Over the past few weeks the Young Witness has featured stories on Austism Spectrum Disorder, what it is, caring for a child on the spectrum and a story on a local Facebook group set up for parents and carers.
Make a list: Have your Blue Book handy and go through and note down any of the milestones you think your child has been delayed in reaching.
Observe: Watch how your child plays with their toys. Do they line them up, separate them into colours or do they play with them the way they are supposed to? Also watch how your child interacts with others, not just children but other adults as well. Do they engage with them? Do they copy facial expressions? Do they converse with others? Do they play with others?
Reactions: Note and record down of how your child reacts in certain situations. If going to a new place does your child become tense? Do they have a melt-down? Do they avoid certain textures or foods? Do they react to changes in lighting? How does your child react to a change in routine?
Doctors and assessors will always ask at some point for you to take video or record what a parent considers to be a meltdown. This can be extremely difficult to do as a parent, especially if they child is looking to you for comfort or to help them regulate their emotions, however this can be used by medical teams to assess the child.
Moods: This can be a tough one to assess as a parent. In some cases children on the spectrum will have their ‘person’ who they will interact and react with. For instance if that child’s person is their mother, they may smile when their mother smiles, they may laugh when their mother plays with them. What you need to look closely for is a regulation of emotions. For instance if a child goes from happy to angry to happy. If they only appear to experience one emotion. If they are happy but react as though they are angry. These instances also need to be noted down for medical professionals to assess.
The Australian website Autism Awareness has a list of milestones or reactions to look out for in children who are on the spectrum.
By end of 12 months
- Does not pay attention to or frightened of new faces
- Does not smile, does not follow moving object with eyes
- Does not babble, laugh and has difficulty bringing objects to the mouth
- Has no words
- Does not turn head to locate sounds and appears not to respond to loud noises
- Does not push down on legs when feet placed on a firm surface
- Does not show affection to primary caregiver, dislikes being cuddled
- Does not crawl, cannot stand when supported
- Does not use gestures such as waving or pointing
By 24 months
- Cannot walk by 18 months or walks only on his toes, cannot push a wheeled toy
- Does not speak; does not imitate actions, cannot follow simple instructions
- Does not appear to know the function of common household object such as a telephone by 15 months
By 36 months
- Very limited speech, does not use short phrases, has difficulty in understanding simple instructions
- Has little interest in other children, has difficulty separating from mother or primary care-giver
- Difficulty in manipulating small objects
- Has little interest in ‘make-believe’ play
- Frequently falls, has difficulty with stairs
What to do next?
If your suspicions have been exacerbated by the above the next step would be to speak to your child’s teaching staff at their day care or preschool.
Ask for a meeting and sit down with your concerns listed out and discuss with them. Educators and carers will have noted any concerns they may have and in some instances will refer you to Hilltops Early Intervention.
By this point, or if your child does not go to childcare or preschool you should have already discussed your concerns with your General Practitioner or Pediatrician.
Hilltops Early Intervention helps children up to eight-years-of-age who not only are on the spectrum but have other behavioural and physical conditions.
The team at Early Intervention are highly trained and know their stuff. If your child has been referred to them it is not a time to despair with Principal Teena Whitechurch and her team going above and beyond to not only help your child but you as a parent as well by giving advice and techniques that can help with any issues.
Once Early Intervention has assessed your child they may also refer them to Occupational Therapy, Speech Pathology or any other services they may require. The team can also refer you to doctors who can assess children for a whole range of disorders and issues.
The biggest piece of advice that can be given is to speak to General Practictioners, Pediatricians, educators and other family members or carers of the child.
These people may pick up on things that you don’t, most of them are also qualified in picking up these symptoms and diagnosing them.
Do not forget however that children are able to pick up anxieties and concern from their parents, which at times can be perceived as symptoms.
The biggest thing to remember is that a diagnosis is NOT the end of the world.
It does not mean your child is anything other than who they are. A label does not make them any different.
Embrace your child’s Autism with the same enthusiasm and love as you do your child and educate yourself on what this means for your child for the rest of their life.