When You’re Worried About Autism, Always Ignore This Advice!
If your child’s pediatrician tells you to “wait and see” when you are worried about autism, do NOT listen! That advice is outdated and unacceptable! It leads to months or maybe years in delayed diagnosis and treatment. Our toddlers, two year olds, or preschoolers miss out on extremely valuable months and years of effective services that can really improve their communication, social skills, cognition, and self-help skills. Not to mention, behavior problems tend to go from bad to worse when left untreated.
Don’t get me wrong! I cannot imagine how difficult a pediatrician’s job is! They have to know so much about such a wide variety of topics! Because of this need to know so much about so many topics, it is very difficult for them to also be an expert in early signs of autism. As a result, unless our child happens to clearly exhibit some early signs or we are extremely persistent, these signs can go unnoticed in a 10-15 minute appointment.
How many kids do you think a pediatrician sees in a day that cry, scream, won’t respond or look at the doctor when his/her name is called? From my own experience, my kids did this consistently for the first three or four years. They hated going to the doctor. And dentist. And to get their hair cut. They displayed a lot of behaviors that pediatricians expect to see during check ups. As parents, we have to be experts in our kids and their behaviors so we can explain to others what is typical for them and what is not.
You and Your Child Need a Pediatrician Who Knows When to Refer
Now, I adore my kids’ first pediatrician. She was the best and I was super upset when our insurance changed and she was no longer in our network.
I’ll tell you why I picked her from dozens of pediatricians in our area.
I repeatedly saw her name on early intervention referrals at my job along with the names of other pediatricians in her practice.
That’s it. Just that one piece of information led me to call her office and hope she was taking new patients.
I knew she was referring her patients to early intervention often and early on. As a result, I knew she was: A) aware of early intervention and the benefits (many are still not), B) knew early signs of developmental delays in her patients, and C) she told parents enough important information that led them to call us.
Therefore, if she saw behaviors or other signs of delay with my kids, she would tell me and get me on the path to services early on. And this was true, when a few years later she took us through the process of an ADHD diagnosis for my son.
Autism or Not — Intervention is Critical in Early Childhood
Being a special ed teacher in early invention for 15 years, I have talked to hundreds of families about their concerns regarding their child’s delays.
So many parents cry and feel so guilty because they were worried 6 months ago or even a year ago, but they were told to “wait and see.”
Six months to a year isn’t that much when you’re pushing 40 like me.
BUT WHEN YOUR CHILD IS UNDER 3…
And we as parents get it — those well-child check ups are quick and dirty and who knows how many other kids the pediatrician has seen that day, right?
Pediatricians see a lot of worried parents. Pediatricians often don’t see the behaviors that worry us during those quick visits. Pediatricians are not experts in everything. We as parents might be concerned about something but can’t seem to put their finger on it.
So…when the pediatrician says everything looks good and they’ll see you at the next appointment, we’re often relieved. That’s what we wanted to hear, right?
But that nagging feeling continues. We see other kids in the neighborhood or our nieces and nephews that seem to be much further ahead of our kid.
Don’t ignore that feeling!
“Wait and see” is terrible advice. (“My husband didn’t talk til he was 4” isn’t something to rely on either.)
3 Reasons to Not “Wait and See”
1. Possible underlying medical or mental health issues need to be addressed.
If your child is not meeting his/her milestones, there is a reason. Medical reasons HAVE to be ruled out first before considering possible autism or which type of therapy your child would benefit from.
Hearing and vision issues need to be ruled out. These can greatly impact your child’s development in all areas. Some kids with hearing impairments may show similar signs to kids with autism. Imagine if your child has chronic and/or severe ear infections or a hearing loss. He or she may not respond when you call their name.
Is your child snoring a lot at night? Drools a lot even when he or she isn’t teething? Has trouble chewing and swallowing foods? Balance and coordination problems? Squints a lot during the day? Constipated? Difficulties tolerating certain foods?
Therefore, we need to make sure there are no medical reasons for our child’s delays first.
If your child does have autism, certain medical conditions frequently co-occur with autism and will need to be managed as well.
If your child cannot communicate effectively by pointing, using other gestures, and/or saying words he or she will find a way to get their point across.
Crying and screaming is a big tool young kids use. Aggression too.
Your son can’t tell you “I need more fruit snacks” so he screams or hits you.
Your daughter wants you to put the baby down and pick her up instead so she cries and throws her sippy cup at the baby.
When aggression, tantrums, screaming, crying work to get your child want he/she wants, you’ll see these behaviors occur more and more often.
And get worse.
3. Decades of research shows early and intensive therapy for kids with autism leads to the best outcomes.
Here’s the best part — you can begin early intervention without a diagnosis of autism. Every state has an early intervention program. Contact your local school district or health department to contact the one closest to you!
I have worked in early intervention for the past 15 years. I cannot diagnose autism. No one in my program can. However, parents can call and we will complete developmental testing to see if their child qualifies for services.
Autism or not doesn’t matter for early intervention. I know what the child’s strengths are and I know what skills we need to address. Sometimes parents are in the process of waiting for an autism evaluation. But your child can still get services.
If your child does receive an autism diagnosis, additional services such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are available and possibly paid for through insurance.
We cannot turn back the clock!
“Wait and see” is not the approach!
Instead, we have to advocate for our kids. We are their voice. We see the behaviors. We deal with the tantrums. We see our child not pointing. We see our son not responding to his name. We see our daughter screaming and crying instead of using words. We see the other kids who are talking.
What to Do When You’re Worried About Autism? Take These Steps!
If you are worried about autism or other delays for your toddler or preschooler, take action!
- Call your local school district or health department. You do not need a referral from a pediatrician for early intervention or to request testing for special ed preschool services.
- Contact your insurance provider to get answers about getting an autism evaluation done. They will tell you which providers are in your network and what the costs could be.
- Check out https://m-chat.org/en-us/ for the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers. You can complete this online for free if your child is between 16-30 months. It’s a simple screener that assesses the potential of autism. Some pediatricians have started doing this checklist as part of well-child checks at 18 and 24 months.
- Go to https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html or https://www.autismspeaks.org/signs-autism for additional information about characteristics of autism and for more information on services.
- Get your copy of Steps to Take When You’re Concerned About Autism. This will give you some simple steps to take to get started.
After I had the testing results for my son, I could take the next steps to get him the services and support he needed. I don’t pretend to know what having a child with autism is like, however, I do know what it’s like to be up all hours of the night and spending hours a day online trying to figure out why my son is melting down, can’t play by himself, delayed with his language, and why I’m getting daily phone calls from daycare about his behavior. I can empathize with the stress and worry you are feeling.
For me, taking simple steps like those listed above, decreased my anxiety and got the ball rolling for us. So, look over the bulletpoints listed above and take that first step!
Make sure to download Steps To Take When You’re Concerned About Autism that will give you 5 actions steps you can take starting today!