A few weeks ago I took both kids to one of Eli’s favorite parks. As I went to a bench with Camille, Eli took off under a play set. There’s a table underneath the play set and he likes to pile up fallen gum tree balls (right). As soon as he walked to the table a boy around the same age dressed in a police uniform told Eli to leave. Eli got upset and came over to me. I told him this is a playground and he can go where ever he wants. He walked back over and the boy, again, told him he had to leave and that he was the police. Another boy holding a nerf gun grabbed Eli by the arm and walked him out from under the play area and walked him towards the sidewalk. Eli started crying and I yelled at the boys to let him go.
Now the boys weren’t just being cruel, to everyone else they were just playing pretend. He was the police and under the play area was where they were patrolling. Keeping out bad guys. However, to Eli, they were being serious. After the boys let him go Eli came over, still crying, and said that the policeman wouldn’t let him play over there and told me how the other boy grabbed him. I explained to Eli that it wasn’t a real policeman and it was only a kid pretending. I told him that the kids were just playing pretend, a game. The look on his face told me he had no idea they were just playing. I said if they try and do that again to just tell them that you are not playing the game and you just want to play by yourself. Eli stood up and started walking away; I asked where he was going and he said “I’m going to tell them that I’m not playing with them.” The boys at this point were long gone. I told him to not worry about it unless they tried to bother him again.
Eli is one of the most imaginative boys I’ve ever met. His whole life is one big imagination land. But for as creative as he is, he didn’t recognize when other kids were doing the same thing. If he’s in on the planning of the game, he is fully on board; but walking into this situation, not knowing what the other kids we’re doing, he was completely lost. He has always been a little slow on picking up on social cues. He doesn’t always recognize when someone is upset or not interested. He often times doesn’t take situations serious and thinks it’s a game (especially when he’s getting in trouble.)
One of my first blogs was about a time we were at a park (actually the same park as this story) and Eli thought he was playing a game with these other boys but they were in fact just running away from him. He didn’t recognize that they didn’t want to play with him until he turned around and they were all gone. That situation broke my heart and it still hurts my heart watching him struggle with other kids.
I do have my reservations about Eli starting general education kindergarten and not being accepted and liked by his class mates. I think he just needs more exposure to other kids to strengthen his social skills. As a military family, we move around a lot. He doesn’t always have other kids to play with, or when he does, we end up moving away from them. He’s in preschool right now with other kids just like him. When that is over I think he might do a few weeks of summer school so he is more than comfortable when he starts kindergarten this fall. Not all of his social interactions are this way. Yesterday we were at a different playground and he played with a pair of siblings just fine. They were all having a blast until the two kids had to go home. When I asked Eli where his friends went, he said they left. Then he started crying and yelling “I DON’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS!!!” lol. He’s a great kid and a lot of fun to be around. I have no doubts that he will be able to make good friends. Maybe we just need a little practice reading people. 😉
I’ve had several people ask me how I started to realize that Eli was a little bit different. Being that he was my first child I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of how and when children were supposed to reach certain milestones. All children are different and some warning signs don’t present themselves in all children. I’m going to start with what I saw in my own child.
Just before Eli turned one he was saying “mama” “dada” and “up”. Once we hit his first birthday he stopped talking all together and went back to baby babble only. We found it a bit odd and started to watch him a bit closer. He never really imitated us (speaking or even motions, like patty cake). I had trouble (and still do) getting him to sit down to read a book with me and he had trouble looking at those who were speaking to him; almost as if he didn’t even hear them.
When he neared 18 months we sought out speech therapy for him. It was then we realized that there were many signs that we didn’t even notice yet. Eli would line up all of his toys; they had to be in a certain order and could not be moved. He preferred playing by himself as well. When I would sit down to play race cars with him, he would get up and walk away. When Eli would get hurt or upset he would run away crying but never turned to me for comfort. He would run away to be alone and didn’t want to be bothered until he calmed himself down. Then there were the tantrums. They never really lasted long but they did happen quite frequently throughout the day. He wasn’t diagnosed with autism until we moved out to California but we did qualify for services in Michigan and made a set of goals to work on with Eli.
As Eli got older, some of these traits disappeared, some stayed, and some new ones came in. As he aged we realized Eli has a lot of trouble registering social cues and verbal tone. We could be angry and be reprimanding him and the acts as though we are playing pretend and its funny. When a child doesn’t like what Eli is doing and asks him to stop, Eli, again, thinks they are playing and continues the behavior until the child either gets angry or leaves. He doesn’t notice emotions, except his own. I would be watching a movie and start crying and Eli wouldn’t even notice. As I just said, he didn’t register when we were angry or annoyed either.
I’m sure there may be other signs that aren’t popping into my head as I type this but for now it is a good start. As I said in the beginning all children are different, the warning signs I saw in my child may not appear in other kids and vice versa. Below I’m going to attach some links that give better insight to autism warning signs than I may be able to give.
