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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Boys Do NOT Just Talk Later and Girls CAN Have Autism

This being Autism Awareness Month, my Facebook news feed is even more full of autism-related stories than usual. I was reading Chrissy Kelly's outstanding post This Is Autism on her blog Life with Greyson + Parker, and was really struck by something she shared. When she told her pediatrician she was concerned about her son's lack of language development at 18 months, she was told not to worry - "Boys often talk later, myself and so many others have been told. Since autism now affects 1 in 42 boys, boys are often late talkers is a sentence I'd like to banish from the world."

That got me to thinking about all the ways that well-meaning professionals offer false reassurances (or worse, dismiss parental concerns outright) that can cost children valuable months or even years of life-altering early intervention. Because there is no debate: early intervention works. Yet we also know that despite all the gains made in autism awareness, there is still widespread lack of autism understanding, and minorities, girls, and autistic children with language are still diagnosed much later on average. 

It is especially important that pediatricians start taking parental concerns about development more seriously, because they are often the first professionals to hear that a child isn't talking yet, does not seem to hear despite having passed hearing tests, or is showing signs of sensory processing disorder. Notice I did not say "developmental delays", because not all ASD signs are delays; often they are differences in how the child interacts with the world and the people in it.

In our own diagnosis journey, we heard plenty of platitudes. When your young child is very bright, it is hard to get doctors and therapists to understand that something is "off" in his development. Had we not ignored the well-meaning reassurances and kept pushing for answers, we would be in a very different place today. Luckily, as one friend recently told me, I can be "relentless". Just a tad.

Our followers on Facebook were kind enough to share with us some of the things doctors have told them over the years. We share them today in the hopes that professionals will realize what a terrible disservice they do to children and families when they brush off parental concerns, even if they mean well.

Boys just talk late...

"I didn't start talking till I was 3" 

"If he's not talking by the time he's 4 going on 5 come back." 

You're not a good parent...

"There's nothing wrong with him. You just have to get used to your child's temperament."

In response to watching my child ignore a basket of toys and choose to throw paper out of a trash can: "You need to set firmer boundaries." 

"What makes you think it's not YOU?"

 Teacher platitudes...
"Our pediatrician called our child's day care teacher a "well read idiot" when the teacher told us that our child's rigid routine was just what 2 year olds do. - wasted almost 5 years of potential early intervention."

"We just meet the child where he is." and "We don't want to treat him differently and make him stand out." From the preschool teacher who inadvertently reinforced negative behaviors by reacting to them, rather than making the accommodations that could prevent them.

His senses are normal...

"It's not a sensory issue, his young ears are just more sensitive than ours. He'll get used to it as he gets older." - from a pediatrician when asked why our son covers his ears and screams at sounds no one else even hears (I specifically remember the automatic doors at the library being a particular nuisance - tiny servo motors whirring at 25 kHz.) 

"Little kids just line things up - it's how they make sense of the world."

Just speechless at this one...

"Girls don't GET autism!"

A better response...

You know what we would love to hear professionals say instead? "Everything is probably fine, but just in case, let me refer you to a speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, developmental pediatrician, child psychologist specializing in autism, Early Intervention services, TEACCH center, {insert appropriate expert here}..."

Pediatricians, preschool teachers - you don't need to be experts in autism, just willing to refer concerned parents to those who are. Maybe the child doesn't have autism, but then again, with autism prevalence rates now at 1 in 68 kids, maybe he or she does.

What are some of the things you heard from professionals before your child was diagnosed with autism? Please share in the comments!

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