I now recognize Hamhock’s first signs of autism as far back as 6 months old. Well, even before 6 months really. At the time, each little worry would knot in my gut, making my mommy instinct go on alert, but then I always dismissed the cause, thinking “that’s just the way Hamhock is” or “he’s on his own timetable” or “he’s just a stubborn little guy” or “he doesn’t WANT to wave right now.”

At around 18 months, I started looking up websites for autism, but I guess I didn’t search long enough because all the signs to look for didn’t *quite* fit him.

NOW (Christopher Walken inflection) I know that autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning symptoms can present in a varied and individual manner, as well as signs can be very subtle along that spectrum. I wish someone had told me that, or I wish I knew someone who had a child on the spectrum to be alerted that “Rainman” symptoms are very severe and only exhibit as such in what I believe is probably a minority of children with autism.

Hamhock’s ‘normal’ signs that made it difficult for me to think it was autism:

  • He ate well. Although he was a “late eater” (he didn’t really start enjoying table foods until about 14 months), but after that he wasn’t overly restrictive in what he would or wouldn’t eat.
  • He slept amazingly well. At about 14 months, he slept through the night, from 7 pm – 7 am.
  • He was a cuddly baby. He loved to cuddle, hug and touch both me and my husband.
  • He was hardly ever sick, with only one ear infection at 12 months.
  • He loved kids! He loved to play with kids, and got very excited when surrounded by playground energy.
  • He didn’t “stim” by flapping his hands or staring at fans or walking on his toes, or avoiding eye contact.
  • He didn’t play with “parts” of toys – he pushed cars and trucks, and didn’t fixate for hours on just one thing.

That said, there were alot more of Hamhock’s first signs of autism spectrum disorder:

