Brave New World
Find support when dealing with autism
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“We went through some dark days, when no one knew what was wrong,” remembers mom Genia Lindow, describing a time several years ago when her then 11-year-old son, Shawn, was struggling in elementary school. “We always thought Shawn was fragile, that everything had to be perfect,” says Lindow, because if it were not, her son would become frustrated and lose his temper.
He’d been having behavioral issues, but they couldn’t determine the source of the problem initially. “We went from doctor to doctor trying to find an answer,” she says. “Even though he had been tested, no one would tell us he was autistic.” Finally, her son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that affects language and behavioral development in children.
For many families of autistic children, the Lindows’ story is a familiar one. Parents frequently learn from their child’s teacher that something is amiss but getting to the root cause of behavior or developmental problems takes time.
Pediatricians often take a wait-and-see approach, in part because they don’t have adequate information. “Some children don’t show the behaviors at the pediatrician’s office because of the clinical environment,” says speech pathologist Janna Hacker of Janna Hacker and Associates in Germantown.
“Early intervention — at 12- to 18-months — is best since with intensive therapy, a child [with autism] has the potential to be ready by kindergarten,” she says. Of course, autism can go unrecognized until a child begins first grade or even later, when a teacher eventually picks up on a child’s learning disability.
“Some pediatricians have parents complete a checklist about the child’s development which is helpful unless a parent doesn’t accurately complete the checklist,” says Hacker. That’s why a good diagnosis and parental support can be so important to the health of your family.