Red flags?

Yesterday afternoon I was in the basement folding laundry while my sister-in-law packed up winter coats for long-term storage, and she asked me “have you ever had V. evaluated for…” and trailed off.

I knew immediately what she meant though, and supplied the words that have been lurking in the back of my mind on and off for maybe a year: “Autism spectrum, or Aspergers?  No.  We haven’t.”

So it was said out loud, and all I could think was “I don’t want to be having this conversation.”  But it was said out loud, and so I’ve been watching V. carefully and reading stuff online.

She’s only two, so a lot of the diagnostic criteria don’t really apply yet; for her age, there are a few red flags, though.  Not enough for me to be really worried – for once Dr. Google calmed rather than exacerbated my fears – but enough that I’ll keep watching and reading and maybe we’ll have her evaluated when we get back to the US in 2012.

There are a few red flags:

  • Generally, she really dislikes being around other children her age.  If she’s used to them – like the kids she sees every week at church nursery, or the daughter of the woman who used to babysit her 4 days a week – she’ll ignore them.  With the one little girl, she was finally getting to the point where she’d actually share toys and food with her, or imitate her, and then work schedules and bedrest and etc. led to our not seeing them for several months so I don’t know how she’d react to her now.  But if we’re at the playground and any other kids show up, she screams and cries – at best, just emits these high-pitched shrieks to get our attention and communicate her unease.
  • Speech delays.  We keep hearing anecdotes about some kid that didn’t talk at all until age 3 or 4 and then suddenly started using full sentences.  V. talks, but she’s way behind every other kid her age that I know.  She just barely hits the minimum requirement for her age.  I think she has over 150 words (many, many of them animals), but she very rarely combines them into phrases.  The closest she gets are “Ma, Da!” looking back and forth from one of us to the other in the car, or “In.  Box.”  when she climbs into a box.  It’s like she strings words together, but the whole isn’t really more than the sum of its parts.  I think she understands pretty much anything we say, she just doesn’t talk.
  • On the other hand, she’s very literate – she can identify every letter of the alphabet in any context – all the capitals and some lowercase – and knows what phonetic sound each represents.  She knows all the numbers and can (sort of) count to 20 (instead of “fifteen,” e.g., she says “fao-fao” which is how she’d pronounce “five-five”).  On a web site about Aspergers I read the term “hyperlexia”; I’ve been saying for months that she’s going to read before she can talk.
  • Another site mentioned that sleep problems are really common with Asperger’s – difficulty falling asleep? Check (up to two hours after lights out)  Night waking? Check (again, up to two hours at a time)  Early waking?  Hm… maybe; she seems to wake up for the day after 9.5 hours, no matter how they’re distributed, so sometimes she doesn’t get up until 9 a.m.  But sleep has been a huge issue for us since she was tiny.

So I don’t know.  She relates very well to her very small inner circle – me and T., her grandparents, her regular (30+ hours/week) babysitter, and doesn’t freak out in social situations that are familiar – friends we see on a regular basis.  But people she doesn’t know seem to provoke this extreme social anxiety.  Put that together with the speech delay and sleep problems, and we may have reason to have a screening done sometime in the next few years.

It makes me sad, but I still feel hopeful.  And watchful.

(You know what bugs me a lot though?  If we do get a diagnosis at some point, it will reinforce my sister’s campaign against childhood immunizations.)

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2 Responses to “Red flags?”

  1. Rachel Says:

    I am sure your sister was bringing it up out of love.

    Obviously I’ve never met V, but you are right she is young. Language or speech issues may just be a result of her personality. You have mentioned that you are introverted and it may be that she is as well. Hang in there!

  2. niobe Says:

    Okay, this may be totally irrelevant, but if you’re in the mood for a somewhat similar story, V sounds a lot like my eldest at that age.

    I was constantly googling stories about kids with hyperlexia because at 20 months or so, he was obsessed with (and could identify) letters and some words.

    When he was having a tantrum, the only way to calm him down was to hold him in front of his alphabet poster, where he’d recite the letters to himself like a mantra. He also spent a lot of time lining up toy letters in alphabetical order and took fits if they were out of order. On the other hand, his speech was delayed. I was convinced that he was on the spectrum.

    But, as it turned out, he was totally neurotypical (or whatever the term is) and is now 18 and a freshman in college and doing very, very well.

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