April is Autism Awareness Month and April 2nd is World Autism Day. (I know this may sound boring, but PLEASE read on anyway). This month organizations around the world will be organizing events to spread the word about autism. Currently, 1 out of every 91 children will be diagnosed with autism. I, as a mother of an autistic child, urge you to read this post and pass it along to anybody you think may need this information.
My son, "L", is autistic. As a toddler, he was healthy and sweet and meeting all of his developmental goals. I was about six months pregnant with our daughter "E" when I noticed "L" was not talking as much as he used to. He had been putting two words together (bye-bye-dada) but slowly those words disappeared. This didn't happen overnight. He was a happy, very loving little boy so I didn't worry too much about it. Our older son "J" didn't talk much at all until he was four (neither did my Hubby).
After our daughter "E" was born, I noticed he didn't seem to like her that much, or even notice her. He didn't seem curious about her, although he did like her toys. I would catch him with his face up to the TV looking out of the corner of his eyes. Weird. I noticed that he seemed to pace or wander around the house instead of being really involved in playing. He had once been a great eater, but I noticed he would only eat certain things now - not that unusual for a 2-3 year old. I noticed he looked at his hands a lot. He would hold them up and look at his palms and then flip it over and look at the top of his hand. He walked on his tip toes. He liked to sleep in the crack between his matress and the wall. He would wake up in the middle of the night and fuss for an hour or so before FINALLY going back to sleep. He played with his toys, but didn't play with his brothers and sisters. He played "beside" them, not "with" them. He was a happy, giggling, VERY AFFECTIONATE little guy. He would sit and rock with me for as long as I could sit. I had several people ask me about his language delay (friends and relatives) and suggest that I should have him tested for autism, but that sounded ridiculous to me.
I based my opinion of autism off of a movie I saw about autism in the 80's. There was a kid who would sit in the corner, spin plates, flap his hands, never speak or give eye contact and he would not let anyone touch him. MY KID IS NOTHING LIKE THAT KID! Well, I was right about that. I thought autistic kids were all like that. I thought they all flapped their hands and didn't like to be touched and would shy away and stay locked in their own little worlds. My kid was constantly hugging me. He didn't flap his hands or spin the wheels on his cars, etc.
After some research I discovered that my information on autism was WRONG! Autistic kids have sensory processing issues. One of "L"'s issues is that he can't feel his body in space. It's like his nerves don't tell his brain where his arm is. Therefore, he needs that pressure (from a hug or tight space) on his body to be able to "feel" his body. He also has some sensory issues with his eyes (hence the TV watching out of the corner of his eye). Tip toe walking is another big red flag that I was totally unaware of. He also has texture issues. He doesn't like to touch slimy stuff (finger paint, etc.). He doesn't like to eat mushy stuff (mashed potatoes). Sleeping issues are also very common in autistic children.
My fear is that someone out there may be holding off on testing their child because they don't know some of the signs or out of fear. The media is not always forthcoming with signs and symptoms for autism. I just want people to be aware that not all autistic kids flap their hands and don't like to be touched. If you have met one autistic child, you have met one autistic child. Each is VERY different according to their own sensory disorder and/or personality.
If your child is diagnosed with autism, there are many options for therapy, but the younger they are, the better. "L" was diagnosed at 3 years and 4 months old. I WISH I had listened to my friends and relatives that suggested I have him tested a full year earlier. He goes to a special preschool with fabulous therapists, teachers, nutritionists, etc. and I am proud to say that he is making great progress. When "L" was first diagnosed with autism, we were told he would "never go to college, never say I love you, and possibly never speak, never get married and have a family", etc. This was completely devastating to me. He has been in therapy for 2 1/2 years and is making great progress. Nobody knows what your child can do. I now hear "I love you" almost every day. While he doesn't speak in a normal conversation, he has made amazing strides and we are very happy with his progress. Anything is possible.
"L" is the light of my life. He is loud and is annoying at times, but his little smile makes even the most crappy day better. He is smart and he gives the best hugs and kisses ever. He has a sweet little giggle and a sense of humor.
Please pass this on to anyone you think may need this info and feel free to contact me (not that I have all the answers, but I am always willing to share what I do know). Below are several websites for more information on autism spectrum disorders.
National Autism Society
Talk About Curing Autism