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Diagnosis: Autism

When my daughter was finally delivered, I immediately knew something was wrong. They didn't hand her to me as they had my first child. Instead, they rushed her into neonatal intensive care. When the pediatrician came to see me some time later, he said, "She's got an eighty percent chance of survival." I cried out, "You mean she has a twenty percent chance of dying?" He seemed surprised by my outburst and completely unaware of what it means to a parent to be told that her child's outcome is uncertain and possibly tragic. To him, the odds were still in our favor, and that was what he lived by – odds. But all I could see was that 20 percent possibility my baby could die. My husband told me later that the whole experience had been just as bad, if not worse, for him, as they were taking him aside and giving him these statistics all the way through. (She's a healthy, happy teenager now, I'm glad to say – I wish I'd known that then.)

I can't even begin to claim that my experiences compare in any way to finding out that your child has autism. But I can empathize with the pain of finding out that something is not right with your child and the fears that an uncertain prognosis can lead to. Over the years, I have talked with thousands of parents of children with autism, and I can tell you that getting the news is horrific, terrifying, stressful, and depressing. Parents react in different ways; they cry, they get mad, they deny that their child has autism. Sometimes they even accept it resignedly – but it's never easy.

No Way to Prepare Yourself
There are no known prenatal tests that can alert or prepare a parent for the shocking diagnosis of autism. Even after a child with autism is born, there may be signs early on that the child is not developing typically, but most new parents don't recognize or know to look for these signs. Therefore the family often assumes, for the first year or two of life, that everything is fine, especially because most of the motor milestones – sitting up, crawling, walking, and so on – seem to happen like clockwork.

For most parents, it's not until their child is eighteen months or older and still not talking that they start to worry and ask questions. Even then, they're likely to be told by friends and pediatricians that language develops at different times for different kids, and not to worry about it. They can lose precious time because of this.

There are some earlier signs (before words are expected) that can help you recognize possible symptoms of autism, if you know what to look for. For example, the child may not enjoy playing little games like peek-a-boo and may not point to items, preferring instead to take her parent's hand and place it on the desired object, such as the doorknob when wanting to go out. The child with autism may not respond to her name when called, or she may play with the same toy over and over again. Some parents even report that their child never cried for them when left in her crib but seemed content alone for long periods of time.

Of course, parents tend to remember these things after their children have already been diagnosed, but the truth is that most parents don't usually become very concerned until they notice that their child is not starting to talk.

Can Professionals Make Mistakes When They Give a Diagnosis?
Sometimes. But it's rare. Most children with autism can be reliably diagnosed before they're three, if the person who diagnoses them has experience and expertise in the area of autism. However, there are a few reasons why a rare mistake can happen.



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From Overcoming Autism by Lynn Kern Koegel, Ph.D. and Claire LaZebnik. Copyright 2004. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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