Parents who are worried about possible autism are often given the outdated (and terrible) advice of “wait and see” by their child’s pediatrician and other well-meaning family and friends.
Pediatricians tell us they’ll check in with us at the next appointment in six months and reassess.
Family and friends try to calm our fears and worries by saying things like –
- “My husband didn’t talk til he was 4.”
- “You worry too much – he’ll be fine.”
- “My neighbor’s kid has autism and your daughter isn’t like him.”
- “You should give her more time. Just wait and see.”
So, Why Is “Wait and See” Such Terrible Advice?
Delays in testing and services means toddlers, two year-olds, and preschoolers miss out on extremely valuable months and years in which they could be getting help. That help can improve their communication, social skills, cognition, and self-help skills.
Six months to a year isn’t that much when you’re 40 like me.
BUT WHEN YOUR CHILD IS UNDER 5…
Why Do Pediatricians Continue to Give This Advice?
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.
- Information is constantly changing and being updated.
- Pediatricians see a huge amount of kids each day.
- They may only be able to spend 10 minutes per kid per visit.
- Pediatricians talk to a lot of worried and upset parents every day.
With all of the demands placed on our pediatricians, it’s also very difficult for them to also be experts in the early signs of autism (and how different those can appear in different kids).
Unless our child happens to clearly show a lot of early signs and we have a pediatrician who knows those signs, they could easily be looked over.
And think about this –
How many kids cry, scream, tantrum, won’t look at the doctor, don’t talk, and won’t respond when the doctor calls their name?
My kids definitely did. (Same for the dentist and when they got haircuts.)
Those are behaviors pediatricians expect to see during their visit so they may not realize there’s more to those behaviors than typical “toddler hates the doctor’s office.”
So while we might have been worried about something or know there’s something that we just can’t put our finger on…
When the pediatrician says “Everything looks ok so let’s just wait and see,” we’re relieved.
That’s what we wanted to hear, right?
Autism or Not – Early Intervention is Critical
I have talked to hundreds of families about their concerns regarding their child’s delays.
Many of these families cry and have a lot of guilt because they were worried six months ago or even a year ago, but they were told to “wait and see.”
Additionally, COVID-19 has caused additional issues for families:
- Delayed visits to the pediatrician
- Being mostly at home
- Very limited opportunities for their child to be around same age peers
- Clinics have long waiting lists and may be doing telehealth appointments only
Parents have to be more proactive than ever if there are concerns about their child’s development.
As I mentioned earlier, if you’re 40 like me, 6 months isn’t a huge deal.
However, when you’re child is 2 or 3 or 4, early intervention is critical!
You wouldn’t “wait and see” if you had concerns about a medical issue.
Your child’s early development is just as important!
Three Reasons Not to “Wait and See”
1. Possible Underlying Medical Issues
If your child is not meeting their milestones, there is a reason.
Medical reasons have to be ruled out. You can still pursue an autism evaluation at the same time; however, medical issues must be addressed as well.
Hearing and vision issues need to be looked at. These can greatly impact all areas of development. Chronic ear infections, fluid in the ears, and/or hearing loss impact your child’s ability to learn new skills (and they don’t feel well which also impacts learning).
Is your child snoring a lot at night?
Drools a lot even when they aren’t teething?
Has trouble chewing and swallowing foods?
Balance and coordination problems?
Squints a lot during the day?
Difficulties tolerating certain foods?
If you are noticing any of these problems, take some notes about when they occur and for how long you’ve noticed them. Then schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to discuss them.
Ignoring or not getting to the bottom of medical issues will continue to impact your child’s development and ability to learn new skills.
Certain medical conditions frequently co-occur with autism and will need to be managed throughout your child’s life.
2. Problem Behaviors and Bad Habits Develop
If your child cannot communicate effectively by pointing, using gestures, and/or saying words, they will find a way to get their point across.
Crying and screaming are common tools 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 down the baby and pick her up so she cries and throws her sippy cup at the baby.
The longer these problem behaviors work, the more they will continue to occur. It will also be harder to break those habits.
We know that from our own habits that we’ve tried to break!
3. Early and Intensive Therapy Leads to The Best Outcomes
Decades of research and thousands of studies prove that early and intensive therapy leads to the best outcomes for kids with autism.
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 health department or school district to contact the program in your area.
I have worked in early intervention for the past 15 years. I can’t diagnose autism. No one in my program can.
However, I can complete developmental testing that can qualify the child for early intervention services.
We can then begin to work on skills that we need to address and coach the family on how to work on those skills during daily routines.
In the meantime, parents can seek out an autism evaluation and additional ABA services if they choose.
“Wait and See” Is Not the Approach
We can’t turn back the clock.
Instead, we need to advocate for our kids. We are their voice. We see the behaviors. We deal with the tantrums and meltdowns. We see our child not pointing or responding to his name. We see our daughter screaming and crying instead of using words.
We see the other kids who are doing all of those things.
Trust yourself. Trust your gut.
Take These 5 Steps Instead of Waiting
- 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 education preschool services.
- Contact your insurance provider to get answers about autism evaluations. They will tell you which clinicians are in your network and what out-of-pocket costs could be.
- Check out the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers. If your child is between 16-30 months, complete this free online screener. It will assess the potential for autism (it’s not a diagnostic tool though). Many pediatricians have started doing this as part of well-child check ups at 18 and 24 months.
- Go to the CDC for additional information about early signs of autism and for more information on types of services and therapies recommended.
- Get your copy of Steps To Take When You’re Concerned About Autism. This will give you some simple steps to get your started.
My son was diagnosed with ADHD in second grade. Once I had those testing results, I could take the next steps to get him the services and support he needed.
I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to have a child with autism. 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, isn’t talking, and why I’m getting daily phone calls from daycare about his behavior.
For me, taking simple steps like those listed above, decreased my anxiety and got the ball rolling for us. So, look over those bullet points listed above and take that first step!
Make sure to download your copy of Steps to Take When You’re Concerned About Autism that will give you 5 action steps you can start taking today.