When Josie was 5 months old, her mom, Elizabeth, wondered why she still didn’t respond when she called her name.
Elizabeth had been excited to bring her newborn daughter, Josie, home from the hospital. She’d dreamt about holding and cuddling her baby during feeding times and eagerly accepted the privileges and responsibilities of becoming a young mother. She enjoyed the daily bath times and didn’t mind changing her diapers. She loved being a mom and looked forward to the day when Josie would call her “Mommy.”
But Elizabeth sensed something was wrong. “Should I get her hearing checked,” she wondered? After waiting another month she took Josie to the doctor. The doctor assured Elizabeth that Josie’s hearing was fine and she was a normal, healthy baby. Relieved she took Josie back home and forgot about her fears. Josie continued to grow and develop and even starting speaking in short sentences when she was almost two. Elizabeth felt thrilled when Josie learned to call her “Mommy.”
But when Josie was two and a half, Elizabeth noticed a change in her behavior. She preferred to play by herself with just a few of her favorite toys. Her favorite toy was a spinning top and she could watch it for hours. Elizabeth sometimes felt hurt that Josie wanted to play by herself all of the time, but soon found that she was pregnant with her second child and was secretly glad to save her energy and just watch Josie play.
When Josie turned four, Elizabeth put her in preschool three days a week. After only a month, the teacher called Elizabeth for a conference. She was concerned that Josie was falling behind the other children in the class. Elizabeth immediately went to the local elementary school for help and they gave her my name and phone number.
Elizabeth brought Josie to my office the next week, and I quickly noticed several things.
- Josie never made eye contact with her mom or me.
- While her mother was present, Josie only repeated words that her mother told her to say.
- Josie checked out the unfamiliar room before she began flapping her arms and spinning herself around.
- Elizabeth didn’t seem to notice anything unusual about Josie’s behavior.
After Elizabeth left, I got Clifford, the big red dog stuffed animal and used it to try to make eye contact with Josie. She loved Clifford and we made a few short moments of eye contact. After reading a Clifford book together, Josie immediately started a memorized monologue of a recent movie she’d seen, voice inflection and all.
There were important indicators of Josie’s autism that Elizabeth, a first-time mother did not recognize.
If you’re a parent, grandparent or pre-school teacher, here are some questions to consider as you observe a child in your family or classroom.
- Does the child know how to imitate?
- Does the child tend to ignore other people?
- Does the child know how to pretend play?
- Is the child repetitive in her play, playing with only a few things?
- Does the child share her toys without prompting?
- Does the child comment on what others are doing?
- Does the child maintain normal eye contact with others?
If the answer is no to three or more of these questions, take the child to a pediatrician or speech pathologist for evaluation. The younger a child receives help, the better off he/she will be.
Next blog: Autism in elementary aged children.
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