In that moment, I brushed off the remainder of the conversation, not saying anything more. But when I went home that night, it was on my mind. And in the middle of the night, every time I woke up to nurse my twins, I was thinking about it. Finally, instead of bonding with my nursing babies, I used my free hand to search the Internet for answers.
It is often a really bad idea to plug symptoms into a search bar and read the yielded results because it is almost always negative. This is a well-known conclusion I made from self-diagnosing myself multiple times with severe illnesses after inputting cold-like symptoms into Google’s search bar to find out what was wrong with me. It is no secret my husband thinks I self-diagnose myself all too often. So, naturally, when I searched the phrase “3 year old obsessed with letters and numbers without making eye contact,” a series of results appeared and none were positive. Here’s a list of the links that showed up on my screen:
“Hyperlexia: Reading Precociousness or Savant Skill?”
“Could my Toddler Be Autistic?”
“Signs of Autism in Children—Autism Battle”
“Son obsessed with letters and numbers but not really talking…”
Symptoms of Asperger’s Disorder”
“Preschool Behaviors in Gifted Children-Educational Options”
“Is Your Toddler’s Obsession a Sign of Autism?”
“Gifted Preschoolers| Berkeley Parents Network”
My first thought was this: “Am I a monster of a parent for using the word “obsessed” to describe my child’s adoration for learning?”
Then I thought, “Oh my God, my child may have autism and I didn’t even notice the signs until now. Am I too late to help him?”
And lastly, after reading the foreword and content of every link on that page, I didn’t think, I just cried.
Of all of the search results, there were only two that accredited such child behavior as being a “gift.” Everything else yielded to autism. And instead of being optimistic and continuing my personal belief that my lovely first born was the gifted type, I was pessimistic and believed he may actually be somewhere on the autism spectrum.
I read through this list of “Possible Signs of Autism in Toddlers” and of the 31 possibilities, KDB’s behavior was among 15 of them. But with each matching behavior, I could easily talk myself through an explanation, too.
“Is a very picky eater, [eating] only three or four different foods.” (In his defense, we actually limited his food selection after several hospital visits in his early years of being introduced to food and discovering he has food allergies.)
“Learns to read at age two or three (or has a very strong interest in visual symbols such as letters and numbers), but has difficulty communicating with others in a meaningful way.” (Yes, he could read very well by age 2, had a very strong interest in letters and numbers, but what exactly is the definition of meaningful communication? And who are the others we are talking about? Is talking to family and ignoring other adults he doesn’t see every day a problem? What level of conversation are we to expect? Independent conversation, randomly coming to us and telling his innermost thoughts and feelings, or responsive conversation, answering questions prompted by those he is comfortable with? And if he doesn’t answer, is it because he can’t express himself or because he doesn’t know how, or because he’s not developmentally ready, and that’s okay?)
“Repeats what he/she hears rather than using words on his own.” (Yes! Yes, he is a true copycat. But is that not normal for children? Is it not normal for them to repeat the words and phrases they hear among their most beloved characters and humans? Cartoon characters, parents, grandparents, and siblings?)
“Memorizes and quotes long scripts of favorite TV shows, sing entire songs, or label lots of objects, but he/she uses very few ‘real’ or meaningful words to ask for things or participate in conversation. (Again, he does every single one of these. He could practically be a child actor the way he can read, memorize and recite a script. Hell, maybe that’s what he would be good at, acting. But what kind of conversation should he be participating in? Adults surround him all day, but should I feel bad about that? About being able to save money by not having to send him to daycare because he has both sets of grandparents alive and able to care for him during our work days?)
“Spends a lot of time lining things up or putting things in a certain order, and gets upset if this is disrupted.” (Cars. Trucks. So what? He has taken these same objects and created the shape of letters to spell words, it is really quite fascinating.)
“Shows unusual attachments to toys, objects, or schedules.” (Clean or dirty, he carries around the same green blanket he’s held since birth, handcrafted by his Nana. And his favorite furry friends are all dogs, Scout, Puppy, and Fluffy. They go everywhere, the car ride, bedtime, and even couch sitting.)
“Seems to prefer to play alone.”
“Seems to be in his/her ‘own world’.”
“Is very independent for his/her age.”
“Shows very little interest in other children.”
(Yes, sorta. But, he has also been almost like an only child since his sister lives with her mom now. He kinda does have his own world. But when we go to the park he tries to play with other kids, but they are usually much older and when they run away, he thinks it’s because they want him to chase them.)
“Does not consistently respond to his/her name.” (That’s our fault. I mean the kid has so many nicknames. Gingy. Gingerbread. Manny. Manuel. Nene. Just to name a few. There’s a possibility he is confused.)
“Cannot tell you what he/she wants with words or gestures.” (If I say, “May I have,” he finishes the sentence by telling me what he wants followed by please. I taught him that is how to ask. But he doesn’t do it on his own in a sentence. He will just say the word alone. Like, milk. Cheese. Watermelon. If I give him a few options, he will pick one. Like, berry juice or apple juice. So he gets his point across, just not the same way I would. But I am a 30-year-old attorney…he’s a 3-year-old inquisitive young boy.)
“Doesn’t follow directions.” (Maybe not at first. But, eventually. And besides, he’s a toddler! He listens when he wants to, right? Isn’t that how they are supposed to be? But he can get his own pull-up and wipes, when asked. He can get his own shoes, but needs help putting them on. He puts his arms in his shirt and legs in his pants when instructed. He cleans up his letters off the floor when he knows he will get the iPad. He puts his own trash in the garbage when told. He can pick out a book before bedtime. He knows the proper location and direction of the kitchen, his bed versus his Mom and Dad’s, and the front door where he lives. And if you tell him to close his eyes, he will go to sleep.)
“Has odd movement patterns…especially when excited.” (He does do this strange thing with his hands and eyes when he is excited but I can’t describe it. I always thought he was just being silly.)
“Throws intense or violent tantrums.” (Haha. What toddler hasn’t done this? No, but seriously, he does throw a tantrum but what makes it intense or violent? I’ve never seen a toddler do a tantrum “softly.”)
So that’s that. KDB’s 15/31 signs of autism according to this article I read.
I will say that all the articles were in agreement about a few very important things. If you are concerned, you should have your child evaluated sooner than later. And if they fall on the spectrum, then there is help for them and they can be offered assistance as they grow into their educated years. And of course, just because a child has shown several of the listed signs, doesn’t mean they are autistic at all.
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