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Lynn Hudoba: Merry Autism Awareness Day!

In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, my foolproof and politically incorrect guide to denying that your child has autism.

Today is World Autism Awareness Day, which kicks off the month of April as Autism Awareness Month. Of course, every month is designated as awareness month for a great many causes, interests, or communities. Autism happens to share April with Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness, National Distracted Driving Month, Mathematics Awareness Month, National Car Care Awareness Month, Jazz Appreciation, and Stress Awareness Month.

I plan on celebrating by taking my car in for an oil change and being completely distracted on the way there by my autistic child scatting math tables in the back seat until I become so stressed that I cramp up and crap my drawers.

But I suppose as one of the preeminent (and not at all delusional) writers in the autism parenting space, I should have something else to contribute to the awareness-raising. One of the main goals of Autism Awareness Month is to encourage early diagnosis and intervention by making new parents aware of the symptoms and red flags that could be indicators that their child has autism.

I think I may be able to be of some help there. You see, when I first suspected that my daughter wasn’t developing as she should, I pored over the internet looking to have my fears assuaged. If you Google “autism”, you get 78 million results, and I’m pretty sure that I visited every one of those sites looking for checklists of symptoms. Not so that I could educate myself, but so that I could rationalize each and every one of them away and continue my reign as Queen of Denial.

So for those of you that are consulting those checklists and having the first seed of a thought enter your mind that your child might have autism…but would really like to squash that seed into fine powder, here are some of my diary entries circa the fall of 2005:              

Poor eye contact

She looks at me all of the time. She’s looking at me right now. What?

Delayed speech

Unfortunately for her, she takes after my husband who has the communication skills of a railroad tie.

Seems to be hearing impaired/doesn’t respond to their name

See above re: husband.

Lack of non-verbal communication, e.g.: pointing

She points at pictures in books. Doesn’t that count?  I’m sure that the distal pointing will come. Being first-time parents, we’re too quick to cater to her every whim and don’t make her work hard enough to get her point across.

Sound sensitivity

Give me a break. Who isn’t bothered by the sound of a vacuum cleaner? So she melts down when she hears another kid cry. I read in What to Expect – The Toddler Years that children start to develop empathy for other children right around this age. Hurray! She’s going to be the most empathetic kid ever, I think, as I picture her in some faraway land wading through the hungry crowds, passing out handfuls of rice to the children as they strain to touch her flowing robes. Like Mother Teresa, or maybe even Angelina Jolie.

Lack of empathy/difficulty understanding others’ feelings

I told you already. She’s too empathetic. She gets this from me. Now $@#% off. 

Lack of interest in other children

Who wants to hang around with children? Better she figures it out sooner than later that children suck.

Rarely imitates expressions

She always does this. See, I spend most of my day red-faced and puffy-eyed from sobbing and bawling my eyes out, and she does it right back to me!

Repetitive/inappropriate toy play

Every kid has favorite toys that they play with ad nauseum. What parent doesn’t have a story about their most hated toy? Especially those musical ones that make all kinds of noise or play some obnoxious song over and over again so that it is ringing in their ears as they try to fall asleep at night.

As for her throwing toys inappropriately, like the shapes from the shape-sorter or the rings from the stacking toy, she is either too young and needs to be shown the correct way to play with them, or she has already mastered them and they are now completely boring to her. One of those. I haven’t decided which.

Need for sameness and routine

This does not make her autistic. It makes her a genius. When we are in the car, she melts down when we don’t make a certain turn that takes her to a preferred destination. What other eighteen-month old do you know that can navigate around her neighborhood better than her parents? It’s so cute. She’s like my very own little GPS system! Sure, she gets upset when we go to the mall and the play area is closed for cleaning or the merry-go-round is broken, but what kid doesn’t? What kid doesn’t want to do things that they like over and over again? 

Again, it’s all in the way that you look at things. Is it weird that she acts like the world is coming to an end when a music CD is shuffled or when Disney Junior runs a Phineas and Ferb marathon out of the blue rather than the usual Little Einsteins - Mickey Mouse Clubhouse - Handy Manny lineup? Or does this make her, not to keep bragging, extremely astute for picking up on the anomaly?

Lining up objects

She doesn’t do this one at all! That proves it! She is totally not autistic!

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of anyone else on the face of the earth. If your child is exhibiting any of the above symptoms or you suspect they may have autism, please scrub everything that this crazy lady says from your brain and consult your pediatrician.

T.M April 02, 2012 at 11:56 PM
As an occupational therapist who works with children and person who loves "someones" diagnosed with Autism, I want to say thank you for the laugh, and the tear. If more people, more parents, would tell about their experience I believe there would be less denial and delay in seeking help and more success in achieving change in public awareness and acceptance. (... like when your very bright child, who reads grade levels ahead of their class, gets excited about something they are looking at, or thinking about and they begin to wrist roll and hand flap and jaw thrust.... but can answer any question any 'normal kid' their age can, they like the same movies, toys and music and, resist bedtime because they do not want to miss a minute of life... but they are not seen for who they are... a wonderful soul)
Jennifer Monnier Shanahan April 03, 2012 at 12:53 AM
As the mother of a 16 year old son who has severe autism and is completely non-verbal, I am glad that there is now a "World Autism Awareness Day" because I think that there are people out there who still don't know the facts about autism nor do many others know what real life is like with an autistic child your family. It is a challenge to both the parents and the siblings as well. I feel that more needs to be done about the recently announced epidemic of 1 in every 88 children in the United States has autism. When my son was diagnosed finding treatment or services was next to impossible and I had to do everything myself. Now things are better and services are much more available but still not enough for the large numbers of kids with autism NOR are there anywhere NEAR enough services for the ADULTS that autistic children GROW into!! That will be quite a large population very soon and something needs to be done to improve the quality of life for adults with autism to put their parents minds at ease. I know that I am not going to live forever although some days, I feel like I have to.
MarsupialMama April 03, 2012 at 01:04 PM
heh heh heh... You really cracked me up with this line "Or does this make her, not to keep bragging, extremely astute for picking up on the anomaly?" Thank you. And yes, I hope more parents fast track through the denial stage!
Katie Marsico April 04, 2012 at 04:32 AM
LOVED this! My son has autism, and (having done the denial thing) lying to oneself takes up/wastes far more energy and emotion than accepting the problem, dealing with it, and looking forward. Easier said than done, of course, but fighting the diagnosis--rather than working to mitigate the symptoms--is a bitter losing battle. Thank God I have had exceptional EI therapists and teachers at Madison who have helped my son get on the right track, not to mention helped my husband and I get our priorities together!
Jazzygal April 05, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Very enjoyable read and one that reads oh,so, true!! xx Jazzy

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