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.