking rock star!


Keep it civil, people.