Why Autism Awareness Matters

imagesClose your eyes and picture how a child with autism behaves.  If you are anything like I was before 2009, you are likely picturing a child on the severe end of the spectrum.

Before becoming a mother, I worked with adults and children with autism, so I even had a point of reference. However when my own son, Science Kid, began to not meet developmental milestones, I was convinced he could not possibly have autism.

He was diagnosed in November 2009 as having autism spectrum disorder. I was educated on the subject, but I still resisted when it was my own child.  He is very high functioning, and many who meet him are surprised by his diagnosis.

Autism awareness matters so that parents are willing to seek help for their children and so that others who meet those children have a broader view and understanding of autism.

Developmental milestones matter.  I am not saying every child develops at the same rate.  When there becomes a pattern to missed developmental milestones, parents should be asking more questions.  The CDC publishes developmental milestones by age from 2 months to 5 years of age.

Science Kid met his milestones until 12 months, and then began to miss milestones at 12 months of age.  We dismissed it at him “being a boy” or being more interested in movement than talking. By age 2, it was clear that something was not right.  Family and friends reassured us that he was just so smart that it did not matter if there were things he wasn’t doing.  Whenever you are concerned, it is important to have a discussion about the missed milestones with your pediatrician.

Not all kids with autism have every symptom.  People assume that people with autism hate to be touched, and are often shocked when Science Kid grabs their hand or climbs into their lap.

Not all kids with autism hand flap.  Hand flapping falls under repetitive movements and some spin or even use subtle movements such as making mouth noises.

Eye contact does not have to be missing.  Science Kid makes brief eye contact, but has difficulty maintaining it.


What To Do If You Expect Your Child Has Autism

Start by making an appointment with your child’s pediatrician and discussing your concerns with them.  Our pediatrician actually dismissed our concerns about Science Kid so don’t take a lack of concern as a final answer.  If your child is under the age of 3, contact your state’s Early Intervention Agency as they provide free screenings for delays.  They will not diagnose your child but will offer therapy for developmental delays.  I did ask a second opinion from Science Kid’s Occupational Therapist and she suggested that we ask our pediatrician for a referral to a developmental pediatrician.  Don’t wait long to contact a developmental pediatrician as the wait list can be 12 months in some areas.

How To Support Parents Of A Child With Autism

The most recent studies suggest that 1 in every 50 children are being diagnosed with autism.  Chances are that you know someone whose child has autism.

–  Talk to the parents about their child, listen to their answers, and ask questions.
–  Invite them over to your house and ask what can help their child feel comfortable in your home.
–  If you see a child you know has autism in the middle of the meltdown, ask the parents how you can help.

When Science Kid is having a meltdown, I could use help having someone carry my purse while I carry him back to the minivan, or push my shopping cart, or even keep my other son, Word Boy company.  

If you do not know if a child in a store has autism, and you see a child in a public place having a temper/meltdown, do not assume bad behavior.  Give the mother/father a smile, hold the door open for them, tell them they are doing a great job.



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