Our autism journey part 2: how I knew my son had autism

Our autism journey.
Our autism journey. 

The psychologist who completed the diagnosis process for us commented once that diagnosing teenagers is the hardest and older children is also a challenge as they do learn what is expected of them and perform like a well-trained dog at a dog show being watched and judged by a panel.  What they don’t realise is that we want them to be themselves so their true self can be seen, not the tricks they have learned over the years.

I had suspected it of my son from a very young age. He always had a very intense way of looking at the world. He did not do the little social things like point, wave, clap or share food until 14 months old and it was even longer before he started calling me Mama. He knew the names of the Wiggles and he knew the words mama and daddy, but never spoke of us or used those words to get our attention. By 18 months he had a vocabulary of about 80 words including animal sounds, but that was about the extent of his communication. He could name things and tell me what noises animals made but there was no social communication at all – There was no back and forth banter that normally happens with a “neuro-typical” child.  He did not respond to his own name, though we established through many little home tests that he could hear just fine. As his father has a 40% hearing loss, his hearing is something we have always been mindful of.

He would sit and watch a TV show with extreme concentration, build high towers taller than himself out of blocks and lined everything up all around the house. By the time he was two he could recognise the whole alphabet in upper and lower case at random and numbers up to 20. He knew his colours and shapes (including but not limited to crescent, hexagon, heart, star, oval) and started writing numbers in the steam of the shower screen when he had a shower. Before 2½ he started telling me what words started with certain letters and before he was 3 he could write his own name, mama, daddy, bird, dog and other words. He started reading, writing, drawing pictures with a great amount of detail and photographic recollection. I could draw a picture and he would reproduce it almost identically, as best he could.

Now at nearly 4 he is able to read at the level of an average 6 year old. He has a basic grasp of math, knows his alphabet in German and one handed sign language, he can count to 10 in German and 20 in Japanese. He opens up a web browser and types in the URL’s of the websites he wants to visit and the titles of the songs he likes. The most extraordinary one so far was when he sent a message to my mother on Yahoo! Chat saying ‘Glee the only exception with lyrics’.

All this he does, but he cannot tell me what he did at pre-preschool. His conversation skills beyond the literal are babble. He can tell me what something is, what colour it is, how to spell it, what it does, but if I ask him “what did you do today” or “What are we going to do tomorrow” there is nothing. He does not understand negative emotion or consequence. If the front door is left open he will walk out and off down the street. He does not understand boundaries. If there is a fence, he will climb over it. If something is out of his reach (no matter how high) he will climb to retrieve it rather than ask. He rarely makes eye contact, though when he does it is intense to the point that you want to look away but know how important it is to maintain it. He has just started wearing undies during the day, but accidents are frequent and we have not extended any success to the department of bowel motions.

His conversation skills beyond the literal are babble.

It was in February 2011 I decided to have him officially tested.

Next week, Nicole will explain the process of assessment for autism spectrum disorders. You can leave a message for her in the Essential Baby Forums.