Hearing that your child has characteristics of Autism (or "red flags" - which is an outdated and non-preferred term) can be pretty scary for many- especially parents who are not familiar with Autism or aren't aware of any children they know who are diagnosed with Autism -although I promise, you likely know more than one child with an Autism diagnosis (and likely more undiagnosed kids and adults) and just don't realize it! This is because Autism is usually not as different as most people think.
As a result, Autism can be a new and unfamiliar concept for many. If you are reading this, it might be that you sense something may be different about your child, or possibly someone has suggested the possibility of Autism to you. Many parents are certain this suggestion is wrong while others yearn for it to be correct because it will finally validate all of their concerns about their child – and likely concerns that other people- including friends, doctors, and therapists have dismissed.
However you respond to the news that your child could be Autistic- it’s okay. It’s even “normal” (whatever that is) because regardless of how you processed this information, someone else has also done the same thing. Did you cry? It happens all the time. Did you argue? Yep. Feel immense relief? Very common. Yell? Laugh? Deny? Were you initially extremely anxious or depressed? Did you jump all in and start researching and problem solving? Did you ignore it completely and act like it didn’t happen? All of these responses are SUPER common and are OKAY - because regardless of any diagnosis your child may or may not receive, your feelings are valid. The only caveat to this is that if your reaction was negative, do not let your child see this. Talk to your friends and family, but try not to speak in front of your child (even if you think they are not listening or cannot understand), and don't post it on the internet in a place your child could possibly see one day. There's a good chance your feelings will change over time, and you do not want your child to think that you wanted them to be a different person than who they are.
With all of that said, if someone expresses concerns- even if you are positive your child isn't Autistic, it is a good idea to get your child evaluated by someone who is qualified to do Autism assessments. This means professionals who regularly do Autism evaluations and have good recommendations (if you can get some!) So while your regular pediatrician, speech therapist, occupational therapist, BCBA, therapist, or anyone else who works with your child may be familiar with Autism, and diagnosing it may even be within their scope of practice, you want someone who does evaluations regularly. Why? Because your child deserves a quality evaluation by someone highly trained and familiar with the wide presentation of Autism to determine a need for intervention and possible services.
Thinking about waiting? Please don’t, at least not for too long. Waitlists can be very lengthy, and research has shown early intervention is the key to the best possible progress. Why do children need a diagnosis? While this is not always true, it can qualify a child for therapies like speech, occupational therapy, school based services, etc. Already have your child in these interventions? GREAT, this is a priority for younger children! But knowing your child's neurology will also give you and others who work with your child clues and insight into why they do the things they do and how they can best learn. I have quite a long list of tricks to try when it comes to Autistic kids that I would not necessarily use with other children. Also, an important part of self-advocacy is a person knowing that they are Autistic and how they best learn, and this can also reduce possible mental health difficulties in the teenage years and early adulthood as they will not strive to be Neurotypical or shut down when they cannot or do not reach that unattainable goal.
What are the possible warning signs of Autism? Head on over to Autism: Not Always What You Think for a wide variety of traits and characteristics. But know, while helpful for many, a blog post, checklists, or even hours of researching Autism online will not give you all of the answers you need. No two kids with an Autism diagnosis will present the same and as such, you will not find an exact description of your child online. Plus we are all emotional about and have blinders on when it comes to our kids (including me!).
If the results from your evaluation were that your child meets diagnosis criteria for Autism and you aren’t comfortable with that, get a second opinion. If the answer was no and you weren’t comfortable with that- get a second opinion. If they say no, ask if they feel you should seek other evaluations, or if they think anything else could be impacting your child. Some parents might even need third or fourth opinions before they are comfortable. If your child was evaluated when they were 2 and now they are 4, or even 12 and you continue to have concerns, notice differences, or question initial results, go ahead and get another evaluation (in fact, I recommend this for everyone who had early evaluations that resulted in "no"). Some kids can fly under the radar or meet social expectations while they are young and then start having difficulty as social expectations increase.
I often hear parents say things like “they are just looking for Autism”, “I feel like they are assessing every move my child makes”, “they are just diagnosing kids to make money”, or “everything is a sign of Autism these days”. It’s true, it’s my job to look for Autism- along with other communication differences. I do watch my kids closely and observe them because I want what’s best for them- there is no malicious intent in this and if I did not do this, I would not be doing my job effectively. And the truth is, these comments are frustrating because they often prevent many parents from seeking evaluations who really should - which leaves kids in need of therapy without support.
If you are concerned someone is diagnosing your child to make money, ask them if there is any difference in their pay or if their organization makes money off of positive results. If the answer is anything other than no, find someone else. You do not want to question if money had any impact on your child’s results.
Do some kids get evaluations who probably didn’t need one? Of course they do. But it’s not those kids that I’m concerned about- it’s the ones that go without evaluations and without intervention that I worry about. Who will help them? Will they get the intervention they need? Will it be too late when they finally get help? Could I have done something differently that could have made a difference in that child’s life?
Lastly, I want to ask that if you are a parent who was upset with the person who brought concerns to you, please do not hold that against them. Again, it is our job to share concerns with parents- we’re not trying to hurt you or your child and in fact we would not be having difficult discussions with you if we did not think it was necessary.
If this is your first time visiting Mrs Speechie P, I recommend checking out my Autism Handbook (Professional/License to share) (Parent individual version)to learn more about Autism from a Neurodiversity affirming standpoint. I also share tons of info about Autism and communication, as well as give tips to work on speech and language regularly on my Facebook and Instagram pages, so be sure to follow me on social media!