Dealing with the Emotional, Physical, and Financial Burdens of Autism
Question: The developmental psychologist we saw told me that my child has autism and is retarded. This was a double whammy and extremely distressing to my family. Can children have both?
Generally, diagnosticians will try to find a primary diagnosis, then a secondary, if one exists. Children with mental retardation tend to have verbal and nonverbal areas that are delayed fairly equally, while children with autism usually have some relatively higher abilities, most often in the nonverbal areas, such as putting together puzzles, figuring out how the video machine works, and so on. In addition, children with autism often meet most of their developmental milestones in the motor areas, such as sitting up, walking, and so on, on time, whereas children who have other types of disabilities may not.
It's possible that because your child is delayed socially and verbally, he's not scoring well on tests, which may give the impression that he's retarded. Keep in mind that it's very difficult to test children with autism, as these children are usually uninterested and unmotivated by the tests. Many children score better under nonstandardized conditions. You can often tell by observing the child if the nonverbal areas are higher than the verbal areas. Does your child play with toys and/or figure out tasks such as opening a latch to get a treat or fitting a key in a door? I'll never forget the dad who told me that he was watching his son take a vocabulary test: when the son was told to point to the bed, he pointed to the oven. The dad said that every night he told his son to jump into bed, and he always went straight to bed not once had he ever jumped in the oven! Again, context makes a big difference in how children with autism perform.
Again, remember that settling on a diagnostic label is less important than teasing apart, one by one, the symptoms your child is expressing and developing an individualized intervention plan to specifically address those areas.
Question: My child's teacher says that my child has both autism and hyperactivity. Is this possible?
Many children with autism have activity levels that are either higher or lower than that of their peers (hypo- or hyperactivity). This may be because the children aren't learning socially appropriate ways to interact, because they're not getting environmental stimulation in a typical way, or because learning is difficult, so they "tune out" and appear lethargic. Their active avoidance of activities may also make them appear more active than their peers. As the children begin to learn how to interact in socially appropriate ways, and as their communication improves, the activity levels often stabilize.
More on: Learning Differences
From Overcoming Autism by Lynn Kern Koegel, Ph.D. and Claire LaZebnik. Copyright ฉ 2004. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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