10 THINGS I WISH I KNEW WHEN I HAD A TODDLER WITH UNDIAGNOSED AUTISM. KNOWING THESE 10 THINGS WOULD OF MADE LIFE FAR MORE PLEASURABLE FOR EVERYONE. I WOULD BE LIVING WITH LESS GUILT AND QUITE POSSIBLY IT COULD OF PREVENTED MY POST NATAL DEPRESSION.
1. Superior language skills is a sign of possible autism. We all like to think our child is going to be a genius. I took great pride when people were stunned that my daughter was talking at 6 months old. Not saying basic words like mumma and dadda she could name most things that were of interest to her. Her very first word at 5 months was duck. By the time her brother was born when she was 16 months she would have very clear conversations with anyone willing to listen. I remember the day she came to meet her baby brother in hospital. I could hear her coming along the corridor “I have come to see my baby brother, I’m a big sister now”. As she was my first child I had no one to compare her language skills to.2. Constant crying as a baby when being held but being quite content to be left in a bouncy chair is a sign of sensory overload. I had convinced myself that my baby didn’t like me. The health visitor recommended that we attend baby massage as a way to help us bond. My daughter screamed so much I was asked not to attend anymore, as it was distressing for the other mothers and babies.
3. As a baby my son needing to be wrapped so very tightly in a swaddling blanket keeping his arms and legs tightly together, this was the only way to sooth and stop the cries, which were like pained cries. This I know now to be a sensory processing issue that my child was experiencing.
4. Toddler groups are very stressful places for a child with autism, the fight flight instinct is going to be so strong. Other children are unpredictable, the room is noisy and the adult is usually behaving differently (talking to other adults). Hitting, pinching and biting are just behaviours being shown as the child is trying to communicate how scared they are. I had come to the conclusion that I had the one and only problem child. It didn’t matter how cross I got or how many time outs I tried to give my child the behaviour continued until I gave up and just didn’t attend child and parent groups any more.
5. A child crying over the way clothes feel is a real and valid response as sensory processing disorder can cause clothing tags to feel as painful as cacti and those small seams on socks to feel like stones in their shoes. When I think back now to all the times I got cross because my children were refusing to wear particular clothes, not having the ability to fully explain why they didn’t want to wear them. I feel quite sad that I so wrongly labelled them as being naughty and stubborn.
6. Fireworks displays are truly terrifying places to be as loud sounds actually cause great pain to the ears in those children who have hyperacusis. To a child with hyperacusis the banging of a firework can seem as loud as a close gunshot. Of course this also triggers anxieties and feeling of being unsafe. This is another source of guilt for me as for years I tried to get my children to enjoy fireworks displays. Why wouldn’t they, this is what everyone does? I can see so clearly now why they would absolutely hate fireworks displays and I wouldn’t even suggest we visit one. Loud unpredictable sounds, flashing flights and crowds of people.
7. When a child will only watch one particular programme over and over again and becomes upset when you try to introduce something new this is a sign of repetitive play. The Tweenies video in our house was played so often that it wore out. It was the only way the rest of us in the house got to have any quiet time. If the Tweenies were not on then the only sound would be screaming. This was not a child wanting their own way, this was a child needing to see the same thing over and over to feel safe, it was a much needed routine.
8. Not being bothered where anyone else was in the house and being happy to play on their own can be an indicator that something is not quite right. Toddlers should want to be around others, they are meant to want adult attention. Toddlers usually at least like to play in the same room as the adults. For me I was just pleased that for once my children were not crying, my toddler was happy to sit and watch the red sock spin around amongst the white washing in the machine or just sit looking at picture books that have the topic of interest, for my daughter it was food. The Hungry Caterpillar, A Slice of Cake, The Picnic, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. For my son it was factual books about tractors and dinosaurs. During these activities I was never wanted, again I put it down to the fact that my children didn’t like me much and would rather be alone.
9. Limited use of body gestures can be a sign of autism. This was not something I knew until we were going down the diagnosis route and the paediatrician asked if my children used gestures as toddlers. Pointing to things to share an interest or gain attention, waving hello or goodbye without being prompted. Gestures were not something that my daughter in particular ever did. Her language skills were so good she would just say hello or goodbye, she would also just ask for what she wanted and so didn’t point. Gestures seem such a small thing but actually are very relevant to autism.
10. Being extremely laid back and placid as a toddler, just happy to sit in a baby chair and watch the world go past can also be a sign of autism, again I had no idea of this until going through diagnosis with my son. He would be content to just sit and be quiet not wanting anything from anyone, a true opposite from his siblings who screamed constantly due to sensory processing issues. He even developed a flat head due to his unwillingness to be active and move about. Interestingly this same child has now been diagnosed with autism and severe ADHD that started to develop around the age of 4.