  • Before 6 months old he never liked playing peek-a-boo or tummy raspberries with me. I remember thinking “That’s weird. What baby in the history of humanity doesn’t like tummy raspberries? EVERY baby I’ve ever babysat or interacted with loves tummy tickles.”
  • Also before 6 months old my aunt had given us a home-made rattle toy. She said to say the word “shake” when you shake it to encourage language development. Hamhock never responded to that toy. He would look away, didn’t reach for it or care for it. I thought, “Huh. I guess Hamhock doesn’t like rattles.” (Again, what baby in the history of humanity doesn’t like rattles?) Now I know, big red flag. . .Superboy came along and giggled and love playing rattle games. What he enjoyed most was the interaction with me, on any level that I offered it; the rattle was just a vehicle to enjoy a game and social interaction with me.
  • Hamhock started crawling at 6 months, and I felt like he was gone – gone to explore the world. He didn’t care about me, whether I was closeby, watching him, or encouraging him. He didn’t look around to make sure I was there to give him courage to explore the unknowns in this big world, and I wasn’t a reference point for him. (Does this sound like I know the lingo now, or what?) He wanted me for things that he immediately needed, but not for help in understanding the large world around him. He was just fine to explore it on his own terms.
  • He started saying 2 sound babbles (da-da, ma-ma, la-la) at about 6 1/2 months, but it was just babbling that he didn’t use for any communicative purpose. For example, he never said “mama” to me to get my attention, or to ask for things. I always had a nagging feeling that even though he said that “word” I hadn’t yet really heard him call me by name. I kept waiting and waiting for it, and finally after diagnosis and starting ABA therapy, he called me “Mom” at 3 1/2 years old. Now he does it with normal kid inflection “No, Mom!” It’s great!
  • Hamhock didn’t start pointing until probably 14 months old. Even then, it was only sometimes and not to look at me, look at the object, then back at me. It was just pointing at stuff randomly.
  • I remember visiting a friend who was lending me maternity clothes when Hamhock was about 16 months old, and I was probably about 25 weeks pg with Superboy. She has 4 boys and while they were playing she kept saying things like: this one’s my little painter, this one’s my serious one, this one’s my jokester, and so on. I remember thinking in a panic: “What’s wrong with me? I don’t KNOW what Hamhock is. He’s just Hamhock – all over the place.” I was really bothered that I couldn’t see any specific interests coming out in him. Part of this was because he wasn’t communicating like a normal kid would. We just wanted to hear his voice, hear his thoughts, his desires, see his personality come through via communication – nonverbal or verbal.
  • I knew babies should start waving bye-bye by at least one year, but there was no wave from Hamhock. Just a disinterested look off into space behind your head. I kept telling myself that he was just stubborn. Finally, at 16 3/4 months he waved bye-bye for the first time to a checker at Albertson’s. He still only did it when he wanted to, and never in imitation to you as a game or anything.
  • You’d think my biggest red flag would be when I realized it was too difficult to go to the zoo, park, or anywhere with my mom friends, because I had absolutely no control over Hamhock. He didn’t listen to me, he couldn’t care less about being directed to fun aspects of our outings; all he wanted to do was what HE wanted to do. The world was big and wide and exciting, and Mom didn’t have any meaning to him in understanding that world. When he was 18-20 months, and I was 8-9 months pg with Superboy we spent alot of time at McDonalds, because I needed somewhere cool and enclosed so I didn’t have to chase him around in the hot UT summer sun. One day at McDonalds I remember watching him play and climb and I thought he was such a “good” kid because I never heard him say the word “no.” HAH! Little did I know, it wasn’t because he was choosing to be a positive, good, obedient kid. He couldn’t say the word. Literally. We worked on saying the “n” sound in ABA therapy, and he finally said the word no for the first time when he was 3 1/2 years old. So, moms. . . feel grateful when your 2 year old knows how to say no!!!
  • At that time, I knew kids getting close to 2 years should have alot more words and be more communicative in general. I still didn’t see anything close with Hamhock. I felt like I was the one doing all the work. I kept asking friends if they thought his language was delayed, but they kept reassuring me of “late talker” stories. My aunt, who works in early childhood education, told me after he was diagnosed that she gave me the EI information in our state and told me to get Hamhock checked out. I have absolutely no recollection of that conversation. I must have had frazzled pregnancy brain, or she wasn’t clear enough? I didn’t even get offended by her for suggesting it, because I don’t remember it. My friend Kelly was the only one who suggested it might be autism. Her son has Asperger’s and she asked if Hamhock fit some of the signs from the websites. I said I had looked at those lists, and they just didn’t fit everything, so I didn’t act until the head-banging tantrums made it all alot more clear.
  • I remember feeling jealous that my sister seemed more “in tune” with her baby daughter, who is one year younger than Hamhock. I just thought maybe girls were more communicative than boys.
  • At Hamhock’s 2 year well-baby checkup, my doctor wasn’t overly concerned that he wasn’t putting 2 words together, and she talked a little about the autism spectrum, but in a very general way, nothing that alarmed me or helped me to understand the subtle signs. She gave me the information for a hearing and speech evaluation, but didn’t give me any information about Early Intervention services. She had previously asked for an increase in words or sounds (like 5), which Hamhock did achieve, it just was never meaningful, which is the key, and which she totally missed in explaining to me! I think it is rare to have a pediatrician who isn’t just focused on physical health, but who also looks for signs of appropriate development.
  • Superboy was born when Hamhock was 20 months old, and I remember feeling panicked and depressed that every day was the same day; I was frustrated that I had to guess at everything he wanted, he would use me to get things he wanted, but not to communicate his wants with me. Life was just challenging from morning until bedtime. Life felt stuck. I wasn’t excited to see the new changes and growth in my toddler and baby. I wasn’t sure what was wrong.
  • He did start to “pretend talk” and babble in toddlerease, so I thought language must be coming soon. It didn’t.
  • My friend told me about her boy who was born just a few weeks before Hamhock who already knew her and her husband’s names! I was shocked. I couldn’t believe a kid not quite 2 would know that. Now I know, they can. Superboy completely picked up our names, well probably more around 2 1/2. My niece knew her parents’ names before she turned 2.
  • Hamhock did start lining toys up. It didn’t seem obsessive, though, but he still did it.
  • From 2 years until just before 2 1/2 was a very frustrating time. The head-banging tantrums started, and let me tell you. . .when your sweet baby starts banging his head like he doesn’t even feel it, it is painful to watch! Once those head-banging tantrums started, I *KNEW* that this was autism. I don’t think I ever spoke those words, but I knew it in my heart. Head-banging tantrums on a regular basis, with no concern or care for the pain they may cause are not normal.

One Response to “First Signs”

  1. gfcfmom said

    thanks for this post…it’s so good to dispel myths about what early signs of autism look like. so many people comment about how so and so was a “late talker” and look at him now. but i am learning that was then–this is now. no talking…no words by 18 months should make any parent launch into action. the 18-24 month period is a critical time for children to learn language so that they can be connected to the people around them. getting and staying connected to them keeps them from retreating into another world.

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