Tag Archives: autism and pointing

The Early Signs of Autism

I have been thinking a great deal about those first clues, the things Emma did that we now know were the first warning signs of what ended in a diagnosis of autism.  The CDC has a website with a checklist – “Learn the Signs” .

According to their checklist, at 3 months, Emma was developing as any neuro-typical child, by seven months there were only one or two things on the checklist that she didn’t do.  Both fall under the “Language” category.

“Responds to own name” is the first and at 7 months Emma did respond to her own name, but not all the time.  I remember a friend reassuring me that her kids, who were older than Emma, didn’t respond every time she called to them either.  Still, it was the first red flag.

“Can tell emotions by tone of voice” – this is difficult.  I made some notes in her baby journal that she seemed preoccupied, but I can see how I and others would have dismissed this as being overly worried.

Everything else on the checklist were things Emma was doing – Ability to track moving objects, transfers object from hand to hand, sits with, and then without, support on hands, rolls both ways, (front to back, back to front.)

The 1 year checklist has more things that Emma was clearly not doing, but again, they were not black and white, such as:  “Shy and anxious with strangers.”

Emma wasn’t shy or anxious around anyone.  In fact, I remember thinking, with a certain degree of pride that this was an expression of her self confidence and independence.

“Cries when mother or father leaves.”  Again, a sign of her independence, I thought and sometimes she would cry when I left, just not often.

“Shows specific preferences for certain people and toys.”  She did, but not to the degree Nic had.  She seemed indifferent to people and rarely asked for toys, something I attributed to her solid sense of self.

“Maybe fearful in some situations.”  Emma showed no fear toward anyone or anything.  We had no idea this was not a good thing.

“Does not search for objects that are hidden while he or she watches.”  I remember Nic loved a picture book by Richard Scarry.  It had a little animal (I can’t remember what kind) that was somewhere on every page, but often difficult to find.  He loved scanning the picture and pointing to the mouse.  When Emma was his age, she had no interest in the book, let alone locating the tiny hidden creature.  It was the same with the mouse in “Good Night Moon”.  Nic loved pointing out the mouse that is always somewhere on each and every page.  Emma would push my hand away when I said, “Emma!  Where’s the mouse?”

I told myself it was because the book didn’t interest her and not because it was indicative of a larger problem.  I remember being baffled by her degree of disinterest.  But I also remember telling myself that children are different and she just wasn’t as interested in books the way Nic had been.  Finding the hidden animal, something Nic and I spent hours doing, was not enjoyable for Emma and while it made me sad that I couldn’t share this with her, I shrugged it off as yet another example of her temperament.

When I look at these checklists I am still struck by how many more things Emma did do than didn’t.  Even on the 2 year checklist, the majority of bullet points were things she did.

Which is why diagnosing autism is so tricky.  Many believe “autism” is a misnomer.  They believe it is actually a word being used to house a wide variety of different issues.  If they are right it would explain the intractable nature of “autism” and why it continues to confound.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and a trip down memory lane, go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com


Early this morning Emma climbed into our bed.  “Hi Mommy!”

“Em, it’s too early, you have to go back to bed,” I said.


I listened to her make her way back to her bedroom.  When her bedroom door closed, I marveled at how just months ago, this would not have happened.  In the past, Emma would have refused to leave or screamed until one of us took her back to her bedroom where she would not have gone back to sleep or she would have left and begun screaming minutes later.  This morning, there was nothing but silence.  The silence accentuated by the thick layer of snow covering everything and which continues to fall as I write.

Later, when something crashed into one of the windows, causing the dogs to start barking downstairs, I tiptoed into Emma’s room.  She was in her bed, with her head on her stuffed green monster, Muzzy.  “Hi Mommy!”  she said.

“Hi Em!”

“Just you and me,” she said pointing to herself and then me.  “Just you and me in Emma’s bed.”

“Yes, I said, sitting on her bed.  “You and me” is something Emma has begun saying for a few months now.  It is another milestone.  She says it as she points to each person she is referring to.  While this may seem inconsequential, it represents an astonishing leap in cognition as well as tremendous developmental progress.  One of the telltale signs of autism – a lack of pointing – is something Emma is now beginning to do.

“Muzzy, teddy bear,” Emma said, pointing to her monster.

“You love your Muzzy, don’t you Em?”

“Yes,” she said.

And I love that Emma has taken to referring to her stuffed monster as “Muzzy, teddy bear.”  It’s such an apt description of what he is to her.  And like all things Emma, her choice in “teddy bears” is a bit unconventional.

Emma just came into the room where I am writing with her “twin”, an enormous doll I bought for her one Christmas.  I ordered it over the Internet and had to send a photo of Emma, with instructions on the correct eye, hair and skin color.  When the doll came, complete with Christmas party dress and faux fur stole, Emma looked at it and wandered off.  A pile of unwrapped presents remained under the Christmas tree abandoned.  Every Christmas we have attempted to entice Emma with a few things we think she might enjoy only to have her barely take notice of any of them.

“Look!  Doll!” Emma said  as she sat down with the stripped down doll in her arms.

“Oh Em, you have your doll with you.  What’s her name?” I asked.

After a pause Emma said, “Girl.”

Then she picked up some of her picture books and began “reading” to “girl”.

“Have Eddie come, get christmas presents?” Emma said while we were still in New York.

“We’ll be in Aspen for Christmas,” I told her.

“Open Christmas presents at Granma’s house,” Emma said.


For Emma to show even a remote interest in opening any presents this Christmas will be a first.