September 9, 2015

Recognizing Autism Spectrum Disorder

Since I've started talking about M2's autism spectrum disorder (ASD) journey (read more here and here) I've had a number of people ask what her specific symptoms are. Even family and friends who don't have experience with autism, or who don't see her often, have asked. I think what the questions stem from is many parents really wondering, "How do you know? What is different so I can see if my kid is on the spectrum, too?" Autism hides from plain view. It isn't easy to spot like some other disabilities. ASD kids look like any other kid on the playground unless you know what you're looking for so it's a normal reaction to want to know how to recognize ASD. With how prevalent it is now, parents want to know how to tell if their own child may have it.
aa recognizing autism spectrum disorder ASD

Every single child and case is different. Some kids show symptoms others don't. Some may have many, some may only have a few. Any of the stereotypes you hear about are just that: stereotypes. With ASD, it's really a big picture kind of thing when it comes to autism. Since it's a spectrum, the severity varies greatly as well. Cases toward the high-functioning end may be harder to spot. There is simply no set-in-stone checklist to know for sure if your child has autism spectrum disorder. The best way to find out if your child does have autism spectrum disorder is to take them to see a developmental pediatrician. These are the experts who can give you answers, who know what is neurotypical and what isn't, who know when it's simply a quirk or something more. A and I suspected, but didn't know for sure, until we took M2 to the developmental pediatrician (read about what that was like here).



With M2, we noticed early on that she didn't really play with toys. I always wondered why there are even toys for babies when they do nothing with them and show absolutely no interest. She was also dead focused on learning to do one thing at a time and that is all she'd spend her time doing. Each day, she'd spend almost all her time trying to sit up. Then crawl. Then stand. And so on. Forget helping her with anything, either. Everything had to be done by her, her way, end of story. All of this we pushed aside, figuring she was just determined and independent. Even now, she doesn't play with toys as much as kids usually do. Once we started seeing how different baby B is, we started to wonder.
The big tip off with her is her speech. Her development in this area is far behind what it should be. At first, we thought it was a typical speech delay, which many children have. Then her therapist started pointing out how she doesn't fit in with anything you'd expect with a typical speech delay. As the therapist put it, a whole book could be written just on M2's speech delay. Now we know that the delay stems from the autism.

What sealed it and convinced us something more than M2 just being M2 and having a speech delay was the major changes in behavior. Loud noises bother her. Random noises bother her. She may hear a clock ding the hour proceeds to scream, cry, hold her ears, stomp, kick things, hit and pound the wall. Or, she'll hear the clock and end up in a tight ball on the floor shaking and screaming, "ear ear ear" (well, her sound for ear). Yet another time, she may be fine. The same can happen if she hears traffic, a bird, a dog bark...anything that at that time bothers her. Rain or thunderstorms are sure to set her off. She's not scared of them, it's the sound that is way too much for her to handle. Her senses become over loaded. Similarly, if we're out in public and another child starts throwing a fit, screaming, crying, etc., she'll react to that as well. The noise, plus knowing that something is wrong, overloads her. It's one of the big reasons we so appreciate, and are totally for, people removing misbehaving or upset kids from the situation. When you don't remove your child, mine then ends up terrified and upset so we have to remove her. Our whole day gets ruined when people are inconsiderate like that. The longer the noise lasts, the worse she gets.

Hiding from pictures
Crowds and/or places she doesn't know don't usually go over well in M2's world. To put it simply, she doesn't like them. How she reacts to them are one thing friends and family will point out to try to argue she can't possibly be autistic. People seem to expect an autistic child to have a typical yelling, screaming, kicking, hitting melt down. As I said from the start, each kid is different though. For M2, she shuts down. She does anything she can to get away from the situation. She runs away with no care where we are or where she is going. She won't respond to anyone. She crawls into B's stroller, covers her eyes and hides. If you touch her, she is even more likely to take off. Touch also sends her into a screaming fit. She goes into her own little world, no facial expression, no reaction, no anything.

Once people realize this and actually look at how she's acting next to other kids her age, it's very obvious something is off. As you can imagine, we have to be very careful with where we take her. I also don't take both kids out alone. It's too much of a safety risk when I don't know when or if she'll all of a sudden take off, leaving me having to decide whether to stay with the baby or go after her. I can't be assured that if I look away at something on a self in a store or to help baby B for a second that she'll still be there. She's fast. We always make sure someone is watching JUST her, ready to spring, so that she remains safe.

Upset M2
With other kids, M2 may or may not interact. Most often, she's the one wanting to be alone and do her own thing. A quick hello or a hug, then she's done. I'm not even allowed to play with her most of the time. When I try, she gets mad or upset. Her toys and the decorations in her room are often to be found lined up as well. She'll also be the kid walking on tip toe and toe first.

In M2's case, there are more symptoms than these (such as she hates having her picture taken, is picky with food and has to have things done a certain way). This post would be insanely long if I talked about every one! It's also important to keep in mind that every day with M2 is different, as with most ASD children. Some are good, some are bad, some are very bad. ASD kids don't always show symptoms daily, let alone constantly. It's like Forrest's box of chocolates each day -- you never know what you're going to get. Every day, we start anew and learn more.


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18 comments:

  1. There are so many signs. If there are any doubts, a trip to the pediatrician should help.

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  2. Bless her heart. That is a great way to explain it. Senses becoming over loaded. I have a friend who is having her daughter tested for Autism. She has told me a little bit about what her daughter has been doing. Noises bother her a lot too.

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  3. You raise some really good points for parents struggling to determine if their child is on the spectrum. I agree too, that a diagnosis of any kind can often lead to stereotypes that should be avoided!

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  4. Autism is a very complex disorder. I think they have to look at every symptom and using a right method to treat them

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  5. Thanks for an insightful post, I feel like I've learned a lot about ASD. I should be on the lookout as we also have twin girls who are about the same age. Thanks for sharing this.

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  6. Thanks for the info. This seems to be more common and it is good that drs. are there to help.

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  7. Thanks for this information. It is not an area that I have previously given much thought to and your post opens up a deeper understanding for me.

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  8. Autism is really complex. You have really good points here. Thanks for the information.

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  9. Knowledge is power so spreading awareness through posts like these is so helpful :)

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  10. Thanks for the information about this. I have a friend who is having her Son tested for autism. if you have any doubts bring her to the doctor

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  11. Very good post. Thank you for making your readers more aware of what ASD is and looks like. I am sure your little girl is very loved by family and friends no matter what. She is a beautiful little girl inside and out. I love your blog and enjoy reading about so many different topics. Keep up the good work! I aslo enjoy the pictures you incorporate into the articles.

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  12. You are such a strong pillar for your baby girl. Good job on this. Thanks for raising awareness to a lot of people too.

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  13. This is great information. Thanks so much for talking about it :)

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  14. This is really enlightening! I can see why it's a tough thing to diagnose because those behaviors are so uniquely different for everyone.

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  15. Great resource. Important and helpful info

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  16. I love this! So many people do not understand Autism...thank you for sharing this with us!

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  17. Knowin what to look for is so important in diagnosing a child - thank you for letting me know what to look for!

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  18. Autism is very special in my heart, this is very useful for those mom had a same situation like yours.

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Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. As a busy mom, I'm not always able to respond to each one, though I read and appreciate them all.