Is it Autism?
My youngest daughter is 14 months old and not yet talking. For several weeks my husband and I have been commenting on her lack of language. Yes, we realize that 14 months is still very young, and I’m not sure exactly what we are expecting her to be able to verbalize, but, when you’re the child of two psychologists and the youngest sibling to a sister with Autism, your developmental milestones are under a microscope.
The problem is two-fold: our oldest is completely non-verbal and severely cognitively impaired, in addition to her diagnosis of Autism. Her overall developmental age has been assessed at a 10 to 18 month old level. She is 13. That gives you a picture. Our middle two (ages four and three) decided to make up for all the paucity of language in the household by being as loquacious as possible. For example, when my third child turned one, she had a vocabulary of 12 words, by 13 months, she had doubled her vocabulary and by 14 months she was constructing simple sentences and had an expressive vocabulary of close to 200 words. This is not the sisterly act you want to follow. We have no barometer for “normal” in our household, given the stark contrasts in development between our children. Certainly, our baby seems to be quite “typical” though at times we admit to fleeting concerns. I suppose when Autism has touched your family once, the question always lingers… will it happen again?
I watch my fourth little angel toddling happily around the house, with her “buh” and “duh” and a whole lot of insistent screams and grunts and gestures when she wants something. I watch her with the innocent gaze of a novice Mother and the critical eye of a seasoned professional. Oh, how cute (Is she pointing? Is her finger isolated?) Look at her walking! (Is she coming to me when she gets hurt?). What big, beautiful eyes (How is her eye contact?). She’s a little bit of a picky eater (Why is she avoiding certain foods, is it sensory?). I try not to make myself too crazy with these questions, yet sometimes I find myself secretly cataloging whether or not she can point to her body parts, imitate a clap or respond to her name. In all honesty, there are no major markers causing us alarm. Yet, I remember being so blindsided by the diagnosis of my first born. A typical life turned upside down when she lost her language skills overnight, began to avert her gaze, and only ate oatmeal. Perhaps this experience tucks itself away in the back of my head. It, at times, causes me to doubt, to fret, to do a double take, to feel uncertain. From this place emanates a voice, thin and full of trepidation, whispering in my ear “Is it Autism?”
I stare at my baby girl’s bowed mouth, adorable earlobes, Buddha belly, and giant blue eyes. The question haunts me again: Is it Autism? My daughter locks eyes with mine and grins, revealing her six silly little teeth. In her face is an expression of unbridled love and joy. I smile back and kiss her plump cheek. Is it Autism? It is then that I realize there is only question that need be answered: Does it matter?
About Author: Alicia DiFabio, Psy.D. has her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology. After 12 years of working in the field, she now writes from home while raising her four young children. [email protected]