Tag Archives: signs of autism

“The Signs Of Autism”

When my daughter was diagnosed I heard all the autism statistics.  I read a great deal and I learned a lot.  But what I learned was not so much about autism as it was about non-Autistic perceptions of autism and what that meant to those who are not Autistic.  Non Autistic people tend to view autism with tremendous fear.  There’s so much we don’t know.   Non Autistic parents are left trying to sift through the opposing opinions about a child they may have a difficult time understanding.  Most parents deeply love their children and want what they believe is best for their child.  So when they see literature describing the “signs of autism” it looks scary.  The various “signs of Autism” do not bring them any closer to understanding their child, rather they serve as a critique.  Right away parents are shown how to view their child as less than, as not good enough, as “wrong”.

From the Mayo Clinic the first sentence under the heading “Symptoms” reads, “Children with autism generally have problems in three crucial areas of development – social interaction, language and behavior.”

If I had read this sentence upon receiving my daughter’s diagnosis I would have thought, okay, so how do we fix these problems, because  problems are to be fixed, right?   And though I did not read this exact sentence in 2004 when my daughter was diagnosed, I read a great many just like it.  I never once thought about the sentence and who was writing it.  I never once questioned it’s validity or examined the words being used.  It never occurred to me to read this sentence with skepticism and doubt.  It didn’t occur to me to wonder how my two-year old daughter might feel growing up in a society that believes the ways in which she interacts, speaks and behaves are viewed as problematic.  But I think about all of this now.  Not because my daughter is reading a sentence like this or because we are discussing things of this nature, but because I see everything regarding autism and those who are Autistic differently.  I am hyper aware of the judgmental and critical tone in almost everything to do with autism because I now know a great many people who are Autistic and they explain it to me.  I now know how offensive this language is and I understand why.

So let me ask all of you who are not Autistic this – how would you feel if you were described from the moment you were born as problematic?  How would you feel if you were taken from one doctor to the next, examined and criticized?  How would it affect you if you were told, “Stop looking at me when I speak to you!”  And then when you found that impossible, the person physically reached down and turned your head away so that you could not make eye contact.   How would you feel if you were paying attention and suddenly two hands grabbed your wrists and shook them so that  your hands flapped rapidly on either side of your face.  When you tried to pull away, you were told, “Move your hands!”  How would you feel if you were happily playing with your dolls and your parent demanded, “What are doing? Why are you making them interact that way?  Why are you trying to feed it?   You understand this is a piece of plastic and not real, don’t you?”

The point I’m trying to make, (probably poorly) is that almost all the literature about Autism is written by NON Autistic people and negatively compares Autism to a different neurology.  Is it any wonder parents feel so confused?  How is this thinking helping our kids?  How is it helping parents?



I gave birth to Emma in a birthing center here in Manhattan.  It was a relatively “short” labor being just shy of 20 hours, compared to Nic who took more than 38 hours to appear.  Okay, it wasn’t remotely “short”, but that was the word everyone kept using when predicting how long it would take, and compared to Nic, it was certainly short-er, but that’s really the only way you can use any version of the word “short” in describing my labor with either of my children.  Richard caught Nic, as he likes to say, as if he were a football being hiked during a long, boring and tedious game.  The first hands Nic felt were Richard’s.  The first face he became aware of was Richard’s and they bonded immediately.  Not so with little Em.

First of all the labor was more painful or maybe it was just that I wasn’t as exhausted and so I can remember it better.  Richard was comforting me and holding my shoulders when I began to push.  When Emma appeared the midwife was the one pulling her from me before placing her onto my chest.  Richard missed that “father/daughter” moment of connection those first few seconds of her life.  Later, when he didn’t feel the same kind of innate bonding he’d had with Nic, we assumed it was because he wasn’t there to catch her.  For years I felt badly that I’d asked him to hold me and as a result he wasn’t able to be there to hold her.  But as with so many things in life – it’s easy to look back and see things differently when you know the outcome.

When Emma was diagnosed it kind of closed the book on the whole – I should have let Richard catch her during her birth – it was the one bit of guilt the diagnosis freed me of.  As time went on we saw how Emma seemed aloof around friends and other family members.  We came up with ways to rationalize her seeming indifference.  She was independent, she liked doing things on her own, she was her own person, she knew what she wanted, had a mind of her own, etc.  These were all things we said to ourselves and each other as we tried to make sense of Emma during those early years.

Yesterday Emma said to me, “Go swimming at the Y with just Mommy?”

“Yeah.  Okay.  Just the two of us,” I agreed.

Later when we returned home I said to Richard, “I’m not sure why Em wanted just me to go with her.  She pretty much ignored me every time I tried to engage her at the Y today.”

“You’re the only one she’s ever really physically bonded with, Ariane.  You’re the only one whose lap she likes to sit in.  You’re the only one she really likes to be held by.  It’s always been that way,” Richard said.

This morning as I was getting ready to take Nic down to his bus, I heard Emma giggling and Richard laughing, “Emma!  What are you doing?”

I turned around to see Emma climbing from the window sill onto her dad’s shoulders, unprompted, of her own volition and utterly happy.

Everything changes.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and our attempts to keep up, go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com