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Does My Child Have Autism? Addressing the Fear and Tackling the Misconceptions of ASDPublished: April 2, 2021
As parents, we know that comparing our kids to other kids – even our own – is something we should avoid. But it’s easier said than done, right? If Sammy started talking early, why isn’t that true for Simon? If Aly is a social butterfly, why isn’t Alex?
Especially as first-time parents, we tend to seek this peace of mind that our child is “normal” or “OK” – especially in terms of development. And when our child isn’t hitting milestones on the same timeline as other children, we tend to wonder if something is wrong with them.
I see it every so often, especially during those early child well checks. Without always asking in so many words, parents often want to know: Could my child have a disorder? Could my child have autism?
Addressing the Fear
Having a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – a condition that affects the nervous system and can impair communication and interaction – is a common concern among parents. It often ranks high on their list of most upsetting diagnoses even though it’s not a terminal illness. Many parents believe ASD will result in their child being bullied or treated differently. They worry it’ll prevent them from living a full and meaningful life.
What many parents don’t understand is that just as every child is different, so is every ASD diagnosis. No two children with autism will exhibit the exact same signs and symptoms or need the same level of support throughout their lives. In fact, more and more research indicates that some children can actually outgrow their diagnosis. While there is no cure for ASD, therapy has proven extremely successful in helping children not only manage their symptoms, but also thrive.
Many diagnoses can be made by age 2. While delayed milestones don’t always point to a disorder, here are some early signs to watch for:
- Aversion to being cuddled or held
- Anger or resistance toward changes in routine
- Little to no eye contact
- Little to no interest in other people (children or caretakers)
- Little to no response to sounds, voices or their name
- No smiling by 6 months; no pointing, waving, reaching or other gestures by 12 months; no one-word speech by 16 months; and no two-word speech by 24 months
- Regression of skills already mastered
- Repetition of words, phrases or actions
- Strong desire to be alone
Tackling the Misconceptions
While ASD is fairly common (approximately one in 54 U.S. children is diagnosed), there’s little understanding surrounding it. Here are some common misconceptions:
Autistic children are angry children who grow up to be violent adults. While expressing emotions can be difficult for children with ASD, there are no studies suggesting that autistic children tend to be more violent than others. In fact, autistic individuals are more likely to be victims of violence.
Autism affects every child the same. As mentioned, no two autistic children will exhibit the exact same signs and symptoms. And autism is more common in boys than in girls.
Autism is caused by vaccines. Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 publication that suggested the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism was proven wrong in various studies. In fact, there has been no proven association between any vaccine and autism. While there is no clear, single cause of autism, researchers believe genetics play a role.
Autistic individuals are “special” and have above-average intellectual abilities. People with ASD do have a wide range of abilities and skills, but their biggest strengths often stem from a heightened interest in particular subjects or objects – much like anyone else. About 10% people with ASD have “savant syndrome,” or above-average intellectual abilities.
People with autism don’t feel emotions and aren’t capable of having intimate relationships. Autistic individuals feel just as much – if not, more – love, compassion and empathy as others, but they express it in unique ways. Because eye and physical contact can be stressful and feel unnatural to children with autism, these individuals can come across as uncaring and selfish. The truth is they’re just as capable of falling in love and raising a family as anyone else.
A Final Word
If you’re worried your child may have autism, the best thing you can do is schedule an appointment with a trusted pediatrician – no need to wait for kiddo’s next well check. Early intervention is key.
If the diagnosis you fear becomes your reality, rest assured that your child’s provider will walk alongside you on this journey of acceptance and freedom from comparison.
While it can be easy to focus on all the ways your child is different than others – or all the things they miss out on because of their disorder – try to make a conscious effort to recognize and appreciate their qualities and quirks. Celebrate their successes – no matter how small they might seem. Your love and encouragement are powerful tools in their growth and self-confidence.