The early signs of autism - before I get to the subject at hand I just want you to know that I am not a doctor, or in no way a health expert. This post is written purely from my own experiences as a mother and the information I was able to garner in my own quest for answers.
My son, Chase, is my sweetheart. Of course, I think every son is every mother's sweetheart! From the day he was born I doted on him and thought every little thing he did was just a miracle. He was the best thing since sliced bread. I thought he was so much smarter than his years (as I know every mother does) and totally missed a few things because of this doting.
Now don't get me wrong. My son is not autistic in the classic way that everyone understands. He is able to hold conversations. He gives eye contact. In actual fact, most people outside our bubble would not think him on the spectrum - but I knew something was wrong.
There seemed to be a slight disconnect when we would communicate. It's really hard to explain, but he is extremely literal when it comes to discussions. We have to try not to include any 'figures of speech' because it completely confuses him - and don't even get me started on jokes. They tend to just go straight over his head.
He fixates on things too. His earliest was dinosaurs. Lordy did he know every dinosaur type/name and that lasted for a good 6 years. There is also outburst types of fixations too, he gets some kind of noise in his head - currently it's the squeak of a dog - and it's a constant noise out of his mouth. It's so very frustrating to deal with.
There are many other things, probably too many to list here, but I just wanted to give you an idea of why I wanted to look deeper into it. When I would bring it up to my husband James, he didn't really see what I was getting at. He'd say things like "oh, that's just normal boy behavior", but a mama knows.
Autism and Diet
Chase's energy level is out the box. He cannot sit still and it started to become a problem at school. It was at the point they mentioned he would probably benefit from taking medicine that I started to dig really deep into it. He was just 4 but having real difficulties with friendships and behavior. I figured before he was going to be labeled ADHD let's just try looking into his diet. If we can help him by just eliminating some trigger foods maybe we'll get lucky. After much research, I discovered quite a few people had great results from going on a Gluten Free diet.
As hard as it was, I tried him with this diet for a year. I noticed after the first 4 or 5 days a dramatic difference in his behavior. There were no more outbursts. He was calmer. I thought "Yee-ha! I have figured it out!" But unfortunately after about 8 months he started to regress back. I thought it was just his body getting used to being without the gluten, but I came to find out later his grandmother had been sneaking him goodies behind my back. Urgh.
At this point it was already too late, he was confirmed ADHD and medicated. Much to my disappointment. I wanted to dig deeper though, it wasn't just ADHD surely. I took him to a specialist in New Orleans, who specializes in Cognitive Behavior. After a few months of visits it was confirmed that my son is just slightly on the spectrum with Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder. I had never heard of it, but when she explained it to me I said "YES, that's my boy!" I was slightly sad, because it confirmed that my baby had a slightly tougher time than the average child. My biggest sadness is his problem with friendships - he has a rough time staying out of the dog-house. This is an area I am focusing on more than any, because as you know, kids can be mean.
One thing I am glad of is his connection with animals. He just loves nature and our pets have a great buddy in him.
During this long journey we've had, I've learned many things about autism. I'm going to share some of them here with you:
Signs of Autism - 6 Months
- Few or no engaging smiles or warm connections
- Very little or no eye contact
Signs of Autism - 12 Months
- Very little back and forth connections, smiles or facial expressions
- No babbling/cooing or very little
- No usual gestures, or very few. Pointing, reaching, showing, waving etc.
- Doesn't respond to name
Signs of Autism - 16 Months
- No words yet, or very few
Signs of Autism - 24 Months
- There hasn't been any (or very few) two word phrases yet (including repeating or imitating)
At any age
- No eye contact
- Very few interests*
- Repetitive behavior - e.g. spinning, flapping, rocking*
- Difficulty understanding others feelings*
- Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights*
- Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)*
- Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
- Delayed development of language
- Total resistance to a change in routine
- Persistent preference for solitude
Just to give you an idea of the things I noticed I have placed an asterisk* at the end of each 'sign' above, that Chase presented with.
Some Sensory Solutions
Because of Chase's reactions to sounds and textures etc we tried a number of gadgets that in their own way helped, but none more so than the "Sensory Swing for Autism". This swing/hammock is surprisingly effective. I looked into the Vestibular Sense side of things. Chase has an annoying way of having to bang into things. He can walk down a hallway and bang into the walls 5 times, it's like he needs that feeling on his body. I have come to find out it's a thing called Vestibular Input. The kids that like spinning and climbing and swinging usually present with this. The sensory swing helps a lot with that - the constant motion has a calming effect, strangely! Our trampoline is also another winner.
We recently had him tested for allergies. At first we did the external allergies. Turns out he is allergic to EVERYTHING. He spiked on every single thing, grasses, trees, bugs, dust, all of it.
We then tried the food allergy test, and guess what - yep. He's allergic to MOST everything. The only thing that he didn't spike on was fish and shellfish. They weren't huge spikes, however, he actually does have a dangerous allergy to sesame seeds. Good to know.
I wanted to see if doing an elimination diet (where you eliminate everything at the start, leaving you with fresh fruit and veg, and basic meat - then slowly start to bring it back to monitor reactions). I found this great journal at Amazon (click here to see)- I made sure to log every day during this diet to see if anything in particular set him off.
After three weeks though, the only thing that really stood out was food coloring. I think this is a really great journal though, it definitely helps keeping up with things a lot easier. Don't mind my handwriting.... I am always pushed for time and tended to be rushing through filling it out!
In summary, basically what I discovered is every child is different. Trust your instincts, if you feel something is not quite right have your child tested. My best take-away from this is that I have his "condition" documented and filed at his school. I don't ask for any special treatment just yet - but should he need it, it's a chip I can always play.
Remember, not all children with autism show all the above signs. Some children may show a few of these signs but actually not be. That is why it is so important to seek a professional evaluation for further answers to early signs of autism.
My sources for information for this post: