Between ages 1-5, my son Jack was showing signs of development challenges. My mother’s intuition knew something wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t know what exactly. Trying not to compare Jack’s development to that of my daughter, I convinced myself that what he lacked for his age was simply the developmental differences between girls and boys. I didn’t want to believe something was wrong because I would blame myself for his challenges.
During his annual wellness exams by his pediatrician, there were growing concerns of delays in speech, motor skills and social skills. I enrolled him in occupational and speech therapy – a form of play therapy to help him learn these skills starting at eighteen months old. Even then, I believed that his delays may have stemmed from him being born pre-term labor or being a sickly infant with constant ear infections or exposure to antibiotics for extended periods of time. Could it have been that I focused too much development time with my first born and not enough with him? After one year of these helpful therapies, he no longer experienced these delays and caught up to the typical developments of a two-and-a-half-year-old. Then, came pre-school.
I enrolled him in a small school near our home in the suburbs of California. There were twelve students in his class and, at first, he was doing great. I even recall his first day of school when we walked into his classroom together and he ran towards the train set and said, “Bye, Mommy.” He was such a big boy and I was overcome with emotion – albeit happy – that he didn’t need me to ease him into the classroom. Then, came the fights. The tantrums. The hitting. The lack of focus and attention. I met with the school principal, which would become a regular occurrence, on the incidents and the possible reasons why he was acting out this way. I immediately became defensive and came up with every other reason why Jack’s negative behavior was happening besides recognizing or acknowledging the root cause. He continued to struggle in pre-school, kindergarten and junior kindergarten. The teachers and I would try different methods of learning, playing and rewarding positive behaviors. Nothing consistently worked. At that point, he was graduating and moving on to kindergarten at a new school. I believed the worst was over and as he would get older and more mature, the problems would subside. Boy was I naïve.
It wasn’t until kindergarten that my fears, guilt and avoidance came to a screeching halt. No longer could Jack’s behaviors be hidden under the “terrible twos, threes or fours.” He had a stern yet understanding teacher who nearly immediately recognized the signs of a learning disability. After weeks, months and really years of avoiding Jack’s behavior issues, I accepted that it was not my fault and got him the help he needed and deserved.
Don’t delay your child’s potential
Here are 3 questions you can ask yourself about your child’s development when you suspect something is wrong:
- Does my child disconnect from others and prefer to be alone?
- Does my child experience emotional outbursts that are exaggerated?
- Does my child have any development delays in speech, language or motor skills?
If you’re concerned that your child may have autism, here are some resources and suggestions that can help get him or her evaluated. Don’t delay your child’s potential. Help is out there, and life with autism can bring you even closer to your child.