People often ask this question and the answer is complicated. Looking back it’s easy to see the signs, things we never associated with autism, but now know were clues. As a baby she was like any other colicky baby, cheerful in the morning and early afternoon, cranky by late afternoon, screaming by evening and inconsolable by midnight. She would scream and fuss until 2:00AM or 3:00AM when she would finally fall asleep. After about three months she was better and began sleeping longer. Our pediatrician told us this was typical with babies who have colic and from all that I’ve read, it is. Except that many autistic children also have digestive problems that plague them well beyond infancy. Some believe GI issues occur more frequently in children who are diagnosed with autism than in neuro-typical children. Others believe there is absolutely no connection and dispute the studies showing a slight increase in GI issues with autistic children.
I can’t speak for other families, but Emma has always had GI issues something we had confirmed when we took her to Boston for a colonoscopy and endoscopy showing us her multiple ulcerations and inflammations. When she was a toddler she was a “good eater”, basically ate anything I put in front of her. I noted in her baby journal when she was 12 months old that she loved the mushroom barley soup I made one snowy winter day. Talk about random, as Nic would say. The only thing she really disliked were peas. Hated them, spat them out and threw the bowl to the floor. But other than strained peas, Emma had a varied and healthy diet at that time. As she grew older and the “autism” became more pronounced, her diet became more “autistic” too. In other words she became less willing to try new things, more rigid in her desire for sameness and eventually became the picky eater that she is today. People who blame GI issues on picky eating, haven’t met Emma. Her GI issues have plagued her since the first day of her life.
Emma with a variety of food on her tray including one hated pea. This was taken before she tossed the pea to the ground.
The most telling clue, was the fact that Emma seemed so utterly indifferent to friends and other family members. I remember when Nic was still a baby, maybe eight months old, my mother came to visit us. We told him she was coming and he was very excited to see his Granma. The last time he’d seen her was when he was three months old. When she arrived, I went to greet her at our elevator, with Nic in my arms, he was so excited he began bouncing up and down, and reaching for her. It was incredible to witness as he seemed to really know her. Yet, when Emma saw my mother as a baby she seemed neither happy nor upset by this new person’s presence. My mother’s arrival seemed to make little difference to her. I remember making a mental note of this at the time and as with so many things one cannot understand, I chalked it up to her independence.
Rationalizing behaviors I couldn’t make sense of became commonplace. It was a skill I fine tuned over the coming days, weeks and months.
I didn’t know.
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and first clues, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com