Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Discovering Autism

When I first started working in early intervention, I didn't really have much exposure to children with autism. I grew up with a friend who was diagnosed with Aspergers as an adult. So today, I'm sharing my journey of discovering Autism as part of the Blogging for Autism Awareness month.
When I received the paperwork for a little girl who was nearly three, my heart sank. I knew I wouldn't have much time to work with the family, as the early intervention program ages kids out when they turn three.

I'll call this little one, Sarah. By the third visit, I knew there was something else going on, not just a diagnosis of hearing and vision loss. My first clue was the fish tank. Most kids love watching a fish tank and show some interest. I brought Sarah over to the colorful fish tank and attempted to introduce some signs. Her mother remarked that Sarah never did look at the tank, or even the family dog.

Sarah often became easily frustrated, banged her head repeatedly and if I took a toy away to move on to another one, she self-soothed herself using the same pattern over and over at each visit. She became fixated on certain toys and her mom mentioned that she could lie quietly in her crib for a long period of time.


The word crept into my mind as the visits went on. The problem is, I knew so little about it. So I contacted Bonnie Sayers, a fellow writer that I knew from another website. I knew she was a mom of two boys with autism and she knew a lot. She runs the Autism Spectrum Disorders website at Bella Online.

Bonnie directed me to a checklist that parents could use to rate behaviors that their child was demonstrating. From the little that I knew, it seemed to me that Sarah ranked high on the scale.

So I found a way to have a conversation with the mom to see what her thoughts were. She explained that Autism crossed her mind and she brought it up with other therapists, but none of them agreed that it could be that. One did suggest that she explore it further.

I told her about the checklist that I learned about and I asked her if she would be interested in looking it over.

She said yes.

So the following week, I brought it over and explained it. I suggested that she sit down with her husband and look it over together and share some thoughts.

The following week, nothing had been completed. I didn't say anything, for it's a hard thing for any parent to seek out answers or explore the possiblity that something different is happening with their child.

But the next week, she opened the door and said simply, "I think she has Autism. She scored high on the checklist for that."

Sarah was eventually diagnosed with Autism. The parents and I explored a nearby classroom together and they transitioned her there.

Here are some links that Bonnie shared:

CDC Growth Checkpoints

Autism Symptoms Checklist

Checklist for Autism in Toddlers

A special thank you to Bonnie for helping me to help that family.


Michelle said...

Frightening and ever-increasing diagnosis. I'll be doing our local Walk For Autism in June...I hope we have some good research on the subject soon that will give us some good new tools to use. Love those babies!

Anonymous said...

I wandered over here from Kirk M's blog. This is a great post. As a mum to a little boy with developmental delay, I've come across a lot of parents who are confused by the many diagnosis' they receive from doctors, when all they need is somebody like you to gently push them in the right direction.

I don't know where I'd be without fellow mothers advice!

Irishcoda said...

Thank you for blogging about autism. I knew very little about it until my grandson was diagnosed with PDD-NOS...for a long time I thought he might be deaf. It's not as scary as I imagined, just different and I am still using my signs because it turns out the little guy has speech apraxia and is doing well communicating with sign.