Childhood is not a competition. As parents we shouldn’t compare our children with other kids their age; of course that’s easier said than done. It’s very difficult to not compare kids when you notice all the other kids are doing something that your child isn’t. I was so proud of Eli when he was walking with a walker at 9 months. I was very happy when he quickly and easily got off the bottle at 12 months. Then he stopped talking after his first birthday, I started comparing and I’ve pretty much been comparing since.
I wasn’t just comparing his speech, though that was the main thing. I started looking at what else Eli was behind in compared to other kids I knew. This girl can sing the alphabet song, that boy just named 10 different colors, she just wrote her own name. Then I look at my son who couldn’t do any of those things. It’s not like I needed my son to be like everyone else, I didn’t need him to know these things the same time as everyone else. What I needed was for Eli to be ready for school. My biggest concern for him was that he wouldn’t catch up in time. I wanted him to have a normal childhood as much as he could despite his delays/difficulties.
It wasn’t until recently that I started to give up on comparing Eli with other kids. In the past 6 months he went from being behind on speech, fine motor skills, letters and numbers, color, etc to being able to say over 25 words conversationally (can repeat upwards of 50 different words), signs close to 30 words, knows 10 colors, can count to 5, learned about half the alphabet, and knows close to 20 animals and most of the sounds they make. It was after this big boom of his that I realized, it doesn’t matter if Eli reaches his milestones after most other kids do, what matters is that he is reaching the milestones. Some kids diagnosed with autism never speak and my son just skyrocketed his speech in only 6 months of therapy, that is something to be so proud of. I don’t care what the other kids are doing anymore, I just care that my son just wrote letters on his chalk board all by himself. Seeing the proud smile on his face afterwards is a great feeling.
Eli has never had a lot of opportunities for playdates. A lot of my friends have children, but being military we are always relocating. Many of our military friends have no had children yet; so Eli very seldom had the opportunity for friends. Because of his delays, his social skills were subpar and I was worried how he would interact with other kids in school. Since starting school, however, Eli has made a few good friends. When I volunteered for his class I watched Eli go up and initiate play with some of the other kids and it made me so happy. One of my biggest fears after his diagnosis was that he wouldn’t make friends; and it looks like that may not be the case. At least while he is in developmental classes.
Since the first day of school his teachers told me how Eli had a best friend. I was beyond happy for him. Not just because he made a friend, but he made a friend that is just like him. Recently Eli has started to become friends with a girl in his class. They point and wave to each other before and after school and he gets sad when they both get in their cars and leave each other. One day her mother was a couple minutes late for pick-up and Eli demanded to sit and wait with her. I swear my heart swelled over double it’s size. When her mother finally came to pick her up, she ran to her mom and Eli cried because she left. On the way home I asked If she was his girlfriend and he told me yes. Jokingly, I asked if he loved her and he told me yes. Obviously he doesn’t know what I’m even talking about but it was the most adorable thing.
I know Eli will probably have his share of troubles when he starts elementary school, but I cannot express enough how happy I am that he is in this developmental preschool. I feel like it’s everything he needed at this point. He is surrounded by other children just like him. At this point he doesn’t receive any judgment or teasing for his delay and he is making quite a few friends. He is also expanding his vocabulary by the day. We have also nailed down our routines since starting school, every day is different but the schedule is consistent and it’s working well for Eli. Nothing is better for a child diagnosed with Autism than a structured schedule.
When you have your first child you never picture yourself contacting the special ed department to enroll him in school. Eli is only three so I am currently in the process of enrolling him in a developmental preschool at one of our local elementary schools. I really went back and forth with the idea of doing a developmental preschool versus a private preschool/headstart. I always think, does he really need it? Will this be too much for him? Will he learn enough in this class?
One of the pros of doing a developmental preschool, first and foremost, is its free. I’ve written before about us being a struggling one income family, so every penny saved helps a lot. Also, this developmental class has a school Speech therapist and an occupational that will come in and do rotations with all the kids. So, since he will be in school half the day, he will be missing out on some of his other therapies, this way he can still get some services while attending school and get other therapies after school. Also this class will have a mix of delayed children and average developed children so they call all play off and learned from each other. The averagely developed children will act as a model for the delayed children so they can see how something should be done.
There are no real cons of putting Eli in this class; he will be with other children like himself, he won’t be as behind as he would in an average class, he will be getting extra therapy, and they also help with potty training. I just never thought I would be enrolled my son with the special education department, and to be completely honest it’s sad. My dream is that in the next two years Eli will be brought up to speed and will be able to be in a regularly functioning kindergarten and will be able to move through school like the rest of his fellow students. I will be trying everything I can to get this kid up to speed so he won’t have to struggle through childhood.