As parents of young children, we get excited about the milestones our little one’s hit. We brag about their giggles, their words, their steps. We feel proud when our child is moving along as expected.
On the other hand, we can feel hesitant, scared, even overwhelmingly anxious, to talk about a difference or delay in our child’s development. We may hope it is just a small blip in development, of no real importance, that we won’t even remember in a year or two. We may tell ourselves we are making something out of nothing. Or we may fear that saying the concern out loud makes it “real.” The unknown can cause so much anxiety!
If you are concerned about your child’s development but anxious about reaching out to a professional to determine if your child needs intervention, below are some things to consider and actionable steps to help you move away from hesitation and anxiety and towards finding answers for your child and family.
- Autism symptoms present in early childhood. Parents may first notice a lack of or inconsistent response to name, difficulty making eye contact, difficult engaging in play with others, or a delay in language development. A trained psychologist or developmental pediatrician can reliably diagnose autism beginning around 18 months to 2 years of age. If your child is around this age, they are not too young to talk about your concerns and find guidance about next steps.
- For any difference identified in early childhood, not just autism, early intervention is so important to help a child reach their individual best outcomes. Early identification and intervention for language disorders, hearing difficulties, physical disorders, and behavioral difficulties, to name a few, result in the best chance for strong personal outcomes.
- Recent research indicates that the median age of diagnosis is 4.4 years old, although developmental concerns are documented for the large majority of these children by 3 years old. This delay between first concern and diagnosis could be due to a number of things, including the amount of time it takes to get an appointment at major autism centers, where long waitlists for an autism assessment are common. The earlier you reach out for an assessment, the earlier you will have answers about your child’s developmental differences. But if you need time to get your thoughts together before making an evaluation appointment, don’t wait too long; if you go through a major hospital, you will likely have to wait for the appointment anyway.
- What we know about autism is changing everyday. We have research-based interventions that help children and families progress. We have increasing access to services. If you are concerned about your child’s development and fear autism, you don’t have to figure it out on your own. There are professionals available to walk you through the process of evaluating your child’s symptoms, including your pediatrician, early intervention providers for the county, or our office. You just need to reach out.
- Asking for help does not mean that your child has autism. Scheduling an evaluation does not mean that your child has autism. This sounds obvious, but not every child that participates in an autism assessment has autism. Many do not. Language delays, behavioral difficulties, and other conditions can present with symptoms similar to autism, but in the end, are not actually autism.
- Children develop at different rates. However, there are general milestones that guide our understanding of typical child development. Review these milestone guidelines and if your child is not hitting them, reach out to Bright Beginnings (in Cuyahoga County), the early childhood intervention program in your area, or talk to your pediatrician.
- Autism presents in different ways, but a couple of the red flags first noticed include lack of response to name, and/or a lack of engagement with others. If you see these behaviors, talk to your pediatrician. State your concerns in a way that indicates you are looking for an actionable next step. For example, say something like:
“Michael makes inconsistent eye contact and does not always respond when I call his name. I noticed this about two months ago and it has not changed or improved. Maybe he isn’t hearing me, maybe it is nothing, or maybe it is autism. I want to figure out why this is happening. What should I do next?”
This “What should I do next?” lets the provider know that you are looking for next steps and a more in-depth conversation about the problem.
- Breathe: If a professional involved with your child suggests that you get an autism evaluation – breathe. Ask the provider what symptoms they see and write them down. Ask who to call to schedule an evaluation. Gather this information, then go back to the beginning of this post and re-read the “Consider” steps. Reach out.
You can always call our office and ask to speak with me or Dr. Barlow about your child’s development. As with anything, taking the first step is the hardest part. You may find comfort by talking about your child’s difficulties with a professional who can provide guidance and next steps. Reaching out can alleviate the anxiety of the unknown.