Today is World Autism Awareness Day. For some of us, every day is autism awareness day, so welcome aboard!
Now that I've been living with this for a while, it occurs to me that after years of taking, taking and taking some more from professionals, books, the internet, other parents, and the knowledgeable people at the health food store, perhaps I am finally in a position to give something back. A strange and audacious idea, but we've come a long way around here!
When RB was 2 1/2 and still not talking, I started getting a little nervous, so naturally I googled the problem. And always, when you google “speech delay” the first ten sites that pop up diagnose your child with autism. So I kept an open mind and started clicking on links. Every site I looked at gave me the same handful of signs to look out for: speech delay, lack of eye contact, lining things up, repetitive rocking, inability to smile socially. At that time, aside from the speech delay, RB exhibited none of these other symptoms, so I shrugged my shoulders and figured he'd talk when he was ready.
There's a saying that if you've seen one child with autism, you've seen ONE child with autism. As it turns out, RB had lots of symptoms, just not some of the super-common ones. If I'd known what to look for, he'd have been diagnosed sooner. And he's not alone on this. So I'm going to share, for the benefit of anyone trying to puzzle this thing out, some of the lesser-mentioned warning signs that my own child exhibited:
- Seeking out or avoiding sensory experiences (Poop smearing! Lucky me...).
- Not seeming to know how to play with toys, or just not being interested in them.
- Doing things that are dangerous, without any fear for his own safety (Leisurely solo walks down the side of the highway. Yeesh!).
- Excessive climbing, or wandering in circles.
- Attempting to escape the home or classroom to go on solo adventures.
- Problems sleeping through the night.
- An excessive inability to accept being told “no” when he wants something (AKA perseverative behaviour).
- An unusually high tolerance for pain (Dancing barefoot on broken glass, while bleeding and laughing his head off. I kid you not.).
- Sudden little bursts of energy that have to be physically let out.
This list is, of course, to be taken with a grain of salt. Many perfectly normal toddlers will do a few of these things, and certainly if you look closely enough at anyone on the planet, you will find symptoms of autism. Still, I hope I've done my part to raise a little bit of awareness today.
Autism is not what you think it is.