When Eli was Diagnosed with autism around 4 years ago the doctor told me there would be about a 20% chance of my next child also having autism. (Yes people, genetics, not the measles vaccine. So vaccinate your kids!) So, when Camille came around, I watched, listened, and observed everything she did. A rule of thumb of parenting is never compare your children to other kids (yeah, right.) It is a very important rule to follow though. Every child develops at their own pace. Just because little Timmy is walking at 9 months does NOT mean your child is behind because she is not doing it yet. If your nephew is speaking three word sentences at 12 months it does NOT mean your own son is behind because he can only say 5 words total. Our children hit their milestones at their own pace. They will deal with peer pressure in grade school so let’s not instill self-esteem issues yet!
All that being said, when DO you start to worry about where your child is developmentally? I don’t believe there is a real answer for that. I think, as a mother, you just know.
Today’s world makes it so easy for parents to get their children evaluated for FREE through the state. Each state has their own fully funded programs. In Michigan, we have the EarlyOn program. When we arrived to Michigan I didn’t waste any time getting Camille evaluated.
So what was it about Camille that made me get her evaluated?
-Her gross motor milestones were always met, but a little behind
-Babbling was very delayed. She didn’t start actively babbling until around 18mo.
-She doesn’t play with toys as expected- she prefers to just hold items and walk around with them. She chooses to play with household items (shoes, dusters, etc.) vs baby toys. For a while between 12-18mo, she would only open and close doors and cabinets for entertainment.
-She walks very cautiously. She does not walk on uneven ground (grass, sand), she is uncertain when stepping across different floor types or over lips/lines.
-Does not climb on/off furniture. She does not attempt to climb stairs. She cannot get down from very low furniture (example- her 12′ toddler bed.) She will drop an object to the floor to judge how high up she is.
since becoming diagnosed she has attempted the stairs and crawling on . some furniture.
-She does not like a lot of touches- face wipes, washing hair, diaper changes, etc.
-She does not respond to her name or react when spoken to.
-She does not recognize or interact with other children/adults. She will allow other to be in her general proximity but other than that she does not pay them any attention.
-Little eye contact
-No mimicking. She does not copy other’s actions, repeat sounds. She will not point to objects.
-She likes thin items on her lips and around her mouth. Hair, hair ties, shoe laces, strings, etc. I would like to clarify that she doesn’t eat or even chew these things. She just likes the feeling of them on her lips.
To someone who has no experience with any of this, the evaluation process can be very, very overwhelming. There are so many people involved, multiple evaluations, and lots of paperwork. With my first born, Eli, I remember feeling overwhelmed, scared, sad, so many emotions. I felt unorganized. With Camille when the people involved started over-explaining the process to help me understand I politely said “Listen, this isn’t my first rodeo. I’m good. Do ya thang girl.” Honestly the best advice I can give to someone going through this the first time- relax and take the backseat. The professionals with these programs know what they’re doing. They help you every step of the way. The best thing a parent can do is get out of your own way. Let them help you with everything.
After Camille’s evaluation process, she was placed in the moderate-severe autism range. Because she was evaluated through the School system/ EarlyOn program, this is what’s called an educational diagnosis. In another blog I will get into the difference between an educational diasgnosis of autism vs a medical diagnosis. The important thing to know for now is an educational diagnosis determines if a child meets the qualifications needed to receive special education services through the school system and is not a “firm diagnosis”. A medical diagnosis is a true diagnosis and opens the door for insurance supported therapy services.
So now what? We start by making a list of goals to work towards. For example, one goal is to get her to make independent choices for meals by using picture cards (PECS). Another is to get Camille to play more with age appropriate toys vs household items. We focus on the areas that are most important to improve. Keep your expectations low! Sometimes they take a while, AND THAT’S FINE!
Additionally, Camille is receiving in-home speech therapy. We will also soon begin occupational therapy, and perhaps Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy.
Getting an autism diagnosis for your child is a very overwhelming, scary thing. This, however, is one that I was waiting for. I knew the odds and I was prepared. If anyone can embrace this challenge for a second time, it’s me. I am ready for this next chapter in my parenting world. I look forward to sharing this journey with others and hope that by telling our story, we can help other parents out there who may be going through something similar!